Saturday, January 21, 2012

"How About 'Evaluatics" – A Letter from the ETC. Archives

I don't particularly care for 'general semantics'—that is, the term 'general semantics'. And I'm not alone. Many of the most dedicated students of and builders-upon Alfred Korzybski's work, popularly know as 'general semantics' have had to deal the problems associated with the term 'general semantics'. 

Because of how people tend to automatically interpret the term—as an elaboration of 'semantics', the linguistic/philosophical study of 'word meanings'—there has always existed the tendency to understand the work as 'all about' language and linguistic 'meaning'—an excessively limiting viewpoint for those of us who have studied Korzybski's "up-to-date epistemology" with any significant seriousness. 

At the time when I was most active at the Institute of General Semantics, Korzybski's co-workers such as my friend and mentor Charlotte Schuchardt Read, were still teaching and working there, and for them the term 'general semantics' remained as much of a problem as ever. For a time, those of us involved in the scholarly publishing and teaching then going on at the Institute, decided to insert a hyphen as in 'general-semantics' to at least mark it more clearly as a unified term. However we later decided against imposing this usage in any formal way, and stopped it as an Institute policy. (Although I prefer the hyphenated spelling and sometimes still use it, definitely correct and clarifying according to the Chicago Manual of Style when using a two-word term as a modifier as in "a general-semantics approach.") In my Radical General-Semantics classes today, I keep a special contribution box for any student to deposit a fine whenever they use the term 'semantics' when actually referring to 'general semantics'. (Writing or saying "GS" provides another way to avoid triggering  automatic reactions associated with seeing or hearing the word 'semantic(s)'.) 

As I fully document in Korzybski: A Biography, the confusion between 'general semantics' and 'semantics' had become problematic even for Korzybski. In the final years of his life he had come to realize the difficulties caused by people's signal reactions to the term 'general semantics' for his general theory of evaluation and to the term 'semantic' used as a modifier synonymous with evaluational. By the time of his sudden and unexpected death on March 1, 1950, various methods were being considered by him and his students to deal with the problem. If he had lived longer, it seems very likely to me that he would have changed the name of the discipline he had founded and modified the terminology even more than he already had done.

Here is a terminological solution proposed by one student, J. Russell Bruff, printed in the Correspondence section of the Spring 1949 issue (Volume 6, Number 3) of ETC.: A Review of General Semantics (published at that time, not by the  Institute of General Semantics, but by the Society for General Semantics.) The Editor of ETC. at that time, S. I. Hayakawa was one of the people whom Bruff was referring to as using 'semantics' when talking about 'general semantics' and thus helping to perpetuate the confusion. (To his credit, Hayakawa did publish Bruff's letter.) However you evaluate Bruff's proposal, he pinpoints quite well some significant aspects of what remains an ongoing problem for those of us in 2012 who want to promote and develop Korzybski's work. 
Sirs: In getting started in general semantics, I found myself seriously misevaluating the discipline at first depending solely on the printed word, I progressed but slowly. Gradually I came to understand that I was unconsciously permitting my older evaluation patterns of 'the meaning in the word,' etc ., to block my efforts to develop the new pattern in which the emphasis is placed upon the individual evaluating the symbol. And it became apparent to me that writers on general semantics were often encountering the same difficulty and fostering it by what they wrote. Thus 'language' was observed to be linked with 'action,' implying that language may function as an operationally effective agent influencing the passive object, the individual. 
To free myself from this frequent unconscious reversion to the former orientation toward human behavior in sign-symbol situations as the outcome resulting from the effective operation of sign and/or symbols upon the individual, and to maintain more constantly the orientation toward human behavior as primarily an evaluation process occurring in an individual, I have found it helpful to avoid the use of certain terms. The words avoided were those which, because of past and present usage, I seemed persistently to associate with the older evaluation patterns. 
Among these terms were the words meaning (as applied to symbols), significationand, most important of all, semantics. The use of these words seemed too often to be associated with a misorientation and a misevaluation when judged in terms of the basic formulations of general semantics. Whenever I used these terms I seemed to be implying that in a situation involving a 'human individual in a sign-symbol field' the effective operator causing action was located outside the individual in the signs and/or symbols.
I finally considered the advisability of discarding the label 'general semantics.' Because much of my own difficulty in getting at the essential features of this discipline seemed traceable to my evaluations when the word semantics was encountered, I now feel that a new term should be selected to refer to this field. This conviction has been reinforced by my experience in trying to explain it to others. I have found myself faced with the difficult task of separating general semantics from semantics. Since general semanticists are frequently referred to as 'semanticists' and the term 'general semantics' is frequently shortened to' semantics,' it now seems to me that the verbal foundation has been laid for much unnecessary confusion.
In other areas of scientific work the scientist does not hesitate to discard a term when its use seems no longer suitable. If the use of the words 'meaning,' 'signification,' and 'semantics' is customarily associated with a misorientation in which the effective agent in behavior, occurring in a sign-symbol situation, is projected into the sign and/or symbol, then these terms should be avoided. And along with them the adjective 'semantic .' It may seem presumptuous of me to suggest discarding a well-established label such as 'general semantics.' But one should bear in mind that all I am attempting to do is to clarify my own thinking, to make the formulations of this new 'science of man' more effective in my own life, and also to facilitate my helping others to achieve a similar result. 
The label which I have adopted as a replacement for 'general semantics' is derived from the word 'evaluate.' The process of evaluation in this discipline seemed to occupy a key position in relation to which the various other operational phases of general semantics were tributary. Therefore, from the word evaluate I have coined the term evaluatics for my use, and now whenever I encounter the expression 'general semantics,' I translate it, for my own use, into evaluatics or symbol-evaluatics. Where 'semantic' occurs as an adjective, I substitute the term 'evaluatic.' I should be happy to accept any other label than evaluatics if it should seem more appropriate. But with the current growth of the field of 'semantics,' which differs fundamentally from 'general semantics,' it seems to me imperative to adopt a new label to replace 'general semantics' if workers in this area are to escape unnecessary confusion .
—J. RUSSELL BRUFF Santa Ana College, Santa Ana, California

