INTRODUCTION TO ALFRED KORZYBSKI'S GENERAL SEMANTICS
H. BULLA DE VILLARET
COURRIER DU LIVRE
Summary of the first part and translation : Isabelle Aubert-Baudron
Semantics : study of the meanings of the terms of the vocabulary and of its modifications.
General semantics of Korzybski : general theory of non-elementalist evaluation.
The expression : "General Semantic " is associated that with " non-Aristotelian logic" or " non-Aristotelian system".
Animal society : static society compared to human society, fixed behavior.
Human society : elaboration of cultures and evolution of civilizations :
Every generation transmits, enriches and shapes an acquired knowledge to the next generation which is going to modify it and increase it in its turn.
Definition of each species which reveals the basic characteristic of each of them and makes it different from the two others:
- plants : bind between them energies : "energy-binders",
- animals : bind between them points located in space : "space-binders",
- mankind : besides energies and points in space, binds between them moments in time beyond his own life : man is a "time-binder" : thanks to human language, points can be thrown between people separated by space-time distance.
The way we think and the way we express ourselves are intimately bound. The power of suggestion of words is such as it easily influences the mixing of the feelings and ideas which follows from our different behaviors.
The disorder which reigns in the use we make of language leads to a corresponding disorder in our thinking, our reflection.
A confused or incorrect thinking has repercussions on the ways we express ourselves, and is reflected in them, hence uncertain or distorted verbal communication between individuals.
In our civilization, we got a high degree of technical development; in other domains, primitive level :
- in technical domain : mathematical language, the structure of which is similar to the structure of facts.
- in the domain of institutions and human affairs, there is a discrepancy between the structure of facts and the structure of language.
- mathematical language has a similar structure
- general semantics teaches to use the brain as if we were using a mathematical language.
What does "a language the structure of which is similar to the structure of facts" means ?
A MAP IS NOT THE TERRITORY; IT REPRESENTS IT WITH THE HELP OF SYMBOLS.
A MAP DOES NOT REEPRESENT THE WHOLE TERRITORY
- In Aristotelian point of view, language is considered as the mirror of reality. Hence there is no distance between what we live and what we say about it.
- In a non-A point of view : language is a verbal map : it cannot pretend to account for the facts totally, still less with a complete accuracy :
A WORD IS NOT WHAT IT REPRESENTS
A WORD DOES NOT REPRESENT ALL THE FACTS
Hence an attitude of vigilance, of suspicion towards the use of this language.
=> To put in question ones own habits of symbolization.
A map requires a cartographer and a ground.
Relations or set of relations between them:
Relations between the observer and observed object in the history of the Western thought: three periods:
1) Greek or metaphysical or pre-scientific period : Aristlote - Euclide : the observed object is not important, the observer is all that counts.
2) Classical or semi-scientific period : Descartes - Newton: the observer hardly counts, the observed object is really significant.
3) Mathematical or scientific period : Korzybski - Einstein : all a man can know is a phenomenon due jointly to the observer and to what he observes.
The observer: (the cartographer, ourselves)
=> - not possible to consider separately the body and psyche, spirit and matter.
- not possible to consider separately a man from his physical, social and cultural environment.
NON-ELEMENTALIST attitude: effort not to isolate the ones from the others factors or elements which are structurally connected the ones to the others.
=> the observer approaches what he observes with the totality of his psycho-somatic organization. The characteristics of this organization are due to the influences received from the environment.
=> what man notices is located at the meeting point ;
Human lived data require the presence of a human being. Independently of us, " our world", " our reality " do not exist.
Example: the tree, while falling, causes waves; so that a noise, to be perceived, requires the presence of a human or animal nervous structure. There is no noise if there is no receiver to perceive it, only waves.
=> the ground appears in a way conditioned by our possibilities of perceptions; they depend on our organic structures.
=> our nervous system, starting from the components of the ground, makes an abstraction, by organizing these components, hence the perception of colors, of sounds, of shapes.
