Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The 'Right' To An Opinion

I feel happy to have Ralph Hamilton as my friend. Ralph attended Alfred Korzybski's summer seminars in 1946 and 1947, and then became Korzybski's personal assistant for over a year. Ralph lived at the Institute of General Semantics in Connecticut and spent a great deal of time with Korzybski. An extremely astute fellow, Ralph has helped me quite a bit and in many ways, in my research on Korzybski's biography, including giving me letters and other documents he obtained and kept, and giving me a personal angle on Korzybski, his habits, his conversation, etc. (Ralph does a good imitation of Alfred that sounds very much like the recordings). Ralph just had his 90th birthday on December 28 and I just got off of the phone with him to wish him a happy one with many many healthy more! Happy Birthday, Ralph!

In a letter he wrote to me on March 13, 2005 Ralph wrote:
As to opinions, [Korzybski] used to say, "In the old, 'democratic' way, everyone has a 'right' to his opinion. In the new way, scientifically, no one has a 'right' to his opinion—if he has not studied the matter and informed himself."

Friday, December 25, 2009

Korzybski and Stoicism

I see the Stoics, especially Epictetus, as important forerunners of Korzybski's extensional ('fact'-oriented) methodology that he called "general semantics."

Indeed, Epictetus who influenced Albert Ellis (also a student of Korzybski's work), seems well worth studying today for his practical insights on extensional living. Epictetus after all was the one who said, "It is not the things themselves that disturb people, but their judgments on those things." Ellis' book How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable about Anything: Yes Anything! seems like a rather good description of Epictetus' thrust.

One on the Stoic path experiencing some 'unpleasantness', learns to say to it "You are just an impression and not what you seem to be." And then one can go further and ask, "Is it in my power to change this? Or is it outside my power?" Those questions and the distinctions they help to elicit, my friends, seem to me to provide a powerful method for not letting yourself become unduly miserable about the many inevitable slings and arrows of life. Simple, but not easy.

And what frame of 'mind' does it encourage but what Korzybski called "consciousness of abstracting," the sine qua non of what he sought to teach? Check out Corey Anton on Youtube for Reading Group, Epictetus #1

Friday, December 18, 2009

Progress Report on Korzybski Biography

Just to let the curious know—I'm continuing to plug away at the Korzybski biography. Am now dealing with issues and events of 1947. (Korzybski died in early 1950.) It looks like I will have a completed, in-fairly-good-shape manuscript in a few months time. When I first decided to get started on this project, in mid-2004, I had no notion of the amount of work I would have to do nor an inkling of the difficulty, even pain, sometimes involved, the pain of 'thinking' perhaps most of all.

Some quotations on writing that resonate to the bone for me*:
There ain't nothing more to write about, and I am rotten glad of it, because if I'd a knowed what a trouble it was to make a book I wouldn't a tackled it, and ain't agoing to no more.— S. L. Clemons (Mark Twain): Huckleberry Finn, XLIII, 1885

The business of writing has altogether become contemptible to me; and I am become confirmed in the notion that nobody ought to write, —unless sheer fate force him to do it; —and then he ought (if not of the mountebank genus) to beg to be shot rather. — Thomas Carlyle: Letter to R. W. Emerson, June 2, 1858

This writing is an unnatural business. It makes your head hot and your feet cold, and it stops the digesting of your food. — John Burroughs (1837-1931)

* All quotations from H.L. Mencken's A New Dictionary of Quotations. under "Writing," p. 1341.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dixie Dugan and the Tyranny of Words

From the Institute of General Semantics Digital Archive:
A 1947 Newspaper "Dixie Dugan" cartoon highlights the power of words and how to overcome their tyranny. Maybe Dixie took a seminar with Korzybski. (click on the picture for a larger view):

Sunday, December 6, 2009

From The Stray Thought Bin- Human Blindness

There is a natural opacity to human perception-thinking-feeling and the narrow fuzzy window that each of us looks through is in perpetual danger of getting fogged over even more with the added residue of habits and expectations, making us even blinder still.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Why Don't Western Elites and Governments Comprehend International Realities?

It's about maps and territories, perceptions and actualities—and yes, sanity. Although Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini explained back in 1979: 'We didn't make the Iranian revolution to lower the price of watermelons', many of the 'elite' in the West don't get it. The failure of much of the Western media, educational, and government leadership to change their maps regarding Islamist fundamentalism sure doesn't seem like sanity to me. Barry Rubin tries to understand Why Don't Western Elites and Governments Comprehend International Realities?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Amy Winehouse Heard It Through The Grapevine!

Culturalism turned me on to this video of Amy Winehouse and Paul Weller singing "I Heard It Through The Grapevine." Reading some of the comments on YouTube reveals the inevitable individuality of people's evaluations, but I love this rendition and Amy Winehouse's voice and style. Fantastic!

Read Culturalisms commentary Culturalist Amy Winehouse.

From Creedence Clearwater Revival to Gladys Knight and the Pips to —Marvin Gaye? (I never heard his version)— and to whoever else has done it, to Amy Winehouse and Paul Weller; see what time-binding can do.

Have a Great Thanksgiving! :

Friday, November 20, 2009

From The Stray Thought Bin-'Intelligence'

Pondering the possibility of artificial intelligence—computers singing "Daisy" or playing chess.
But more important—How about the possibility of human intelligence...wisdom?
On a societal scale, not just a few exceptional individuals.
What would that be like?
A science fiction fantasy?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The First Electronic Computer To Sing

Remember HAL singing "Daisy, Daisy" in 2001 - A Space Odyssey?

The I.B.M. 7094, the first electronic brain to sing, sang it in 1961.

Oh, Daisy?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Historic Breakthrough Promises Major Progress Throughout the Life Sciences

Historic Breakthrough Promises Major Progress Throughout the Life Sciences. ‘Book of Readings’ featuring the work of William T. Powers spells it out.

I just received a press release and that's what the headline said. Promotional B.S.? Not as far as I'm concerned.

Dag Forssell, the man behind Living Control Systems Publishing, has made an incredible offer— a free pdf download of Perceptual Control Theory: Science & Applications—A Book of Readings. Readers of this blog should take advantage of his offer.

In my book Dare to Inquire I wrote this about PCT.
Korzybski considered Norbert Wiener's Cybernetics , "a turning leaf in the history of human evolution and socio-cultural adjustment." [Qtd. by M. Kendig in "Book Comments" on Cybernetics, in General Semantics Bulletin 1 & 2: 46] The work of William Powers, Richard Marken and others in Perceptual Control Theory (PCT) has extended cybernetics (negative feedback control theory) into a detailed research program for human psychology [and the life sciences in general] which emphasizes human autonomy, a phenomenological perspective, and the rigorous modeling of behavior. PCT's multi-leveled theory of purposeful behavior as the control of perception (abstracting) offers new approaches for further research into the spiral mechanisms of time-binding that [Korzybski based his entire work upon.] PCT [provides] a way to study the relationships of language use to perception and other aspects of behavior at levels of detail not previously conceived of. [Korzybski faced limits in his work, by not having a scientific theory of psychology that went beyond stimulus-response viewpoints. Indeed, much of modern (2009) behavioral/social science still operates under the burden of the out-dated but still pervasive stimulus-response paradigm.] [The study of Korzybski's work] by PCT researchers (and vice versa) could open up new avenues of research and application in both fields.*
*N.B.- In a comment to this blogpost below, William T. Powers acknowledges the influence that Korzybski had on him when he was developing his work.

In 2001, I wrote this note to myself on the blank page after the title page (313) of Part VI "On The Foundation Of Psychophysiology" in my copy of the 5th Edition of Science and Sanity:
A.K. [Alfred Korzybski] got as far as he could, using the most up-to-date analyses of behavior he could find. But Korzybski's non-linear view of human behavior, expressed as early as his first 1921 book Manhood of Humanity [See Appendix II, p. 233 in the 2nd Edition] didn't jibe very well with the general stimulus-response paradigm under which the psychology of the time mainly operated. This paradigm, among other things, retains an underlying linear causation model and may imply an undue passivity of the organism. A new language (non-linear) and set of assumptions involving a more factual, 'circular' causation, feedback approach comes from William T. Powers' Behavior: The Control of Perception. PCT has more congruence with Korzybski's underlying vision than the stimulus-response view. Indeed, Powers as a young man studied Korzybski's work. Korzybski's analysis of human behavior needs to be updated with PCT. The core of his system remains intact. Indeed, much of the formulational bathwater he wanted to throw out can, I believe, be eliminated more easily by taking on the PCT viewpoint.
I can summarize what I've said in a sentence: For serious students of the korzybskian non-aristotelian system and applied epistemology (popularly known as 'general semantics'), I consider PCT very very important.

