[ The expression or communication of thoughts and feelings by means of vocal sounds, and combinations of such sounds, to which meaning is attributed. The particular form or manner of selecting and combining words characteristic of a person, group, etc. ]
The Inuit Indians have a large number of different names to describe snow. Snow is of enormous importance in the lives of the inhabitants of the North American Arctic and Greenland. They must be able to distinguish particuarly subtle differences in their environment. Differences which, to many, would probably seem unimportant, but yet are important for their survival. This need for distinction is therefore reflected in the number of different names that they use to describe the many forms of snow.
This relationship between perceptual differentiation and language works in both directions, for the very richness of the names in turn disposes an individual to look for and make fine distinctions. In a similar way, having a single word "snow" has the effect of lumping together all the different perceptions of winter into one category and thereby obscures the fine points.
An artist may learn to distinguish many different forms of snow and yet would probably find it hard to verbalize the exact feelings about his perceptions and would have to call on a variety of analogies and metaphors to convey his impressions in words.
Language is strongly related to cognition and enfolded within EACH language are ideas about nature and society. The structure of one's language predisposes one to think and act in a certain way. The whole world of perception and communication needs to be considered as an indivisible whole. Language, the whole activity of communication, and perception via the senses and the mind all act on each other in particularly subtle ways. In this way a worldview and language are able to reinforce each other so that everyone who speaks that language is unconsciously disposed to see the world in a particular way.
Only those who have taken the time to study the customs, philosophies, and languages of other socities may hope to obtain a direct experience of the deeper levels of their own worldview.
Science and Sanity
An Introduction to Non-Aristotelean Systems and General Semantics
by Flemming Funch, 30 Dec 94.
Alfred Korzybski, with his subject General Semantics, introduced a bunch of principles that are conducive to the whole systems view.
Korzybski wrote a book in 1933 called "Science and Sanity an introduction to non-aristotelean systems and general semantics", which was his main work. It is an 800 page tome that is today almost unreadable for non-academics, so I'll present just a few simple ideas from it.
"Non-Aristotelean" puts these principles in contrast to the logic of Aristotle, the Greek philosopher. In this context, Aristotle represents the black and white look. The idea that things just ARE a certain way and you can describe them in some finite and satisfactory way. And the concept that ideas are either right or wrong.
The physics of Newton follows similar models. The world is considered a collection of finite, separate phenomena that can be studied in isolation from anything else. Therefore Newton also represents Aristotelean logic. In the beginning of the 20th century the old science started to fall apart, thanks in part to relativity theory and quantum physics. You could no longer regard physical objects and phenomena as unchangeable, finite constructs that could be studied in isolation. Things were found to be much more interdependent and fluid than earlier assumed.
General Semantics, as a Non-Aristotelean system, provides a system of logic and of studying man's relation to his world, to accompany the new, more holistic and fluid, models of science.
If one has to draw out the single most important statement of General Semantics, it would invariably be:
The world is what it is. We can make all kinds of maps and models of how the world works, and some of them can be very useful, and we can talk about them with great benefit. But the models and maps and any words one can put together can never do more than approximate the actual world or the actual phenomena being examined. The actual territory is beyond verbal description. As humans we make abstractions all the time. An "abstraction", as used here, is that one simplifies, condenses, or symbolizes what is going on in order to better talk about it or think about it.
For example, if I walk down the street, I might experience an event taking place. My perceptions in themselves constitute an abstraction. Different people will experience the event differently, depending on where they perceive it from and how their perceptions work, and it will never be more than a portion of what went on, passed through certain filters of perception. So, I will record certain sights, sounds, feelings and so forth, which will form my representation of the event. I might then start describing what I experienced and that will abstract it further. I could say "I saw two cars, a blue Ford going west and a green Honda going east, and the blue car was going to turn left, but then the green car swerved out of its way and hit it". My description might give somebody else an idea of what went on, but really it is a very imprecise approximation of what I actually perceived, which is again an imprecise approximation of what actually went on.
The next day I might create a further abstraction by simply saying that I saw "an accident".