=> in non-A language : " the flower appears as red to me. "
Silent premises : data provided by the culture within which we live, the education we received, which have not being clarified verbally at the time when they slip into the appreciation carried. Remain half-conscious, even unconscious.
" do not forget that he is a Jew ": ready-made image with rests on prejudices, irrational antipathies; conventional image of the " Jew ". =>
OBSERVATION OF THE GROUND :
- its various elements,
- the order they follow ,
- the relations which can bind them,
- the structure they compose .
Summing up :
=> Behaviours => their structure => structure of the elements in presence compared to the structure of their behaviour => inferences => assumptions => previsions concerning the behaviours => observation of these behaviours for checking.
=> When we use the term " matter " while thinking of something, this thing implies also space and time.
Structural differential, Alfred Korzybski. "Science an Sanity", p.388
The plan at the top represents the level of the event, the disc, the level of object, and the rectangle, the level of the word .
Lines connecting between them the characteristics
or of the two first levels: characteristics which were taken in account in the development that our nervous system made from the elements which were proposed to it.
Lines which do not end nowhere: characteristics left aside.
=> * Taking in account certain characteristics and leaving others aside consists in making an ABSTRACTION.
* The structural differential teaches how to distinguish the levels of abstraction.
On the drawing :
* the object is not the event
* the word is not the object
* the object is indicated verbally by such a word.
a) A MAP IS NOT the TERRITORY:
The words we use to show the objects and to qualify them thereafter, to classify them, judge them, are not on the same level as these objects themselves.
b) A MAP DOES NOT REPRESENT THE WHOLE TERRITORY:
Each level is an abstraction starting from the previous one; there will always be characteristics which will be left aside.
=> a word leads in us to a reaction to a context which does not exist anymore, but that we project on the new context offered by the present situation : space-time confusion.
=> Consider what occurs HERE AND NOW.
1) " is " of existence : I am: to be = to exist, to be
2) to be = auxiliary : it is done.
3) " is " of identity : " man is an animal ", " George is a workman ":
to be = to identify in an erroneous way different levels of abstraction, by connecting 2 names which are put on the same level; little difference between the non-verbal levels and the verbal level: language A. => "to be" in language non-A = to be able to be indicated, called, to be classified like.
4) " is " of attribution : the rose is red: to be = connects a name and one or more adjectives, implies that the characteristics indicated by the adjectives exist in the thing or the person represented by the name: language A.
=> "to be" in language non-A: such person (thing) seems to me, we judge such thing in such way.
Uses 3 and 4: excessive concentration on one or a small number of characteristics, gives them an exaggerated importance; one then takes the part for the whole or one sees the whole through a partial object.
1) the event :
2) the object :
3) the word : verbal level
=> difference in structure between the development which the animals can make and that men can make, hence the name of the model of Korzybski: structural differential.
- presents the structure of general semantics,
- while differentiating its substructures: different levels or orders of abstraction which constitute it,
- while assigning to them relative values according to the importance which they have for us.
To be conscious to make an abstraction means we do not forget that one takes in account only one part of the characteristics, those which we perceive more easily than others, which strike us particularly, which are selected according to our former experiments or knowledge, of our tastes, of our sensitivity, our preferences, of our interests, etc..., and that one leaves some others aside, which are often characteristics suitable for the individuality of the object and which, in certain cases, can have to play a role which we had not suspected first of all.
In the structural differential :
Those two levels are non-verbal , " silent ", " objective ".
- verbal levels: higher levels of abstraction seeking to account, more or less adequately, of the non-verbal levels; they use static representations to give an account of a dynamic reality;
=> exercise: to look at an object while trying to see it well, without saying anything about it.
Such a training :
ATTITUDE OF DELAYED REACTION :
attitude of investigation, expectancy preceding our reaction, our answer.
- to get the meaning of what is perceived before formulating it verbally.
- to be more informed on what it covers before accepting a verbal formulation: "let us see what it's about."