Get the free book and read it! Then buy a copy. And anything else about PCT that you can get your hands on! I'm very serious.

Now here's Dag's Press Release:
HAYWARD, Calif., Nov. 16, 2009 — Just as 400 years ago a correct explanation of the solar system set the stage for major progress in the physical sciences, so today a correct explanation of control is setting the stage for major progress in the life sciences.

Increasing numbers of scientists are saying that Perceptual Control Theory (PCT) may soon revolutionize the psychological and social sciences. Developed by William T. (Bill) Powers, PCT is a quantifiable, testable model based on both psychological observation and engineering principles; it promises to bring our understanding of living systems to the level of accuracy and reliability long expected of the physical sciences.

Bill Powers explains:
Control is a process of acting on the world we perceive to make it the way we want it to be,
and to keep it that way. Examples of control: standing upright; walking; steering a car;
scrambling eggs; scratching an itch; knitting socks; singing a tune. Extruding a pseudopod
to absorb a nanospeck of food (all organisms control, not only human beings).

The smallest organisms control by biochemical means, bigger ones by means of a nervous
system. Whole organisms control; the larger ones have brains that control; most have
organs that control; if they are composed of many cells, their cells control; the DNA which
directs their forms and functions controls; even some molecules, certain enzymes, control
by acting on the DNA to repair it when it’s damaged. Control is the most basic principle of
life and can be seen at every level of organization once you know what to look for.

…The problem is not that the life sciences got everything wrong; it’s just that they got the
most important things wrong: what behavior is, how behavior works, and what behavior
Dag Forssell, editor of the Book of Readings, elaborates on some implications:
PCT shows that each person acts for the sole purpose of controlling what matters to that person. When parents, teachers, administrators, managers, sales people, lovers, and friends grasp the simple concepts of PCT, they
will be able to reason out for themselves how to handle conflicts and misunderstandings with the
respect that all human beings consider their right. PCT shows why, for a peaceful society to exist,
each person must recognize that every other person works the same way.
Perceptual Control Theory: Science & Applications—A Book of Readings

Available as a paperback from bookstores, ISBN 097401558X, and free pdf download for personal use at
Perceptual Control Theory: Science & Applications—A Book of Readings, the recently updated 272-page book includes 21 papers and complete chapters from 12 books—five by Powers, seven by his colleagues. Subjects include: psychotherapy, management, emotions, baby brain development, computer simulations and tutorials, scientific revolutions, dogma in psychology, scientific method, reverse engineering, robots, cybernetics, and more.
Check out Dag's entire website Living Control Systems Publishing too! Full of interesting stuff and lots of it free. Dag is doing a service to humanity.

Monday, November 16, 2009

What Motivated U.S. Army Major NIdal Hassan?

In June 2007, Major Nidal Hassan gave a lecture on “The Koranic World View as it Relates to Muslims in the U.S. Military” instead of the lecture on the medical topic that senior Army doctors expected him to give. The Washington Post has put up the PowerPoint notes which accompanied his talk: Major Hassan's lecture We know what he subsequently did. There were many witnesses to the murder spree at Ft. Hood.

Historian and Political analyst Barry Rubin has written a reasonable (to me) commentary on what many people seem to have a hard time grasping: Hassan's motivation. But Rubin argues quite effectively that the world has a major (no pun intended) problem with Islamism, i.e., the ideology of Militant Islam.

You might ask, "Why am I getting 'political' on this blog?", which has Alfred Korzybski and his work as its subject. Well... Korzybski hammered away at his students to 'face facts' and to learn to face facts. As a student of his work, I take this advice very seriously as key to practicing what he taught and thus conveying what he taught, by example, to others.

Korzybski spoke vigorously against the Nazi, Fascist, and Communist ideologies/movements when it was not popular to do so, well before the start of World War II. The threat of Militant Islam or Islamism seems to me to represent as great a factual danger to civilized life as did these other totalitarian movements that Korzybski opposed. In his 1924 Time-Binding paper, he wrote:
Man is ultimately a doctrinal being. Even our language has its silent doctrines, and no activity of man is free from some doctrines, so that the kind of metaphysics a man has, is not of indifference to his world outlook and his behavior. [Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings 1920-1950, p. 77]
Not only non-Muslims but also many Muslims have a huge problem with a significant number of other Muslims and their interpretation of the religion of Islam, currently widely promulgated. The threat of this deadly doctrine of Islamism is not going to go away by ignoring it because some people consider it politically incorrect to take it seriously. Barry Rubin makes some necessary distinctions while not turning away from what, to some of us, appears obvious. Some of you probably won't like what he has to say. But here's the link: Why I Murdered 13 American Soldiers: Nidal Hassan Explains It All to You

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


For me, Alfred Korzybski was a noble Pole not solely because of his aristocratic ancestry. For one reason, he hated and spoke publicly against the Nazi regime in the first phases of its ascent to power, when it was not particularly popular to do so--even in the United States. He called himself a Zionist and respected Jewish culture. He struggled against the pathology of antisemitism and fought totalitarianism for years. So on this anniversary of Kristallnacht, the 1938 State Sponsored pogram against the Jews in Germany seventy-one years ago, it seems appropriate to me to recall that event here on the Korzybski Files

During World War Two and afterwards, Korzybski told many of his Jewish friends and students and also close friends like Cassius Keyser, that he sincerely believed that “world problems can not be solved without solving the Jewish problem,…” And as he wrote in 1944 to a German Jewish émigré psychiatrist Richard D. Loewenberg—“…the Jewish problem can not be solved on racial or territorial grounds alone.”
…I a ‘pure Pole’ but an engineer much interested in mathematical physics, of course am non-aristotelian, and therefore if you wish to say so, my orientation is scientific and therefore Jewish. It is a silly way of putting it this way, but privately I can tell you that. The Jews themselves do not realize that, and so they themselves can not clean up their own house. Those pangs of passing from aristotelian to non-aristotelian orientations are very genuine ones. But there is nothing else for us to do than to put every kind of international problems on a strictly non-racial neutral impersonal scientific basis, and that’s what we are trying to do.
[A.K. to Richard D. Loewenberg, Feb. 3, 1944. IGS Archives]

Kristallnacht showed people who could see, what the Nazis were up to in relation to the Jews, as well as other 'inferior' peoples like the Poles, Gypsies, etc. But many people, unlike Korzybski, could not see the signs. The U.S. Holocaust Museum has a page and links here on: kristallnacht

And here you can listen to the Jewish rapper Remedy, one of the Wu-Tang Clan's extended musical family performing "Never Again":

Never Again? What does that require?

Monday, November 9, 2009

'Null-A' and Void

I've noticed that even some people who have a fairly solid grasp of Korzybski's work continue to say and write 'Null-A' when referring to the 'A with a bar above it' which Korzybski used as an abbreviation for 'Non-Aristotelian'. However, understanding the confusion that so many people have had about Korzybski's take on Aristotle and aristotelian logic, it seems to me a mistake to use the term 'Null-A' when seriously referring to Korzybski's work.

Neither Korzybski, nor any of his close students who taught for years at the Institute of General Semantics like Charlotte Read and Allen Walker Read, nor his students' students like Robert Pula, ever used the term 'Null-A' to refer to what Korzybski purposely called 'Non-Aristotelian'. Indeed, Pula, the lead lecturer at Institute seminars across four decades, specifically advised eschewing the term 'Null-A' except when talking about the titles of A.E. Van Vogt's science fiction works. As far as I know, the term 'Null-A' seems to have first been used by A.E. Van Vogt in his 1945 science fiction stories and the 1948 hardback novel published from those stories. Van Vogt specifically used the term 'null-A' to refer to Korzybski's symbolic abbreviation for 'non-aristotelian'. The original title of the book simply used the symbol, The World of [an A with a bar above it]. The book's title was changed to 'The World of Null-A' in later editions. In light of the science fiction origin of the term that Korzybski never used, why use it when seriously discussing his work?

Korzybski stated in numerous places that he did not intend non-aristotelian as 'anti'-aristotelian. Contrariwise, 'null' tends to get interpreted as negation, absence, elimination, anti-, etc. Since the socio-cultural-historical 'baggage' of a term can influence those who use it and hear it (what I have called elsewhere the 'neuro-linguistic undertow' of a term), it seems to just increase the probablity of misunderstanding to use 'Null-A' when seriously writing about or teaching Korzybski's system.

