Difficulties in Learning to Apply General Semantics: Transcript of a Recording of Alfred Korzybski

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CHARLOTTE SCHUCHARDT (1)

It is Sunday afternoon, October 19, 1947, in Lime Rock, Connecticut, in the office of Alfred Korzybski. He is now talking with Kenneth Keyes (2) on difficulties in learning to apply general semantics.

ALFRED KORZYBSKI

I can do no better than to read to you the famous bequest of Professor Pavlov (3) to the academic youth of his country.

The important part of the lecture is that what Pavlov said applies (4) to everyday life, not only science. He's speaking about character development, which helps any kind of achievement in any field (5), would it be family life, national or international fields (6). The same bequest could be given to the rest of the world, not only to the youth of his country.

Here follows Pavlov bequest (7):

"What can I wish to the youth of my country who devote themselves to science?"

"Firstly, gradualness. About the most important condition of fruitful scientific work, I never can speak without emotion. Gradualness, gradualness, and gradualness. From the very beginning of your work, school yourself to severe gradualness in the accumulation of knowledge. Learn the ABC of science before you try to ascend to its summit. Never begin [the] (8) subsequent without mastering the preceding. Never attempt to screen an insufficiency of knowledge even by the most audacious surmise and hypothesis. Howsoever this soap-bubble will rejoice your eyes by its play, it inevitably will burst and you will have nothing except shame. School yourself to demureness and patience. Learn to inure yourself to drudgery in science. Learn, compare, collect the facts. Perfect as is the wing of a bird, I never could raise the bird up without resting on air. Facts are the air of a scientist. Without them, you never can fly. Without them, your theories are vain efforts. But learning, experimenting, observing, try not to stay on the surface of facts. Do not become the archivist of facts. Try to penetrate to the secret of their occurrence, persistently search for the laws which govern them."

"Secondly, modesty. Never think that you already know all. However highly you are appraised, always have the courage to say of yourself, 'I am ignorant.' Do not allow haughtiness to take you in possession. Due to that you will be obstinate where it is necessary to agree, you will refuse useful advice and friendly help, you will lose the standard of objectiveness."

"Thirdly, passion. Remember that science demands from a man all his life. If you had two lives, that would be not enough for you. Be passionate if you work at your searchings."

I began with the quotation from Pavlov. That great man knew the difficulties of learning and scientific work. And his advice is applicable to life for the simple reason that we have to keep that gradualness in adjustment, whether it will be with parents or children, or husband or wife. Every human relationship, national or international, requires adjustment to each other. And this follows, and the difficulties follow. The disregard, which we, as a rule, pay to the great words of a great man.

In our case, in training in general semantics, we are up against tremendous difficulties which are ingrained in us and "canalize," so to say, in our nervous system by the old way of so-called "thinking," our whole system of education, our whole traditions, and the way scientific man think, the way mathematician think, physiologist think.

Pavlov, among others, applied to himself, but he gave us a bequest to his students and his nation. He applied it. And because of that, he made one of the most tremendous achievements in history.

Not long before he died, after he achieved most of his experimenting on animals (in particular, dogs), he got more and more interested in reaction of humans, and he began to study and read and think about the application of his work to human beings.

It became obvious through his experimenting, as explained in my Science and Sanity (9), that the change of space-time intervals (space-time intervals and so on)--interplay with them on a living organism--could drive even a dog neurotic or even psychotic (10). …