- for a correct evaluation,
- for an effective and adapted action,
- for our psycho-somatic health.
=> it helps to dissociate the object and the word which symbolizes it from associations and evocations related to the word.
=> it prevents from inaccurate semantic reactions.
SEMANTIC REACTION : reaction to the significance of a term provoked by its use. It affects the organism at the level of the electro-colloidal cells of living tissues => repercussions on the whole psycho-somatic organization which can involve certain diseases.
The intensity or the nature of power of evocation of the words varies from one person to another. It is:
=> a word seldom has the same meaning for two different people.
=> the language seldom allows to wake up in others the non-verbal impressions corresponding to what we ourselves experiment on our own non-verbal levels.
Exercise: How to give an account of a gustatory experiment, an aesthetic emotion.
OBSERVATION OF THE SUBJECT :
The " facts ": what we live, observe, is a common product of an imperceptible reality and nervous structures of the observer.
=> From a non-A point of view, one takes in account the distances which exist:
- between what constitutes the object and the result that we perceive,
- between " what occurs " and " what appears to us ",
- between " what appears to us " and " what appears to someone else ".
Need for a method which helps to observe the objects correctly, because on this correct observation will depend what we will be able to discover of their structure and their behavior.
To adopt an EXTENTIONAL ORIENTATION:
Instead of starting from the common property or small group properties common with the help of which we hold to classify and define the objects, we will remember that each object is single in its kind and will show characteristics which will differentiate it from all the others.
* The step which encourages us to note initially similarities often leads to confusions: abusive generalizations and over generalizations: " young people ", " women ", " politicians ", etc..., considered in general.
* The relation which is established between the object and us leads ourselves to assign to this one certain characteristics.
If our orientation is not extensional :
- certain characteristics correspond to the structure of " what occurs " on the level of the object,
- certain characteristics do not correspond to it, are wrongfully assigned to him on the basis of preliminary definitions,
- the relation could enable us to see certain aspects of the structure which would have led us to note other characteristics that our defective orientation made us miss.
EXTENTIONAL ORIENTATION :
1) To learn how to seek:
- the features which appear similar in different objects,
- the features which appear different in objects classified as similar.
2) To wonder, in presence of a new experiment which reminds us former experiences, in front of a new object which seems to belong to a group of known objects, if there are important differences.
3) To index the objects belonging to a same group: the employer 1 different from the employer 2, different from the employer 3.
4) To mind not to confuse the part with the unit and not to judge the whole according to the part :
example: one will not extrapolate the behavior of a person in particular circumstances to put a final judgment on this person.
5) To note that certain characteristics exist in addition to those which we retain => use of "etc..."
" etc... " is a recall of the process of abstraction.
6) To use the index indicating the date and the place :
- the object changes, its space-time context changes too.
- the index of dates and places contribute to make us more open-minded to all new, unusual characteristics, not yet tested, which might occur.
- they protect us against the space-time loss of adaptability.
7) To remember that a same verbal designation can cover, during one rather long period of time, an object which changes however during this period => to avoid any superficial identification between this " static " designation and the object gifted with dynamic properties temporally oriented.
8) To use of an unlimited number of values likely to be assigned to an unlimited number of facts, instead of wanting to allot to the latter only one small number of values: when we can assign to each fact the value of its own and which exactly corresponds to him , and not a value chosen in a restricted, insufficient sampling, our orientation is structurally similar to the empirically perceived world.
9) Approaching the experiment and trying to give an account of what one perceives, one must mind, like the man of science, to think and speak in terms of degrees, of nuances, rather than in terms of contrasts (truth-false, good-bad, etc...)
the purpose of 2 notations is to announce the non-elementalist attitude:
a) To put between quotation marks designations such as " space ", " time ", " body ", etc...:
if elementalist terms are employed, never draw a conclusion from them, because it would contain the structure of the metaphysics which surrounds the term.
b) To use the hyphens to indicate that the factors sometimes artificially separated are in fact in close relation between them to represent new structural implications. Example: space-time, psycho-somatic.