Needless to say—but better to say it—Korzybski had no interest at all in 'nullifying' Aristotle's logic. For him, aristotelian logic remained useful where it applies. He didn't want to do away with it. He simply didn't think that it, or rather the underlying structural assumptions about the world that tend to accompany it, should be used as a general orientation for life. General orientation, cultural and personal. That—not 'logic'—mainly concerned him.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Update On My Schnozzola

I had the packing and some stitches taken out of my nose today by the ENT surgeon and he did a little suction of some of the other gunk in there too. Yuck!

At any rate, I can breathe through my nose again. I feel happy about that. It was totally stuffed up since my surgery last Monday and it was not pleasant to say the least.

Apparently, my deviant...err...deviated septum rated as one of the worst ones that the surgeon had ever seen. A mess of shattered bone, cartilage, etc. yuck. The van accident in 1977 when I broke my nose had really done some damage inside.

The air flow seems surprisingly good even though I am not allowed to blow my nose until I see the surgeon in another two weeks. I don't mind much. Hopefully the hole in my nasal septum that he patched up will fill in (he wants to give the cartilage more time to heal) and I'll have a nice intact and straight septum. But even now I feel most grateful that my new nose works as well as it does.

It is not a small thing to be able to breath through the nose whatever the size of ones' schnozzola . As the great entertainerJimmy Durante supposedly said "The nose knows." A great nasal epistemologist too!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

GS in India

The Times of India has a nice article on the new Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Studies in Vadodara, Baroda, India. which is holding its first National Workshop on the Ecology of Knowledge starting today. The seminar features the Institute of General Semantics' Executive Director Lance Strate, an established McLuhan and Media Ecology/Communication scholar and an up-and-coming GS scholar, who is helping to spearhead a long-needed Korzybski revival in academia. What a great topic and appropriate presenter for the Centre's inaugural event! Although the article confuses General Semantics with semantics, the study of linguistic meaning (not a minor error), it is generally positive, mentioning Prafulla Kar one of the founders of the Centre and also a trustee of the Institute of General Semantics. I hope that they're recording at least some of the presentations and I look forward to learning more about what happened. May the Parekh Centre go on to great success!

Centre to tickle scholarly tastebuds

A Language of Smiles

New evidence re Whorf's principle of linguistic relativity (which jibes with Korzybski's views about the role of language in the perceptual processes, etc.) in A Language of Smiles

Runes on Facts

Dagobert D. Runes in Dictionary of Thinking (1959)
Facts are difficult to accept because they must be grasped; fancies are quickly taken on, since they require belief only.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Runes on Thinking

From Dagobert D. Runes, Dictionary of Thinking
with my comments in brackets.:
Thinking can be shaped by heart, gall, glands, stomach, or even shifting eyes. Sometimes I wish that people's thoughts came in colors so one could see what part of the body sent them forth.

Thinking may be classified on a color chart, however, of poetic imagination. Some people's cognitions run rosy; others gray, even black. There are those who think yellow and those who live and breathe blood red. The minds of others are of peculiar color combinations. And there are sages whose badge is white, embodying all the colors. No human emotion is strange to them, yet none colors their thoughts.
[Probably a good thing that people's thoughts don't come in smells –BIK]
A good thought, even when poorly presented, will finally emerge right side up.
[A writer hopes. –BIK]
The last thought is always wiser than the first.
[Not always. One can get sicklied over with the pale cast of too much thought. Then one must say "enough!" –BIK]

A Forced Break From Work

I had surgery yesterday to repair a deviated nasal septum (remnants of a broken nose, a few decades ago). The surgeon also repaired another schnozzola-related problem, swollen turbinates--membranes in the nose that filter the air but that in my case were blocking air flow. The surgeon shrunk them. The deviated septum and the swollen turbinates were making breathing through my nose more and more difficult. The surgeon told me after the surgery that there was more of a mess inside than he expected (broken cartilage and bone fragments--oh my). Anyhow, in the recovery room, in spite of some drainage, I had quite a bit of airflow in the old schnoz, so I'm quite hopeful that the surgery will accomplish what I want it to. For one thing, my snoring, due to having to breath through my mouth when I was lying down, was becoming more and more bothersome to both me and my wife.

The recovery takes time. I had a general anesthetic, morphine and other pain meds. Pretty much knocked out yesterday and sleepy today. Currently I have a splint inside my nose to keep the repaired septum straight. There is some bloody drainage, not much but yuck! (see picture of 'poor me'). My wife is telling me to take it easy and I am following her orders today. I'm not allowed to blow my nose and with the drainage from the surgery, etc. I'm now pretty well blocked up and have to breath through my mouth. It feels like a moderately bad cold, except I'm not sick. I've been napping on and off all day. It's a forced break from working on the Korzybski biography. Although until I finish the manuscript (getting closer and closer--planning to finish it at the end of this year), I can't really get away from thinking about it and always have something simmering on the back burners of my brain.

I'm doing some recreational reading today when I can stay awake. I dug out my old used copy of Dictionary of Thought (1959) by Dagobert D. Runes, one of my favorite 20th Century philosophers. I don't put that in quotes as Korzybski often did when he used the word to indicate that the label didn't necessarily label actual lovers of wisdom). But Runes actually did love wisdom and pursued it. Korzybski would likely have called him an epistemologist (a purr word for him). He must have been aware of Runes and Runes of Korzybski but I haven't found any correspondence or mention of one by the other. But at any rate, I love what Runes says and how he writes. A Jew who loved Spinoza and wrote a huge number of books, and edited more, and was the mainstay of the Philosophical Library publishing house in New York for many years.

Here are a few Rune-ian gems on:
Thought is a twig on the tree of emotion and instinct. As it was a million years ago, the first is still an outgrowth of the latter.

Men think quite alike; if it were different, they could not coexist even for a day. But most people judge by traditional or imitated judgment patterns, and snap judgments are the rule and the rulers.

Is thinking ever free? Wherever I meet it, I find it chained to a motive of one kind or another. The world operates on motivated thinking tied to prejudice, opportunism, greed, narrow-mindedness, selfishness, and a thousand other little passions and passionette that clutter up the narrow path of righteousness.

Friday, October 23, 2009

More To Ponder From Aristotle

"...the man of education will seek exactness so far in each subject as the nature of the thing admits,..."

[Aristotle's Ethics, Trans. by D. P. Chase. NY: Everyman's Library. Book I, III, p. 3]

Friday, October 16, 2009

"Some Thoughts on GS-Training" by Benjamin Eckenfels

I received the following email yesterday from a correspondent in Germany, Benjamin Eckenfels. He had some very significant responses to a recent blogpost of mine and I wanted to share his comments with others. With his permission, here's what Benjamin had to say:
Dear Bruce,
I just read your blogpost A GS Revival? – Korzybski in Academia & the Communication Connection about how GS might start to reenter the academic world (which I would appreciate very much). In fact when I became interested in GS the absence of scientific reviews and recent research was a thing that nearly kept me from learning about GS at all. The reason: How could some discipline that claims to be rooted deeply in the scientific method be trusted, if it is not critically reviewed, revised and updated by scientists at regular universities?

I soon learned that GS seems to take a long winter sleep since the 'good old days' when it seemed to be comparatively popular. Undoubtedly you and your wife are with your book(s) two of the few persons that might change that by means of making GS accessible for readers in 2009. Since GS as a matter of fact is 'driving me sane' I would personally like to thank you for your efforts in making GS more understandable.

Nevertheless from my point of view two main problems remain: As far as I know there is a substantial lack of 'real' research on GS and a severe dearth of practical training material. Towards a solution to the first problem persons like the present IGS Executive Director Lance Strate might contribute in the near future. But what can be done with regard to practical training in GS?

The crucial importance of application of GS in every day life is stressed in nearly every book on GS I've read so far. But besides some kind of “homeworks” there is no material for training available. Therefore every persons interested in GS has to develop it's own training from scratch. I believe this complicates things especially for people from outside the USA (like me) who have not the opportunity to meet with others to work or discuss issues regarding GS so easily. The new IGS-website has a forum and a section called “Learning Center” and this is definitely a good start. But still this provides no means for systematic training; a way to get GS formulations 'into the human nervous system'.

