• Wallows
    8.7k
    As a follower of Wittgenstein, and a novice pragmatist, I view the goal and aim that General Semantics strive towards as right and justified.

    So, most of you have heard the term, 'The map is not the terrain/territory.' That pretty much is the centerpiece of GS, to not talk about objects in isolation or just refer to names; but, rather explore their relationship between the other objects in what I call, 'logical space'.

    From what I've read, many general semanticians fell out from the principles and general directive of general semantics on grounds that the philosophy itself was in some way metaphysical or in some manner misguided. I would be interested to hear from other members what they think about General Semantics in general or if possible in detail.

    I have yet to read Korzybski's Science and Sanity, but, it seems like an underrated book to say the least.

    Thoughts?
  • Wayfarer
    8.2k
    I think it’s regarded as a bit fringe - regrettably. I only encountered him through references by others, notably Alan Watts. I looked at the General Semantics website about a year back, seems to be going strong. But I don’t think he rates in mainstream academia, although I could be wrong. I seem to recall @Banno saying that he was interested in it some years back but eventually lost interest in it.
  • Wallows
    8.7k
    Looks like a good read.
  • t0m
    319

    Years ago (early 20s) I picked up Science and Sanity and Manhood of Humanity from the public library. All I could remember was liking the "time binding" idea in M of H. Out of curiosity, I thought I'd look up a few quotes, to remember the style:


    Humans can be literally poisoned by false ideas and false teachings. Many people have a just horror at the thought of putting poison into tea or coffee, but seem unable to realize that, when they teach false ideas and false doctrines, they are poisoning the time-binding capacity of their fellow men and women. One has to stop and think! There is nothing mystical about the fact that ideas and words are energies which powerfully affect the physico-chemical base of our time-binding activities. Humans are thus made untrue to "human nature." … The conception of man as a mixture of animal and supernatural has for ages kept human beings under the deadly spell of the suggestion that, animal selfishness and animal greediness are their essential character, and the spell has operated to suppress their REAL HUMAN NATURE and to prevent it from expressing itself naturally and freely.
    — K

    Ideas and words are "energies"? That's a risky metaphor in a sentence that starts with "there's nothing mystical about..." Also "literally poisoned" is a highly questionable expression. Continuing, is he suggesting on the whole that we are entirely supernatural, non-animal? How does assuming that man is a "mixture" lead to this animality being "[our] essential character"?

    How many a genius has perished inarticulate because unable to stand the strain of social conditions where animal standards prevail and "survival of the fittest" means, not survival of the "fittest in time-binding capacity," but survival of the strongest in ruthlessness and guile — in space-binding competition! — K
    I'm not against his values here, but he's wrapping an old complaint in a new jargon, where the virtuous bind time and the evil bind space.

    The main thesis of this non-Aristotelian system is that as yet we all (with extremely few exceptions) copy animals in our nervous processes, and that practically all human difficulties, mental ills … have this … component. — K

    This is highly suspicious, in my view. He's dressing a mysticism of non-animal thinking (available to extremely few exceptions, presumably including himself) in words like "science and sanity." What I object to is the way he dresses it all up. To me it makes sense that he's "fringe."
  • Wallows
    8.7k
    To me it makes sense that he's "fringe."t0m

    Yeah seems so too.
  • t0m
    319

    Having given poor Korzybski hell, I must say that I nevertheless learned something from "fringe" thinkers. Their books aren't empty. They just don't compare well to better books. But a bad book is often better than no book.

    There's also the idea that less persuasive thinkers are easier to see through. It's fun to believe a thinker, but it's at least as fun to transcend them, to feel oneself above their now-narrow-seeming perspective. It seems like an important life skill to me. We will always meet others who want to imprison us in their systems. It's good to know the old word-magic inside and out. (I'm not saying that I'm not still learning, so that's the presentation of an ideal or goal.)
  • Banno
    5.6k
    Yes, I was interested in it as a teen. it was a spark towards me studying philosophy of language.

    It is certainly fringe stuff, inspiring cult-like behaviour in its adherents. It brings together a bit of logical atomism, a bit of psychoanalysis, a hint of eugenics... strange bedfellows.

    Eventually, and interestingly, given the OP's mention of Wittgenstein, I concluded that the basic premise summed up in the aphorism "the map is not the territory", is in error.

    It's not so much that it is wrong, as that it is misguided. Consider the way a map is used in a language game - I will use that terminology, because we are talking about Wittgenstein, and despite it's unpopularity.

    "You go down that road...(points) and turn north here past that church. A mile further on you will come to this T-intersection"

    Plainly, we do treat the map as if it is the territory.

    I might stop there for now.
  • Wayfarer
    8.2k
    I think it is an ‘awareness training and personal development’ type of movement. The map not being the territory is, I think, aimed at loosening the grip of conceptual thought on the way we relate to experience, words being the map, and life being the territory.

    The other interesting spin-off of General Semantics was E-PRIME, which is a modified English that avoids the use of the verb TO BE.

    Korzybski determined that two forms of the verb 'to be'—the 'is' of identity and the 'is' of predication—had structural problems. For example, the sentence "The coat is red" has no observer, the sentence "We see the coat as red" (where "we" indicates observers) appears more specific, and describes light waves and colour as determined by the human brain.

    Korzybski pointed out the circularity of many dictionary definitions, and suggested adoption of the mathematical practice of acknowledging some minimal ensemble of primitive notions as necessarily 'undefined'; he chose 'structure', 'order', and 'relation'. He wrote of those that do not lend themselves to explication in words, but only by exhibiting how to use them in sentences. Korzybski advocated raising one's awareness of structural issues generally through training in general semantics.

    Overall though I would guess that it too is a pretty fringe idea.
  • Banno
    5.6k
    Two interesting points.

    E-Prime found place in conflict resolution; although not expresses quite in that way. It is something I still make use of. But the disadvantage of not being able to express a third-person view makes it cumbersome for factual discussions. No doubt it would appeal to those who do not think there are such things as facts.

    The circularity of definitions has found fertile ground elsewhere, notably in JL Austin. The good Count's suggestion resembles Logical Atomism, which to my eye was totally undermined by Wittgenstein's pointing out that what we take as fundamental changes depending on what it is we are doing.
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