WE HAVE TO APPROACH GLOBAL SITUATIONS AND WE DO IT WITH OUR WHOLE INDIVIDUAL.
Until now, in the drawing of the Structural Differential, only one label: the word: designation, elementary step of description.
We can add other ones :
From each level of observation (label), one can formulate a higher level of abstraction, by retaining some of the characteristics of the preceding level.
The choice can depend on:
When one passes from a level of abstraction given to a higher order of abstraction, the elements given up on the first level can be so because at the higher level one or more new elements are introduced.
The choice of the elements thus treated being often a question of preferences, it always invites to criticism.
Since each level of abstraction is reached only by leaving aside a part of the characteristics of the previous level, our judgments, inferences, evaluations, theories, etc..., can never give an account of all that occurs. A new scientific theory often aims at taking account of characteristics which the previous ones had left aside and the importance of which appeared afterward.
Our observations and the judgments that they lead us to carry, the deductions that we draw from them, etc..., never give an account of all the indefinite number of elements which constitute a situation.
Natural order of abstraction:
* awareness, perceptive recognition of an object, a fact or a phenomenon, themselves abstractions of events,
* verbal designation of this object or fact,
* its description,
* its classification if necessary,
* inferences or deductions,
* theories, assumptions, etc...
The last label related to the diagram is only the last label that, by convenience, one chooses to put. In reality, there never is a last label, one can always pass to a higher level of abstraction.
The number of levels actually used depends on the cases: what imports is to know how to use this kind of scale correctly, up or down.
We often act on the basis of a theory, of a pre-established judgment, which we stick to the experiment without describing this experiment before.
* when we react to the word as to a signal - and not as to a symbol - we dodge the level of description to jump from the start to that of the inference.
* we evaluate abstractions of a higher order as if they were abstractions of a lower order, e.g.: words, memories, etc..., are treated as if they were objects, experiments, feelings...
* we confuse inferences and the terms related to inferences with descriptions and descriptive terms, etc...
* we create semantic blocking thus è loss of contact with what we live :
- what occurs here and now,
- what we test here and now:
instead of reacting to the current situation, we react partially to what evokes in us a past situation or to the way we imagine a future situation.
Then it frequently happens to reverse or distort the natural order of evaluation: instead of checking our abstractions of a higher level by confronting them to the lower levels, we handle the latter to make them correspond to the first:
We judge the facts according to our theories and we forget to reconsider the theories in the light of facts è illegitimate extrapolations, over-generalisations: e.g.: " You do such things as... "
One can legitimately use the terms " truth " or " forgery " only at the level of the observation - level on which the statements are verifiable -.
At all higher levels, we only deal with probabilities and our statements on these levels are always subject to criticism, to a later revision in the light of new data.
Second empirical premise:
THE MAP IS SELF-REFLEXIVE
THE LANGUAGE IS SELF-REFLEXIVE
Example of image of " Laughing Cow " (a French cheese on the box of which is a laughing cow wearing ear-rings made of boxes of a "Laughing Cow" you can see to the infinite) : image of the image:
To be complete, a map should represent a " map of the map " as well as the cartographer, the map and the cartographer being part of the ground at the time when the card is drawn up.
=> It is impossible to conceive that we can decide in an absolutely complete way, to have the last word.
The structure of our language.
The structure of the world. appear as such
The structure of our nervous system.
that any symbolization, at least at the human levels : the word, the writing, the map, drawings, numbers, etc..., reveals itself to be potentially self-reflexive in an indefinite way.
Bertrand Russel (theory of the mathematical types):
CONCEPT OF MULTIORDINALITE OF THE TERMS OF THE VOCABULARY:
Many terms which we employ are multi-ordinal : they do not have a general meaning uniformly valid.
The meaning of a multiordinal term is determined by the level of abstraction to which one employs it: this meaning is determined by the context. Example 1: yes, not, truth, forgery, made, reality, cause, effect, to love, to hate, etc...