So why do I dwell on this specific point so much? In your blogpost mentioned above you write that you have been influenced (maybe trained?) by some general semanticists like Charlotte Schuchardt Read, Allen Walker Read, Stuart A. Mayper, Robert Pula, Kenneth G. Johnson, etc. You also write that you “qualify as the world's foremost living authority on Korzybski's life and work”. Together with your proven ability to write on GS very 'well', that makes you the only candidate I can imagine to design a practical GS-training - maybe in form of an “workbook” additional to “Drive Yourself Sane”.

I believe such a “workbook” might be a beneficial project for a writer like you and a true 'time-binding' from your teachers in GS towards the people who try to learn about GS in the future.

To cut a long story short: For by now (2009) I believe GS is in fact too 'acadamic' (theoretic rather than practical) to be 'academic' (being a subject of scientific research). How can we expect persons not trained in GS to evolve a discipline that is not theirs? Who is doing the research in chemistry? The trained alchemists? I hope you give this ideas a try.

Last but not least: Let me again thank you for what you have done so far. It really helped me to get along with a lot of things.

Kind regards,
Benjamin Eckenfels (Gießen/Germany)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

From the Stray Thought Bin- Urban Legends

How easy would it be to start an urban legend? As easy as thinking of something absurd and outrageous, then telling someone else by word of mouth or telephone or by typing it into an email or a web page or a blog or by texting it or twittering—and then pressing a key or clicking a computer mouse. These are not sufficient but they do seem necessary factors. Which absurdities and lies gain traction involve other considerations. The potential for passing off nonsense to others seems frighteningly easy, however. Which perhaps shows the merit of the ancient Talmudic advice:
Silence makes a fence for wisdom.

Message to 'General Semanticists' From Aristotle

Those who consider themselves serious students of Korzybski's work would do well to heed the words of Aristotle, who said in his Ethics (a book—by the way—that Korzybski read carefully):
We are right then in saying, that these virtues are formed in a man by his doing the actions; but no one, if he should leave them undone, would be even in the way to become a good man. Yet people in general do not perform these actions, but taking refuge in talk they flatter themselves they are philosophising, and that they will so be good men: acting in truth very like those sick people who listen to the doctor with great attention but do nothing that he tells them: just as these then cannot be well bodily under such a course of treatment, so neither can those be mentally by philosophising. [Book II, IV, p. 32. D.P. Chase, translation. NY: E.P. Dutton, 1911, (1915, 1920)]
Like it or not, what is called "consciousness of abstracting" in korzybskian lingo constitutes something, like the 'virtue' mentioned above, to be developed through deliberate action over time, in order to become a habit. Korzybski and others following him (including my wife and I) have taught techniques for developing such consciousness. (Of course, one does not necessarily need to study 'general semantics' to do this.) Although,using general semantics will surely involve some changes in how you talk, talking about general semantics does not necessarily indicate that you are practicing it.

From the Stray Thought Bin- New Thoughts

Sometimes I come up with what seems like a brilliant new notion or at least a neat turn of phrase and then I realize that I already wrote something similar a while ago. Or somebody else did.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A GS Revival? – Korzybski in Academia & the Communication Connection

The discipline of GS [General Semantics] was founded by an independent scholar, outside of academia. But Korzybski was in continual contact with academic university scholars in a variety of fields while he was formulating his work in the 1920s and early 1930s and he continued to make such contacts as he developed his work until the end of his life in 1950.

Even in his lifetime there was a great deal of interest and ferment in many academic fields as a result of Korzybski's teaching. He had many students in psychiatry, medicine, art, English education, Speech, psychotherapy, social psychology, anthropology, business management, et cetera. Also in Korzybski's lifetime, some interest existed and efforts were made in the direction of affiliating the Institute of General Semantics in some way with a university. The interest of academic scholars in a variety of fields who have used GS in some way in their teaching and research continued after Korzybski's death. As did various efforts, which fell flat for various reasons, to affiliate the Institute with some university.

GS, because of its radically transdisciplinary and also its applied nature has had a surprising bit of influence on the general culture but has never, in my opinion, had the kind of influence that I and other korzybskians have wished. It doesn't fit easily into any conventional way of 'pigeonholing' fields of study. This probably explains why there have been many courses in various academic departments and a surprising amount of research that have made use of Korzybski's work but that there has never, to my knowledge, been an academic center or department of general semantics anywhere. There has certainly been a dearth of direct interest in Korzybski and his work in academia.

From my perspective, the dearth of present-day Korzybski and GS scholarship in academic departments seems a pity. It seems sad to me, and is not a matter of bragging at all, that I qualify as the world's foremost living authority on Korzybski's life and work. It seems a shame—although I'm not ashamed of what I've done— that there are only a handful of people that I know of (mainly outside of academia) who qualify as serious Korzybski scholars. (There are a few more scholars specializing in other things who have at least a serious interest in Korzybski and his work.) I apprenticed at the Institute of General Semantics when it was run by or influenced by some of Korzybski's closest students (primarily Charlotte Schuchardt Read and Allen Walker Read) and serious korzybskian scholars, like Stuart A. Mayper, Robert Pula, Kenneth G. Johnson, Thomas Nelson, and others. Some of my teachers and associates functioned as university academics but many did not and the Institute itself, then, as now, functioned as an independent, non-academic institution.

But I'm very happy now that the Institute has begun to make more connection to the academic world. The current Executive Director Lance Strate, is a veteran teacher of Communication Studies and Media Ecology at Fordham University. New members of the Institute Board of Directors include esteemed Communication scholars like Corey Anton, Thom Giancarelli and Eva Berger, and English Literature Scholar Prafulla Kar.

As evidenced by many of the presenters at the September International Conference on General Semantics (I not only listened to their talks but had personal conversations with many of them), many academics are beginning to see Korzybski on their radar as a significant formulator whose work they ought to know better. I do see a glimmer of the possibility of a GS and Korzybski revival. From my point of view, the increasing interest of academics, i.e., university scholars, in GS and Korzybski seems long overdue and most welcome. Lance Strate, who organized the conference, should get a great deal of credit for stimulating this. By the way, it was hands-down the best GS conference that I've ever attended and I plan on writing more on this blog about a number of the presentations and presenters I interacted with.

It's especially rewarding to see that scholars and professionals in the field of Communication have such a great interest and have become members of the Institute Board of Trustees. Last May, I went to Chicago to represent the Institute of General Semantics at the International Communication Association Conference held there. I gave a presentation on a panel with Corey Anton, who gave a dynamite talk about Korzybski and Heidegger. I also worked at the IGS booth in the exhibitor hall and attended a number of other communication presentations and talked with a lot of people attending.

In my conversations, I learned that the field of Communication (what morphed out of Speech and Rhetoric in the last half century) has become a vast interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary field of academic studies. The Communication field promises to become a major force in unifying the burgeoning social-behavioral sciences and seems a natural place for the Institute of GS and GS-oriented people to 'ply their wares'. There are many theories and subfields within the Communication profession and GS (along with 'Media Ecology') provides a great core approach that could help bridge some of these subfields as well as help Communication professionals apply their work to other fields. It seemed very positive that so many people that I talked with at this Communication conference, knew about korzybskian GS or had an interest in learning more.

The Communication field seems like a natural place for korzybskian and GS-oriented scholars to develop their work and do research. I hope to write more about this later.

It seems smart that the Institute board has brought a number of Communication professionals and scholars onto the board as new trustees. The Institute has a great-looking future if it makes use of the interest and resources these people can provide.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Perils of Big Brains

"There is usually only a limited amount of damage that can be done by dull or stupid people. For creating a truly monumental disaster, you need people with high IQs."
—Thomas Sowell

More at The Brainy Bunch

Korzybski and Jung? The Typealyzer

Thumbs up to Mattias Ostmar, who describes himself as a "Musician, blogger, INTP, psychographer, web guy." He made use of korzybskian understandings while developing a web-based tool based on Jung's and others' work on psychological types. His interesting post on this tool which he calls the "Typealyzer" shows some sharp insight into what Korzybski was up to. He understands what Korzybski intended with the term 'general semantics'. Check out his post A Few Basic Thoughts and Concepts Behind the Typealyzer Meanwhile, I'm going to check out the Typealyzer.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

William Safire Z'L

William Safire died on Sunday. (Z"L stands for zichrono l'vracha the Hebrew version of 'rest in peace' which literally means 'his memory for a blessing'. ) In his regular column for the New York Times, "On Language," Safire explored the latest fads and foibles in English usage. It was one of the main reasons I looked at the New York Times Magazine. He had an awareness of Korzybski's work and in his writing mentioned Korzybski and general semantics every so often. In one of his last columns entitled "bending the curve", he wrote:
Symbols are fine; we live by words, figures, pictures. But as Alfred Korzybski postulated seven decades ago, the symbol is not the thing itself: you cannot milk the word “cow,” and as he put it, “a map is not the territory.” Arthur Laffer’s famous curve drawn on a cocktail napkin offers some economists a nice shorthand guide to his supply-side idea, but it is not the theory itself. Today’s mind-bending surge toward the use of words about graphs and poll trends — even when presented in color on elaborate Power Point presentations — takes us steps away from reality. There must be a curve to illustrate that, and I say bend it way back.
William Safire. A wise voice now silenced. But we still have the writings he left behind.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Institute of General Semantics International Conference - An Initial Report

I returned home on Monday from NYC. I congratulate Lance Strate on a fantastic conference program at Fordham University at Lincoln Center. Since I came back, a lot has been going on which unfortunately has kept me from writing about the conference until now. I'll start off here with a few relevant links.

