Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Stoicism – General-Semantics' Family Tree

Marshall McLuhan proposed one way (among others) to understand any particular human innovation: asking what earlier innovations, inventions, form(s) of media/technology, does this recall? An interesting exercise to do with Alfred Korzybski's General-Semantics (GS). 

Despite its potentially confusing name, GS is not primarily focused on language and 'meaning' as commonly understood.
Korzybski explicitly said that he was investigating human nature, i.e., time-binding, which he considered the defining activity of human existence. After his first, 1921 book Manhood of Humanity, where he explored time-binding and it's implications, he spent the rest of his life exploring the mechanism of time-binding, how it works and the practical application of this understanding by individuals. 

It boils down to the old stoical adage: live according to nature. Which means in part, finding out about your own species and individual natures. The stoics, saw human capacity for 'reason' as what differentiated us from animals, and they taught their students practical ways to apply 'reason' in their lives. 

I have found no better way to understand Korzybski's work and its place in the long span of human intellectual achievement, than to see him as one of the great figures in the stoic tradition though he did not emphasize that. His work appears to me a great contribution to that still living stream of practical wisdom for living.