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A general semantics glossary.

If he contend, as sometimes he will contend, that he has defined all his terms and proved all his propositions, then either he is a performer of logical miracles or he is an ass; and, as you know, logical miracles are impossible.

Cassius Jackson Keyser (1)

Much of what I will say has been said before by many others.

Alfred Korzybski (2)

neuro-logical inevitability. In our last glossary entry ("validity and truth"), (3) I referred to Cassius Jackson Keyser's "Logical Destiny" or "Logical Fate." Korzybski, mentored by Keyser, adopted and adapted Keyser's formulation, making it an integral part of his system-function, which he called general semantics. In order to diminish the possible thrilling neurosemantic undertow effects of the terms "destiny" and "fate," I have chosen to use the more plainly descriptive "neuro-logical inevitability."

Korzybski treated Keyser's keen awareness of logical 'fate' and 'its' potential for cerebral entrapments (what we might call the vice of logic) in many places, most notably in his early paper, "Fate and Freedom" (see endnote 2 below), and in the 1942 "Foreword" (with M. Kendig) to A Theory of Meaning Analyzed. (4) An adaptation of Korzybski's seminar diagram visualizing the major relationships therein - the structure of neurological inevitability - has appeared on the cover of most issues of the General Semantics Bulletin since its founding by M. Kendig in 1949-1950.

Keyser's formulation can be stated succinctly: From premises, conclusions follow inexorably. He was concerned to detect the 'spaces' of formulational freedom, the 'windows of opportunity' available to humans when they are reasoning. His investigations convinced him that, once a given premise (assumption, etc.) is accepted, usually unconsciously, as 'true', the reasoner, if logically consistent, must reach conclusions which are related in an ironclad way to that accepted premise. This deterministic connection between premise and conclusion(s) he called logical 'fate'. Once a premise is accepted, we are 'fated' to reach related (derived) conclusions. Accepted assumptions have consequences.

Where, then, is human freedom in evaluating? Keyser maintained that the focus of freedom is precisely at the level of premise selection, premise evaluation. But this selection/evaluation must be conscious; we must become aware of our premises before we can decide, based on extensional procedures, whether or not they constitute a 'true' foundation upon which to do valid reasoning, i.e., higher order verbal evaluating/formulating, which may yield further 'true' statements - statements which can, in their turn, be evaluated with relation to the 'territory' of experience.

Korzybski taught that we must become conscious of abstracting; then, perhaps, we can mature into "premise detectors," to use Harry Maynard's felicitous phrase; we may become relative experts in Keyser's "mole philosophy." (5) Korzybski also considered reaching conclusions as a mode of behavior, a neuro-linguistic, not merely linguistic issue, and, most importantly, the determiner of behavior in the usual sense, that is, what we do to, with, for, etc., ourselves and others. In my general-semantics seminars and lectures, I have evolved this rendition of the Keyser-Korzybski formulation: "From premises, conclusions/behaviors follow inexorably." If we are not satisfied with our own behavior and want to change it, or if we are responsible for helping the evaluating of some other person (especially if they ask us to help), we will likely fail if we 'attack' the behavior directly, as in "Stop doing that!!" People in jails undergo a rigorous mode of brute force behavior modification. If you're behind bars, you can't, for example, do that behavior called "robbing banks." Yet, when released, the large majority of former inmates resume the behaviors they were sent to prison for.

Korzybski's application of what I am calling the "neurological inevitability" formulation, then, calls for examinations of 'positions' taken by 'behavers' and their underlying antecedent premises. If the premises are found wanting, and revised - and accepted as revised - then the mechanism of neurological inevitability may resume its action, leading to appropriate conclusions/behaviors related to appropriate (fact-related) premises. The crucial relationships are from premise to conclusion to overt behavior - and back.

Here's the (evolved) diagram I have come to use in Institute of General Semantics teaching situations:

Note the cancellation marks on the line from P/1 to C/2-B/2 that indicate that "you can't get there from there." This emphasizes both the potential stranglehold of neuro-logical inevitability AND the potential liberation effect it can generate if, still allowing for, indeed using the strength of that inevitability, we try to make improvements in the process by concentrating on, by focusing at, the premise level.