The Fordham student newspaper had a nice write-up on the web on Mary Catherine Bateson who gave the 57th Annual Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture. Here's the link: Anthropologist Asks 'Age Old' Question: Does Older Mean Wiser? The short answer—No, but it can if you lead a life of learning and don't stop. A larger question she was dealing with—how do we promote and develop a time-binding culture? Short answer—Start here and now and with yourself. I found it an interesting talk at the end a long and fruitful day.

On Sunday, Mike Schilling on his blog Basket Case, had a post providing the beginning-of-chapter non-aristotelian quotes that A.E. Van Vogt used in his science fiction fantasy novel The World of Null A 'Null A' was Van Vogt's term for what Korzybski referred to as 'non-aristotelian' which was not anti-aristotelian for Korzybski, despite the implications of Van Vogt's usage. Interesting quotes Thanks, Mike.

Finally, I looked at the Sunday New York Times Magazine after I got home (yes, we get the NY Times in Los Angeles), where William Safire made a nice reference to Korzybski in his column bending the curve

Quite a korzybskian weekend for me!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Hidden Side of Babel: A Review

Laura Bertone, as I noted last week, will receive the Institute of General Semantics' Hayakawa Literary Award for her book, The Hidden Side of Babel this weekend at the Institute's Across the Generations: Legacies of Hope and Meaning conference in New York City. Congratulations again, Laura! She wrote a wonderful book, worthy of receiving the prestigious award. My wife, Susan Presby Kodish, reviewed the book in the General Semantics Bulletin a while ago. Here is her review: Susan Kodish Review of HSB

I'll be attending the conference, which starts on Friday. Between preparing for the trip and researching the final part of my book, I confess that I haven't paid a great deal of attention to blogging. As you can see from looking at the program and presenter biographies available at from the IGS website, the conference has a large number of very interesting speakers—beside Laura Bertone—lined up (including your humble servant). I hope to discuss here some of the riches I've gleaned at the conference after I return to Pasadena.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Quote of the Day - 'Knowledge'

"Wonder, rather than doubt, is the root of knowledge."
--- Abraham Joshua Heschel (from Jewish World Review)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Quote of the Day - 'People'

"I believe people are well-intentioned. But I have great respect for the corrosive influence of bias, systematic distortion of thought, the power of rationalization, the guises of self-interest, and the inevitability of unintended consequences."
—Michael Crichton, "Author's Message," in State of Fear, p. 571

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Hidden Side of Babel

News Flash from the Institute of General Semantics:
The Institute of General Semantics is pleased to announce that its judges have selected The Hidden Side of Babel: Unveiling Cognition, Intelligence and Sense by Laura Bertone (Buenos Aries: Evolución, 2006) as the winner of its inaugural Samuel I. Hayakawa Book Prize. The Hayakawa Book Prize goes to the most outstanding work published in the past five years on topics of direct relevance to the discipline of general semantics, and includes a cash award of $1,000. The Hidden Side of Babel was chosen by judges Martin Levinson, Jacqueline Rudig, and Lance Strate, from a highly competitive field of ten finalists. Dr. Bertone is a Visiting Professor at the Masters’ Program of Translation and Interpretation at the University of Buenos Aires, and the Director of the consulting firm EVOLUCION, devoted to improving communication processes and to organizing educational seminars and events. A native of Argentina, she worked in Paris as an AIIC professional conference interpreter for twenty years, and holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics from Paris VIII University. The Hayakawa Prize will be presented to Laura Bertone at the Across the Generations: Legacies of Hope and Meaning conference on September 11-13, 2009, at Fordham University in New York City, where she will be one of the featured speakers.
Congratulations Laura! My wife helped Laura edit her book and having read it myself I heartily recommend it to one and all. In a very real sense we all actually speak different languages even if we speak the 'same' language. What are the challenges in trying to understand and not misunderstand, to be understood and not be misunderstood? How do we know when we are doing one and not the other? Laura's book will give you a new perspective on how you communicate and how you can do it better.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"Minds in Uniform"

Geoffrey Sampson has written an article "Minds in Uniform" seeking to demonstrate that Noam Chomsky's and now Steven Pinker's view of language ultimately promotes what could be considered, in my terms, a form of 'intellectual fascism'. Controversial stuff. Nicely written. The abstract, below provides a summary of the article:
Linguistic theory is seen by many of its practitioners as an enterprise as ethically neutral as mathematics. But it provides apparent scientific justification for a model of cognition which is currently fashionable for non-scientific reasons, and which threatens the future flourishing of the human spirit. According to Steven Pinker and, before him, Noam Chomsky, language is a rich source of evidence for the idea that the structure and contents of human thought are constrained by genetics as rigidly as the shape and functioning of the human body. This idea harmonizes with legal and political developments of the last twenty years, under which distinctive cultural norms evolved by independent societies are increasingly being swept aside in favour of universal enforcement of aprioristic systems imposed from above. Whereas 18th- and 19th-century imperialists recognized that the cultures of different societies were indeed different (though they set out to eliminate some of the differences), 21st-century internationalism is made to seem uncontroversial by trivializing the extent of existing cultural differences. The Pinker/Chomsky model of human cognition implies that the differences are indeed trivial. But that model is baseless. It rests chiefly not on empirical observation but on surmises about language behaviour; now that corpus linguistics is allowing us to check the accuracy of such surmises, they turn out to be wildly wrong even for English. Meanwhile, anthropological linguists such as Daniel Everett are showing us that differences between the intellectual worlds encoded by the languages of separate societies can be far larger than even pre-generative linguists suspected. If our genes do not constrain our ideas, we have no reason to assume that the belief-system of the leaders of North American and European societies anno 2006 is the last word in human intellectual development. We must be free to move forward intellectually in the future, and we should reject models of human cognition which deny that freedom.
Here's the link to the full article: Minds in Uniform

Monday, August 24, 2009

Quote (2) of the Day - 'Honesty & Deceit'

"It is discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit."
— Noel Coward

(Qtd. in Wordsmanship: Semantics as a Communist Weapon by Stefan Possony. A Study Prepared for the Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws of the Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. Senate. U.S. Govt. Printing Office: Washington, D.C., 1961)

Quote of the Day - 'History'

"Frequently in history the burden rested on men behind the screen, the fancy and proud actors on the stage were only marionettes."
— Dagobert D. Runes (Dictionary of Thought)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Helping Soldiers and Veterans Readjust

"Army Will Train Soldiers To Cope With Emotions" says the headline of yesterday's front page New York Times article (August 18, 2009). The story, entitled on the WWW as "Mental Stress Training Is Planned for U.S. Soldiers" details a new $117 Million program that the U.S. Army is instituting to eventually train all 1.1 million soldiers in emotional resiliency. This is part of the Department of Defense's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program . With the 'mental' health problems of depression, 'post-traumatic stress disorder', and suicide coming to the fore as major problems for combat troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, these issues are now getting the attention they deserve. With consultation from a number of psychologists, such as Martin Seligman, George A. Bonanno, Karen Reivich and others, pilot programs will be started on two military bases with the initial focus on training sergeants who will be able to teach the techniques to enlisted men and women. The methods being taught are based on the work of Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck, among others.

The article made a few related points which 'floored me' as a korzybskian general semantics scholar. First, that this training would be the first of its kind. Not the case—as readers of this blog will soon see. Then quoting from the New York Times article,
"It's important to be clear that there's no evidence that any program makes soldiers more resilient," said George A. Bonanno, a psychologist at Columbia University. But he and others said the program could settle one of the most important questions in psychology: whether mental toughness can be taught in the classroom."
No evidence? Also not the case.

