Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

On the Varieties of Research in General Semantics

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

On the Varieties of Research in General Semantics

Article excerpt

It is now seventeen years since Science and Sanity was published, twelve years since the founding of the Institute for General Semantics. The mailing lists of the Institute for General Semantics and the International Society for General Semantics now include about 10,000 names. One may go to some thirty cities and find a group of friends of general semantics. Something like fifteen colleges and universities now offer classes on this subject. The people who have sat in classes number in the thousands.

But where are we? What does this mean? I should like to think that we have come to the end of our first phase and that we are now ready to move in a new direction. Many have caught a larger vision of the world from Korzybski's formulations. And there is some reason to believe that many have used them to break free of some of their identifications. I have heard testimony in many places that when people learned about map-territory or the extensional devices or delay of reaction, something happened to them. They became less defensive, a little more amenable to new learnings, a bit more livable-with, somewhat more creative and perceptive. And I have been told that men trained in a variety of professional activities have not only clarified and deepened their understanding of what they are doing, but also found ways of re-evaluating their personal and social usefulness. I have found reassurance in these witnesses, for I, too, have gained much from the study of general semantics.

I have attended meetings galore at which people told each other how valuable this discipline is, and how much the world needs it. Wars may, indeed, start in 'the minds of men,' but so do the small doings of the day. 'Here is the means,' we have said, 'by which men may find adjustment, the freedom from those ways of evaluating which lead to trouble.' I believed These things when others have said them-indeed, even when I said them. The warmth that goes with the force of common conviction is still very pleasant. When the going is rough, an evening with others suffused in the glow of you-know-what-words leaves me comforted. And if for a few moments one surrenders to hope, he may even be fooled into thinking that because we now know how people ought to 'think' and 'feel,' they will immediately begin to.

But the power of this contagion is rather less on those who have not yet seen the vision. Sometimes personal persuasion does little. The skeptics become a little more skeptical. The unbelievers leave without even learning the names of the chief books. And those who have somehow become extensional in some areas of their work easily insist that they know all about it already.

Have we come to the point in the history of general semantics when we need new weapons? Up to now we have tried to capture assent by our own enthusiasm. Frequently that was all we needed. But with a certain kind of tough character that does not work. May I suggest that now we need something more than the logic of our own conclusions. Can we move from the grand generalizations to more immediately specific demonstrations? Can we find the means by which to overwhelm those who come into earshot with a barrage of data which may not be so readily dismissed?

My perspectives are, of course, affected by the university atmosphere in which I move. Occasionally one meets a colleague whose requests for 'papers which report findings and achievements' are a not-so-polite form of dismissal. Frequently these requests grow out of what seems a genuine curiosity, a well-I'll-be-more-likely-to-face-up-to-your-stuff-if-you-really-show-me attitude. These are the people I should like to satisfy. One is continuously impressed with the poverty of references to the bulk of the present general semantics literature in the writings of such critics as Harold Larrabee, Arthur Murphy, Barrows Dunham, Margaret Schlauch. If our lists of items were longer and deeper, one might be permitted the hope that such critics might perhaps find it harder to aim their blows in such good conscience. …

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