The Structural Differential Diagram: Part I. (General Semantics Basics)

By Sawin, Gregory | ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Structural Differential Diagram: Part I. (General Semantics Basics)


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


INTRODUCTION

Time-Binding

In 1921, Alfred Korzybski, a Polish-American trained in mathematics and engineering, published Manhood of Humanity. In this book he held that humanity is a class of life distinctly different from animals because only humans can pass on recorded knowledge from one generation to the next. The younger, new generation starts where the older, previous generation left off--the next generation does not need to "reinvent the wheel." (1, pp.109-111 & 186) The previous generation gives to the new generation its accumulated knowledge as well as its material goods. This is how civilizations develop. (1, pp.104-106) S. I. Hayakawa defined civilization as a complicated and widespread network of cooperation between people. (2, p. 12) Around the world, humanity has found that the needs for food, shelter, safety, etc., have been more adequately met through cooperation than through the "every man for himself approach to survival. Hayakawa pointed out that "[This cooperation] ... necessary for the functioning of society is of necessity achieved by language or else it is not achieved at all." (2, p. 12)

Concerning this aspect of human life, Korzybski wrote:

... human beings possess a most remarkable capacity which is entirely peculiar to them--I mean the capacity to summarize, digest and appropriate the labors and experiences of the past; I mean the capacity to use the fruits of past labors and experiences as intellectual or spiritual capital for developments in the present; I mean the capacity to employ as instruments of increasing power the accumulated achievements of the all-precious lives of the past generations spent in trial and error, trial and success; I mean the capacity of human beings to conduct their lives in the ever increasing light of inherited wisdom; I mean the capacity in virtue of which man is at once the heritor of the by-gone ages and the trustee of posterity. And because humanity is just this magnificent natural agency by which the past lives in the present and the present for the future, I define HUMANITY ... to be the TIME-BINDING CLASS OF LIFE. (1, pp.59-60)

General Semantics

In 1933, Korzybski published his major work, Science and Sanity (3), in which he explained the principles of general semantics. He emphasized that "general semantics is not any 'philosophy,' or 'psychology,' or 'logic,' in the ordinary sense.... It trains us [in] how to use our nervous systems most efficiently.... The separate issues involved are not entirely new; their methodological formulation as a system which is workable, teachable and so elementary that it can be applied by children, is entirely new." (3, p.xxvi-xxvii) Korzybski also said, "I must stress that I give no panaceas, but experience shows that when the methods of general semantics are applied, the results are usually beneficial, whether in law, medicine, business, etc., education on all levels, or personal inter-relationships, be they in family, national, or international fields. If they are not applied, but merely talked about, no results can be expected." (3, p.xix)

By studying general semantics, we can become more aware of how we perceive the world, how we think, and how we use language in our decision making. This awareness begins to develop after we realize that we obtain knowledge by "abstracting." Korzybski described abstracting as a multilevel process: from a low level of making some sense of the world through sensory perception to higher levels that involve thinking and communicating. By applying general semantics, we can become more observant; more skillful listeners, thinkers, and communicators; and more successful in working with other people--all for the sake of improving our quality of life.

In early 1923, Korzybski created the structural differential diagram to illustrate how our nervous systems perceive and evaluate experiences in daily life.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Structural Differential Diagram: Part I. (General Semantics Basics)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?