By Russell, Charles G. | ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview
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Russell, Charles G., ETC.: A Review of General Semantics


Part II

Extending Potential Plays a Role in Transacting

TRANSACTING also includes an Extending Potential dimension. The Extending Potential dimension enables us to build on whatever presently exists and create something new. This dimension resembles the scientific method in that it builds on previous knowledge and experience. Just as an individual using the scientific method reviews extant research findings before conducting additional research, individuals can use previous knowledge and experience as a springboard to new outcomes. The Extending Potential dimension allows for a cumulative effect and creativity. It does not necessarily contribute to something better." Some changes diminish rather than enhance the lives of change agents.

Robins replicate nests originated by their ancestors. They do not significantly modify the nature and structure of their nests. Robins probably have near zero potential to use an Extending Potential dimension. Most people exhibit at least some potential to use their Extending Potential dimension from time to time. Unfortunately, some people do not use their Extending Potential dimension very much.

From time to time most individuals mute their ability to use their Extending Potential dimension. Repeating thoughts, patterns, and behaviors without considering and exploring potential advantages for change can render an Extending Potential ineffective. Individuals who remain fixed in thoughts, patterns, and behaviors have much in common with robins building nests. These people essentially "act just like their parents" or adult role models. For example, if parents behave like bigots, their adult children also behave like bigots. If adult role models enjoy classical or rock music, individuals influenced by them frequently consider no other kind of music and mostly enjoy what their role models played for them.

An Extending Potential enables people to consider what exists as subject to change. Whenever something does not meet a need or serves less well than desired, individuals can use their Extending Potential to build on it and change it in ways previously unconsidered. For example, at one point in human history someone probably grew tired of dragging heavy objects on the ground and built on the concept of things moving when the log under them turned. Very likely sometime later another individual built on the observation that things move easier on logs and created the first crude wheel. You probably recognize the progression from the first wheel to present day technology for moving heavy objects. Each change represents someone using the Extending Potential and building on previous discoveries.

While methods of moving heavy objects probably rate as desirable improvements, some consequences of the Extending Potential do not. Some changes represent undesirable outcomes. For example, building on the recognition that people tend to act based on expected patterns can contribute to establishing patterns contributing to pleasant outcomes and then using the patterns to harm people. Con artists and "inhumane despots" have used this approach for self-advantage.

Among other things, using the scientific method can improve the chances that the Extending Potential will contribute to change. Following guidelines of the scientific method requires us to learn what others have done before embarking on a program of change. This process can help ensure that each discovery becomes the starting point used by the next scientist who wants to discover something. Scientific outcomes combine and can significantly differ from whatever existed before an individual scientist acted. Eighty years after Alexander Graham Bell's "Photophone" carried the human voice on beams of sunlight, an inventor used glass fibers in existence for almost as long as the "Photophone" and combined them with the laser to launch the fiber optic revolution.

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