If somebody took my verbal description of an accident as WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED, then all kinds of mistakes might come out of that. But if one always realizes that it is only a map, and that different maps might be drawn for the same territory, then it becomes much easier to reconcile differences. Whatever one can say about something isn't it. Whatever you can say about a pencil is NOT a pencil. The pencil is what it is, something fundamentally unspeakable. If that is recognized then language and models are of course very useful in daily life.
Another key contribution by Korzybski is:
Aristotelean logic was two-valued logic. That means that any proposition is either "right" or "wrong". This goes together with "elementalism" which is the placing of sharp divisions between things. For example, to talk about "emotion" and "intellect" as being fundamentally different and separate things.
Korzybski's logic is infinite-valued and non-elementalistic. The "non-elementalistic" means that he does not believe in finite identifications of what things ARE, or sharp divisions between what different things ARE. Infinite-valued means that any proposition is best examined in degrees of qualities or probabilities.
For example, if I want to choose between going to the movies or staying home, I can add up the different factors involved. If I go to the movies I might experience something new, and looking in the paper I might add up the probability for seeing a good movie. But also I have to go out in the traffic, which is a bit of a drag, and I have to spend some money, which I have a limited amount of. If I stay home, I save time and money, and there is a probability that I can relax more, but I might also get bored. Adding up all these factors as to how probable it is that they are pleasurable, easy, economical, new, or whatever my criteria are, would add up to a decision taken based on infinity-valued logic.
No answer, model, action, or person is simply "right" or "wrong". There are always many factors involved. Some pull in one direction, some pull in another. One would look at all those factors, look at their relationships, and add up the maximum probability for whatever one is looking for, and make one's choice based on that.
This infinity-valued principle applies in many different areas. For example, Korzybski talks about the "multi-ordinality" of terms. That means that words don't just have one right meaning. Words and symbols have different meanings to different people, and different meanings in different contexts. A word or sentence in itself doesn't necessarily say anything finite, unless you find out what it is linked up with.
Korzybski also talks about infinity-valued causality. That is, we can't just finitely say that one specific thing is causing another. Any event has many "causes" and many "effects". We have to take it all into consideration if we will claim to examine the whole situation.
What Korzybski envisioned with General Semantics was that people could be trained in relating to the world in more fluid infinity-valued ways so that we can avoid all the human aberrations and misunderstandings that come out of taking limited maps too seriously.
Most disagreements, arguments, fights, and wars come out of the failure to recognize all factors, all views, and from relying on maps of reality that don't correspond to what is actually going on. People argue based on their own maps and fail to realize that others use different maps. When that gets cleared up and together we look at reality, then most conflicts evaporate.
The human mind includes mechanisms that are part of the problem. Korzybski talks about 'semantic reactions', which is when one reacts based on the consciously or sub-consciously perceived "meaning" of an event, rather than based on the event itself.
For example, Joe comes home from work and gives his wife flowers and she gets angry with him. She might assume that he gives her flowers because he has something to hide and it really means that he is having an affair, and she gets mad because of that. Maybe Joe just wanted to be nice, or there was a sale on flowers.
Semantic reactions sometimes make it difficult to have rational and constructive interactions between people.
Training oneself to recognize and overcome semantic reactions in oneself and others, could form the basis of more sane interactions and activities between people.
"Science and Sanity an introduction to non-aristotelean systems and general semantics".
International Society for General Semantics,
Box 2469, San Francisco, CA, 94126. (415) 5431747.
The English language has developed a very bad habit. The issue being, that we give the word "is" the property of being. We keep say that "this is this" or "that is that" in the most careless of ways. An example of note is our saying that "the house is red." We give the color red the property of being. The Russians say "the house appears red" and thereby assign the color red the property of appearance.
Language affects the way we look at the things around us. If we say and think "it is this way," and they say and think "it appears this way," much misunderstanding can result.
Scientific exploration can be held an unwilling captive if we over use the word "Is"!
A prime example is our using the phrase "gravity is an attractive force" without any experimental evidence to support the wording. Gravity is an accelerating force and as such can "Appear" to be attracting "Matter." Force "A" produces Illusion "B."
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