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Realities: words, "minds," institutions, psychoanalysis, and cosmoanalysis: a calculus-structural-heuristic approach (Part 1).

General Semantics (GS) "is" (exists as) a way of thinking: a way of thinking about the way we think about things based on explicitly stated principles we could apply to help us better manage our inner and outer realities. Except in the fields of science and mathematics, our present way of thinking based on identification, allness, elementalism, and intensionality has been institutionalized--accepted as the norm, and formally maintained, promoted, and protected by our institutions and societies at large. We can expect ongoing personal, societal, and international problem-creating problems when policies and actions based on these ways of thinking clash with outer realities.

For a start, readers are invited to view all ideas expressed as "heuristic propositions" to be critically evaluated and conscious times-bindingly improved. I presently think of the word "reality" as referring to "all that exists." This includes "dreams," "mirages," "reflections," and so on--different dimensions-abstractions--but they do exist. So I use the words "realities," "goings-on," "situations," or "a reality" as more accurately descriptive ways to acknowledge a world of multidimensional structures, diverse operations-relationships-happenings, etc. From all that's going on with our limited nervous systems, we create "maps" (what we see, hear, sense, our ideas, opinions, theories, generalizations, beliefs, imaginings, speculations, etc.--derivatives--experiences-selections representing relatively small bits of all that's going on). Words, including mystery, miracle, ignorance, uncertainty, nonallness, nonidentity, consciousness of abstracting, and others, represent ways we tacitly acknowledge the limitations of our nervous systems, and correspondingly, our "understanding" and "knowledge." Institutions as "multidimensional structures-operations" include societies, nations (tribes), religions, governments, education systems, establishments, institutes, organizations, corporations, unions, professional associations, individuals, etc., with diverse goals, operational principles, traditional practices, etc. Words about institutions are not intended to be a polemic about all institutions but constitute a proposition: That institutions, to increase their effectiveness in a world of emerging and changing realities, have to become more creative, and with new paradigmatic bases, "radically change" their usual ways of addressing personal, societal, national and international problems. Increasing numbers of uprisings, rebellions, and conflicts provide ample indicators of intensifying dissatisfactions with "leaders" (despotic, autocratic, and democratic). The worldwide effects of conflicts in one region on others provide ample evidence that for higher levels of security anywhere, it suits us all to create institutions, support policies, and engage in actions that explicitly acknowledge and value our interrelationships and interdependencies. Over 75 years ago, Alfred Korzybski (1931 Science and Sanity, page 41) and (REALITIES 271) expressed the following concerns regarding institutions:
   Our rulers ... impose their own infantilism on our institutions,
   educational methods and doctrines. This leads to nervous
   maladjustment of the incoming generations which, being born into,
   are forced to develop under the un-natural (for mankind) semantic
   conditions imposed on them. In turn, they produce leaders afflicted
   with the old animalistic limitations. The vicious circle is
   completed; it results in a general state of human un-sanity,
   reflected again in our institutions. And so it goes, on and on. (p.

Korzybski continues, "If we live in a modern world, but keep the 'emotional attitudes' of primitive bygone days, then naturally we are bound to be semantically unbalanced, and cannot be adjusted to a fundamentally primitive 'civilization' in the midst of great technical achievements" (1931, p. 727).

