Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics


Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics


Article excerpt



Reprinted with permission from The Lakeville Journal Company, LLC, copyright 1945-2007. Originally published in 1945.

In the words of George Sarton, historian of science, science is humanistic; better science is more humanistic. Human issues are circular; man cannot get away from himself. A science of science, therefore, will be humanistic. Science distinguishes civilized mankind from the uncivilized; "more science" will help to banish the savage characteristics still lingering.

The attempt at formulating such a science of science is Alfred Korzybski's system of general semantics. In the present series of articles we shall make a survey of Korzybski's pioneering work in this extremely vital direction.

The problem of synthesis of knowledge no less than that of an adequate human adjustment turns on the formulation of a science of man. For man is the common factor of all knowledge considered as a human activity. The formulations of science should be considered in their significance to human beings. Without this anthropological standpoint, science can become an empty formalism with no commonly acceptable criterion of its meanings. For the purpose of our study, we distinguish three interdependent factors involved in the process of 'knowledge.' These are, first, the external world; second, the human beings; and third, the linguistic factors.

"Man," in the present enquiry, is an object of science, not to be taken for granted in any respect. It is probably true that as human beings we cannot formulate an ideally rigorous and exhaustive science of man. Nonetheless, enough is known about him in biology, neurology, sociology, psychiatry, etc., to go a long way in that direction.

The distinction of this "science of man" from what generally goes under the name of anthropology at the present time, is that it includes in its purview all the human activities ranging from the psycho-pathological behavior of the insane to the activities of scientists at their best. The inclusion of science, mathematics, etc., as human activities along with eating, sleeping, loving, hating, etc., is the basis of Korzybski's science of man and is the chief factor in accomplishing the synthesis of knowledge.

Thought and Object

The human brain occupies, psycho-physiologically, a dominant position within the human system. With a certain amount of abstraction therefore, we can consider science, mathematics, philosophy, psycho-pathological behavior, etc., as the activities of the nervous system, a central factor in the process of knowing.

In this somewhat abstract manner of speaking, therefore, all the above-mentioned activities can be considered as neural activities. What we know of neurology today, especially in conjunction with colloidal chemistry, has a bearing of fundamental importance on the question and considerations of science, philosophy, etc.

Another factor in the human activity of knowing is the 'world' external to each one of us, which affects us vitally in a variety of ways. The formulations of science are a summary record of the interaction of human organisms and the external world.

Science thus is a method of 'knowing' and adjusting to the external world. Ignorance of science is to that extent a failure to adjust. In the course of 'time' we have evolved a methodology of science, which helps us to know the external world purposefully or of necessity, for purposes of adjustment. The scientific method is important as the culmination of knowledge, and this enquiry we are undertaking is to be worked out by this method.

The problem of method is, therefore, of the utmost importance. As such, the prevalent method of science should not be taken for granted: it should be subjected to a detailed and thorough examination for its presuppositions and implications. …

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