During World War Two, Douglas M. Kelley, a psychiatrist and student of Alfred Korzybski, served as Chief Consultant in Clinical Psychology and Assistant Consultant in Psychiatry to the European Theatre of Operations. Both prior to and after the D-Day invasion of Normandy by Allied Forces, Kelley worked in army hospitals in England and Belgium with psychiatric casualties from "combat exhaustion". Kelley's program of treatment involved intensive but brief classes and group counseling sessions based primarily on Korzybski's educational approach. Kelly also trained non-psychiatrist field medics and surgeons, who served during the Normandy invasion, in these methods . There is some evidence (although statistical data was lost), that the use of these methods with thousands of troops may have had something to do with the reduced number of psychiatric casualties during the D-Day invasion (as compared with previous Allied invasions in North Africa and Italy).

Korzybski, himself, and other of his students also worked with people suffering from what is now referred to as 'post-traumatic stress disorder'.

Kelley's paper on his work in the European Theatre of Operations, "The Use of General Semantics And Korzybskian Principles As An Extensional Method of Group Psychotherapy In Traumatic Neurosis" was originally published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases in 1951, Vol. 114 (3), Sept., pp. 189-220. (In his paper, Kelly presented the details of his classes in sufficient detail for others to reproduce and build upon.)

Korzybski's paper with a case study, "A Veteran's Re-Adjustment and Extensional Methods," was originally published in ETC, Vol. III (4), Summer 1946 and also appeared in part in The American Journal of Psychiatry, "Clinical Notes," Vol. 103, No. 1, July 1946. Korzybski soon had it distributed as a separate reprint. It was reprinted in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, 1920-1950 published by the Institute of General Semantics in 1990. Here is a link to Korzybski's original reprint version: A Veteran's Re-Adjustment and Extensional Methods.

Both papers have been reprinted together along with a number of other seminal articles in the Institute of General Semantics' book General Semantics In Psychotherapy: Selected Writings On Methods Aiding Therapy edited by Isabel Caro and Charlotte Schuchardt Read. (My wife, Susan Presby Kodish also has an article in the book and provided major editorial help in bringing the book into print.) Also available (for less than at at the Institute of General Semantics E-Bookstore

Shouldn't expert consultants like Bonanno who are helping design the Army's new program to help our troops be a little more careful in making pronouncements about what evidence does or doesn't exist? Especially since this is not the Army's first effort in this kind of thing. In this blog piece, I've pulled some of the forgotten material out of the memory hole. And the project designer-evaluator-researchers including the Army people who are participating in this important program now have no excuse for not educating themselves about what has already been done.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sunday, August 9, 2009

From The Stray Thought Bin

I've finally seen one.*
* I never saw a purple cow,
I never hope to see one.
But I will tell you anyhow,
I'd rather see than be one.
Gelett Burgess

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Bukowski Poem

Probably the best of 'Beats' for me.
He got beaten the best—he beat it.
I see him as a man that I might be,
if I'd lived a life as troubled as he.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Quote of the Day - 'Knowledge & Action'

"Knowledge and action are twins, each glorifying the other."
--- Rabbi Yoseph Kimchi

(From Jewish Word Review, Tues. July 28, 2009)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

How Not To Study General Semantics

In Art and Illusion, E.H. Gombrich wrote: 
"To probe a hole we first use a straight stick to see how far it takes us. To probe the visible world we use the assumption that things are simple until they prove to be otherwise." (The Oxford Book of Aphorisms, p. 231)
The point I want to make here with this quote is that one must first use the tool, whether a stick or an assumption or a system of 'thought', i.e., sincerely seeking to understand and apply it (and the understanding and application go hand-in-hand) to see how far it takes us. Only then can one can be in a position to know its limitations and in turn criticize it. 

This relates to learning general semantics, the non-aristotelian study and methodology formulated by Alfred Korzybski in his 1933 book Science and Sanity. Korzybski early realized that one of the main obstacles that people created for themselves in understanding it, applying it—and eventually also realizing its limitations—involved 'abnormal negativistic attitudes',  arguing, verbalizing, and 'philosophizing' about it and in turn rejecting it before applying it.  As he told many people quite early, general semantics involves a practice, a discipline that one needs to train oneself in. A prematurely 'critical'— i.e., negativistic—attitude can prevent one from learning anything new. 

Here is a letter that he wrote to Otis Dixon Phillips on June 21, 1945:
"...I am writing to you to clear up the best I can the problem of 'abnormal negativistic attitudes'. It is a most serious problem and very fundamental in psychiatry, and more so in daily life, usually disregarded. In living life there is such a thing as the 'investigatory reflex', without which life in general, and particularly human life, could not exist in  their most complex environment. This means that to adjust ourselves to environments we have to study the environment, in other words investigate it. If we have the sick negativistic [underlined in original-BIK] attitude we will not investigate, and so never learn by experience.

In the impact of life, if we are not 'open-minded', willing to learn, we are hopeless. In schooling we know that to learn anything we have to be receptive, and therefore not negativistic. A damn fool little boy in school who tries to be a smarty (negativistic) never will learn anything, and so the situation is hopeless. I can do no better to explain, short of a treatise, what negativism can do in life. There is no learning with negativism, and human life depends on learning. 

If you would investigate life and even sick patients in hospitals, you would understand what negativism means. It's really a wrecker of human life. It definitely involves fundamental life issues. Certainly 'abnormal negativistic attitudes' mean much more than a layman, without studying these issues, can understand. 

This is the best I can do to answer you by letter. 

Negativism certainly comes in fundamentally in our work. To undo that is extremely difficult, if at all possible, as it involves a whole reorientation of our attitudes. 

With all best wishes,                                                      
Yours cordially,

Alfred Korzybski"
[AK to Otis Dixon Phillips, June 21, 1945. IGS Archives at Read House, Ft. Worth, Texas]

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Quote of the Day - 'Words'

"Words are aspects of a much wider communicative context, most of which is not verbal at all."– Kenneth Burke ["Foreword," The Philosophy of Literary Form, p. xvii]

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Personal Time-Binding

An aspect of time-binding involves each of us learning from ourselves, learning how to make the most of our individual experiences. My wife has referred to this as "personal time-binding." Becoming conscious of yourself as a personal time-binder, you can recognize that you communicate with yourself as well as with others.

We talk to ourselves a lot. We can use this internal chatter for worse and better. When we label ourselves “stupid” or with similar negative higher-order abstractions, we create a negative environment for ourselves. When we make perfectionistic demands on ourselves, unconditionally and absolutistically telling ourselves what we “must” do, we diminish our chances of fully realizing our potentialities. Instead, as Albert Ellis has emphasized throughout his writings, we can extensionalize our internal chatter, just as we extensionalize our talk with others. Ellis’ books provide valuable material for learning how to talk to yourself in this way.

For example, I can change absolutistic demands, such as “I must have good relationships” into probabilistic preferences, such as “I prefer to have good relationships but I don’t absolutely have to have them.” Rather than absolutistically ‘shoulding on myself,’ I can use conditional or non-absolutistic shoulds instead. So I can tell myself that “If I want good relationships, I probably should accept other people and take responsibility for how I act. However, it is not absolutely guaranteed that people will accept me just because I accept them and act responsibly. Moreover, I am not a total ‘shit’ if I fail to do this perfectly all of the time even if it might seem more preferable.”

In learning how to talk to yourself this way, you not only take greater responsibility for your behavior, but take responsibility for treating yourself well. Thus, you can learn how to use your capacities most effectively by cooperating with yourself — enhancing your realistic self-acceptance.

Your personal time-binding includes both the environment you create for yourself and others as well as the personal legacy you leave for future generations. As you act in such a way as to bring your legacy to fruition, you contribute to your own and others’ daily well-being. Time-Binders — go for it!

[Adapted from the article Living Extensionally, published in ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, July 2004]

Monday, June 29, 2009

"Words As Symbolic Communication In The Healthcare Setting"

In an excellent article, "Words As Symbolic Communication In The Healthcare Setting," Christopher Bear Beam writes about his experiences as a hospital chaplin and as a patient and how he has used general-semantics notions to help himself and others. He notes:
Today, after a number of years of doing this work, I have concluded that those people who work in the field of the Healing Arts often are not equipped with the understanding of how their words are symbolic forms of communication having great import in their client’s minds. Since they are often seen as the experts in the field (this is starting to change as healthcare moves to more of participatory process, but there still are huge gaps in its practice) there is a primary accountability for taking the lead in communicating in a healthy way. I guess what I’m also saying is that it would be helpful for medical professionals to learn the principles of General Semantics that would give them more tools to work with in dialoguing with the people they serve. Another way of saying this is that it would give them a supportive means of symbol making that leads to more healthy outcomes.
As a veteran physical therapist and general-semantics scholar/practitioner I heartily agree.

