General Semantics

Overview of General Semantics

General Semantics is a program begun in the 1920s that seeks to regulate the evaluative operations performed in the human brain. After partial program launches under the trial names "human engineering" and "humanology,"[1] Polish-American originator Alfred Korzybski[2] (1879–1950) fully launched the program as "general semantics" in 1933 with the publication of Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics.  Several knowledge areas have anchored General Semantics including biology, epistemology, mathematics, neurology, physics, and psychiatry.

Important concepts in General Semantics include the following:

-Non-Aristotelianism: While Aristotle wrote that a true definition gives the essence of the thing defined (in Greek to ti ên einai, literally "the what it was to be"), general semantics denies the existence of such an 'essence'.[39] In this, general semantics purports to represent an evolution in human evaluative orientation. In general semantics, it always possible to give a description of empirical facts, but such descriptions remain just that - descriptions - which necessarily leave out many aspects of the objective, microscopic, and submicroscopic events they describe. According to general semantics, language, natural or otherwise (including the language called 'mathematics') can be used to describe the taste of an orange, but one cannot give the taste of the orange using language alone. According to general semantics, the content of all knowledge is structure, so that language( in general ) and science and mathematics (in particular) can provide people with a structural 'map' of empirical facts, but there can be no 'identity', but only structural similarity, between the language (map) and the empirical facts as lived through and observed by people as humans-in-environments (including doctrinal and linguistic environments).

-Time binding: The human ability to pass information and knowledge from one generation to the next. Korzybski claimed this to be a unique capacity, separating people from animals. This uniquely human ability for one generation to start where a previous generation left off, is a consequence of the uniquely human ability to move to higher and higher levels of abstraction without limit. Animals may have multiple levels of abstraction, but their abstractions must stop at some finite upper limit: not so for humans: humans can have 'knowledge about knowledge', 'knowledge about knowledge about knowledge', etc., without any upper limit. Animals possess knowledge, but each generation of animals does things pretty much in the same way as the previous generation, limited by their neurology and genetic makeup. For example, at one time most human societies were hunter-gatherers, but now more advanced means of food production (growing, raising, or buying) predominate. Except for some insects (for example, ants), all animals are still hunter-gatherer species, even though many have existed longer than the human species. For this reason, animals are regarded in general semantics as space-binders, and plants, which are usually stationary, as energy-binders.

-Non-elementalism and non-additivity: The refusal to separate verbally what cannot be separated empirically, and the refusal to regard such verbal splits as evidence that the 'things' that are verbally split bear an additive relation to one another. For example, space-time cannot empirically be split into 'space' + 'time', a conscious organism (including humans) cannot be split into 'body' + 'mind', etc., therefore, people should never speak of 'space' and 'time' or 'mind' and 'body' in isolation, but always use the terms space-time or mind-body (or other organism-as-a-whole terms).

-Infinite-valued determinism: General semantics regards the problem of 'indeterminism vs. determinism' as the failure of pre-modern epistemologies to formulate the issue properly as the failure to consider or include all factors relevant to a particular prediction, and failure to adjust our languages and linguistic structures to empirical facts. General semantics resolves the issue in favor of determinism of a special kind called 'infinite-valued' determinism which always allows for the possibility that relevant 'causal' factors may be 'left out' at any given date, resulting in, if the issue is not understood at that date, 'indeterminism', which simply indicates that our ability to predict events has broken down, not that the world is 'indeterministic'. General semantics considers all human behavior (including all human decisions) as, in principle, fully determined once all relevant doctrinal and linguistic factors are included in the analysis, regarding theories of 'free will' as failing to include the doctrinal and linguistic environments as environments in the analysis of human behavior.

Link to the Institute of General Semantics: