General Semantics . . . Vast . . . Great in Extent or Range

By Dawes, Milton | et Cetera, October 2009 | Go to article overview

General Semantics . . . Vast . . . Great in Extent or Range

Dawes, Milton, et Cetera

Korzybski's great legacy to the human race is his "general semantics" - a system introduced in his seminal books Manhood of Humanity (1921) and Science and Sanity (1933). In general semantics, Korzybski proposed a general theory of sanity involving conscious time-binding, relating science and sanity - and leading to a general theory of psychotherapy. He offered a theory of knowledge and values as possible foundations for human ethics involving standards of evaluation, and unifying principles for improving communication, understanding, and human relationships at intra-personal, interpersonal, national, international, and ecological levels. General semantics constitutes a set of interrelated principles - psychotherapeutic tools centered on "consciousness of abstracting," and "conscious time-binding." "Consciousness of abstracting" refers to moments of conscious awareness when whatever we are doing we remember we have not included everything. "Conscious time-binding" refers to times when we consciously and deliberately use general semantics principles in doing what we do - with an awareness of our interdependency, interrelatedness, and a sense of responsibility and cooperativeness. Korzybski proposed that practicing conscious time-binding will eventually lead us toward timebinding excellence and human excellence.

General semantics involves thinking about thinking. Whatever we do we can do better by refining our observations - and based on general semantics principles, modify our thinking. If, as a race, we ever come to realize that to improve our human welfare, we need to modify some attitudes and ways of thinking, I believe general semantics - an extensional discipline with a vast range of applications - qualifies as a thinking model and evaluation standard worth considering in any proposals for improvements. With these and other factors, I think of general semantics - Korzybski's legacy - as "vast" (great in extent or range) and a valuable contribution to our human welfare. I have used the letters "V," "A," "S," "T" to represent some general semantics key terms and principles. I hope you will add some insights emerging from your own continuing studies and applications of general semantics.


We have clocks, tapes, scales, laws, rules, regulations, policies, etc., as standards we agree on and refer to in order to avoid problems that would result from differences in the diverse individual evaluation standards we usually unknowingly bring to situations. Without some universally respected standards for human interactions, we can expect increased social unrests and breakdowns, repeating financial crises, and ongoing international conflicts and violence to result from valuing our present ways of thinking as the only possible way. We can think of Korzybski's general semantics as a meta-evaluation standard with science and mathematics as its models. In Science and Sanity (p. 728) Korzybski wrote, "Science and mathematics show the working of the 'human mind' at its best." Korzybski was concerned that in the structure of our languages, our habits of thought and orientations, we preserve "delusional and psychopathological factors" that mainly involve identification and that retard the development of sane human relations. Korzybski predicted that our application of general semantics in any area of our living (personal, interpersonal, and international) will help us achieve a level of general sanity, and avoid many of the inevitable consequences of our 'unsane' behaviors. As individuals, using general semantics principles as our standards, we can check, 'measure', compare, and, when necessary, refine our thinking-feeling-attitude-opinionsjudgments-and behavior. Although the methods and approaches of science and mathematics are generally accepted, general semantics has yet (if ever) to be considered as a foundation for a universal evaluation standard. In terms of their own advancement in understanding the limits of the system, students of general semantics might find it an interesting and rewarding exercise to explore and discuss racial anthropological factors that might work for and against general semantics' chances of being considered and universally accepted as an evaluation standard. …

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