The entire article is worth reading, printing out, and studying. And I don't mind that he plugs my wife's and my book Drive Yourself Sane: Using the Uncommon Sense of General Semantics, Revised Second Edition. 8-)

Read Words As Symbolic Communication In The Healthcare Setting

Friday, June 19, 2009

"The Language of Confusion" by Rabbi Yonason Goldson

I'm guessing that this commentary by Rabbi Yonason Goldson will probably offend some of my readers in some way. So be it. I find it interesting and pertinent to this blog so am posting a link to it here. Rabbi Goldson contends the following: that 60 years later, Orwell's dystopian vision is more prophetic than ever.

A snippet from his essay:
"Teachers, be careful with your words," warns the Talmud, "lest the disciples who follow you will drink of evil waters and die." When the waters of wisdom become polluted with confusion and contradiction, it is society's youth who will pay the price through the erosion of moral clarity and moral principles.
I think Korzybski would agree to that. I know I do.

Here's the link for those who have an interest: The Language of Confusion

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

General Semantics-A Theory of Metacognition

In an article entitled Bridging the Research-Practice Divide: Using General-Semantics in Physical Therapy Practice I wrote the following which I still think applies. I shamelessly quote myself:
General-semantics constitutes a theory of metacognition, a working theory of how humans construct their perceptions, beliefs, theories, etc. Metacognition, thinking about thinking, has traditionally been considered part of the branch of philosophy called epistemology, the theory of knowledge.

Over the years many philosophers such as Plato and Descartes have speculated and theorized about how we know what we know. These theorists lacked much empirical knowledge of the human nervous system, psychology and other relevant areas of knowledge such as how scientists and mathematicians actually behave in order to gain knowledge. As a result their views were often riddled with untenable assumptions such as that of a `mind' separate from a `body'. Among other things, what distinguished Korzybski from these theorists was his effort to bring to bear studies in neuroscience, behavioral/social science, natural science, mathematics, linguistics and other fields to develop a scientific and thus up-to-date and open-ended, applied epistemology.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Reflections about Reflections

Korzybski would usually wrap up the lecture part of his seminars by reciting several quotes related to self-reflexiveness, one of the central formulations of his system. Self-reflexiveness involves the notion that you can make a map of your map, talk about your talking, abstract from your abstractions, 'think' about your 'thinking', etc., ongoingly.

Korzybski presented these favorite quotes of his in the unabridged version of a paper General Semantics, Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Prevention, which he delivered at a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in Cincinnati in 1940. He wrote:
'It should be noticed that in human life self-reflexiveness has even "material" implications, which introduce serious difficulties. Professor Cassius J. Keyser expresses this very aptly: "It is obvious, once the fact is pointed out, that the character of human history, the character of human conduct, and the character of all our human institutions depend both upon what man is and in equal or greater measure upon what we humans think man is." This is profoundly true.

'Professor Arthur S. Eddington describes the same problem in these words: "And yet, in regard to the nature of things, this knowledge is only an empty shell--a form of symbols. It is knowledge of structural form, and not knowledge of content. All through the physical world runs that unknown content, which must surely be the stuff of our consciousness. Here is a hint of aspects deep within the world of physics, and yet unattainable by the methods of physics. And, moreover, we have found that where science has progressed the farthest, the mind has but regained from nature that which the mind has put into nature. We have found a strange footprint on the shores of the unknown. We have devised profound theories, one after another, to account for its origin. At last, we have succeeded in reconstructing the creature that made the foot-print. And Lo! it is our own."

'Dr. Alexis Carrel formulated the same difficulty differently, but just as aptly: "To progress again man must remake himself. And he cannot remake himself without suffering. For he is both the marble and the sculptor." '

Sunday, May 31, 2009

'General Semantics' Wordle

A image I just produced from a word-list by my friend and colleague, Milton Dawes:

Mathematical Verse - Zero

Zero –
it holds nothing,
and even nothing has a place.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

From The I.G.S. Archives - 'do not make speeches..'

The I.G.S. Archives remain a long-neglected resource of the scholarly world of the human sciences. 'The human sciences' don't know that yet. Neither do many people who consider themselves 'general semanticists'.

Korzybski maintained a massive correspondence with many of the major figures of twentieth-century intellectual, scientific life. These letters, among other archival materials—some of them on microfilm and in digital form, some still only available in original form—now reside at Columbia University and at the Institute of General Semantics.

Among the other archival materials, one can find notes from Korzybski's seminars, recordings and transcripts, letters to and from students, and more—much, much more. These reveal a richness that many people, mainly exposed to popularizations and diluted popularizations of popularizations of Korzybski's work, can barely imagine. Perhaps a Korzybski renaissance will happen as more people realize the depths not yet plumbed in the full extent of Korzybski's work. In the meantime, I remain one of the few people (alas) in the world who has ever delved into these materials with any amount of serious effort (mainly in the course of researching my biography of Korzybski). On this weblog, I will occasionally share some interesting 'bits and pieces' from the I.G.S. Archives that I've found along the course of my research.

Here is a little snippet from a letter that Korzybski wrote on April 11, 1949 to a student he had worked with, giving what he considered some well-needed advice to that person:
" not make speeches about G.S. I do not know whether you are well enough to do that. It is one thing to study it, but still another thing to talk about it. It is important for you to continute to study and apply the methods for your own orientation*, but first we have to understand the principles and apply them ourselves, before we can talk about them to others."

*[Korzybski used underlining in his typing to italicize rather than the italics I have used here.- BIK]

Monday, May 18, 2009

Quote of the Day - 'Civilization'

"If civilization is to be measured by the progress of human rationality, we can still use the yardstick of the cynic—which is no longer than a sigh." (1)

(1) Ben Hecht. 1943 (1944) A Guide For The Bedeviled. Garden City, NY: Garden City Publishing Co., Inc., p. 38

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Monday, May 11, 2009

General Semantics Glossary - Descriptive Level

Descriptive Level: the first verbal level [in an idealized hierarchy of abstraction represented by Korzybski's Structural Differential]; involves statements of 'fact', wherein we describe most specifically our past and/or present experiences.

(1) from Drive Yourself Sane: Using the Uncommon Sense of General Semantics, Revised Second Edition.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What's Happening Now?

in part of the culture, i.e., environment
(neuro-evaluative, neuro-linguistic)
we're living-in/communicating-in/creating,
at apparently ever accelerating-exponentiating speed,
with some new electronic tools/media
like never before...for good and ill.

Get a feel by watching this short Youtube video
(an ad for Sprint but still worth looking at):

Sunday, May 3, 2009

General Semantics Glossary - Delayed Evaluating

Delayed Evaluating: our potential ability to stop our immediate, automatic behavior long enough to sufficiently investigate the current situation before acting

(1) from Drive Yourself Sane: Using the Uncommon Sense of General Semantics, Revised Second Edition.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Thursday, April 23, 2009

"Nothing Twice"

In Science and Sanity, Korzybski stated one of the basic postulates of general semantics, non-identity, thusly:
"We must be aware continuously that in life on the un-speakable level we deal only with absolute individuals, be they objects, situations, or s.r [semantic (evaluational) reactions]." (p. 396, 5th Ed.)
I found a lovely poem "Nothing Twice" by his fellow Pole Wislawa Szymborska who gives the notion of non-identity her poetic turn. The first verse:
Nothing can ever happen twice.
In consequence, the sorry fact is
that we arrive here improvised
and leave without the chance to practice.
A link to the rest of the poem—"Nothing Twice"

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

General Semantics Glossary - Converging Inferences

Converging Inferences: multiple inferences about a situation which lead to a similar conclusion, or set of conclusions; increases the probable accuracy of those conclusions [given the soundness of the contributing inferences].

(1) from Drive Yourself Sane: Using the Uncommon Sense of General Semantics, Revised Second Edition.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Tribute To A Noble Pole - Jan Karski Corner

The New York Times reports on the dedication yesterday of Jan Karski Corner in New York City. It is a place that I plan to visit the next time I get to NYC to do honor to a hero of civilization and a noble Pole. Jan Karski Corner

As reported in the Times:
The southeast corner of Madison Avenue and East 37th Street, in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan, was given the honorary designation of Jan Karski Corner on Thursday, in memory of the Polish liaison officer who infiltrated the Warsaw ghetto and a German concentration camp and carried the first eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust to Western leaders.

