Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

General Semantics: Understanding Korzybski's Formulations

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

General Semantics: Understanding Korzybski's Formulations

Article excerpt

  The changes which general semantics training is designed to   bring about are not so much a matter of absorbing an "intellectual   subject-matter" as of gaining a new orientation, a system of   evaluation, a new way of using language.    --Frances Chisholm (1945, p. 1) 

Alfred Korzybski

Alfred Korzybski first published his formulations about "time-binding," or "what makes humans human" (Kodish & Kodish, 2011, P. 203) in Manhood of Humanity in 1921. According to Korzybski (2000), time-binding was the human capacity to share experiences with others. He hoped that this ability to pass our learning onto others would allow "each generation [to] begin where the former left off" (Korzybski, p. xxxii). Experiencing firsthand the carnage of World War I, he often questioned how humans had "progressed so far and so rapidly in fields such as engineering, mathematics, and the sciences, and yet sociologically [we] still were fighting wars and killing each other" (Stockdale, 2009, p. 35). He was determined to finding better ways for humans to communicate.

Korzybski (2000) believed that a scientific orientation toward language--questioning the accuracy of language choices--would help us become more effective communicators. He advocated for daily use of the scientific method because of the potential for new discoveries: "The structural revision of [scientists] language led automatically to new results and new suggestions" (Korzybski, p. 10). Similarly, as a mathematician, Korzybski (2000) believed that the cardinal and ordinal aspects of numbers provided "an ideal human relational language of structure similar to that of the world and to that of the human nervous system" (p. 259). Consequently, if humans operate from a mathematical orientation, they recognize that as one variable changes in nature, so does the other: "In mathematical notation, a function is express: y = f (x), and is read "y equals (f) or function of x" or "y depends on x," or "the value of y varies as the value of x varies" (Pula, 2000, p. 67). Korzybski (2000) advocated for both a scientific and mathematical orientation toward language, so that human language behaviors accurately reflect the changing nature of the empirical world.

In addition, Korzybski (2000) proposed a map-territory analogy to encourage more exploration of our verbal "maps" (words), noting that these maps do not accurately describe what is happening in the "territory" (empirical world): "A map is not the territory it represents" (p. 58). He used a familiar relationship, maps and territories, so that we would remember when the territory (reality) changes, we need to update the map (language). More recently, Anton (n.d.) proposed that we are better served with the premise, "there is no not territory" (p. 11), because the territory (reality) consists of many maps. He argued, "Once we recognize how all maps, as part of the territory, are the means by which one part selectively releases and appropriates another part at different levels of abstraction, we no longer need to postulate that 'reality' lies somehow 'behind' and/or 'beyond' our experiences and/or language" (Anton, p. 11-12).

In his second book, Science and Sanity, published in 1933, Korzybski (2000) proposed his formulations as a non-Aristotelian system that promoted a "complete and conscious elimination of identification" (p. xcvii). For Korzybski, a "non-Aristotelian" orientation meant illuminating the limitations of Aristotle's "law of identity," or the "is of identity" (Pula, 2000, p. 21-22). He argued that even though people, places, and things have specific characteristics, which Aristotle labeled as identity, these characteristics are constantly changing and are incomplete representations of the empirical world.

For example, I am a professor, but if that is all you say about me then you are leaving out other important roles in my life--friend, wife, counselor, mother, church member, sister, and many more. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.