Example 2 : in the army, the term " unit " refers to formations of different importance: a unit is part of a larger unit which, in its turn, is part of a even larger unit.
To precise terms to indicate each unit: group, company, battalion, brigade, etc... The smallest unit is contained in the average and the average, at the same time contains smallest and is part of the largest one.
This feature is common to all multiordinal terms: they refer at the same time to the containers and the contents. The problem is to know which ones are which ones.
Concept of multiordinality : problem of questions which cannot be solved or which do not make sense: general significance of the " good ", " truth ", " beautiful ", etc...: such terms make sense only one once the level of abstraction (context, conditions to fill, etc...) has been specified.
The problem of the questions which do not make sense or to which one cannot give answers, declarations which do not make sense or cannot be checked depends on :
- self-reflexivity of the terms which are involved.
If we give up any futile effort to give a term a general meaning, we will endeavor to make adequate the context the term of which receives such a particular significance which can become his.
Stating that the meaning of a word changes leads to a freedom of expression and a flexibility of interpretation.
To be fully conscious of self-reflexivity and of multiordinality helps to acquire a clear thinking, an exactitude in one's remarks, a direction of all the process of evaluation, which helps to avoid considerably the confusions implied in the concern and the fear, the resentment, the anxiety and other handicapping semantic reactions.
The negligence with regard to the multiordinality is observed in the majority of the cases of badly adapted personalities.
The majority of the terms which we use are at the same time:
While defining the words which are used to formulate a definition, one comes, at the end of a certain time, to a residue: words which cannot be fully defined, because they cover certain basic postulates, metaphysics or others.
The question of the semanticist: " What do you mean ? " involves a thorough investigation which touches finally the residue of the non definite terms revealing our structural " credos " we are not aware of at the beginning.
These credos, often " silent postulates ", must be changed to get to better evaluations.
THE PATIENT DOES NOT ALWAYS MISS LOGIC, HE BASES HIS REASONING ON FALSE POSTULATES.
STUDY OF RELATIONS AND RESEARCH OF STRUCTURES
This study and this research are at the base of any real acquisition of knowledge.
Structures, the relations thanks to which they are built, can be of different natures or orders. When we pass from a given order of abstraction to another higher one, we pass in fact from a structure of a given size to a vaster structure which contains it and also contains other ones.
A justified judgment will be based on several observations.
A theory or an assumption will result from a series of judgments
One passes thus from a generalization to a broader generalization and from this one, to a still broader generalization
The value of a generalization depends on :
- the data on which it rests,
- the way these data have been gathered, selected,
- the use which has been made of them.
The three following mathematical concepts take into consideration general semantics: their set frames the research of increasingly vast and complex structures:
- the propositional function of Bertrand Russel : function which expresses a relation between unspecified variables, function " on standby ".
- the doctrinal function of Cassius J. Keyser : a series of propositional functions related together, usually called premises, with all the consequences which result from them, usually called theorems.
- the system-function : who includes a set of doctrinal functions related together.
The scaffolding of abstractions and structures which fits to it is, for man, gifted with unlimited possibilities. It is important not to create blocking in stopping atone of the levels instead of going up or to freely descend the scale of the various levels.
The correct handling of the levels of abstraction, of relations, of structures, allowed the blooming of the exact sciences. Korzybski: one of the main reasons of our human difficulties resides in the fact that the structure of our current language does not fits to the one of the facts as the structure of mathematical language fits to it => defective handling, in everyday life, of these levels and these structures.
The fruitfulness of the correct handling, being limited more to the only field of exact sciences, allows to align more easily than we did until now our general evolution on our scientific and technical evolution.
HOW DO WE BUILD STRUCTURES:
A. Comparison between observations and developments made by a semanticist and a non-semanticist :
1) A semanticist :
- observes correctly,
- makes an account of his observation in an impersonal way, without ready made opinion.
At this level of observation, nothing can be said : we use arbitrary symbols and not words.