Friday, January 13, 2012

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Quote of the Day – Language and Intelligence

"It is commonly said that your language is as good as your intelligence. This is probably true to a large degree. But the opposite is also true. Your intelligence is as good as your language." 
— Elkhonon Goldberg, (The Wisdom Paradox, p. 98)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Quote of the Day: The Wondering Self of Science

"What we must grasp here is this: if one has a feeling of wonder, it is one's self that has it, and not another; if one feels the challenge of a question or problem and responds by research, it is one's self that feels the challenge and one's self that makes the response; if one observes, or judges or reasons, it is one's self that does it. And so it is with all the faculties that engender Science. Fear may suppress or paralyze them; evil education may destroy them; through long, habitual, blind, unreasoning submission to external authority—church, state or public opinion—they may perish utterly; but no autonomous being can surrender or delegate them and remain autonomous; they are humanistic faculties."
– Cassius J. Keyser, (Humanism and Science [1931], p. 102)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Rolf Sattler on "From Plant Morphology to Ken Wilber/Korzybski"

Rolf Sattler, a retired professor of botany specializing in plant morphology, has moved onto even wider areas of exploration. Like many 'natural' non-aristotelians, Rolf discovered that Korzybski with startling clarity organized insights that he (Rolf) had already discovered for himself over his years of study and research. A blogpost, well worth reading. Thanks, Rolf.

From Plant Morphology to Ken Wilber/Korzybski From plant morphology to healing logic, wholeness, non-identity (Korzybski), integral philosophy (Ken Wilber, etc.), health, laughter, silence, mystery.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

From the Stray Thought Bin - 'Expectations'

I clearly realize that many of my problems in life have come from not having expectations that were low enough. 

Quote of the Day...Month...Year...Century? - 'Knowledge and Ignorance'

Something from Baltasar Gracian  to brand into your consciousness if you say you want to follow Korzybski's teachings. 
Without intelligence, either one's own or another's, true life is impossible. But many do not know that they do not know, and many think they know when they know nothing. Failings of the intelligence are incorrigible, since those who do not know, do not know themselves, and cannot therefore seek what they lack. Many would be wise if they did not think themselves wise. Thus it happens that though the oracles of wisdom are rare, they are rarely used. To seek advice does not lessen greatness or argue incapacity. On the contrary, to ask advice proves you well advised. Take counsel with reason if you do not wish to court defeat.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

"A Difference That Makes A Difference"

Over the years, I've heard people, especially those involved with NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), use the phrase 'a difference that makes a difference'. It has a catchy sound to it and the notion intrigues a lot of people who, at the very least, think of it as a neat kind of play on words. Where did the usage come from? 

Difference and Differences That Make A Difference
Difference qualifies as one of the most important fundamental undefined terms in the non-aristotelian worldview that Alfred Korzybski  delineated. In a world where the premise of non-identity rules (the world we actually seem to live in), where no two objects however similar are 'exactly the same in all respects', difference indeed seems fundamental. 

As a term, difference, also qualifies as one of the important multiordinal terms that Korzybski talked about. Although, I can give a dictionary definition of a multiordinal term, the specific 'meaning' of a multiordinal term only becomes clear in a specific context of discussion when one specifies the level of abstraction the word refers to. What does that 'mean'? For now, I'll roughly give Korzybski's simple rule for determining if a word qualifies as a multiordinal term: Can the term be applied to itself and still make  sense? Can you fear fear? Can you be in love with love? Can you hate hate? Can you feel anxious about your anxiety? Can you have knowledge about knowledge? Can you think about your thinking?  This is not just playing with words, but points to the multiordinal (multi-leveled) and concomitant self-reflexive character of the human nervous system and human evaluating. Thinking2 about thinking1 is not the same as thinking1. And how you think about what you think may be crucial. 

Okay, back to the subject of this little (still) article: difference, another multi-ordinal term. In a non-identity world, a world of differences, we can have differences that make a difference (for given individuals with given purposes) and differences that don't (when we recognize similarities). For sane evaluating we need to recognize both similarities (where the differences among the different individuals viewed as 'same' don't make a difference for our purpose) and differences that do make a difference. 