There are little "pockets of sanity" here and there--the human race behaves as mainly "unsane," yet there is bleeding from self-inflicted wounds. Although problems involve poor human relationships, misunderstandings, clashes of ideas, beliefs, values, opinions, "tribal" traditions, practices, preferences and prejudices, etc. And although "politicians" and "leaders" (individuals so labeled) claim no expertise in anthropology, history, psychology, philosophy, science, humanitarianism, or creativity, no national (tribal) or worldwide coordinated attempts have emerged to explore the possibilities of other more satisfactory, less traditional, more up-to-date ways of dealing with realities involving human relationships at personal, institutional, social, national, and international levels. As individuals and institutions, when we ignore our critical reflecting and evaluating abilities, when we pay little attention to the bigger picture and longer cycle of things, we tend to behave like animals (instinctive, automatic), and "machines" (input leading to programmed output). And so, international, and sometimes national problems, are usually addressed in primitive (earlier times-binding traditional ways), political, militaristic, economic, authoritative, and elementalistic ways with no significant inputs from anthropologists, historians, etc. The system "GS" offers a radically different approach to evaluating, understanding, and dealing with both our inner and outer realities--radical in the sense of being significantly different from the usual and traditional. A radically different approach might be, for instance, a member of the United Nations making these unusual appeals: "Can we meet annually and explore what factors contribute to our ongoing disharmonies so we can work together to create a better world--for all of us?" or "Can we meet annually to explore the question 'Where are we going as a species?'" or "We humans create most of the problems we face (starvation, poverty, violence, etc.). And the more of us there are the more problems are--e.g., Can we meet annually to consider how we can peacefully slow down the exponentially increasingly unmanageable numbers of us?" The exponential increase in technologies has multiplied and densified realities. Though times-binding societies have produced "smart phones," "smart bombs," and "smart self-driving cars," we do not find much valuing of reflection, critical analysis, or general promotion of "smart people" and "smart societies" toward developing higher levels of evaluation and comprehension toward better human relationships. With the Internet electronically linking millions of individuals, accelerating the frequency, and exponentially increasing the number of human interactions, we can expect a rapid increase of natural times-binding and anticipate human attitudes and behaviors (creative destructive, friendly, hostile, violent, etc.) amplified and expressed at global levels. More information without conscious critical evaluating principles and organizational skills will effectively contribute to more problem-creating problems when information is interpreted in the usual and traditional ways. Following this, we can predict increasing levels of stress and other illnesses due to the increasing inability of our neuropsychobiological systems to adjust to an overload of information and demands resulting from "densifying realities": more things and more different things happening in more places, in smaller spaces, and in less time. Compare a 1,000-cc motorcycle with GPS and radio with a scooter, or the size, power, range of 1950s computers with present day "smart phones".

Alfred Korzybski, the creator of GS, had a deep concern for the sanity of the race, and as meta-anthropologist psychoanalyzing racial historical behaviors, he generalized the methods and approach of science and mathematics (cosmoanalysis) as his model for exploring our inner and outer neurolinguistic and neurosemantic realities. GS is system of interrelated semantic tools (heuristic principles and critical evaluation standards) based on the methods and approach of science and mathematics. Using these tools to improve our understandings of realities we face, we become better (more satisfying, more effective) "managers" in our relationships at personal, societal, professional, national, international, and ecological levels. We can apply GS principles to monitor, review, evaluate, and refine our ideas, opinions, beliefs, evaluations, "knowledge," judgments, and understandings. Applying GS principles as thinking standards helps us to think more clearly about our thinking--a way to improve our skills in making more informed problem-resolving decisions. Briefly put, GS offers us many ways to achieve higher levels of adjustments in a world of multidimensional realities--and much, much more.

Words will have power over us if we do not use our power over words. For better communication, less conflicts, and more satisfying relationships, it suits us to remember that words automatically trigger different memories, feelings, ideas, images, prejudices, habitual reactions, etc. in each one of us. Consequently, we will give different meanings and significance to words. We can train ourselves to react to words as symbols to be consciously evaluated as to accuracy of "structural representational accuracy"--not as signals evoking machine-like automatic unreflecting reactions. In that sense, we will use words and not allow words to use us. For instance: When we and our institutions forget that those we label "terrorists" are first "humans" with corresponding levels of times-binding abilities, ingenuity, creative-destructiveness, resourcefulness, brutal, primitive, and savage behaviors, we allow ourselves to be used by the word "terrorist." We could be heading for some very trying and difficult times if we do not heed Korzybski's (1931 Science And Sanity, page 557) words of warning. "Mankind represents an interdependent time-binding class of life, and any group of people [I add "or anyone"] who posses physical means for destruction and still preserve infantile standards of evaluation become a menace to the culture of the whole race" (1931, p. 557). We can better adjust with realities that confront us at diverse levels when we recognize our "attitudes" and "behaviors" as a function of the way we "define and label" ourselves and others ... a,b = f(d,l). We can better adjust to realities when we recognize our tendency to intensionally identify and give words more importance than the structures and realities we use them to represent. International conflicts and negotiations can become more problematic when words such as "We have to get them to," or "make them do 'X'," or "make them follow our lead," "make them see things our way" and others are used. Such words are likely to arouse resentment from other humans concerned to maintain their self-image and self-importance, and fearing loss of respect and power if they appear to be following or surrendering to others (where you see the words "infantile," "primitive," or "tribal," I use them to represent "earlier times-binding," "earlier times-binders," or "earlier stages of development").

