Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Education and the Modern World

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Education and the Modern World

Article excerpt

APUBLIC ADDRESS these days is scarcely respectable unless it announces in ominous tones that we live in a changing world. And the statement is doubly platitudinous because of course we have always lived in a world whose principal characteristic is change. If the rate of change has seemed accelerated in our day, this is probably due to the multiplicity of inventions which have facilitated rapid communication--telephones, automobiles, airplanes, radio, etc. These mechanical devices have in fact materially altered the surface of human living. But we have, on the whole, adapted ourselves fairly readily to them.

Few of those speakers, however, who talk to us about the difficulties of adjustment seem to be fully aware of the profundity of the changes which have taken place in our human world during the last thirty or forty years. Fundamental changes have gone on in the basic processes of our 'thinking' and these are only just beginning to affect, and to affect profoundly, our everyday lives. As our understanding of the structure of the world both outside and inside our skins has grown, re-orientations in our ways of 'thinking' such as have not taken place for nearly three thousand years have become necessary--necessary if we are to make use of the vast possibilities for human happiness which this world contains, necessary actually for human sanity.

Up until thirty or forty years ago it had been possible to describe and account for everything we had so far observed in the universe, including man himself, in terms of Aristotle's theory of knowledge. All the mechanisms of which we were aware could be interpreted within the bounds of this great man's logical formulations. (I use the term mechanisms in the sense of natural processes--not man-made machines.) But finally our means of observation were sufficiently refined to permit our discovery of structures and processes which could not be explained on the basis of Aristotle's logic, or more specifically, in terms of Euclidean geometry or Newtonian mechanics. It became necessary, therefore, to invent new formulations, more highly generalized than these older systems, and such a process is now going on. We have already seen the development of several non-Euclidean geometries, the quantum mechanics, Einstein's Relativity and unified field theories, etc., in the realm of mathematics and physics. In fact, the very foundations of mathematics have been revolutionized in our day. But this is not all, for similar events are taking place in all fields. For instance, the structure and behavior of colloids cannot be described and accounted for on the basis of the older formulations, and the postulates and procedures of psycho-analysis and modern psychiatry are also outside the bounds of Aristotle.

Now, important as these speculations may be for the scientist, many will complain that they seem remote from our everyday doings and undergoings. Yet that is farthest from the truth, for the implications in these higher abstractions for our so-called 'practical' affairs are tremendous, although applications of them are only just beginning to be made. The modern automobile and aeroplane, radio, motion-pictures, television and hundreds of the common objects and devices of our environment, as well as much of modern medical and surgical treatment, etc., would not have been possible under the older formulations. If we are to adjust ourselves satisfactorily to a world which includes such things we shall have to learn to use the types of 'thinking' involved in these new non-Aristotelian orientations. For it is not 'the war' or 'the movies' or some other symptom, which is responsible for the confusion of values so obvious in our 1937 world, for the tremendous increase in so-called 'mental illness,' crime, war, poverty, and human misery in general, but precisely the failure to make the adjustment in our 'thinking' that is required for living in a world now functioning in these new terms. …

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