A monument to Mr. Karski, showing him seated on a bench, holding a cane and with a chess board nearby, was erected at the same intersection in November 2007, outside the Polish Consulate. Mr. Karski, who later became a professor of history at Georgetown University, died in 2000 at the age of 86. The new street sign in his honor stands outside the De Lamar mansion, the consul’s residence.
Karski, at the risk of his own life, was smuggled in and out of the Warsaw Ghetto and a German Death Camp and then made his way to England and the U.S in 1942 to tell what he witnessed of the destruction of European Jewry by the Nazis. As an agent of the Polish-Government-in-Exile, he tried to convince the leaders of the countries allied against Germany to do something to save the Jews as well as others being mass-murdered by the Germans. Korzybski was in contact with Polish-emigre groups in the U.S. and knew quite early what was going on, as did many Poles living in the West. He undoubtedly felt proud of the Polish resistance to Germany and of Polish assistance to the Jews, and felt disgust at the vast indifference and inaction in the West.

I've talked to many people—who should know better—who talk as if the Poles at that time were the greatest Jew-haters in Europe. Certainly there were lots of Polish antisemites. But there were antisemites all over Europe and elsewhere. And the Poles as a whole were not the worst. The death camps in Poland were run by Germans not Poles. The Germans also murdered about 3 million ethnic Poles. There was not a Nazi-occupied country in Europe that suffered more than Poland and whose non-Jewish citizens did more for the Jews in their midst—although it certainly wasn't enough. The role of Polish soldiers fighting throughout other theatres of the war for the Allied cause also makes a remarkable and unparalleled story, quite in keeping with the Polish tradition in support of liberty. As an old Polish saying goes—"For your freedom and ours."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Plato and the Art of Reading the Haggada

My media-ecology antennae were out when I saw this Passover-related article on the balance of literacy and orality ( written and oral tradition) in Judaism.

Plato and the Art of Reading the Haggada

Monday, April 13, 2009

General Semantics Glossary - Consciousness of Abstracting

Consciousness of Abstracting: basic goal of general semantics; using our human ability to function with awareness of how we get information and use language; improves how we function individually, in groups, and as cultures. (1)

(1) from Drive Yourself Sane: Using the Uncommon Sense of General Semantics, Revised Second Edition.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Beware Of The Fire Of The Sages

From Passover (starting tonight) to Rosh HaShana (the Jewish New Year), Jews traditionally read a chapter of the Pirkei Avot ("The Ethics of the Fathers"), every Sabbath. The Pirkei Avot mostly consists of one tractate of the Talmud. It's the part of the Talmud that even relatively unlearned Jews like myself seem likely to have read—a book full of practical and moral teachings.

I was dipping into it recently and read a bit that reminded me of Korzybski. Korzybski, a man full of practical and moral teachings, seems more and more to fit the classical curmudgeon mold, the more I learn about him. He had some very hard edges at times with people whom he clearly wanted to teach and help. It put off some of them, I'm nigh sure. Perhaps that hardness comes closer to what one should expect from a teacher like him and not a gentle Mr. or Dr. Feel-Good that some would prefer. The road to becoming wiser, even with help, may inevitably involve bumps and bruises. And our teachers along the way may not seem as nice as we would like—though no excuses for unnecessary cruelty or the foibles of the great. As Rabbi Eliezer said in the Pirkei Avot (Chapter 2),
... You should warm yourself opposite the fire of the Sages, but be cautious that you not be burned by their glowing coals. For their bite is the bite of a fox. Their sting is the sting of a scorpion. Their hiss is the hiss of a serpent. And all their words are coals of fire.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

General Semantics Glossary - Aristotelian Orientation

Aristotelian Orientation: a pre-modern-scientific system of making sense of experiences and using language, systematized by Aristotle (384–322 B.C.E.) and his followers; still widely used today. (1)

(1) from Drive Yourself Sane: Using the Uncommon Sense of General Semantics, Revised Second Edition.

Quote Of The Day - Fools and Sages

"A complete fool is better than a half-sage."
— Jewish saying

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Korzybski and the Parable of the Flappers

In 1941, Korzybski was trying to get out the Second Edition of Science and Sanity. The First Edition, published in October 1933, had sold out by the end of 1939. Various problems and delays had occurred since then and Institute of General Semantics now had a large number of back orders to fill.

Korzybski had been working on the “Introduction To The Second Edition,” since sometime in mid-1940. After multiple drafts and much serious editing he had sent it off to the printer, Science Press, late that year. By February 1941, he had received the publisher’s proofs of the "Introduction" and had started another round of editing. (He would finish the "Introduction" in March although further correction of proofs would continue afterwards). He was also working on the “Supplementary Bibliography of the Second Edition,” the new book jacket and was editing the proofs of the rest of the new front and back matter. This included a new page of the volumes of the International Non-aristotelian Library. The books there included one already published (Science and Sanity), those in preparation (including the upcoming Lee and Hayakawa books, Language Habits In Human Affairs and Language In Action, respectively) and the revised list of books whose authors would “be announced later.” Of the fifty-seven titles listed on that page only the three noted above ever got published. (Korzybski could be called naïve but he believed in aiming high.)

He had also selected a new opening epigraph for the book to replace the ‘Fable of the Amoeba’ from The Meaning of Meaning by Ogden and Richards that he had used in the First Edition. This new epigraph, to be placed after the dedication page, expressed even better than the previous one the central message of Korzybski's book. It consisted of several related passages from Chapter II of Part III of Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. It described Gulliver’s visit to the flying island of Laputa and his experience with some of its more well-to-do inhabitants. 
A Laputian Gentleman Taking A Walk

Below I've included the complete quote that Korzybski abstracted:
"At my alighting, I was surrounded with a crowd of people; but those who stood nearest seemed to be of better quality. They beheld me with all the marks and circumstances of wonder, neither, indeed, was I much in their debt ; having never, till then, seen a race of mortals so singular in their shapes, habits, and countenances. Their heads were all reclined either to the right or the left ; one of their eyes turned inward, and the other directly up to the zenith. Their outward garments were adorned with the figures of suns, moons, and stars, interwoven with those of fiddles, flutes, harps, trumpets, guitars, harpsicords, and many other instruments of music, unknown to us in Europe. I observed, here and there, many in the habit of servants, with a blown bladder fastened like a flail to the end of a short stick, which they carried in their hands. In each bladder was a small quantity of dried pease, or little pebbles (as I was afterwards informed). With these bladders they now and then flapped the mouths and ears of those who stood near them, of which practice I could not then conceive the meaning ; it seems, the minds of these people are so taken up with intense speculations, that they neither can speak, nor attend to the discourses of others, without being roused by some external taction upon the organs of speech and hearing; for which reason, those persons, who are able to afford it always keep a flapper (the original is climenole) in their family, as one of their domestics, nor ever walk abroad, or make visits, without him. And the business of this officer is, when two or three more persons are in company, gently to strike with his bladder the mouth of him who is to speak, and the right ear of him or them to whom the speaker addresseth himself. This flapper is likewise employed diligently to attend his master in his walks, and, upon occasion, to give him a soft flap on his eyes, because he is always so wrapped up in cogitation that he is in manifest danger of falling down every precipice, and bouncing his head against every post; and in the streets, of jostling others, or being jostled himself, into the kennel.   
It was necessary to give the reader this information, without which he would be at the same loss with me, to understand the proceedings of these people, as they conducted me up the stairs to the top of the island, and from thence to the royal palace. While we were ascending, they forgot several times what they were about, and left me to myself, till their memories were again roused by their flappers; for they appeared altogether unmoved by the sight of my foreign habit and countenance, and by the shouts of the vulgar, whose thoughts and minds were more disengaged.  
. . . And although they are dextrous enough upon a piece of paper in the management of the rule, the pencil, and the divider, yet, in the common actions and behaviour of life, I have not seen a more clumsy, awkward, and unhandy people, nor so slow and perplexed in their conceptions upon all other subjects, except those of mathematics and music. They are very bad reasoners, and vehemently given to opposition, unless when they happen to be of the right opinion, which is seldom their case. Imagination, fancy, and invention they are wholly strangers to, nor have any words in their language by which those ideas can be expressed; the whole compass of their thoughts and mind being shut up within the two forementioned sciences ."
JONATHAN SWIFT (Gulliver's Travels, A Voyage to Laputa)