Korzybski continues with these words: "Under modern conditions, which change rather rapidly nowadays, obviously, some relations between humans alter, and so the institutions must be revised" (1931, p. 258). Ways that usually hamper us (individuals and other institutions) include old language habits, prevailing "tribal" practices, intransigence, hostility, unexamined and unexplored beliefs, and ideas; elevating definitions, labels, names, and "primitive" standards of evaluation over related nonverbal structures; and hastily focusing on symptoms of problems (derivatives) rather than exploring sources, contributing factors (functions, variables)--and more generally, "identifications." There is much concern and many actions taken against pollution in our outer environments--but comparatively less concern for how, through identifications and our wanton ways with words, we semantically pollute aspects of our inner environments. We block and clog brain-mind channels of communication and interest in exploring more informed, up-to-date levels of evaluating realities. Our inner polluted environments make us psychobiologically unhealthy; and reflexively, inner unhealthy environments usually create unhealthy outer environments, which in turn makes us even more unhealthy (tribal practices involve ignoring wider interrelationships and uncompromisingly promoting and defending "ones language, group, party, beliefs, religion, people, country, traditions, ways", etc., as being better than all others).

"Nonidentity" in the field of GS is a proposition that "no two things are the same in all respects." We live in (and are members of) a universe of asymmetric relationships--a universe that operates based on differences. If we think of nonidentity in terms of "diversity" and "differences," probably the biggest challenge we face in our efforts to achieve racial harmony can be formulated this way. We are different beings, in a world of differences, which we strive to cope with in our different ways! Names, labels, definitions, categories, groups, tribes, societies, nations, belief systems, fields of activities, and so on emerge as different ways we deal with diversity. To minimize the chaos that would emerge from unbridled individual expressions, societies create different systems, institutions, regulations, and laws. Systems and institutions create different goals, policies, standard procedures, definitions, and classifications. Education systems for instance, generally ignore individual differences and classify-treat individuals as "students." Religions deal with diversity through formalized beliefs, dogmas, doctrines, and religious practices. Architects and artists envision, and when possible, create imagined structural configurations. Mathematicians deal with diversity through the notions of numbers, sets, integrations, differentiations, and incremental differences; scientists through operational definitions and systematizations presented in the form of "natural laws." GS acknowledges differences in emphasizing the principle of "nonidentity," and offers the principle of "nonelementalism" as a way to promote interconnections. Here, we might find it worthwhile to consider that as ways of dealing with differences. There is only one scientific approach and only one mathematics--and so far, no wars based on different mathematics or scientific theories.

We identify by default. We are identifying if we are not conscious of abstracting, and aware of that "if two things seem the same, we have not 'looked' enough." In moments of identifying, "we are not conscious of ourselves as subjects-abstractors-map makers." We do not recognize our visions, dreams, imaginings, thoughts, beliefs, values, ideas, opinions, theories, explanations, generalizations, labels, definitions, meanings we give, memories, assumptions, speculations, expectations, judgments, prejudices, etc., as explorable objects of inner realities. We do not and cannot in those moments self-consciously distinguish between those inner realities and outer realities. As examples: We are identifying in moments when we ignore individuality and treat others based solely on our labels, definitions, and classifications (she/he is a "CEO, president, nurse, or untouchable, stupid, beautiful, a resource, a failure, a Westerner, an Asian, Moslem, Christian, unbeliever, etc.). We are identifying when we fail to recognizes that we are not what others say about us; when we forget that the product or service is not the words or images of the advertisements; when we are unaware that what we are seeing is not all that's there; when we believe and act on our belief that "A" caused "B" (applying the principle of "multicausality," we could do better in thinking "contributing factors" instead of "cause"). In driving, catching ourselves identifying could be lifesaving if for instance at intersections. We do not treat the green light as a "signal" meaning "step on the gas and go," but as a "symbol" to be evaluated--"check first ... if it seems safe ... go." Like bacteria, identifications support life and also do harm. Through conscious abstracting (being attentive, mindful--in the moment), we can train ourselves to become more aware of our natural tendency to identify and "allness," and over times, benefit in learning how harming identifications determine our experiences of and our responses to our inner and outer realities.


Korzybski, A. (1933/1952). Science and Sanity. 5th edition. New York: Institute of General Semantics.

Milton Dawes is an ambassador of the Institute of General Semantics and has contributed many articles to the pages of ETC over the years. This article is the first of a five-part series. Parts 2 and 3 are also featured in this issue, with parts 4 and 5 appearing in forthcoming issue 73-1 of ETC.
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Author:Dawes, Milton
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2015
Previous Article:The smartphone: a media ecological critique.
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