ETC (VOLUME I, NUMBER 1) REVISITED.
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
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.
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."
Korzybski's introduction to "Science and Values"
The following paper... is perhaps the best that could have been selected as an introduction to ETC.... From the point of view of general semantics there is very little, if anything, I can add or reformulate, besides endorsing practically sentence after sentence as they stand. Here we find outlined, in fact, the very problems we have been dealing with in practice through the formulation and application of a non-aristotelian system for many years.
Professor Thorndike rightly asks that scientific methods should be applied to human evaluations.... The understanding that something desirable should happen is not enough; we have to have workable methods and techniques to bring about the desired results.
From "Science and Values"
... science has been rather willing to leave values alone. So psychologists rarely study the causes of happiness, economists recoil from all wants save those expressed in money prices, students of education deal with the consequences of school work upon abilities, but not, save rarely, upon desires and satisfactions. So we all have left and still tend to leave decisions about consequences to humanists--to philosophers, sages, men of affairs, historians and literary men.
Some of the humanists would gladly accept the responsibility, being confident that science should leave such decisions to them. They distrust the activities of the social sciences and especially their entry into the field of human values. It is better, such a humanist will assert, to listen to the seers and sages and to follow the dreams of inspired artists and moralists than to poke about in the schools, streets, market-places, prisons and asylums, or collect statistics, or drag human aspirations into the laboratory.
We may reasonably think it is better to do both. We should admit that Thucidydes reports a better description of liberty than the average Ph.D. candidate in political science to-day would give. If we had to choose between reading Sophocles and Euripides and reading the most scientific family budgets, we would reject the science. We would have science gladly team and gladly teach what able men have thought about the consequences of various forms of conduct, but we would also have it test and experiment, regarding nothing outside the scope of science.
Much of the scorn of certain humanists for the efforts of modem science seems to be due to the fact that the observations and experiments of scientific workers make dull reading. A cardinal virtue of these humanists is to be interesting; many of them are literary men to whom success in entertaining cultivated persons is a duty, as well as a source of pleasure and pride. It is partly because of this that we can not trust the humanist alone.
II. "General Semantics and Modern Art" (pages 12-23) by Oliver Bloodstein
This article was written in 1942 when the author attended Wendell Johnson's lectures in general semantics at the University of Iowa. Bloodstein included eight illustrations of paintings to further his point that modern art can be thought of as a non-aristotelian system that demands new semantic reactions. In a footnote he states that military duties prevented him from supplying detailed citations of his sources. Two readers, in the following issue of ETC, sent letters criticizing Bloodstein for what they considered a rather two-dimensional view of art.
From "General Semantics and Modern Art"
... The purpose of this paper is to deal with modern art as a non-aristotelian system, contrasting its implied semantic reactions with the implied semantic reactions of the art which preceded it in Europe for several centuries. It is proposed to regard the traditional European art as an essentially aristotelian system involving identification, etc.
Aristotle said, "Art is imitation of nature." Until about 1880 this dictum represented one of the chief aims of leading artists. The result of this attempt to be faithful to 'reality' was an increased emphasis upon objects, in and for themselves, in the belief that they represent 'nature.' Thus, European art became an art of content, or subject matter, dominated by an attitude of 'allness' resulting from the identification of the artist's particular level of abstraction with 'reality.'
The artists who, in recent years, broke with this tradition, abolished the old semantic reactions involving identifications. The art they established, or rather reestablished, is based on non-aristotelian semantic reactions.
Modem art is based on consciousness of abstracting.
It considers structure, relations, order to be the only content of art.
It rejects identity.
It accepts the principle of non-elementalism.
It is based on extensional methods.
III. 'ETCETERA' by e. e. cummings (page 24)
e. e. cummings was a poet whose unique use of typography, punctuation, and vocabulary was influential in the development of modern poetry. Cummings, like Korzybski, was greatly influenced by his military experience during World War I. In 1922 he wrote The Enormous Room, a fictional prose work that portrays the cruel bureaucracy of war. His poem, which was published in 1923, has a title and meaning that ought to resonate for general semanticists.
ETCETERA my sweet old etcetera aunt lucy during the recent war could and what is more did tell you just what everybody was fighting for, my sister isabel created hundreds (and hundreds) of socks not to mention shirts fleaproof earwarmers etcetera, wristers, etcetera, my mother hoped that I would die etcetera bravely of course my father used to become hoarse talking about how it was a privilege and if only he could meanwhile my self etcetera lay quietly in the deep mud et cetera (dreaming, et cetera, of Your smile eyes knees and of your Etcetera)
IV. "You Can't Write Writing" (pages 25-32) by Wendell Johnson
This is an original contribution by a seminal general semanticist best known for the groundbreaking text People in Quandaries (1946). On the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of ETC (1993) the editor wrote, "We acknowledge Wendell Johnson's major contributions to the overlapping fields of speech therapy, critical thinking, and general semantics. In an era when scientific endeavor has attracted more hostile analysis than the British Royal Family, we could benefit from the study of Johnson's writings."
"You Can't Write Writing," was republished in its entirety in the fiftieth anniversary issue of ETC. The writing style is typical Wendell Johnson clear and to the point. He wants English teachers to teach effective communication skills--not give excuses that effective writing is an art that cannot be taught nor to merely teach grammar.
From "You Can't Write Writing"
... The teacher of English appears to attempt to place the emphasis upon writing, rather than upon writing-about-something-for-someone. From this it follows quite inevitably that the student of English fails in large measure to learn the nature or the significance of clarity or precision and of organization in the written representation of facts.
He learns grammatical correctness reasonably well, because that is emphasized. But as long as the student's primary anxieties are made to revolve around the task of learning to spell, punctuate, and observe the rules of syntax, he is not likely to become keenly conscious of the fact that when he writes he is, above all, communicating. If he is to learn to communicate effectively, he must realize that his first obligation to his reader is not to be grammatically fashionable, but to be clear and coherent. One does not just communicate, one communicates something to someone. And the something communicated is not the words used in the communication, but whatever those words represent. Moreover, the degree to which there is communication depends precisely upon the degree to which the words represent the same thing for the receiver or reader that they do for the sender or writer. And the degree to which they do is an index of the clarity of the communication or written statement.
V. "General Semantics and Psychoanalysis: Korzybski and Freud" (pages 33-40) by Charles L Glicksberg
Glicksberg points out, in this original article, Korzybski's belief that Freudian psychology needs to be revised in the light of new scientific knowledge and general semantics formulations. Such knowledge can help the patient balance the verbal world with the structural world. Psychoanalysis enjoyed a vogue in the nineteen forties. Margaret Mead's article "The Problem of Changing Food Habits," which appears later in this issue, also deals with psychoanalytic concerns.
From "General Semantics and Psychoanalysis"
While no one as yet has ventured to undertake a psychoanalysis of general semantics, Korzybski practically furnishes a semantic analysis of Freudianism, its limitations and its strength, its contradictions and its positive contributions. He accepts the unconscious, but instead of devoting himself to the task of dredging the contents of the unconscious, he is interested in the structural unconscious that underlies our language, our philosophy, our myths, our values, our social order. Hence his concern is with both society and the individual, with both the unconscious and its relations to reality. He is not, however, satisfied with adjustments or social reality as we find it, which is what the psychoanalyst, on the whole, endeavors to do for his patient. Such an adjustment offers but temporary alleviation. It is necessary that all of present-day society be analyzed by semantic methods in order to discover the degree to which it is dominated by false values, by infantilism, regressive tendencies. The objective is to develop ultimately a technique of preventative semantic hygiene.
VI. "Chemical Semantics" (pages 41-46) by S. Weiner
This article originally appeared in the Journal of Chemical Education (1942). It was written in response to letters and articles to the journal that demanded the scientific examples of how "correct" defining may prove at best elusive.
From "Chemical Semantics"
Admittedly, there is some value to efforts at improving word usage among our students or ourselves, but too often our efforts are wasted on trifles. A case in triviality is that of the physician who complained that 'clinic' is used to mean bedless institutions such as dispensaries and out-patient departments, whereas the Greek work kline means 'bed.' It is immaterial whether a titration be called a 'volumetric' or a 'titrimetric' procedure, since the meaning of the former is clear to any graduate chemist; its replacement by the latter word may, however, be justified in a classification of analytical procedures, to prevent confusions of titrations with gas-analytical methods. It is inexact meaning, not inexact phrasing, that confuses. This is all the more so because the meaning is often tacit and implied.
... definitions are themselves composed of words and often these latter are themselves in need of clear definition. Sometimes a definition merely transfers the ambiguity from one word to several. Sometimes the ambiguity is concealed by the apparently simple words composing the definition. In the definitions of element, compound, and mixture we frequently meet the undefined terms 'pure,' 'simple,' and 'decomposed.'
VII. "The Problem of Changing Food Habits: With Suggestions for Psychoanalytic Contributions" (pages 47-50) by Margaret Mead
Margaret Mead is best known for her famous dissertation, Coming of Age in Samoa (1928). In that work she showed that, in contrast to modem Western society, adolescence in some societies is traditionally not an especially difficult time. Mead was an ardent publicist and popularizer of cultural anthropology. In this article, part of an address presented at the Topeka Psychoanalytic Society in 1942, the symbolic nature of American food habits are explored and suggestions are made for related psychoanalytic research.
From "The Problem of Changing Food Habits"
... When American food habits are compared with those of various European nations and with those of primitive peoples we find that eating in America is primarily a 'super-ego" problem, that if you eat enough of the food that is not good but is good for you, you are then permitted to eat a little of the food that is good but is not good for you. This attitude is instilled into each generation by the use of reward and punishment and as a result the findings of the science of nutrition do not become an automatic part of our cultural tradition but remain a subject of moral choice for each individual. For example, men and children are supposed not to like vegetables. It is women's responsibility to see that the family eats vegetables, by coercing the children, cajoling the men, and by camouflaging the disliked vegetables in various ways. Sweets and desserts are used as rewards. American mothers do not see how one can teach children to eat without bribes, and they are amazed to learn that certain cultures do not use desserts.
