Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture and Colloquium

By Hoffman, Gregg | ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview
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Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture and Colloquium


Hoffman, Gregg, ETC.: A Review of General Semantics


We live in an ever-changing world of "maybes," therefore, a dynamic approach - like that of quantum mechanics and general semantics - offers more effective evaluative tools than many static Aristotelian systems.

That seemed to sum up the Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture by Robert Anton Wilson, November 7th, 1997, and a colloquium the following day at Pace University, New York City.

"We draw the lines," Wilson emphasized, referring to lines ranging from those between municipalities to lines dividing ideas or philosophies. "The role of the observer cannot be ignored."

Wilson has worked as a futurist, novelist, playwright, poet, lecturer, and comic. He has written 31 books, including The Illuminatus! Trilogy, which won the 1986 Prometheus Hall of Fame Award, and Quantum Psychology. His work has been profoundly affected by general semantics, which he was exposed to at an Institute of General Semantics seminar-workshop in the 1950s.

The late Timothy Leary, an associate of Wilson at one time, described him as "one of the most important scientific philosophers of this century." The Denver Post described Wilson as a "21st Century Renaissance man ... funny ... the Lenny Bruce of philosophers."

Wilson showed his humor when using his own work as an example of how we tend to draw artificial, static lines between things that are not as dearly categorized as they might seem. "My work started out in the science fiction section at book stores, then new age, and now philosophy," he said.

He also told an anecdote about mail problems he has because he has a Santa Cruz, California, address, but lives in a neighboring community. "The post office can't decide where I'm from."

Many philosophers and others trying to find certainty, often fall into either-or judgments and ignore their own role as an observer or interpreter, Wilson asserted. "We can't always come up with yes or no. Sometimes, we are left with maybe."

We are dealing with a world that is changing at a quicker pace than ever. It calls for application of dynamic systems of analysis and communication that look at relationships between entities and deal more with probabilities than certainties, he added.

But, many of our leaders in the political world and elsewhere applying static systems are unaware of their own language traps and seek dogmatic answers, Wilson emphasized.

Wilson's address was entitled, "The Map Is Not The Territory: The Future Is Not The Past." In it, he examined the basic postulate of general semantics (M does not equal T) in regards to other fields, including quantum mechanics, neurolinguistic programming, multi-culturalism, and deconstructionism.

He noted that these fields represent trends toward dynamic systems in which dynamic variables are at work. These converging trends, together with the acceleration of time-binding due to the impact of the internet and world wide web, may make Korzybski's models more topical and urgent in the decades ahead than ever before.

Held at Pace University on November 8th, the colloquium dealt with "Challenges of Pioneering in Our Present and Future World: New Maps for New Territories." Wilson served on three panels, which included other individuals involved in general semantics.

"If we do not remain dynamic in our evaluative process, we risk applying old, anachronistic maps to an every-changing territory," said colloquium chairman Gregg Hoffmann in his opening remarks.

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