Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Ramifications of Julian Jaynes's Theory of Consciousness for Traditional General Semantics

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Ramifications of Julian Jaynes's Theory of Consciousness for Traditional General Semantics

Article excerpt

Good morning. Thank you for coming. In my talk, first I will explore why general semantics theorists for over 70 years generally have overlooked the human behaviors that give rise to the sharpest and most violent of today's conflicts of world views--namely, religious behaviors. Second, I will introduce some theories formulated by cultural anthropologist Julian Jaynes which "explain" religion and which have helped me extensionalize my own definition of the so-called "verbal levels," a general semantics term I previously had defined intensionally. I will close by haranguing you briefly with an argument that the perspectives opened up by Jaynes can help us strengthen general semantics doctrines.

I trace the general neglect of religion by general semantics theorists back to Korzybski's own proud rejection of religious influences. He said this to students at the 1948-49 Institute of General Semantics intensive seminar:

    I was born a Pole in Warsaw in a very peculiar family. My father was
    an engineer and for generations they were either mathematicians or
    senators, lawyers, economists, engineers, what not--all scientific,
    scientific, scientific.... [T]he milieu of the country was Catholic,
    but we didn't have any need of any religion. We were not agnostic,
    we were not atheists, we were just scientific for generations, so
    although the milieu was Catholic, I was not contaminated.... This
    was very fundamental in my whole work. I was completely free. (1)

Korzybski's freedom came at a price. Thanks to his freedom, he hardly understood religion, even failing to recognize the religious content in a major event in his own life.

Please look with me at the "Silent and Verbal Levels Diagram" which Korzybski first produced in 1943 and which he later titled "The Process of Abstracting from an Electro-Colloidal Non-Aristotelian Point of View." (2) I want to use the diagram to make the point about Korzybski's weak understanding of religion. Note the label on the "happenings" at Level I: external or internal happenings. I ask you to imagine that this person--myself--wants to understand pregnancy. Due to gender limitations, the internal happenings to which the name "pregnancy" applies never have and never will occur inside me. All chain-sequences of abstractings that might produce some pregnancy understanding in me necessarily must pass outside those people in whom pregnancy happenings can and do occur. My understanding of pregnancy, built up from abstractings circuitously routed through books, pictures, oral narratives, etc.,--compare that to the potential understanding of an equally informed person who is or has been pregnant, especially a person who has been pregnant until term and/or pregnant on multiple occasions. Which person's abstraction almost surely preserves more intrinsic characteristics of first, second and third-level pregnancy? Which person's abstraction has lost signal strength and become more cluttered with extraneous characteristics? The abstracting process that produced Korzybski's understanding of religion parallels the process producing my understanding of pregnancy.


    The diagram shows clearly that our most vital processes actually
    happen on the silent non-verbal organismal levels, and so remain un-
    speakable. However, the verbal levels (IV) are of unique human
    importance because we can abstract on higher and higher verbal
    levels from I, II, III, etc. In human life IV represents means for
    inter-communicating and transmitting from individual to individual
    and generation to generation the accumulated experiences of
    individuals and the race....
    Alfred Korzybski, 1946

What else does Korzybski say about religion? I'll quote here the most summary of his statements that I have found, and acknowledging Harry Weinberg and Ramiro Alvarez as exceptions, it seems to me that our post-Korzybski theorists--at least until the convening of this weekend's conference--have not much cared to say more. …

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