For Korzybski, difference was not the absence of 'sameness' (that would make 'sameness' fundamental, which seems a basic structural assumption of the aristotelian metaphysical worldview). Korzybski reversed this: 'sameness' or more clearly similarity constituted a species of difference; Difference, not 'sameness', seems more basic. As he also pointed out, a world of absolute difference between two things seems as impossible as one where absolute sameness exists. With every thing entirely different from everything else, recognition and knowledge would be impossible. In a non-identity world, difference appears fundamental; there exist only different kinds and degrees of differences. (See Science and Sanity, page 165.) What I've written here may—or may not)— seem obvious; Korzybski wanted to get people to understand it and, more importantly, apply it in their everyday evaluating (not necessarily so easy, even if understood). 

Although Korzybski may have used the phrase 'a difference which makes a difference' somewhere, I have thoroughly searched through his published writings and have not found it used. Korzybski's student and co-worker Wendell Johnson seems to deserve credit as the first to specifically talk about differences that make a difference and those that don't. Here's a bit from the discussion in his 1946 introduction to GS, People in Quandaries:
The law of identity sometimes holds sufficiently for practical purposes, in spite of its structural defectiveness. Therefore we can use it many times, but we should always be aware of our use of it. When eating peanuts, for example, we may proceed on the practical assumption that peanuts are peanuts, that peanut 1 is peanut 2, that they are the same. Even so, we should remember that they are not, that ultimately peanuts are not peanuts, that is, peanut 1 is not peanut 2. The differences, generally speaking, make no important difference, of course, and we can for the most part disregard them. But if we are basically oriented to non-identity, we will bite into the bad peanut that may be found in almost any bag, without bursting into invective against "these damned peanuts." We will merely discard peanut1 and go on to enjoy peanut2, since basically we had not assumed that they would be the same anyway. Therefore, an occasional bad peanut is not cause of shock, no generator of tensions.
It is "in principle" that different things are the same. This is to say, it is on relatively high levels of abstraction, "in general," "on the average," "for practical purposes," "in main essentials," with regard to certain more or less important respects (not in all respects) that two different things may be evaluated, spoken of, or dealt with as though they were identical. For certain purposes specific differences may not make a difference; what is important is that we realize that differences exist and that we recognize the conditions under which they do make a difference. This is to say that what is important is that we be fundamentally oriented to non-identity so that we shall be prepared for differences at any time. It is precisely the differences we least expect that tend to make the biggest difference, that have the gravest consequences and demand the most difficult readjustments.  [People in Quandaries, pages 178-179]. 
Gregory Bateson and Difference
The usage 'a difference that makes a difference' is usually ascribed to the non-aristotelian (in the korzybskian sense) anthropologist Gregory Bateson, who used it in the Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture that he gave for the Institute of General Semantics (IGS) in 1970. Bateson had had a long peripheral interest and association with Korzybski's work, having briefly corresponded with Korzybski in the late 1940s (the two men exchanged papers), and then having written a number of the dialogues with his daughter, he called them "metalogues",  which were published in ETC.: A Review of General Semantics starting in the early 1950s (ETC. was then edited by S. I. Hayakawa and published not by the IGS but by the International Society for General Semantics). 

Bateson certainly qualified as a non-aristotelian before he ever heard about Korzybski (see Naven, a self-reflexive study of the anthropological fieldwork he did in New Guinea among the Iatmul, first published in the 1930s). But at some point, sometime in the 1940s, he appears to have read some of Korzybski's work, and probably other GS literature, including it seems nigh certainly Wendell Johnson's 1946 book, People in Quandaries.

So, as far as I know, as a matter of historical record, Wendell Johnson was the first to use 'a difference that makes a difference' as a significant formulation while explaining Korzybski's premise of non-identity. This takes nothing away from Bateson's brilliance. As a theorist Bateson built upon the notion of difference, and a difference that makes a difference in original and significant ways for the human sciences, starting it seems with his AKML paper: "Form, Substance, and Difference", which I read soon after it was published and which I still recommend most highly. I would find it most instructive for some serious student or students—perhaps they are reading this now—to trace the development of the notion of difference and differences of differences from Korzybski to Wendell Johnson to Bateson in much greater detail than I've done here (without getting lost in verbalism). That would constitute a genuine contribution to korzybskian GS scholarship. Any takers? 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Radical General Semantics I

Gad Horowitz teaches what he calls "Radical General Semantics".  I respect his work highly and consider myself a student-teacher-practitioner of Radical General-Semantics too. So much crap has been written and taught about Korzybski's work, so much misreading and superficial understanding of it, that it seems that some different term should be used to refer to what Korzybski actually wrote and taught and to present-day attempts to build upon it in a creative and useful way, a way responsible to the actual korzybskian tradition. It looks to me like Gad Horowitz is doing just that. More power to Gad Horowitz and Radical General-Semantics in 2012!

Gad Horowitz [(r)GS] - Theoretical Introduction & Overview of Radical General Semantics from FastBodies on Vimeo.