ETC (Volume I, Number 1) Revisited

By Levinson, Martin H. | ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

ETC (Volume I, Number 1) Revisited


Levinson, Martin H., ETC.: A Review of General Semantics


THE FIRST ISSUE of any publication interests us for a variety of reasons. It allows us a glimpse of the focus and direction of its originators, it sets the tone for ensuing issues, and if the publication survives for a while, it provides a time-binding link for the current generation of readers. With these thoughts in mind, I decided to look at the first issue of ETC (now in its sixty-first year of continuous publication).

ETC, vol. I, no. 1, was published in August 1943. It contains seven articles, one poem, two book reviews and a "News and Miscellany" section. I was particularly impressed by the variety of subjects covered (philosophy, art, poetry, English composition, psychology, chemistry, anthropology, etc.), the famous contributors (Margaret Mead, e. e. cummings, and Edward L. Thorndike), and the overall high quality of the writing. Four of the articles were previously published elsewhere and three were original submissions. Some were relatively easy to read and some required a rereading for better understanding. I learned something from each of them (as I do from the articles in each new ETC) and I gained a renewed appreciation for those whose efforts caused ETC to be born.

This article provides an introduction to each segment of the first ETC. I have included direct quotations to enable the reader to get a flavor for each writer's ideas and style. Perhaps the piece may motivate some to seek out other past issues of ETC for increased wisdom and enjoyment of general semantics. For GS "old-timers," perhaps my discussion of ETC, vol. I, no. 1, will revive fond memories.

Let's begin with a letter from Alfred Korzybski to S.I. Hayakawa, the first editor of ETC. It appears on page 62 in the "News and Miscellany" section.

Communication from Korzybski
  Dear Hayakawa:
    We at the Institute are very happy that you have been selected as
  the editor of ETC. We hear that some of the readers like the title ETC
  and that a few do not. Personally I feel that the publication of the
  Society could not have a better title. After all, our work is based on
  a non-aristotelian orientation, in which a supposedly 'innocent'
  change in punctuation occurs. Thus, in an aristotelian two-valued
  orientation we habitually had a 'period and stop' attitude, as if what
  was said covered 'all' the characteristics of what we were talking
  about. In a non-aristotelian infinite-valued orientation we do not
  assume that whatever we may say covers 'all' the characteristics of a
  situation, and so we remain conscious of a permanent 'et cetera'
  instead of having the dogmatic 'period and stop' attitude. This turns
  out to be a key problem in general semantics and is much more serious
  than a mere grammatical device: it involves a whole reorientation
  fundamental in our extensional work. For these serious and complex
  considerations of rigidity versus flexibility, please disregard the
  critics of the title ETC., as it turns out to be a most appropriate
  title.
                                                        Yours cordially,
                                                        ALFRED KORZYBSKI

The Articles

I. "Science and Values" (pages 1-11) by Edward L. Thorndike

Edward L. Thorndike was a major figure in several fields of psychology: learning theory, applied psychology, and mental measurement. Thorndike rid his theories of the mentalism of earlier psychologists and paved the way for the behaviorism of B.F. Skinner and John B. Watson. He published approximately 500 books and articles.

"Science and Values" was the first article in ETC and it contains a short introduction by Korzybski. Professor Thorndike originally delivered this paper in 1935, on the occasion of his retirement from the presidency of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The paper is a call for scientists and the scientific method to become more involved in formulating and analyzing not only "what is going on" but "what ought to be going on. …

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