VIII. "The Brotherhood of Doctrines" (pages 51-57) by Alfred Korzybski
This article originally appeared in "The Builder" in 1922. It praises the work of Cassius Keyser, especially Mathematical Philosophy, and underscores the importance of science and mathematics for improving the human condition. In a note at the beginning of the article, the editors of ETC mention that they hope to republish other early papers by Korzybski from time to time. (All the papers, chapters, transcripts and reviews that Korzybski published during his lifetime, other than his two major books, have been published in Alfred Korzybski: Collected Writings 1920-1950, collected and arranged by M. Kendig. Englewood, New Jersey: International Non-Aristotelian Library/Institute of General Semantics, 1990.)
From "The Brotherhood of Doctrines"
In the space allotted for this writing only a very few of the most momentous points can be sketched, and I make no pretense to finality. The aim is to draw the attention of scientists, and thinkers, to the fact that something of grave importance for all our human future is going on; to encourage inquiry and collaboration, and thus to accelerate the inevitable.
What I here call the inevitable is the coming of the empire of sound logic a logic demanding scientific knowledge of human nature, adjusting human beliefs, institutions, doctrines, and conduct to the essential facts and laws of human nature, and converting the pseudo-sciences of ethics, economics and government into genuine sciences for promoting human welfare....
There is, perhaps, nothing wrong with 'human nature,' but there is something basically wrong with our old premises and logic. As a fact, every human activity has at its foundation some doctrine as an inherent, unconditionally inseparable part of the activity. Because of logical fate, the analysis of doctrine, which underlies all human activities, becomes the most important--nay the all-important fact for all the future of man....
A person of high standing, two years ago proclaimed the return to 'normalcy.' This word proved prophetic: 'normalcy' appears to mean the return to waste, combat, strife, strikes, wars and revolutions. Is such a 'normalcy' normal to man? Is the static animal world of no change befitting the dynamic being, man?
The Book Reviews
IX. Book Review of The Nature of Literature: Its Relation to Science, Language and Human Experience, by Thomas Clark Pollock (pages 58, 59) reviewed by Sanford B. Meech
Sanford B. Meech was an English professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology:
From the book review of The Nature of Literature:
Its Relation to Science, Language and Human Experience
Science... is limited to the communication of those abstractions of human experience which are exactly verifiable. Of scientific statement, Professor Pollock writes:
The attempt of men to communicate knowledge which can be exactly and certainly understood thus reduces itself; when successful, to the symbolization of publicly discriminable references. When most successful--that is, when most 'scientific'--such communication is limited to the statement of pointer readings and ideas logically derived therefrom. Pointer readings may be defined as publicly discriminable elements of experience, especially those elements which are the readings of pointers on measuring devices such as clocks, weighing machines, thermometers, and yardsticks.
X. Book Review of Mind, Medicine, and Man, by Gregory Zilboorg, M.D., (pages 60,61) reviewed by S. I. Hayakawa
S. I. Hayakawa, a co-founder of ETC and its editor for more than a quarter of a century, was a major figure in the development of the journal. The fiftieth anniversary edition of ETC (Summer 1993) had this to say of him: "A student of Korzybski and an early exponent of his epistemological-cognitive formulations, Hayakawa thought it appropriate that a general semantics review should inquire into virtually all areas of human signific and symbolic activity. His special concern was the drama of human relations as mediated by ideology and such persuasive forces as propaganda, advertising, and popular entertainment."
Hayakawa contributed many articles and book reviews to ETC over the years. This first one was full of praise for the author's style and content.
From the book review of Mind, Medicine, and Man ... Every general reader should read his (Zilboorg's) account, early in the book, of what psychology is, and what misconceptions, both lay and professional, prevent intelligent discussion. 'Psychology,' he writes, 'deals with the total functions of the organism....' The popular notion that a psychological reaction is something 'purely mental' is shown to be disastrously misleading in its implications. Furthermore, all lawyers should read his chapter on the legal aspects of insanity. Dr. Zilboorg shows that, as the rules are now arranged, it is impossible for a psychiatrist to take the stand in a court of law and do justice to himself or his science. The setup is entirely wrong, and the questions he is forced to answer are incapable of being answered in scientific ways. As matters now stand, 'legal insanity' is something entirely different from psychiatrists' notions of mental disease; it is as if there were 'legal pneumonia' as distinct from medically recognized pneumonias.
For the last few years ETC has featured a "Retrospect" section at the back of the journal. It contains short selections that appeared fifty years earlier in ETC. I find the Retrospect feature a most convenient and salutary way to time-bind with an earlier generation of general semantics thinkers. I hope my article has also provided a productive time-binding experience for its readers.
MARTIN H. LEVINSON, PH.D. (*)
(*) Martin H. Levinson, Ph.D., director of PROJECT SHARE, a New York City school-based drug prevention program, writes the ETC Books feature. (The complete text of ETC vol. I, no. I is available at the IGS web site at www.general-semantics.org.)