The Bear Facts of Time-Binding?

By Sawin, Gregory | ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

The Bear Facts of Time-Binding?


Sawin, Gregory, ETC.: A Review of General Semantics


GREGORY SAWIN [*]

AN ARTICLE IN The Wall Street Journal [1] reported that bears in California's Yosemite National Park prefer Hondas and Toyotas for late-night snacks. In 1998, black bears were guilty of "car clouting"; they broke into 1,103 vehicles. According to 186 bear-incident reports, they broke into 26 Hondas and 21 Toyotas, but they broke into only 2 Buicks and 1 Lexus. Because bears rip into cars that contain food, Yosemite Park rangers warn visitors to keep food only in special "bear safes." Many visitors who ignored the warnings found that their cars had been opened like tin cans by the powerful bears.

Yosemite rangers can't prove it, but they said the bears' car-selection process seems to be deliberate.

The Yosemite biologist said that 300-pound mother Dears are teaching their cubs how to clout: bashing in a window or inserting claws just above the rear side door, then pulling the door frame down to knee level, which provides a convenient "step ladder." The mother bears often teach their cubs the best methods for breaking in. Case in point, Bear 2061 was clouting up to six cars a night, and then she taught her cubs how to do it. One observant bear, Orange 35, learned to break into cars when visitors were registering at the park. Instead of "Orange 35," I think they should have named that bear "Yogi," because it seemed "smarter than the average bear." [2]

When mother bears teach their cubs new skills, is that what Alfred Korzybski meant by "time-binding" behavior? [3]

Korzybski classified animals as space-binders because animals can move around seeking food and shelter to ensure their survival. Humans can do this also, but it is the power of language as a tool for survival that distinguishes humans from animals, according to Korzybski. Since prehistoric times, language has enabled the elders to educate younger generations about resources for food, shelter, protection from predators, preservation of cultural customs, etc. Korzybski considered such language-based behavior as "time-binding" because, with language, humans could accumulate knowledge and pass it across time to succeeding generations to increase their chances of survival. This uniquely human ability to use language to bind generations of the past, present, and future led him to define humans as time-binders.

In principle, time-binding enables the next generation to pick up where the previous generation left off. People of the new generation do not need to "reinvent the wheel"; they can improve the wheel by building on the knowledge they inherited. If you want to see results of time-binding, just look around -- your chair, desk, lamp, computer, car, photos, etc. -- the human-made stuff around you is the product of efforts by many generations of time-binders. …

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