2) The non-semanticist :
The basic events are the same ones. An unconscious identification of the various levels of abstraction involves a different conclusion from the one of the ideal observer.
By confusing the levels of abstraction:
B Examination of the behavior of a semanticist and one non-semanticist:
1) The semanticist:
a) Approaches each experiment with an open and careful mind.
b) Verbal communication:
c) Description of the experiment:
* that information is never absolutely complete,
* that it is possible to see the things differently, he begins his reports by " As far as I know ".
he recognizes that the data appear to him under such or such angle.
- it is necessary:
- it allows savings time and effort,
- it facilitates the communication between men of knowledge.
While classifying, the semanticist:
- proceeds in order not to retract the differences to the benefit of the common features.
- Appreciates the data in terms of degrees, of nuances.
- The expression " up to a certain point " is often used.
- When he classifies, measures, evaluates, he takes in account the fact he often uses conventionally established standard, thus often arbitrarily.
- The formulations based on these standard appear convenient to him; he minds not to identify them:
- Studying the elements of lived data and looking for the relations which bind them, a semanticist is aware :
1 + 1 = 2 only into arithmetic,
1 liter of water + 1 liter of alcohol < 2 liters.
2 people together, another arrives, the situation is changed.
He is attentive to the influences of:
In the formulation of his judgments, the level at which he speaks allows only probabilities.
He avoids to decide on the basis:
He builds them starting from the judgments, inferences, deductions.
Once the theory is built,
In brief, the semanticist observes:
Any analysis is a destructuration,
any synthesis is a reorganization
2) The non-semanticist:
a) Do not lead his existence according to the facts; he is led by his mythology:
- ideal image of himself,
- " " of his surrounding,
- " " of his role or his action,
- ideas and concepts being the product of incorrect processes of abstraction due to himself or to the society which he lives in.
b) When he is unaware of a fact, he tries to direct the interpretation of it to avoid or reduce the conflict which can emerge between his conscience and this fact, if he considers it unfavorable with his psychological security, his vanity, his interests, his preconceived ideas, his emotional preferences, etc...
If he considers it unfavorable with these elements, interpretation will be tendentious in opposite direction.
c) He is influenced by factors which, in our culture, allow and encourage the intellectual idleness:
Many interests gather to prevent the creation of favorable conditions to the blossoming of a lucid and independent thought among the largest number of individuals. One made conformism and docility appear as comfortable and sure. Some feel anxious and guilty if they do not follow it.
d) Little examination and personal thinking :
e) In a discussion, he listens little:
F) He does not build a theory according to the facts but according to prejudices or emotional preferences.
Principles of general semantics :
* by seeking its structures,
* while placing oneself from the point of view of probability and uncertainty,
General semantics sees man as a whole. It allows " to put order inwardly to decrease inner confusion.
The brain was formed during a long evolution. From this evolutionary point of view, all the parts of the brain do not have the same age: the areas of thalamus are older than those of the cortex.
- through the thalamus we experienced directly what we live, perceive emotions and certain reactions arise in us.
- the cortex is, inter alia, the location of language, the tool of the thinking, etc...
When we react to symbols as to signals, we do not give time to the nerve impulses to go to the cortex, we do not let it interfere in the choice of the answer: it " is shorted-circuit ". Through the delayed reaction, we give time to the cortex to interfere, we increase the role of the cortex on our behaviors.
Distinction of the levels of abstraction helps us to deal with certain emotions: we can be in a situation which, indeed, threatens us and scares us. This fear rising from an experiment lived at the moment is a primary fear : it excites glands which will produce chemical substances enabling us to react by one of the two conduits of survival: fight or escape.
We can feel a secondary fear which is a " fear of the fear " (fear of suffering, discomfort, etc...). If we manage to overcome the secondary fear, we change the situation in bringing the danger, discomfort, etc..., back to its real dimensions.
The distinction between primary and secondary feelings and emotions helps us to order and structure our psychological attitudes.
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