Note, too, the cancellation marks on the line from C/1-B/1 to C/2-B/2. As intimated above, we are not likely to get long-term changes in behavior by limitedly addressing the behavior. Premise detection must precede the effort at behavior change.

Let's close this entry with a simple example of neurological inevitability at work. Although 'paranoid schizophrenia' is famously intractable when dealt with by solely verbal means, I'll use a characteristic sequence from a brain thus afflicted to illustrate the mechanism:

Paranoid Schizophrenic (major premise): "Everybody's out to get me." (minor premise): "You're somebody." (logical conclusion): "You're out to get me." (logical overt behavior-related conclusion, which serves as a new premise, leading to further conclusions-actions): "People who are facing imminent attack, have the right to take preemptive measures." Therefore, ...

If you felt hands tightly clutching your throat just after reading "Therefore, ...," you have understood the formulation and the mechanisms it describes - how it works. If you actually choked after reading "Therefore, ...," you may need treatment yourself.

It's important to recognize that inability to do good logic is not the fundamental problem of the 'paranoid schizophrenic': given her/his premises, conclusions reached qualify as quite logical. The main problem of the 'paranoid schizophrenic' (not considering here disturbed brain chemistry which may lead to hallucinations) seems her/his inability (often a sly refusal) to uncover, then examine, their basic assumptions.

With the normally unsane (most of us), application of the neuro-logical inevitability formulation, provided the 'client' is serious and engages the underlying mechanisms, can ameliorate conditions of severe misevaluation. But, as with all such efforts, our approach needs to be probabilistic. We need to cluster under the 'permanently' unfurled Uncertainty Umbrella, remembering that the fully trained general semanticist does not limit her/his use of the Uncertainty Umbrella only to rainy days. (6)


1. Cassius J. Keyser, Mathematical Philosophy. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1922, p.152.

2. Alfred Korzybski, "Fate and Freedom," in Alfred Korzybski, Collected Writings: 1920-1950. Englewood, NJ: International Non-Aristotelian Library/Institute of General Semantics, 1990, pp.11-29 (p.13). Also available in Irving J. Lee, ed., Language of Wisdom and Folly: Background Readings in Semantics. Concord, CA: International Society for General Semantics, 1969 reprint.

3. Robert P. Pula, "A General Semantics Glossary (Part XVIII): validity and truth," ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, vol. 54, no.2, Summer, 1997, pp.235-246.

4. A Theory of Meaning Analyzed. General Semantics Monographs, no. 3, 1942, pp.vii-xvi. Reprinted in Korzybski's Collected Writings, pp.369-380. The monograph proper contains three important papers: Thomas Clark Pollock, "A Critique of I.A. Richards' Theory of Language and Literature"; John Gordon Spaulding, "Elementalism: The Effect of an Implicit Postulate of Identity on I.A. Richards' Theory of Poetic Value"; and Allen Walker Read, "The Lexicographer and General Semantics."

5. Keyser coined the designation "mole philosophy" to characterize the kind of scientific philosophizing (method) that 'burrows', that digs into the analytical underground to engage in what Keyser called "postulate detection." See my review of Korzybski's "The Human Worth of Rigorous Thinking," which was his review of Keyser's Mole Philosophy and Other Essays, in Time-Bindings: Newsletter of the Institute of General Semantics, March 1997, p.5.

6. For the Uncertainty Umbrella, see Robert P. Pula, "A General Semantics Glossary (Part XIII): general uncertainty," ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, vol. 52, no. 4, Winter 1995-96, pp.476-480.

Robert Pula edited the General Semantics Bulletin from 1977-1985 and served as Director of the Institute of General Semantics from 1983-1986. He is Director Emeritus of the Institute.
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Title Annotation:part 19
Author:Pula, Robert P.
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Date:Sep 22, 1997
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