SEMANTICS (General) 3)5)
A psycho-logical general theory of the relations between perceptions, physiological reactions to them, mental elaborations and resulting effective and verbal behavior.
General semantics was introduced by A. KORZYBSKI, in his famous work "Science and Sanity" (1933). It covers a much wider area than what is commonly known as semantics, including important insight in logics, epistemology, physiology, psychology, psychiatry and learning.
Its global approach is closely related to systemics, as for example to von FOERSTER concept of observing systems.
KORZYBSKI advocates for a psycho- and even physio-semantic re-education in order to avoid conceptual disorder and confusion, leading to mental alienation, at individual and social level. He developed the concept of non-identity of elements and systems in space and time and insisted on the danger of spurious identifications. This includes the necessity to avoid confusion between our abstractions and concrete reality, a sine qua non condition of mental equilibrium and health.
The main features of General Semantics are as follows:
- Knowledge is circular: We must distinguish: "between the inherent circularity of "human Knowledge", which must start with sets of undefined terms, and so start with some knowledge; and circular definitions or explanations which define or explain nothing" (1950, p.759).
Progressively deepen the contents of the unavoidable basic tautologies is not the same as become unconsciously and passively ensnared in tautological circles, that, through verbalizations without new contents, block us from any progress toward understanding.
- Taking conscience of the different orders of abstraction: KORZYBSKI warns against what he calls the danger of "objectification" of words, remembrances, etc…, i.e. granting a factual reality to mental constructs, or burden perception of reality with abstractions. For example, "dynamic stability" does not exist independently from concrete and observable systems which are dynamically stable, each in its own way
Moreover, we should take conscience of the various levels of abstraction. It is never possible to describe completely the fact or event in itself: From my dog "Max" as I see it at this fleeting moment, to the generalized abstraction "living being", there is a whole scale of more and more abstract "labels". In KORZYBSKI's words: "… the most usual identification of different higher order abstractions appears as the confusion of inferences and inferential terms with descriptions and descriptive terms" (p.443).
KORZYBSKI created a kind of mnemotechnic model of scales of abstractions, the so-called "structural differential" (fig. p.558), which is very useful to train the mind for correct acknowledgement and differentiation of the various levels of abstraction (p.393-8).
- Non-identification: KORZYBSKI advises training oneself in non-identification as a way to psychological and mental sanity. He considers abusive identifications as the root of multiple psychological and socio-political problems. Only non-identification prepares us to perceive and understand new and unexpected behavior in systems, resulting from interactions between their parts, or with the environment, that had never been observed in the past.
Non-identification also prevents us to stick unwarranted significance to some events because we tend to give them the same meaning that we gave to former appearently similar events.
Finally, radical non-identification helps us to understand that every event, fact or situation is fleetingly unique in space-time and that, consequently, generalizations should be avoided or made with utter care.
- Semantic reactions: According to KORZYBSKI we live our lifes in emotional subjective levels, generally unexpressed, but not in verbal levels. These are merely auxiliary, sometimes useful (when well adapted to circumstances), and sometimes harmful (when otherwise). This is a result of our ignorance of our own semantic reactions which burden our ways to communicate with others.
KORZYBSKI thus proposes to "break the old elementalism" and replace psychology by "psycho-logics" to emphasize the interplay between the emotional (unspeakable, or at least unspeaked) level and the mental one (p.23-24). This type of problems was later on further explained by the French biologist H. LABORIT (1954, 1970, 1976).
KORZYBSKI's ideas are moreover consonant with von FOERSTER's 2nd order cybernetics and with MATURANA and VARELA's organizational closure.
- Time-binding: Man, and probably all living beings to a lesser extend, are somehow connected with themselves through time, by way of physiological and nervous devices (1950)
In "Science and sanity", KORZYBSKI develops various practical training methods to reeducate behavior in a better psycho-logic way.
- 1) General information
- 2) Methodology or model
- 3) Epistemology, ontology and semantics
- 4) Human sciences
- 5) Discipline oriented
To cite this page, please use the following information:
Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science (2020). Title of the entry. In Charles François (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics (2). Retrieved from www.systemspedia.org/[full/url]
We thank the following partners for making the open access of this volume possible: