Our First MOOC

Conference Presentation

Following are materials made available for my session at the InstructureCon 2014 conference titled, “Our First MOOC,” in which I share the story of creating and delivering a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). The referenced MOOC was General Semantics: An Approach to Effective Language Behavior offered on the Canvas Network during Jan-Feb 2014, presented by Mary Lahman (Manchester University), Greg Thompson (BYU), and me.

Photo - No GuardrailLinks and Downloads

Resources available from the session:

“Blue Box”

“Bicycle”

Additional Resources

  • The Canvas Network Course “General Semantics: An Approach to Effective Language Behavior” (public access)
  • Download the entire General Semantics course as one PDF (31 mb). At the conclusion of each module in our course, we provided an HTML file and a PDF for that module’s content. The course participants could then download these files and access all of the course materials (except Discussions, Quizzes, and some videos) offline, without having to be logged into Canvas.
  • Here is the process I used to create one HTML file with multiple pages of content (by module), then a PDF for each module, and finally combining the six PDFs into one. Note: to do this you need to have some familiarity with HTML and the common tags. Your course must also be open for this to work since the images will continue to reside on the Canvas Network servers.
  1. Open a plain text editor (not Word or Pages), like TextEdit or Wordpad.
  2. Open your Canvas course.
  3. Starting with your home page, select Edit, then HTML Editor.
  4. Click anywhere inside the editor, then select all (CMD/CTRL A), then copy (CMD/CTRL C).
  5. Switch to your plain text editor and PASTE what you’ve just copied from Canvas.
  6. Repeat steps 3-5 for all of your pages within the module or course, copying each page at the bottom of the same plain text editor page so you end up with one really long page.
  7. Canvas uses relative HTML paths for images and videos. For example, the HTML for an image might begin with: <img src=”/courses/191/files/184067 . In this case 191 is the course number and 184067 is the unique identifier Canvas assigns to a particular image.
  8. For an HTML file that exists outside of the Canvas course to correctly refer to this image, the relative references (starting with /courses/) must be replaced with the full URL, which would look like https://learn.canvas.net/courses/191/files/184067.So the next step is to user your text editor’s Find/Replace (or Search/Replace) function to FIND [“/courses/] and REPLACE with [“https://learn.canvas.net/courses/] (Brackets [ and ] would NOT be included in either the FIND or REPLACE terms.)
  9. Since Discussions, Assignments, Quizzes, and content other than Pages will not be available offline, you may want to go through remove all links to these items.
  10. Save your text editor file as a .html file if you editor allows. If you have to save it as a .txt file, after you’ve saved it you can rename the file extension from .txt to .html.
  11. To check your work, open the file in your browser and look for obvious formatting errors or images that do not display properly. You may need to troubleshoot the HTML to resolve specific problems. Check your links and make sure they work.
  12. Once your satisfied with the appearance of your consolidated HTML page, you’re ready to save it as a PDF.
  13. Since you probably don’t want to embed videos in your PDF (you can, but the file size will be huge), go through and delete all the video links or embedded code.
  14. To create the PDF file, simply Print the file to the PDF format.
  15. If you have access to the full Acrobat Pro version, you may want to spend a few minutes and create internal Bookmarks for the individual pages within the PDF. Then if you have Acrobat pro, you can combine all of the individual module PDFs into one course-level PDF.

Concerning Expectations


Course Home | 1: What is GS? | 2: Allness | 3: Bypassing | 4: Linguistic Relativity | 5: Symbol Rulers | 6: Review and Reflection

This course was developed and presented on the Canvas Network by Steve Stockdale, Mary Lahman, and Greg Thompson. It is reproduced here under terms of the Creative Commons Share Alike License as published on Canvas Network from 13 January – 24 February 2014.


MODULE 1:
What is General Semantics?

Map of the Module
A. PRELIMINARIES
Concerning Expectations
Survey – Point of View
Defining and Describing General Semantics
Basic Understandings

B. KORZYBSKI
Alfred Korzybski (1879-1950)
Korzybski’s Quest
Map|Territory: Foundational Premises
Abstracting-Evaluating
Two Worlds
Language(s) as Map(s)
Consciousness of Abstracting-Evaluating

C. ILLUSTRATIONS, EXAMPLES
Abstracting
Seeing
Hearing
Touch
Evaluating
Identification
Maps with no Territories
What is a ‘weapon’?
Was Uncle Bruce a Nazi?
Driving with an old map

D. ENVIRONMENT, ORIENTATION
Orientations and Environments
Evaluations-Meanings-Values
E. MODULE COMPLETION
Review and Reflection
Optional Activities
Quiz
References

Please watch this 9-minute video that addresses a few items regarding expectations. (You can click on the “CC” on the video player control bar to see the closed captions.)

Below the video we will maintain an updated list of the countries represented in the course and the chart of enrollment growth.

 

Countries represented in the course

If yours isn’t listed, please let us know. Updated 20 January.

  1. Argentina
  2. Australia
  3. Belgium
  4. Brazil
  5. Burkina Faso
  6. Canada
  7. Chile
  8. China
  9. Colombia
  10. Croatia
  11. Czech Republic
  12. Dubai
  13. Ecuador
  14. Egypt
  15. France
  16. Germany
  17. Greece
  18. Grenada
  19. Hungary
  20. Iceland
  21. India
  22. Iran
  23. Ireland
  24. Italy
  25. Japan
  26. Jordan
  27. Kazakhstan
  28. Kuwait
  29. Latvia
  30. Macedonia
  31. Malaysia
  32. Mexico
  33. Moldova
  34. Morocco
  35. Netherlands
  36. New Zealand
  37. Nicaragua
  38. Nigeria
  39. Norway
  40. Pakistan
  41. Paraguay
  42. Philipines
  43. Poland
  44. Romania
  45. Russia
  46. Saudi Arabia
  47. Serbia
  48. South Africa
  49. South Korea
  50. Spain
  51. Sweden
  52. Switzerland
  53. Tasmania
  54. Thailand
  55. Tunisia
  56. Turkey
  57. U.K. (England, Wales, and Scotland included)
  58. Uruguay
  59. U.S.
  60. Vanuatu
  61. Venezuela

 

MOOC-registration-jan20.jpg

6: Review and Reflection

Course Home | 1: What is GS? | 2: Allness | 3: Bypassing | 4: Linguistic Relativity | 5: Symbol Rulers | 6: Review and Reflection


This course was developed and presented on the Canvas Network by Steve Stockdale, Mary Lahman, and Greg Thompson. It is reproduced here under terms of the Creative Commons Share Alike License as published on Canvas Network from 13 January – 24 February 2014.


Module Map

Module 6

Artwork by Alice Webb Art

In this final week of the course, we will introduce only one new item related to General Semantics – an explanation of extensional orientation.

But we have five short articles we think provide a nice wrap-up to review and reinforce some of the broader aspects and applications of General Semantics.

  • First, a reflection on the role that GS played in the lives and works of the “Grand Master” science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein, and Albert Ellis, father of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).
  • Then we have an excerpt of one of the last articles written by Aldous Huxley, from the November 1963 issue of Playboy Magazine in which he extols the benefit of General Semantics.
  • Steve’s essay on stereotypes ties together the physics insights of Niels Bohr with what we currently know about brain science.
  • Mary’s conclusion of her Awareness and Action e-textbook offers some very good tips to students.
  • Wendell Johnson’s “After You’ve Studied General Semantics” concludes the readings with advice that’s just as relevant today as it was in 1945.

Following the readings, we have two pages of resources – Steve’s map of Korzybski’s General Semantics, and a list of course materials that can be downloaded or accessed online.

Finally, on Wednesday, 19 February, we will post individual videos to conclude the presentation of course materials.

Your role in this final week will be to participate in a special Discussion and submit one last 250-word essay.

No time for goodbyes yet – we have a week of work awaiting.

Extensional Orientation

The final GS formulation to cover in this course is one we’ve mentioned and referenced several times during the past five weeks. However, we haven’t really defined or explained it. Perhaps that’s because, without the previous readings and discussions and videos, a description of extensional orientation may not have made much sense.

But since an extensional orientation can be considered as the practical objective of General Semantics in action and practice, let’s briefly explain the differences between extensional and intensional.

Intensional and Extensional

The first thing to understand is that you will not find these terms in a dictionary. Alfred Korzybski used these two words, spelled with an ‘s‘ in the middle instead of a ‘t‘, to denote a continuum of attitude, behavior, or orientation.

Intensional orientations are based on verbal definitions, associations, etc., largely disregarding observations as if they would involve a “principle” of “talk first and never mind the life facts.”
 

Extensional orientations are based on ordering observations, investigations, etc., first and the verbalization next in importance. — Alfred Korzybski

 

Similar to the table we used to illustrate the differences regarding Consciousness (or Awareness) of Abstracting-Evaluating, we can consider intensional and extensional orientations as exhibiting the following characteristics in terms of degrees on a continuum.

 

ext-int-continuum.jpg

Relies primarily on verbal definitions. Gives primacy to observed or reported facts.
Uncritically accepts validity of labels, categories, classifications, properties. Prone to ‘animalistic’ evaluations (hardening of the categories and dogmatism); allness.
Focuses on individuals or specific items, challenges appropriateness of group labels. Recognizes differences among similarities, similarities among differences; non-allness.
Exhibits signal reactions: immediate, reflexive, conditioned, “hot button” responses. Exhibits symbol reactions: delayed, considered, attentive responses.
Lacks consciousness or awareness of abstracting; confuses or reverses the order of abstracting. (Identification) Conscious or aware of abstracting (non-identity). Uses the extensional devices of indexing and dating.
Prone to either/or, two-valued evaluations. Recognizes multi-valued potential for evaluations.
Prone to confuse inferences as facts. Recognizes inferences as inferences, sets a high standard for ‘facts.’
Prone to elementalistic evaluating, presuming that different words mean that their different referents exist in isolation, separation. Recognizes the non-elementalistic nature of items or events that may be separated verbally but cannot be separated in the non-verbal ‘reality’; uses extensional device of the hyphen.
Uses absolutistic, unconditional, and all-presuming language that presents false-to-fact assurance and certainty. Uses conditional language that reflects humble awareness of the tentative, uncertain, and limited nature of human knowledge; uses the extensional device of etc.

 

In Drive Yourself Sane: Using the Uncommon Sense of General-Semantics, Susan and Bruce Kodish explain:

When we orient ourselves by verbal definitions, when we prefer preserving our maps (even maps without territories) to checking them out against ‘facts,’ when we fail to become aware of our assumptions and inferences and to test them out when possible, when we identify different levels of abstracting, we behave intensionally.

 

When we orient ourselves towards ‘facts,’ when we check our maps against possible territories, when we clarify and test our inferences and assumptions, when we don’t identify different orders of abstracting, we behave extensionally.

 

Intensional and extensional orientations also exist on a continuum. We know of no one who exhibits a purely extensional orientation. Unfortunately, abundant examples of people near the other end of the continuum exist. Some of them are confined to institutions. Some of them speak, write books, appear on radio and television and run institutions. Most of us appear somewhere in between. (p. 126)

Heinlein and Ellis: Converging Competencies

by Steve Stockdale

Published in ETC: A Review of General Semantics Volume 64 No. 4, October 2007

Heinlein Society WebsiteOn July 7, 2007, the Heinlein Centennial was held in Kansas City to celebrate what would have been the 100th birthday of acclaimed “Grand Master” science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein. Heinlein is generally acknowledged as one of the four great American science fiction writers, along with Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Arthur C. Clarke. Among his most notable books are Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and Time Enough for Love.

Albert Ellis Institute WebsiteOn July 24, 2007, Dr. Albert Ellis died at age 93 in New York City. His front-page obituary in the New York Times referred to him as “one of the most influential and provocative figures in modern psychology.” He originated the field of psychotherapy known as Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) and authored more than 70 books, including Overcoming Procrastination, How to Live With a Neurotic, A Guide to Rational Living, and How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything — Yes, Anything.

These two accomplished and celebrated men would seem to have little in common — one a Midwesterner, Naval Academy graduate, futurist, with an almost cult-like following of fans; the other a New Yorker who was referred to as “the Lenny Bruce of psychotherapy,” known for his blue language and results-oriented approach to talk therapy.

And yet Robert Heinlein and Albert Ellis shared a common perspective, or point of view, that developed from the same source — Alfred Korzybski and general semantics. Heinlein came to general semantics through Stuart Chase’s The Tyranny of Words (1938) and attended two seminars with Korzybski in 1939 and 1940. In a speech in 1941, Heinlein made the seemingly outlandish assertion that Korzybski was “at least as great a man as Einstein” based on his “monumental piece of work,” Science and Sanity.

Ellis, so far as I know, never met Korzybski but credited him (and general semantics) as a major influence in his development of REBT, using descriptors such as brilliant, masterpiece, and pioneer.

I attended the Heinlein Centennial in Kansas City. One of the panel sessions I attended was on “The Competent Man.” I learned this was a theme of Heinlein’s that recurred throughout his novels. An oft-repeated quote from Heinlein’s novel Time Enough for Love concerns competency as a general trait:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

 

I had the privilege to hear Dr. Ellis speak on one memorable occasion a few years ago. In recalling that talk and in reviewing several of his writings, it seems to me that “competency” was also a recurring theme in his work, specifically as it related to cognitive competency.

As the lives and contributions of these two great men — Robert A. Heinlein and Dr. Albert Ellis, just seven years apart in age — shared the news pages in the same recent month, we choose to devote this special section in this issue of ETC to them.

The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny. — Albert Ellis

 

I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do. — Robert A. Heinlein

What We Could Become

I have read only enough of Heinlein’s writings to have a minimally-informed appreciation of his work. But I know something about the field of general semantics, which certainly influenced Heinlein’s point of view during his early years as a writer and is unmistakably reflected in character and plot development throughout his work.

In the July 2002 Heinlein Journal, Kate Gladstone provided some details from the Institute’s archives regarding Heinlein’s attendance at two seminars with Alfred Korzybski in 1939 and 1940.(1) From my standpoint, the most interesting piece of Heinlein memorabilia found in the archives is an original transcript of Heinlein’s Guest of Honor speech to the 3rd World Science Fiction Convention held in Denver in July 1941. The transcript was sent to the Institute by Heinlein’s wife at the time, Leslyn. He titled his address, “The Discovery of the Future,” published in 1992 in Yoji Kondo’s collection of Heinlein’s writings, Requiem. As he concluded his Denver speech, Heinlein offered this testimony to Alfred Korzybski and general semantics:

I save for the last on that list of the books that have greatly affected me, that to my mind are the key books, of the stuff I’ve piled through, a book that should head the list on the Must List. I wish that, I wish that everyone could read the book – it’s just a wish, there aren’t that many copies of it, everyone can’t, nor could everyone read this particular book. All of you could, you’ve got the imagination for it. It’s Science and Sanity by Count Alfred Korzybski, one of the greatest Polish mathematicians when he went into the subject of symbology and started finding out what made us tick, and then worked up in strictly experimental and observational form from the preliminary works of E.T. Bell.

A rigor of epistemology based on E.T. Bell (break in transcript here – some words lost) … symbology of epistemology. Book refers to the subject of semantics. I know from conversation with a lot of you that the words epistemology and semantics are not unfamiliar to you. But because they may be unfamiliar to some, I’m going to stop and make definitions of these words.

Semantics is simply a study of the symbols we use to communicate. General Semantics is an extension of that study to investigate how we evaluate in the use of these symbols. Epistemology is a study of how we know what we know. Maybe that doesn’t sound exciting. It is exciting, it’s very exciting. To be able to delve back into your own mind and investigate what it is you know, what it is you can know and what it is that you cannot possibly know is, from a standpoint of intellectual adventure, I think possibly the greatest adventure that a person can indulge in. Beats spaceships.

Incidentally, any of you who are going to be in Denver in the next 5 or 6 weeks will have an opportunity, one of the last opportunities, to hear Alfred Korzybski speak in person.(2) He will be here at a meeting similar to this at a meeting of semanticians from all over the world – oh, McLean from Los Angeles, and Johnson from Iowa and Reiser from Mills College and Kendig and probably Hayakawa from up in Canada – the leading semanticians of the world – to hear Alfred Korzybski speak. I think starting Aug. 9, isn’t it, Missy? The early part of August. It’ll be in the newspapers in any case. And it’s much better to hear him speak than it is to read his books. He’s limited by the fact that he’s got to stick to the typewriter, to the printed word; but when he talks – when he talks it’s another matter! He gestures, he’s not tied down with his hands to the desk the way I am; he walks, stumps all around the stage, and waves his hands; (audience laughs) … and you really gather what he means. Incidentally – he looks like A. Conan Doyle’s description of Prof. Challenger, if Prof. Challenger had shaved his beard. Dynamic character.

You may not like him personally, but he’s at least as great a man as Einstein – at least – because his field is broader. The same kind of work that Einstein did, the same kind of work, using the same methods; but in a much broader field, much more close to human relationships. I hope that some of you will be able to hear him. I said that this will be one of the last chances, because the old man’s well over 70 now; as he puts it, “I vill coagulate someday, I vill someday soon, I vill coagulate” – which is the term he uses for dying.(3) He speaks in terms of colloidal chemistry. Properly, it’s appropriate. He won’t last much longer, in the meantime he’s done a monumental piece of work. He has worked out in methodology the same sort of important work that HG Wells did in the matter of description; and the two together are giants in our intellectual horizon, our intellectual matrix today, that stick up over the rest like the Empire State Bldg. (4)

Heinlein wasn’t the only futurist who expressed admiration for Korzybski’s general semantics.

  • A.E. Van Vogt’s series of Null-A novels was rooted in general semantics and provided many serious students their first exposure to the subject.
  • Aldous Huxley (author of Brave New World): “A man who knows that there have been many cultures, and that each culture claims to be the best and truest of all, will find it hard to take too seriously the boastings and dogmatizings of his own tradition. Similarly, a man who knows how symbols are related to experience, and who practices the kind of linguistic self-control taught by the exponents of General Semantics, is unlikely to take too seriously the absurd or dangerous nonsense that, within every culture, passes for philosophy, practical wisdom and political argument.” (5)
  • Alvin Toffler (Future Shock and The Third Wave) “… all of the questions that are raised by Science and Sanity are inherent or should be inherent in the work of any thinking writer or communicator.” (6)
  • Robert Anton Wilson (Prometheus Rising, The Illuminatus Trilogy, and Schrodinger’s Cat) “All the events in the world that are going on I tend to see through a Korzybskian grid. He made a bigger impression on me than just about any writer I ever read.” (7)

I must admit that I’ve never been a big science fiction fan. My naïve impression has been that most futurists or science fiction writers tend to focus on imagining how future technologies, alternative life-forms, or distant universes will be invented, evolved, or discovered.

However, among the authors who claim Korzybski as an influence, I find a common interest in describing or developing human capabilities to their potentials. They seem to delve into positive speculations about what we as humans could become, were we to actually manifest the extensional orientation of perceiving, evaluating, and behaving as prescribed in Science and Sanity. Of course, the rocket ships and aliens are still featured aspects, but there is, to my limited reading, an attempt to imbue their characters with an abundance, or absence, of defining characteristics that can be related back to Korzybski’s “semantic man.”

I’d like to give you [originally the attendees at a breakout session I presented at the Heinlein Centennial on the subject of Heinlein and general semantics] the briefest of introductions to the subject by discussing just four of what might be referred to as fundamental premises of general semantics.

1. Human abilities are limited and differentiated

The first premise is that our human abilities to perceive and sense what goes on in our continually-changing environments are limited and differentiated. As members of the human species, our abilities to see, hear, taste, touch, and feel are limited. For example, we know that there are limits to the frequencies humans can hear. We know that humans can’t see certain wavelengths of light. We can extend our sensing capabilities through the use of tools and instruments, such as microscopes, telescopes, microphones, amplifiers, etc. Although we as humans share these general sensing potentials, we vary in terms of our actual individual capabilities. We each have a different combination of visual, auditory, and other sensory acuities. Therefore, presented with the ‘same’ event or stimulus, we will each perceive the event or stimulus according to the limits of our senses and nervous system processing. We will each abstract something different, to some degree, than anyone else and we will then individually construct our experience, awareness, and ‘meaning’ of the stimulus.

2. Language habits influence our world view

A second fundamental premise upon which general semantics is based may be best stated by quoting from the linguistic anthropologist Edward Sapir:

Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society. It is quite an illusion to imagine that one adjusts to reality essentially without the use of language and that language is merely an incidental means of solving specific problems of communication or reflection. The fact of the matter is that the ‘real world’ is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group. … We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation. (8)

In other words, the culture and language in which we are raised will shape or influence how we construct the ‘realities’ of our experiences, given the peculiarities of that culture and language. This has become known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. Similarly, Korzybski posited in Science and Sanity:

… every language having a structure, by the very nature of language, reflects in its own structure that of the world as assumed by those who evolved the language. In other words, we read unconsciously into the world the structure of the language we use. (9)

We do not realize what tremendous power the structure of an habitual language has. It is not an exaggeration to say that it enslaves us through the mechanism of semantic reaction and that the structure which a language exhibits, and impresses upon us unconsciously, is automatically projected upon the world around us. (10)

3. Humans can respond conditionally to stimuli

Another fundamental premise of general semantics is that humans have the ability to respond conditionally to verbal and non-verbal stimuli. In his famous experiments, Dr. Ivan Pavlov trained his dog to manifest a conditioned response behavior. By ringing a bell at the same time he fed the dog, Pavlov conditioned the dog to associate, or identify, the sound of the bell with the food. When the dog heard the bell, it expected food and began salivating in anticipation. Therefore the dog’s behavioral response (the salivating) resulted directly from the stimulus of the bell; when Pavlov rang the bell, the dog salivated.

Humans, however, have the ability to respond more appropriately in less conditioned ways — conditionally rather than conditioned. We may talk in terms such as “he really pushed my buttons,” but in most cases we have some degree of control over our responsive behaviors, regardless of which button is pushed. If we don’t exercise that control, if we immediately react without pause and without regarding the situation and the consequences, then we can rightly be accused of exhibiting more animalistic, rather than more human, behaviors.

4. The map is not the territory

The fourth premise I would mention in this condensed introduction is related to perhaps the most familiar metaphor associated with Korzybski — the map is not the territory. Our ability to achieve “maximum humanness” and evolve to our individual potentials is at least partially a function of how accurately our language behaviors reflect and are consistent with what we ‘know’ about our world. In other words, our verbal ‘maps’ ought to be congruent with and structurally similar to the facts of our non-verbal ‘territories.’ The world of words we put inside our heads ought to be related to and similar with the world of non-words in which we live.

Abraham Maslow, in his study of what he called self-actualizing behaviors, wrote of individuals whose internal ‘maps’ were in synch with their external ‘territories’:

One particularly impressive and instructive aspect of this superior relation with reality…was [their ability to] …distinguish far more easily than most the fresh, concrete, and ideographic from the generic, abstract, and rubricized. The consequence is that they live more in the real world of nature than in the man-made mass of concepts, abstractions, expectations, beliefs, and stereotypes that most people confuse with the world. They are therefore far more apt to perceive what is there rather than their own wishes, hopes, fears, anxieties, their own theories and beliefs or those of their cultural group. (11)

Please note that these four premises do not constitute all of the premises of general semantics. Some might claim that these do not even constitute premises as much as they represent derived extrapolations from other, more fundamental, premises. But in the context of this Heinlein Centennial, I hope they provide a basis for re-examining Heinlein’s work — particularly his characters — from a general semantics perspective. I suspect that, in addition to his “discovering the future” of interplanetary travel and intergalactic communities, Heinlein has revealed through his fictional characters what we, the readers, might one day become.

And that, to quote the Grand Master, “beats spaceships.”

NOTES

  1. www.heinleinsociety.org/rah/history/GeneralSemanticsInfo.html
  2. Heinlein refers to the Second American Congress on General Semantics held at Denver University in August 1941.
  3. In 1941, Korzybski was only 61 years old. He died in 1950 at age 70.
  4. Heinlein, Robert A. (1941) “The Discovery of the Future.” Speech delivered as Guest of Honor to the 3rd World Science Fiction Convention, Denver, CO. July 4, 1941. Recorded on discs by Walter J. Daugherty. Transcripted by Assorted Services. Presented by Forrest J. Ackerman. A Novacious Publication.
  5. Huxley, Aldous. (1963) “Culture and the Individual.” Playboy Magazine, November 1963.
  6. Toffler, Alvin. (1991) “The Relevance of General Semantics.” Thinking CreAtically, Institute of General Semantics, Englewood, New Jersey.
  7. Wilson, Robert Anton. (2001) “The Map Is Not the Territory: The Future Is Not the Past.” Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture, 1997. The General Semantics Bulletin Numbers 65-68.
  8. Whorf, Benjamin Lee. (1956) Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf edited by John B. Carroll, p. 134. The M.I.T. Press, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Reprinted from Language, Culture, and Personality, Essays in Memory of Edward Sapir, edited by Leslie Spier, Sapir Memorial Publication Fund, Menasha, Wisconsin, 1941.
  9. Korzybski, Alfred. (1933) Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics, p.59-60, Fifth Edition (1994). Institute of General Semantics, Englewood, New Jersey.
  10. Korzybski, Alfred. (1933) Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics, p.90, Fifth Edition (1994). Institute of General Semantics, Englewood, New Jersey.
  11. Maslow, A.H. (1954) Motivation and Personality, p. 205. Harper & Brothers, New York.

Aldous Huxley: An Excerpt on “Culture and the Individual”

This is an excerpt from an article riginally published in Playboy Magazine, November 1963, as “A Philosopher’s Visionary Prediction,” one of three essays published together under the title, The Pros and Cons, History and Future Possibilities of Vision-Inducing Psychochemicals.

aldous-huxley-183.jpgThanks to language and culture, human behavior can be incomparably more intelligent, more original, creative and flexible than the behavior of animals, whose brains are too small to accommodate the number of neurons necessary for the invention of language and the transmission of accumulated knowledge. But, thanks again to language and culture, human beings often behave with a stupidity, a lack of realism, a total inappropriateness, of which animals are incapable.

Trobriand Islander or Bostonian, Sicilian Catholic or Japanese Buddhist, each of us is born into some culture and passes his life within its confines. Between every human consciousness and the rest of the world stands an invisible fence, a network of traditional thinking-and-feeling patterns, of secondhand notions that have turned into axioms, of ancient slogans revered as divine revelations. What we see through the meshes of this net is never, of course, the unknowable “thing in itself.” It is not even, in most cases, the thing as it impinges upon our senses and as our organism spontaneously reacts to it. What we ordinarily take in and respond to is a curious mixture of immediate experience with culturally conditioned symbol, of sense impressions with preconceived ideas about the nature of things. And by most people the symbolic elements in this cocktail of awareness are felt to be more important than the elements contributed by immediate experience. Inevitably so, for, to those who accept their culture totally and uncritically, words in the familiar language do not stand (however inadequately) for things. On the contrary, things stand for familiar words. Each unique event of their ongoing life is instantly and automatically classified as yet another concrete illustration of one of the verbalized, culture-hallowed abstractions drummed into their heads by childhood conditioning.

It goes without saying that many of the ideas handed down to us by the transmitters of culture are eminently sensible and realistic. (If they were not, the human species would now be extinct.) But, along with these useful concepts, every culture hands down a stock of unrealistic notions, some of which never made any sense, while others may once have possessed survival value, but have now, in the changed and changing circumstances of ongoing history, become completely irrelevant. Since human beings respond to symbols as promptly and unequivocally as they respond to the stimuli of unmediated experience, and since most of them naively believe that culture-hallowed words about things are as real as, or even realer than their perceptions of the things themselves, these outdated or intrinsically nonsensical notions do enormous harm. Thanks to the realistic ideas handed down by culture, mankind has survived and, in certain fields, progresses. But thanks to the pernicious nonsense drummed into every individual in the course of his acculturation, mankind, though surviving and progressing, has always been in trouble. History is the record, among other things, of the fantastic and generally fiendish tricks played upon itself by culture-maddened humanity. And the hideous game goes on.

What can, and what should, the individual do to improve his ironically equivocal relationship with the culture in which he finds himself embedded? How can he continue to enjoy the benefits of culture without, at the same time, being stupefied or frenziedly intoxicated by its poisons? How can he become discriminatingly acculturated, rejecting what is silly or downright evil in his conditioning, and holding fast to that which makes for humane and intelligent behavior?

A culture cannot be discriminatingly accepted, much less be modified, except by persons who have seen through it—by persons who have cut holes in the confining stockade of verbalized symbols and so are able to look at the world and, by reflection, at themselves in a new and relatively unprejudiced way. Such persons are not merely born; they must also be made. But how?

In the field of formal education, what the would-be hole cutter needs is knowledge; knowledge of the past and present history of cultures in all their fantastic variety, and knowledge about the nature and limitations, the uses and abuses, of language. A man who knows that there have been many cultures, and that each culture claims to be the best and truest of all, will find it hard to take too seriously the boastings and dogmatizings of his own tradition.

Similarly, a man who knows how symbols are related to experience, and who practices the kind of linguistic self-control taught by the exponents of General Semantics, is unlikely to take too seriously the absurd or dangerous nonsense that, within every culture, passes for philosophy, practical wisdom and political argument. As a preparation for hole cutting, this kind of intellectual education is certainly valuable, but no less certainly insufficient. Training on the verbal level needs to be supplemented by training in wordless experiencing. We must learn how to be mentally silent, we must cultivate the art of pure receptivity.

huxley-excerpt.jpg

Suspended in Stereotypes

by Steve Stockdale

Race Gender and Stereotypes in the MediaThis essay was my contribution to: A. M. George and T. Thomason (Eds.), Race, gender and other stereotypes: A reader for professional communicators (pp. 7-13). San Diego: Cognella. ISBN 978-1-6092763-0-0. Available mid-2012.

Niels Bohr, an icon of 20th-century physics, was also an astute observer of language and behavior. “Our task is to communicate experience and ideas to others” (Petersen, 1985, p. 301). “It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature” (Petersen, 1985, p. 305). “We are suspended in language in such a way that we cannot say what is up and what is down” (Petersen, 1985, p. 302).

This last statement relates to Bohr’s formulation of what he called complementarity. One of the conundrums of early 20th-century physics concerned the fact that, under certain experimental conditions, light behaved as particles in a “shower of photons” (Einstein & Infeld, 1938, p. 297). Under other conditions using different observational and measurement methods, light exhibited the characteristics of a wave. Prior to Bohr, physicists were captive to the prevailing language of physics, which carved up definitional structures of mutual exclusivity. By definition, waves behaved in ways that particles did not, therefore a wave could not be a particle. So what was light really — a particle or wave?

Bohr resolved the apparent paradox by rising above the definitions to focus on the observed behavior of light, regardless of the definitional label. He demonstrated that the relative perspective of the observer, including how the observer chose to measure and evaluate the phenomenon, directly affected the observer’s perceptions, measurements, and evaluations of the observed behavior.

We are suspended in language in such a way that we cannot say what is up and what is down. — Niels Bohr

 

Bohr’s notion of complementarity (and its eastern Taoist cousin, mutually-dependent yin and yang) provided an alternative point of view to the western philosophical tradition based on dichotomous, either/or, thinking. Bohr showed that the problem wasn’t with light itself, or with how the physicists measured light. The problem was in the limitation of the vocabulary that physicists had at their disposal to classify light. “Is light a particle or a wave?” presumed that light had to be one or the other, either particle or wave. Bohr proposed that the particle/wave debate resulted from an inappropriate application of either/or thinking. From his complementary perspective, the debate dissolved from an either/or labeling stalemate to a both/and understanding that rose above the labels; light exhibited the characteristics of both particles and waves.

In other words, Bohr argued that physicists had to overcome their stereotypical thinking about waves and particles in light of what they were observing about light. Their observations of light caused them to reevaluate their presumed categorical distinctions between particles and waves. Rather than focus on just the similarities between light and particles, and the differences between light and waves, they had to think in terms of both similarities and differences. Rather than think in terms of only two values, physicists had to orient themselves toward “many-valued” thinking (Korzybski, 1994, p. 93).

This type of thinking — complementarity, yin/yang, both/and, many-valued, or whatever label you prefer — is necessary to resist the easy inclination to adhere to rigid and categorical labels that we typically refer to as stereotyping.

Although that term carries a (usually deservedly) negative connotation, we can think of this type of generalizing activity on a continuum. The order and placement can be argued, but notionally such a continuum could be depicted this way.

benign-consequential.jpg

 

What distinguishes the more Benign activity to the left from the more Consequential to the right?

At the far left, as human beings with a highly-developed nervous system, we have learned through our life experiences to automatically recognize and categorize many different types of stimuli. We immediately differentiate people from animals from plants, strangers from friends and family, foods from tools, danger from routine, etc. Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee (2005) refer to this process generally as pattern-matching. They explain that this activity occurs at multiple levels in the hierarchy of the nervous system. From sensory stimulation to cognitive awareness, your nervous system makes inferences as it attempts to match current stimulus data with past experience and memory. Even at the most basic levels (distinguishing the edge or color shading of an object), your brain must take incomplete sensory data and “fill in the gaps” with guesses or assumptions in order to create an integrated image of what you believe you see. At this neurological level, “stereotyping is an inherent feature of the brain” (Hawkins & Blakeslee, 2005, p. 204). We are, to paraphrase Bohr, suspended in stereotypes.

To the right, however, lies the more consequential and problematic behaviors that we usually attribute as stereotyping. Such behaviors and underlying attitudes can be considered non-complementary in that they reflect the most simplistic either/or, categorical, and uncritical thinking; some may even say lack of thinking. They presume similarities and disregard differences, and can extend from an individual to a group, or from a group to the individual. They may be labeled as bias, pre-judgment, or prejudice. In every instance, however, such attitudes and behaviors result from a failure of recognizing both differences within similarities, and similarities among differences. “We discriminate against people to the degree we fail to distinguish between them” (Lee, 1952).

We discriminate against people to the degree we fail to distinguish between them. — Irving J. Lee

 

An aphorism purports that there is a kernel of truth in every stereotype. That might be worth considering, both in terms of “what if there’s not?” as well as “so what if there is?” I would suggest that the flip side of the aphorism is also worth considering: “every label lies a little.” We should remember that, as verbal constructions, labels and stereotypes do not exist in the material world. They reflect symbolic expressions that, more often than not, arise from arbitrary, superficial, and inconclusive classifications and judgments. Nevertheless, indiscriminate, biased, and prejudicial judgments against individuals and groups can have devastating individual and societal consequences.

“We must consider ourselves as a symbolic, semantic class of life, and those who rule the symbols, rule us” (Korzybski, 1994, p. 76). The first line of defense against potential symbolic subjugation is to become aware of, and practice, a complementary attitude about the verbal environment in which we find ourselves suspended. Within items labeled or categorized as similar, look for and recognize differences; among items that appear to be different, look for similarities. Rather than think in two-valued terms like either/or, right/wrong, or good/bad, consider the fuzzy, middle, gray many-valued areas that lie in between. Look for the lie in every label. Remember that the more time and attention you give to someone else’s verbal categories, classifications, and stereotypes, the less time you have to develop yourself in your own “real world of nature” (Maslow, 1987, p. 129).

And that time is a terrible thing to waste.

Discussion Exercises

  1. You recently heard a new band at your local club that you really liked. You want to encourage your Facebook friends to download a free track from the band’s Facebook page. How might you describe the band’s music so that your friends will check out the band’s page, and have some idea as to what they should expect to hear? Discuss your description with others. Is any stereotypical thinking exhibited?
  2. How might you describe the band’s music if you dislike it and wanted to urge your friends to avoid the band?
  3. Break up into groups of two or three. In three minutes, list as many different criteria as you can that could be used to stereotype an individual or a group.
  4. Assume you are a reporter covering a crime story. If one or more of the stereotyped criteria listed in the previous exercise applied to the victim or the perpetrator, how would you decide if those descriptors are relevant to the story?
  5. Does stereotyping factor into discussions about how to segment a target audience for a new product launch? Or for a press release on behalf of a candidate in a heated political campaign? Are there “kernels of truth” that underlie such targeted decisions?

References

Einstein, A., & Infeld, L. (1938). The Evolution of Physics. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Hawkins, J., & Blakeslee, S. (2005). On Intelligence: How a new understanding of the brain will lead to the creation of truly intelligent machines. New York: Holt Paperbacks.

Korzybski, A. (1994). Science and Sanity: An introduction to non-Aristotelian systems and general semantics (5th ed.). Englewood, NJ: Institute of General Semantics.

Lee, I.J. (1952). Talking Sense video series. Englewood, NJ: Institute of General Semantics.

Maslow, A.H. (1987). Motivation and Personality (3rd ed.). New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.

Petersen, A. (1985). The Philosophy of Niels Bohr. In A.P. French (Ed.), Niels Bohr: a centenary volume (pp. 299-310). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Awareness and Action – Conclusion (Mary Lahman)

Living Extensionally Takes a Lifetime

Beginners often take upon themselves the task of enthusiastically spreading their new-found “wisdom” to family and friends. We suggest that, for best long-term results, you temper this response. —Susan & Bruce Kodish (2011, p. 200)

 

At the end of a Language and Thought course, we often conclude that everyone needs to learn about general semantics. Once we recognize the allness language in that statement, we discuss ways to continue the “course-generated enthusiasm” for a general semantics approach to language behavior. Fully convinced of our time-binding responsibilities, we wonder how to best teach others about the patterns of miscommunication.

One semester, I shared these discussions with Professor Keller, who proposed that we worry less about “teaching others” and more about “modeling the correctives.” I often saw him follow this advice when participating in and facilitating community group discussions. Beginning his interactions with the simple phrase, “I wonder if,” he modeled how to question and paraphrase. He often used the “how much,” “which,” and “when” indexes, seeking information from the territory (people and contexts) and then updating his map (language and perceptions).

After helping to edit this text, my son wondered how I could have known about the pitfalls of language for so long and still exhibit patterns of miscommunication. I explained to him, as Meiers (1952) convinced participants at The First Conference in General Semantics in 1951, that living extensionally is “a lifetime process” (p. 277). More telling is how Meiers warned newcomers of the dangers of becoming general semantics fanatics. I share Meiers’s concern, so offer several of these warnings as well:

  1. Beware of accepting the disciplines of general semantics as a panacea . . . speaking of it with such “allness” of enthusiasm that it sounds like a panacea.
  2. Beware of using trade jargon—that is the particular terminology of general semantics—in conversation with those who are unfamiliar with the terms.
  3. Beware of the “wiser-than-thou” attitude of applying classification labels to conversational remarks of other people . . . students usually find great pleasure in their ability to recognize higher and lower abstractions in language—especially in the language of others. To make matters worse, they sometimes act as if the higher abstractions and inferences and judgments are less worthy of their consideration than descriptive statements.
  4. Beware of exaggerating the use of the semantic devices to the extent of appearing ridiculous. These five little devices suggested by Korzybski—quotes, dating [when index], indexing, hyphens, and the etc.—are practiced inconspicuously in the everyday language of thousands of people who make no overt reference to general semantics.
  5. Beware of merely talking about general semantics without applying its principles in practice. The highly verbal individual who finds in general semantics a new and exciting philosophy is in danger of keeping it forever on the verbal level, thus increasing the very futility that its discipline hopes to correct. (pp. 275–277).

Each of these dangers resonates with those who believe that they can communicate more effectively if they keep applying general semantics formulations. People may find themselves guilty of each of these behaviors as they diligently pursue eliminating patterns of miscommunication.

In the pursuit of excellence, we may forget, that we are “acquiring an orientation, not a straitjacket” (Kodish & Kodish, 2011, p. 200). Just because we are raising our awareness of our nervous systems’ limitations, we cannot assume that others will be as willing to learn about abstraction and the resulting “misevaluations” found in language behavior.

Ultimately, we would be wise to heed the advice about “minimum expectations” offered by Kodish and Kodish (2011): “When we have minimum expectations about any situation, that is, we’re prepared for not finding what we want, we will more likely find the ‘facts’ of the situation better than we expected; we’ve prepared ourselves for curiosity, change, excitement, happiness, hope, sanity, etc.” (p. 199). Perhaps just aiming for humor in the way that we misuse language will help us to continue the extensional journey.

After all, we have a lifetime to do so . . .

After You’ve Studied General Semantics

Wendell Johnson

The following handout was found in the archives of the Institute of General Semantics. It was probably a mailing sent to members prior to the publication of Johnson’s People in Quandaries in 1945 ( referenced as note 1). It was reprinted in ETC: A Review of General Semantics Volume 61 Number 4, Special Edition – General Semantics Across the Curriculum.


portrait-wj-380.jpgGenerally speaking, you will make applications to two large groups of problems or situations: those that are essentially personal, and those that you will call professional or relatively impersonal. A word about each of these should help somewhat.

With regard to personal problems, it is to be emphasized that over the years you have grown accustomed to your own behavior and to the people and the world about you. You have a strong tendency to take for granted whatever is thoroughly familiar to you. Your notion of what is ‘normal’ is, therefore, determined largely by the behavior, beliefs, attitudes, customs, social conditions which you have come to take more or less for granted as ‘right’ or ‘natural’ or ‘customary.’

This means that, even though you and your environment may be obviously below par, you may feel that you have no ‘personal problems.’ Many people become so thoroughly accustomed to the frictions, bad feelings, irritabilities, frustrations, blue moods, confusions and general flounderings of their day-to-day existence that nothing short of murder or stark insanity strikes them as peculiar. They are so utterly adjusted to maladjustment that it does not even occur to them that human life might be, except by sheer luck, different from what they know it to be. The fact that you were attracted to a book like this probably indicates that you yourself have not fallen to such a state, of course, but if the above statements serve to polish your semantic lenses a bit, perhaps you will take stock somewhat more in detail than you otherwise would of your own daily round and of the particular ‘peep-holes’ that define your outlook on the world in which you live. (1)

You do have personal problems, of course. What they are, and how important they seem to you, depends on the amount of tension, misery and confusion you have learned to tolerate. Generally speaking, if you examine carefully what you call your ‘big problems’ you will find that they are made up of little things, which accumulate all but unnoticed until your tense back gives way under ‘the last straw.’

The most effective way to apply general semantics, therefore, is to sharpen your awareness of the little things and apply it to them. Not even with general semantics can you gain much by cutting the weeds after the lettuce has wilted. It is the moment-to-moment, seemingly insignificant, applications that make the greatest difference in the long run. The assignments described in Chapter XXI are designed, in part, to illustrate various possibilities of such moment-to-moment applications, and a careful reading of the book as a whole should readily suggest many more.

Aside from the problems you have which center around intimately personal concerns and relationships, you have also the problems that arise in the course of your work in a profession, or business, or in running a household; in learning a trade, a skill, a game, or in teaching something to others. General semantics can be put to use in many ways by doctors, lawyers, teachers, editors and writers, radio program directors, motion picture executives, housewives, students, merchants, etc., through the long catalog of human occupations. Wherever symbols are used and evaluations are made, wherever there are problems to be solved, use can be made of the method, the principles, the basic orientations which general semantics involves. Likewise, in the general business of being a citizen, of evaluating social, economic and political issues, of contributing constructively to the life of the community and of society in a broad sense, the value of general semantics lies in the practical use that is made of it.

General semantics contains no recipe for boredom. You are not likely ever to say of it, as you may have said from time to time of a course in history, or mathematics, or French, that you ‘have had it.’ At least, if ever you do say of general semantics that you ‘have had it,’ as though for you it were over and done with, you probably didn’t ‘get’ it.

A Map of Korzybski’s General Semantics

Now that we’ve reached the conclusion of this course, the following is a map of General Semantics by Steve Stockdale. Perhaps it may serve as a helpful review, or give you some ideas for creating your own map.

AKmapGS-760-used.jpg

Resources, etc.

seeds.jpgWe realize that we have thrown a lot of material at you during this course. We suspect (or even hope) that you may not have had the opportunity to fully digest the course materials. Therefore we want to provide this summary of resources that may facilitate your return to the course content at your convenience.

Downloadable Content by Module

The course content will be made available for download in two different formats via the links below. You are welcome to download either or both formats.

The HTML format file for each module, and then one file for the entire course, contains all of the text, images, and embedded YouTube videos. As long as you are connected to the Internet, you will be able to follow links and watch the YouTube videos.

Note: The videos posted to the course using the Canvas Media Comment tool are not available.

To download the files, depending on your browser, click or right-click on each link and save to your computer or portable device.

The PDF format file for each module, and then one file for the entire course, contains all of the text and images from the course, but no videos. As long as you are connected to the Internet, you will be able to follow links.

The PDF format file is significantly larger than the HTML file, but may be easier to read for some.

To download the files, depending on your browser, click or right-click on each link and save to your computer or portable device.

Downloadable Readings (PDF)

  1. The Role of Language in the Perceptual Processes by Alfred Korzybski
  2. Awareness and Action: A General Semantics Approach to Effective Language Behavior by Mary Lahman
  3. Here’s Something About General Semantics by Steve Stockdale
  4. ETC: A Review of General Semantics Volume 61 Number 4 (Special Issue – General Semantics Across the Curriculum); provided courtesy of the Institute of General Semantics
  5. ETC: A Review of General Semantics Volume 65 Number 1 (Special Issue – General Semantics in India); provided courtesy of the Institue of General Semantics
  6. Allness in Language and Politics (Student Paper) by Alex McGuinness
  7. The Science and Sanity of Listening by Benjamin J. Cline
  8. Language, Appearance, and Reality (Doublespeak in 1984) by William D. Lutz
  9. Allness Case Studies, Chapter 11 of William Haney’s Communication and organizational behavior: Text and cases.
  10. Languages and Logic by Benjamin Lee Whorf
  11. Science and Linguistics by Benjamin Lee Whorf
  12. Language, Culture and Mind in Comparative Perspective by John A. Lucy
  13. The Linguistics of ‘Color’ by John A. Lucy
  14. Rights and Wrongs: An Insider/Outsider Reflects on Power and Excision by Fuambai Ahmadu
  15. Nuclear Language and How We Learned to Pat the Bomb by Carol Cohn
  16. What We Do with Language – What It Does with Us by Bruce I. Kodish
  17. To Be or Not to Be: E-Prime as a Tool for Critical Thinking by D. David Bourland, Jr.
  18. Language Revision by Deletion of Absolutisms by Allen Walker Read
  19. The Inner Interpreter by Laura Bertone
  20. Response Side Semantics by Steve Stockdale
  21. “Lecture Notes on Teaching General Semantics”?by Lance Strate, Ph.D.
  22. “A Continuing Education Guide to Teaching General Semantics”?by Martin H. Levinson, Ph.D.
  23. “Twelve General Semantics Lessons for Middle School Students”?by Martin H. Levinson, Ph.D.

Forms and Activities

Videos

Websites

Personal Time-binding Discussion

passbox.jpgAs an exercise in personal time-binding, review the Discussions from each of the previous five course modules. As you review the posts, note comments from your classmates that you’ve found personally meaningful and valuable.

Select three (3) posts that you personally found most meaningful and valuable. Then to earn 100 points:

  1. Contact the author of each post you select, via the Canvas Inbox internal email and express your appreciation to the author.
  2. Then share a summary of the 3 comments you selected using the “Reply” block below.

Unknown Author Issue

Unfortunately, about 55 of your classmates – including some of our most active participants – have been afflicted with a Canvas Network bug which, for reasons not yet understood or corrected, cause their names in the Discussions to be shown as Unknown Author.

If you select one of the posts by Unknown Author as one of your most meaningful and you cannot determine the author’s name, please Inbox (Canvas internal email) me with three pieces of information:

  • which module and discussion (please use the titles listed above)
  • date of the post
  • the first few words of the post

It’s not a big deal for me as an Instructor to associate the Unknown Author’s post with an actual name. Then I will send you the name and you can express your appreciation directly to the Known Author. 🙂

Module 6 Assignment

The title of this course is General Semantics: An Approach to Effective Language Behavior.

In the Concerning Expectations video you viewed in Week 1, we asked you to consider what the course title might mean. We asked:

  • What other “approaches” to “language behavior” (effective or otherwise) are you familiar with?
  • How familiar to you is the phrase “language behavior”? Are you more familiar with “language” and “behavior” used separately? Do they even belong together?
  • And what about “effective”? What do you think that means?

Final Assignment – 100 points

man-tech.jpgIn no more than 250 words, provide your evaluative response to this question:

After experiencing this introduction to General Semantics, what will you take away from the course that might contribute to the effectiveness of your own language behavior?

To submit the assignment: Click on the Submit Assignment link in the upper right of this page. You can then type your essay in the editing box, or copy/paste from another application.

Steve’s Concluding Remarks

My apologies for going so long, but I had some thing I wanted to say and two video clips I wanted to show. Steve Stockdale

Script

Well, this is the hardest part for me … having to stop and put a period and an ecetera to the course. Before I get to that period, however, I have a few personal reflections I’d like to offer.

First, thanks to Mary and Manchester University in Indiana for being willing to put their names on this course. And thanks to our volunteer TAs who, because of various life events, didn’t have as much time as they would’ve liked to spend with us.

At the beginning of the course I had a few things to say about expectations. Here are some data as we conclude the course:

  • This chart shows the pattern of our enrollment through 31 January. As the course was open for enrollment through last week, the final count was 1,326.
  • Representing 67 different nations, or about a third of all the countries on the planet.
  • Here you can see the top-level graph of participation in the course, measured by daily number of logins and page views.
  • And here are the numbers of module badges that have been awarded.

So what does this say about the success of the course? What does this all mean with respect to the value of this course?  To you the students, and to Mary, Greg, and me? And what does it mean to the Canvas Network administrators who will evaluate whether to offer it again?

One of the points we’ve tried to highlight about General Semantics is to emphasize that we are concerned not with theories or philosophies about language or communication in the abstract. As Alfred Korzybski put it, we are concerned with living human reactions – not according to detached, academic categories but in terms of living human reactions “in the wild” of daily behaving.

I’d like to show you two short clips to reinforce how GS applies to our living human reactions.

The first is from the 1983 movie with Michael Keaton and Terri Garr, “Mr. Mom.” The father has been laid off from his job and hasn’t yet found work. The mother has found a job and is returning to work, while the father stays home to play “Mr. Mom.”

[clip]

The second is from a talk by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in 1980.  View the entire 23-minute talk on YouTube.

[clip]

To me, these clips illustrate two things.  First, Korzybski’s diagnosis of our human shortcomings ­– how we’re doing it wrong.  And second, his prognosis for what might result if we were to acknowledge these shortcomings, overcome them, and amplify our own human abilities.

Now I happen to think these are laudable sentiments, and as the past 20 years of my life attest, I’ve evaluated Korzybski’s General Semantics as still relevant after all these years.

Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, seemed to agree.

Similarly, a man who knows how symbols are related to experience, and who practices the kind of linguistic self-control taught by the exponents of General Semantics, is unlikely to take too seriously the absurd or dangerous nonsense that, within every culture, passes for philosophy, practical wisdom and political argument.

So, yes, I’ll confess to enlisting in Korzybski’s quixotic quest. I don’t believe it’s unreasonable to attempt to amplify our inherent human abilities. I believe we can do better. I believe it’s possible that we can up our game, raise the bar on normal, shift the mean, reshape the bell curve, and reduce humanity’s standard deviation.

Does that mean we can take humanity to the next level? Can we change human nature?

Well, before I get completely carried away, I recall an anecdote told by David Bourland, the E-Prime guy, that was told to him by M. Kendig, Korzybski’s right-hand assistant who succeeded Korzybski as Director of the Institute of General Semantics after Korzybski’s death.

David wrote:

Once, one of Korzybski’s “senior grade” students (Kendig) said to Korzybski, “Together we can change the world!”

She told me that he replied, “Well, we might change you a little.”

If you really have an interest in changing “human nature,” perhaps it would work best if you begin with yourself.

And with that, I want to thank all of you for contributing to this learning experience. And now for me comes the period. And et cetera.

 

Greg’s Concluding Remarks

Greg Thompson

Mary’s Concluding Remarks

Mary Lahman

Script

Thank you for persevering to Module 6

We have enjoyed sharing our understanding of how to move an awareness of GS into action: learning to silently add etc to avoid Allness and being person-minded not word-minded to address Bypassing.

With your newfound awareness of abstraction, you have encouraged each other in the Module discussions. I appreciate your stories and applications of GS.

Thanks you for being an essential part of this learning community.

As you leave us, remember we are acquiring an orientation, not a set if rules. May we be humbled by the way we use language and it uses us. And, may we learn to live extensionally one day at a time.

Conclusion

We hope you’ll enjoy this last video that we think is an appropriate conclusion to the course.

Final Video

Module Completion Checklist

checkbox.jpg

open-checkbox21.png 1.  Did you review the Extensional Orientation material?
open-checkbox21.png 2.  Did you read Heinlein and Ellis: Converging Competencies?
open-checkbox21.png 3.  Did you read Aldous Huxley’s On Language and the Individual?
open-checkbox21.png 4.  Did you read Suspended in Stereotypes?
open-checkbox21.png 5.  Did you read the Conclusion of Awareness and Action?
open-checkbox21.png 6.  Did you read After You’ve Studied General Semantics?
open-checkbox21.png 7.  Did you review the Map of Korzybski’s General Semantics and the list of available resources?
open-checkbox21.png 8.  Did you acknowledge three fellow students for their discussion posts, and did you contribute to the Personal Time-binding Discussion? (100 points)
open-checkbox21.png 9.  Did you submit the Module Assignment? (100 points)

 

Have you completed all of the modules?

Thanks for taking the time to learn something about General Semantics as an Approach to Effective Language Behavior. We hope you’ve found the experience valuable and meaningful. If you missed some of the course, you can always return to the Modules List to review the entire course, or download the course content by module.

5: Who Rules Your Symbols?

Course Home | 1: What is GS? | 2: Allness | 3: Bypassing | 4: Linguistic Relativity | 5: Symbol Rulers | 6: Review and Reflection


This course was developed and presented on the Canvas Network by Steve Stockdale, Mary Lahman, and Greg Thompson. It is reproduced here under terms of the Creative Commons Share Alike License as published on Canvas Network from 13 January – 24 February 2014.


Module Map

Module 5 Spiral Overview

Artwork by Alice Webb Art

Listen to the audio version of this page

Recap

To this point in the course, we’ve covered:

An introduction to the field of study called General Semantics, formulated by Alfred Korzybski. We discussed Korzybski’s motivation and approach to addressing the problem of why human behavior, in the form of societies and cultures, has not progressed or advanced at the pace of engineering, mathematics, and the sciences. We reviewed the foundational premises of GS using the map|territory analogy. We talked about the importance of acknowledging the role of the human nervous system in how we abstract and evaluate our experiences. We learned that in translating, or transforming, our non-verbal experiences into verbal behaviors, we can avoid symptoms that lead to mis-evaluations. In other words, we can make better maps (our  language behaviors) that more appropriately reflect the territories of our experiences.

A framework for analyzing language behaviors from a GS perspective, developed by William Haney. Haney’s framework is based on recognizing contributing factors and applying correctives that result in more effective language behaviors. Mary Lahman led us through a “deep dive” into the Haney framework by focusing on two major topic areas of GS: allness and bypassing.

Please note that the Haney framework can be applied to other GS topics in addition to allness and bypassing. In Mary’s e-textbook, Awareness and Action, she also devotes chapters to Inference-Observation Confusion (also referred to as the Fact-Inference distinction) and Differentiation Failures (including stereotyping, polarization, and frozen evalutions). If you haven’t already, I encourage you to download the pdf of Awareness and Action and review the entire book at your leisure.

The topic of the linguistic relativity hypothesis (LRH), as proposed by Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf. Greg Thompson invited us to view Lera Borditsky’s video presentation, “How Language Shapes Thought,” in which she shared results of her research that revealed surprising and fascinating insights into the language-and-thought habits and behaviors of cultures with which most of us are unfamiliar. From Greg’s explanations about LRH and its implications, as well as Bruce Kodish’s article on “what we do with language and what language does to us,” we got a feel for how similar are the core components of LRH and GS.

We ought to easily recognize, then, that ancient notions such as objective or absolute reality do not accurately reflect the limitations of our nervous systems as they interact with the outside world. Therefore language structures, patterns, or terms that rely on this false-to-fact notion that what I experience (or say) “is” the same as what exists “out there” in the world misrepresent, mislead, and misinform. The fact of the matter is that the ‘real world’ is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group … We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation. — Edward Sapir (Carroll, 1956, p. 134) [emphasis added]

This Week

In this module, Who Rules Your Symbols? led by Steve Stockdale, we’re going to try and integrate what we’ve learned so far by discussing the implications of two statements from Science and Sanity.

The analysis of … living reactions is the sole object of general semantics … (Korzybski, 1994, p.xli)

 

The affairs of man are conducted by our own, man-made rules and according to man-made theories. Man’s achievements rest upon the use of symbols. For this reason, we must consider ourselves as a symbolic, semantic class of life, and those who rule the symbols, rule us. (Korzybski, 1994, p. 76) [emphasis added]

 

  • First, I’ll present the results of the Point of View (or Orientation) Survey that some of you completed in Module 1 and explain its significance. Then you will discuss your reactions to the survey results.
  • Next we’ll talk about how these orientations, or points of view, are related to our environments and shape (or are shaped by?) our evaluations, meanings, and values.
  • Then we’ll address factors related to how you evaluate your own evaluations.
  • To address the second quote on symbol-rulers, you’ll watch the online documentary, “The Persuaders” and consider the “tension” between the would-be symbol-rulers and you as an individual symbol-evaluator.
  • We’ll conclude the module with a Discussion assignment and a short essay assignment.

Objectives

The objectives for Module 5 include:

  1. Gain an appreciation of the complex neuro-semantic and neuro-linguistic environments that envelope your daily living.
  2. Understand the inter-related influences and implications of your orientation-environments, and evaluations-meanings-values.
  3. Recognize the extent to which others may attempt to “rule your symbols” and what defenses you may employ against such attempts.

Point of View Survey Results and Interpretations

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Listen to the audio version of this page

Before you read about the results of the Point of View (POV) Survey you completed in Module 1, please:

  1. Download and print this blank version of the survey.
  2. Mark your responses on this paper version by filling in the bubbles, then sequentially connect your responses with a line between each dot. (See the examples below.)
  3. Return to the Module 1 Point of View Survey you submitted and compare your responses. Did any of your responses change between the two versions?

Purpose of the POV Survey

I have used similar versions of this survey (which I’ve also called a General Orientation Survey or Personal Orientation Survey) in General Semantics seminars and courses for the past ten years.

The original purpose of the survey was to simply provide a basis for discussion among the rather ‘homogenous’ class of college students I taught. The students in these classes were overwhelmingly white, 18-22 years old, from (on average) middle-to-upper class Texas families, studying journalism or advertising/public relations. From all outward appearances, these classes did not represent much demographic diversity.

Despite this apparent lack of diversity, however, when we discussed the results of this survey, we invariably discovered that the homogenous appearances did not yield homogenous attitudes.

So the first purpose of the survey is to point out that differences (of attitudes) may lurk below the apparent similarities (of appearances).

A second purpose of the survey is to point out that, in a very notional and unscientific way, we could consider the results of this little 20-question survey as a depiction of a personal point of view, or orientation.

*** Let me explain here that in no way do I present this survey as anything other than a class activity for discussion. For my Educational Psychology graduate degree I took a course in assessment and make no claims as to the validity or reliability of this “instrument.”

For example, consider the hypothetical results of Leslie and Pat below. Based solely on this unscientific exercise, one could say that based on their responses to the statements on the survey, Pat exhibits an orientation that is generally more in agreement with the statements than Leslie, as Pat’s blue lines fall generally to the right of Leslie’s red lines.

m5-pov-PatLeslie.jpg

Beyond comparing the placement and shape of the two vertical lines (Pat’s and Leslie’s personal orientations or points of view), let’s look at some of their responses to the statements. Since I made up Pat and Leslie, and their responses, I can tell you that the only statement on which they agreed is #16, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

On statements #3 and #17, however, their responses were complete opposites.

#3. Everything happens for a reason. (Pat strongly agreed, Leslie strongly disagreed.)

#17. It is what it is. (Again, Pat strongly agreed, Leslie strongly disagreed.)

I hope you can see how, in the hands of a skilled classroom facilitator (ahem), a discussion of these differences might yield robust class participation.

And then the third purpose of survey, after discussing the class norms and averages, differences and similarities, is to consider questions such as these:

  1. Accepting that the crooked lines of one’s responses represents a notional, wholly unscientific depiction of one (among many possible) way to illustrate one’s point of view, how has one acquired this particular point of view (or orientation)?
  2. How has Pat learned or acquired a belief that everything happens for a reason, while Leslie has not learned or acquired that belief?
  3. Does the sum or totality of one’s orientation “hang together”? In other words, are the responses consistent and non-contradictory? For example, if one agreed with #10 (You can’t teach an old dog new tricks), it’s reasonable to expect one would also agree with #20 (The more things change, they more they stay the same) given that both reflect an attitude toward change.
  4. In reviewing the orientations of Leslie and Pat, can you infer that you might prefer the company of one or the other based on their responses? Can you think of anyone you know who might exhibit a similar point of view to either Pat or Leslie?
  5. And finally, referring back to the first question, do you think the 20 responses are the logical consequence of a purposeful and deliberate world view (or point of view or orientation), or are they merely a mish-mash of random top-of-the-head reactions?

We’ll come back to these questions later. But now let’s look at your Point of View Survey results.

Your Point of View Survey Results

Based on 434 survey submittals as of 28 January, the following slides portray several different types of analysis.

1. Percentage of all responses by statement and response

Note: Percentages do not total 100 due to non-responses and rounding.

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2. Weighted average of responses (approximately plotted)

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3. Most responses

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4. Fewest responses

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5. Table comparing sum-of-Disagrees with sum-of-Agrees

Note: This ignores all “0 No Opinion” responses.

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6. Chart showing sum of differences (Disagrees – Agrees)

Note: Statements with differences less than [+/- 100] are annotated on the chart as they can be considered the most “equal” and therefore most polarized. Or … do the statements at either end of the chart depict more polarization?

6-POV-columnChart-760.jpg

What are your reactions to your Point of View results?

Share your reactions with the class in the Discussion that follows. If you’d like to view the data used to generate these slides, you can download the Excel file.

m5-pov-blank-380.jpgShare your reactions to the results of the Point of View Survey, both the composite results of the class as well as your own results.

You may want to respond to the questions asked on the results page:

  1. Accepting that the crooked lines of your responses represents a notional, wholly unscientific depiction of one (among many possible) way to illustrate your point of view, how have you acquired this particular point of view (or orientation)?
  2. Select one of the statements that you strongly agreed or disagreed with. How do you suppose that you learned or acquired this belief, while others have not learned or acquired that belief?
  3. Does the sum or totality of your point of view “hang together”? In other words, are your responses consistent and non-contradictory?
  4. In reviewing the hypothetical orientations of Leslie and Pat, or the composite results of the class, can you infer that you might prefer the company of one or the other based on their responses?
  5. Would you say that your 20 responses are the logical consequence of a purposeful and deliberate world view (or point of view or orientation), or are they merely a mish-mash of random top-of-the-head reactions?

Or, feel free to share whatever evaluations you like.

Orientations and Environments

Listen to the audio version of this page

The analysis of … living reactions is the sole object of general semantics … (Korzybski, 1994, p.xli)

 

I’d like to return to one of the questions posed in the Point of View Survey explanation: how has one acquired this point of view (or orientation)?

Let’s consider that your general orientation (or point of view) constitutes a living reaction and is therefore worthy of analysis. 

Here’s how I would analyze this question.

Environment and Orientation of a Plant

First, let’s take it out of the human realm and look at a plant.

[Aside: We seem better able to scientifically analyze plants and animals than we do ourselves or our fellow humans.]

m5-plant1.jpg

 

A plant lives within a defined environment.

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A plant grows as a function of different environmental factors or influences.

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A plant grows as the result of internal processes that absorb or react to the environmental influences.

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Tropism is a term that’s used to refer to the tendency of plants to respond according to the different types of environmental stimuli, such as water, gravity, wind, sunlight, etc.  For the purposes of this explanation, we can say that a plant orients itself as a result of the sum total of all these environmental factors (tropisms).

m5-plant5.jpg 

Environment and Orientation of a Human (in this case, me)

Now let’s jump to the human realm and consider the environments that influence us, specifically in the context of the orientation question … how has one (in this case, me) acquired his (my) orientation or world view?

m5-human1.jpg 

Similar to plants, we live in environments that include a number of factors that can influence our growth and development. But different from plants, human growth and development depend on more than just our physical environment. Alfred Korzybski recognized the environments that are unique to humans and therefore critical to the human time-binding capacity — the neuro-semantic and neuro-linguistic environments.

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[General Semantics] recognizes neuro-linguistic and neuro-semantic environments as unavoidable conditioning environments, and considers ‘mental’ illness, science and mathematics as types of human reactions. We discover that all forms of human reactions involve some common mechanisms which work automatically for the benefit or detriment of humanity. (p. 297, CW, General Semantics, Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Prevention, 1940)

 

If we stop to reflect, we must face the fact that every human being is born into a neuro-linguistic and neuro-semantic environment from which there is no escape. At present sciences are taking care of deadly environmental dangers such as plagues, epidemics, factory conditions where harmful chemicals are used which slowly kill off the workers, etc. But the academic linguists in their detachment and interest in abstract verbiage somehow disregard our neuro-linguistic and neuro-semantic environments as environment, and therefore do not (and, perhaps, could not) produce any constructive practical results in building up sanity in education, and so ultimately in human living. It is true that these academicians and verbalists would have to know more about living human reactions. They would have to study not only neurology, psychiatry, general semantics, verbalisms written or spoken in hospitals for the “mentally” ill, etc., but also the pathological reactions found in politicians, journalists, etc., and even in educators and scientists. (p. 365, CW, Foreward to LHIHA, 1941)

 

[Listing errors of omission] The disregard of the neuro-linguistic and neuro-semantic environments as an environment unique for our symbolic class of life. These are no more avoidable factors than air or water. They may have disastrous effects on us, and we know enough about environmental factors, for instance, in occupational diseases to understand the gravity of such disregard. (p. 379, CW, Foreward with M. Kendig to A Theory of Meaning Analyzed, GS Monographs, Number III, 1942, pp. vii-xvi.)

You can see that the number of potential neuro-semantic and neuro-linguistic factors or influences are indefinitely-many.

m5-human3.jpg

 

While this slide emphasizes the symbolic influences, it’s important to not overlook the biological influences that certainly affect our neuro-semantic neuro-linguistic environments — specifically, our past experiences and genetic expressions.  The sum total of these neuro-semantic and neuro-linguistic influences, comparable to the plant’s tropism effects, can be considered as our (or in this case, my) personal orientation.

m5-human4.jpg 

And from this orientation, I evaluate, react, and behave, as reflected in my responses (or you could say my evaluations) to the statements on the Point of View survey.

But there’s more going on, especially if we look more closely at the influences of our Experiences as we’ll see on the next page.

Evaluations-Meanings-Values

Listen to the audio version of this page

Picking up from the previous page, let’s look more closely at the influence of our Experiences.

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“Theories” in General Semantics

Throughout Korzybski’s writings, he refers to five “theories” related to General Semantics.

  1. Time-binding, or as he titled two early papers, TIME-BINDING: The General Theory.
  2. General Semantics as a general theory of evaluation.
  3. General Semantics as a general theory of values.
  4. General Semantics as establishing a theory of meanings.
  5. General Semantics as establishing a theory of sanity.

We addressed time-binding in Module 1. We also mentioned that the title of the “source book” for General Semantics is Science and Sanity; that the methods and applications of science are the foundation for human sanity.

We’ve covered evaluation in the context of the abstracting-evaluating process.

And we talked about meaning, especially in Module 3 on bypassing. As attributed to Charles Sanders Peirce, “you don’t get meaning, you respond with meaning.” 

But to this point, we haven’t really talked about values. So here I want to place evaluation, meanings, and values in a broader environmental context. That is, evaluations, meanings, and values as inseparable and integral aspects of our life experiences.

Korzybski coined a technical term for such inseparable-nessnon-elementalistic. He observed that one of the potential errors in our language behaviors was the ability to divide or separate in our verbal worlds of language what cannot be separated in our non-verbal worlds of experience. This error of separating in words what cannot be separated in ‘reality’ he called elementistic evaluating, or to nounify the process, an elementalism.

In this case, we have three different words, which can be defined in different ways. But on a neurological level … the level of actual living reactions … what we refer to as evaluations, meanings, and values are all bound together both as past and present experiences.

m5-human-EVM.jpg 

To illustrate, let’s return to the “you’ve got cancer” example of J.S. Bois from Module 1 Defining and Describing General Semantics.

Imagine a scene in a hospital examining room. There’s a doctor, a patient, and the patient’s wife. A lab technician knocks on the door and enters, carrying a medical folder with the patient’s charts. He hands the folder to the doctor, nods to the patient and the wife, and leaves the room. The doctor silently looks through the pages of the chart. She takes a deep breath, gathers herself, and turns to the husband to say, “The tests confirm that you’ve got cancer.”

 

Can you envision in that scenario how different evaluations, meanings, and values are manifested by each of the participants?

To repeat another excerpt from Module 1 that I hope you might now find a little more meaningful:

In Week 5, we’ll address the “big picture” implications of [Korzybski’s] theories about the complex inter-relationships among evaluations, meanings, and values. Here are some examples that may give you a feel for what Korzybski was getting at:

The European Union is divided over the ongoing financial crises in Greece and other countries. Generalizing and simplifying … the citizens in Greece evaluate the crisis differently than German citizens because the austerity that is being forced on Greece means something very different to the Greek than it means to the German. The Greek and the German evaluate the situation differently because the situation means something different because they hold different values.

The Tea Party in the United States evaluates the significance of U.S. debt and government spending levels differently from other political groups because of the meaning that Tea Partiers give to government debt based on their values.

People around the world hold different evaluations about global warming/climate change based what the phenomenon means to them and what values they hold. To the citizen of the Maldives, the threat of rising oceans bears meaningful consequences because they value their way of life (not to mention their actual lives), so they evaluate the evidence and forecasts about global warming one way. The owner/operator/customers of a coal-burning electricity plant in the remote southwest U.S. evalute the issue differently because their economic and political values are affected in different meaningful ways.

The ongoing tensions between India and Pakistan can be considered in terms of different evaluations based on conflicting values and meanings.

Can you think of any close-to-home controversies that exhibit the inseparable (or non-elementalistic) nature of evalutions, meanings, and values?

Brain-Based Evaluating

As we saw in Module 1, it’s important to acknowledge that when we refer to cognitive activities such as thinking, feeling, imagining, considering, etc., we are referring to neurological behavior that has a biological basis. Therefore if we want to  conscientiously improve our language behaviors, we need to understand something about how our brains work — at least according to the current brain science.

On this page we have five short video clips about the brain that relate to our evaluating. (Unfortunately, we don’t have closed captioning available on these clips.) All of these come from episodes of the Charlie Rose Show.

1. Overview of the cortex (5:01)

From the Charlie Rose Brain Series, Anthony Movshon provides a functional overview of the cerebral cortex and describes the four lobes that comprise the cortex.

CRose-Cortex.mp4

2. The brain as a “piece of meat” (3:17)

Also from the Charlie Rose Brain Series, the panel discusses how the brain is not hard-wired like a computer, and also mentions how dependent we are on our genetics and previous life experiences.

CRose-MeatNotComputer.mp4

3. Paul Allen on the brain’s complexity (1:45)

Along with Bill Gates, Paul Allen co-founded Microsoft. He now owns the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks and the Portland Trailblazers National Basketball Association franchise. More importantly for our purposes, he has created the Allen Institute for Brain Science. (Christof Koch from the Module 1 afterimage demonstration is the Institute’s Chief Scientific Officer.) Two weeks ago Allen sat down with Charlie Rose to talk primarily about the Super Bowl, but he also discussed his Institute and related this comparison of the brain to a computer.

CR-paulAllenshort.mp4

4. Eric Kandel on the role of the “beholder” (2:59)

During an interview to promote his 2012 book, The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, Eric Kandel discussed his approach to studying the role of the beholder’s response to art — specifically, portraiture.

cr-kandel-beholder.mp4

5. Integration of cortex and amygdala (5:44)

Walter Mischel (of the Marshmallow Experiment in Module 1) and Daniel Kahneman discuss their two schemes for characterizing the integration of the cortex and the amygdala. Mischel uses the metaphor of hot and cool systems to compare the two, while Kahneman refers to fast and slow.

Note how similar their descriptions are to what Korzybski, in 1941, observed about the interaction of the cortex and what was then referred to as the thalamus.

If we orient ourselves predominantly by intension or verbal definitions, our orientations depend mostly on the cortical region. If we orient ourselves by extension or facts, this type of orientation by necessity follows the natural order of evaluation, and involves thalamic factors, introducing automatically cortically delayed reactions . In other words, orientations by intension tend to train our nervous systems in a split between the functions of the cortical and thalamic regions; orientations by extension involve the integration of cortico-thalamic functions.

Orientations by extension induce an automatic delay of reactions, which automatically stimulates the cortical region and regulates and protects the reactions of the usually over-stimulated thalamic region .

What was said here is elementary from the point of view of neurology. The difficulty is that this little bit of neurological knowledge is not applied in practice. Neurologists, psychiatrists, etc., have treated these problems in an ‘abstract’, ‘academic’, detached way only, somehow, entirely unaware that living human reactions depend on the working of the human nervous system, from which dependence there is no escape. No wonder ‘philosophers’, ‘logicians’, mathematicians, etc ., disregard the working of their nervous systems if even neurologists and psychiatrists still orient themselves by verbal fictions in the ‘abstract’.

 CR2-hotCool-sys1-2.mp4

Your “Inner Interpreter”

I met Laura Bertone twenty years ago this summer at my first general semantics seminar-workshop at Hofstra University in New York. We served together as trustees for the Institute of General Semantics for several years. 

In 2006, Laura published a wonderful book that serves as both a textbook and a memoirs, of sorts, that contains illustrative examples from her career as a “Paris-based conference interpreter.” That’s how the book jacket describes her profession. I prefer to think of it as “simultaneous translating” which, to my mono-lingual mind, is almost akin to magic.

The book is The Hidden Side of Babel: Unveiling cognition, intelligence, and sense (Amazon link). The excerpt below, which you can read inside this page with preview function, or download as a PDF document, is the chapter titled “The Inner Interpreter.” I’ve selected this excerpt because I believe it reinforces several important points about how, even within one language, we have to interpret or translate in order to evaluate and understand.

The Inner Interpreter (PDF)

 m5-babel-flyleaf-380.jpg

Example: What do these pictures mean?

To illustrate the interplay of evaluations, meanings, and values, consider the following photos in terms of two questions.

  1. What do you think they mean?
  2. What do they mean to you?

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m5-0832-cropped-760.jpg

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I took these photos this past December about 30 miles from where I live in western New Mexico. These are rock drawings known as petroglyphs, carved by the ancient inhabitants of this area.

Let me tell you a little more about the last images that depict the square spiral shape. I took these four photos on the day after the winter solstice, between 11:58 and 12:03.

What does that additional information mean in terms of how you evaluate these photos and what they depict?

I think it’s reasonable to infer that, in the case of the square spiral, the specific location and size of the spiral serve a deliberate purpose. Combined with the L-shaped shadow of the overhanging rock, this spot marks the highest point of the sun on the shortest day of the year.

Considering how many years of observations it must have taken to determine where the L-shaped shadow would fall on this once-a-year day, this must have meant something special to the engravers. They must have valued this specific time.

Does this additional information make any difference in terms of what this means to you?

“The Persuaders” as Symbol-Rulers

The affairs of man are conducted by our own, man-made rules and according to man-made theories. Man’s achievements rest upon the use of symbols. For this reason, we must consider ourselves as a symbolic, semantic class of life, and those who rule the symbols, rule us. (Korzybski, 1994, p. 76) [emphasis added]

 

To revisit a slide from earlier in this module, consider how much of our neuro-semantic and neuro-linguistic environments involves various agents who are trying to influence our personal evaluations and living reactions.

m5-human4.jpg

It’s worth noting that Korzybski’s caution regarding “those who rule the symbols, rule us” was published just months after Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany in 1933. He (Korzybski) understood how vulnerable and susceptible humans were to the manipulation of symbols, signs, words, music, etc. He knew the neurological mechanisms of conditioned responses from Pavlov’s experiments, consistent with his own formulation of identification whereby individuals did not properly evalute and were unaware of their abstracting processes.

Five years before Korzybski’s caution hit the New York City streets in Science and Sanity, another New Yorker published his own book that, unintentionally no doubt, reinforced Korzybski’s contention.

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. — Edward Bernays

 

Edward Bernays was the nephew of Dr. Sigmund Freud. The name of his 1928 book was Propaganda. He taught the first university course in public relations, and is generally considered to be one of, if not the, father of the American public relations industry.

So there would seem to be a natural tension between what Bernays advocated and what Korzybski warned about. Ironically, however, the history of General Semantics includes several prominent individuals from the the advertising and public relations industries.

“The Persuaders” with Douglas Rushkoff

In November 2004, days after the U.S. presidential election, the Public Broadcasting Series Frontline series broadcast Douglas Rushkoff’s 90-minute documentary, “The Persuaders.” The film delves into “the persuasion industry” of advertising, marketing, and political campaigns. 

The film includes interviews with several major “persuaders,” who make no apologies for their objectives to … create loyalty beyond reason … develop cult-like devotion … appeal to the reptilian brain … and find words that work. 

You can watch the entire documentary, with transcript, at the PBS website. In particular, pay close attention to segments 4 (The Science of Selling) and 5 (Giving Us What We Want).

Lay Off of My Persuade Shoes

In 2009, I was invited to give a presentation to a trade association group of advertisers. I took it as an opportunity to challenge these “persuaders” to raise their game, and their industry, to higher levels of respect for their clients and their clients’ customers.

In the Optional Activities for Module 1 I included one segment of the presentation, A GS Perspective.

Here are the two segments that follow the GS Perspective that specfically address the advertising and PR industries, and my own personal experience with one particular advertising (some might say propaganda) campaign.

Public Relations Perspective

The script is available here.

aaf-pr.mp4

Chesapeake Energy and Conclusion

aaf-chk-conclusion.mp4

The script is available here.

Response Side Semantics

rss-cover.jpgOne year after viewing “The Persuaders,” I was motivated to document my thoughts regarding this tension between those who seek to rule the symbols (the supply side of symbol-rulers) and those, like myself, who sought to resist the attempts to be ruled (the response side).

This article from the January 2006 issue of ETC: A Review of General Semantics, “calls out” those who wish to rule the symbols and issues a metaphorical “call to arms” to those who wish to put up the response side resistance.

You can download the PDF link below or view it within this page using the preview feature

 

Download Response Side Semantics

Module 5 Dicussion

What topic or illustration most resonated with you in this module regarding Who Rules Your Symbols? Discuss your evaluations, reactions, responses, etc.

Module 5 Assignment

In this module, we attempted to describe a “tension” that exists between individual evaluators (symbol users) and those who would seek to manipulate, control, or influence (the symbol rulers).

Submit a short essay of approximately 250 words with your evaluation of this “tension.” Do you agree with the premise that this is a concern to be concerned with? If so, provide examples in which someone attempted to rule your symbols. If you don’t agree that this “tension” exists or represents a serious concern, explain why you feel it isn’t.

To submit the assignment, look to the Submit Assignment link to the upper right. You can type your answer into the edit window or copy/paste from another program. You may also submit a media comment or attach a link.

Optional Activities for Module 5

Audio Resources

The National Public Radio (NPR) program, On the Media, provides a weekly update on stories related to journalism, advertising, and general interest topics pertinent to all forms of media, including the Internet. These recent segments relate to the Module 5 content.

Another NPR program, The Diane Rehm Show, has also produced several programs recently related to journalism, advertising, and the brain.

Articles

Paper/Video Presentation

I prepared the following video presentation and paper for a graduate psychology course titled “Biological Basis of Behavior.” Our textbook was Principles of Neural Science by Eric Kandel, James H. Schwartz, and Thomas M. Jessell.

What Difference Does it Make? Implications of Neuroscience for Education

What difference does it make?

When I applied to the Educational Psychology graduate program last year, I explained that my academic interests were focused on the question, “Are educational practices consistent with cross-disciplinary knowledge?” As I progressed through the program curriculum, I narrowed the scope of my “cross-disciplinary” objective to consider how the latest findings in neuroscience might inform educational theory and practice. The purpose of this paper is to provide an initial report regarding: 1) underlying attitudes or premises about how we think about the brain; 2) six findings from neuroscience that relate to learning; and 3) the consequences or implications of those findings, or what difference does neuroscience make for education?

How we think about the brain, mind, and all things psychological (constructs, behaviors, motivations, etc.) is dependent upon a critical underlying premise. That premise can be stated as a choice between accepting the notion of dualism, which differentiates the substance of “mind” from that of the brain, or rejecting dualism to instead ascribe functions of “mind” to the biological organ of the brain. This paper reflects the point of view of two Nobel laureates, Francis Crick and Eric Kandel, who reject the mind|brain dualistic dichotomy. Each ascribes the behaviors and functions of what are generally attributed to the “mind” to the brain (Crick, 1994; Da Cunha, 2009, Episode 1). In other words, from a scientific orientation, the brain exists as a biological entity whereas what we refer to as “mind” does not exist in a biological sense. The “mind” is more appropriately thought of as “the behavior of our brains” (Crick, 1994, p. 7) or “a series of functions carried out by our brains” (Da Cunha, 2009, Episode 1). Many people who do not consider themselves “scientific” may object to the boldness of this premise and counter with the argument that there must be more than just the brain to account for our thoughts, ideas, intuitions, etc. However, if one purports that position, one must be able to offer a competing theory or explanation — if not in the brain, where? From a scientific perspective, therefore, the hypothesis that “it’s all in the brain” provides a useful and appropriate attitude for understanding these six findings.

1. The brain is continually changing and, in a global sense, learning.

Anytime you engage in what is usually referred to as “learning,” you are also engaged in changing your brain. Virtually every experience you have and every behavior you exhibit results in some level of neural activity that causes structural, chemical, and electrical changes in your brain. Kandel notes that this ongoing change activity results in intellectual growth and also accounts for the impressive degree of plasticity exhibited by the brain in recovering from certain types of damage, injury, and disease (Da Cunha, 2009, Episode 1).

2. The brain constructs your sensory experiences of the world.

From a common sensical view point, we can easily lapse into the conventional understanding that we see and hear exactly what’s there to be seen and heard. We feel that our senses capture whatever sources may stimulate our attention — our eyes see, our ears hear. We accept easily understood analogies such as our visual system is like a camera and our hearing is like a tape recorder.

However, we now know that such common sensical feelings and analogies are naïve and mistaken. The “seeing” and “hearing” that we attribute to our eyes and ears is really the result of the brain processing sketchy and limited data of the outside world that is sensed, captured, and transmitted to the brain. The brain forms the experiences that you become aware of by taking this incomplete sensory data, looking for patterns that match previous experiences, making inferences to fill in the holes of missing data or unexpected patterns, before integrating the different inputs into a unified awareness.

Jeff Hawkins likens the activity in the brain (specifically the cortex) to a densely-packed network of fiber optic wires with a million points of contact. As incoming sense signals enter the brain to be processed, imagine the activated fiber optic network changing its illuminated patterns every millisecond. The patterns changes in both spatial and temporal dimensions and those changes, according to Hawkins, constitute the “currency of the brain … That’s what your brain works on. And believe it or not … your perception of the world is … really a fabrication of your model of the world. You don’t really see light or sound. You perceive it because your model says this is how the world is, and those patterns invoke the model” (J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Committee, 2009).

Christof Koch uses a visual demonstration to illustrate the effect known as afterimage. After staring for about twenty seconds at four brightly-colored squares (red, green, yellow, and blue) projected onto a screen, the image on the screen is suddenly changed and the viewer sees four different pastel colors — for a few seconds, then the viewer realizes that the image on the screen is actually four identical gray squares. The viewer has experienced an afterimage resulting from the visual system’s inability to immediately adjust to new input. Koch makes the point that what you see can be influenced by what you have just seen, and what you have just seen may cause you to not accurately see what is presented before you now. He concludes from this demonstration that, “ clearly this naive, realistic view that there’s a world, there’s my head and this simple mapping, it can’t be true” (J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Committee, 2005).

3. The brain includes a continuously-running simulator that anticipates motor behavior.

Have you ever tried to assist a waiter, burdened with a full tray of food and drinks, by taking your order from the tray, only to be rebuffed by the waiter who insists, “No thanks, I’ve got it.” Daniel Wolpert refers to this situation in a demonstration he calls the “waiter task,” which illustrates how the brain directs a simulation capability that operates in anticipation of motor behavior (Da Cunha, 2009, Episode 3). He explains that since the feedback capability in the motor system responds relatively slowly (about 250 milliseconds), for tasks that require much quicker responses (like hitting a tennis ball) the brain simulates the action and anticipates or predicts the response. So the brain anticipates the action of the muscles as well as the feedback returning to the brain in response to the action. When your waiter is holding the full tray, his motor system is controlling his muscles and exerting the proper force to suspend the tray. If you reach out and remove your drink, the waiter’s visual system and motor system brain cannot accurately estimate exactly when the weight and balance of the tray is going to shift. So depending on the particulars of how the tray is loaded, your good intentions to help may cost you and your fellow diners another thirty-minute wait, and your waiter a tray load of orders. But the waiter’s own brain simulation can anticipate exactly when his left hand is going to remove your glass from the tray such that the tray remains securely stable on his right hand.

Another brain capability related to both motor and sensory systems was identified by the discovery of mirror neurons by Italian neuroscientist Giacomo Rizzolatti. He observed that when an object such as a banana was offered to a laboratory monkey, the monkey reached for it, which triggered the firing of a certain neuron in the monkey’s brain. But Rizzolatti also discovered that a second monkey, who simply observed the first monkey reach for the object, also registered the same neuron firing in his brain. Rizzolatti isolated this “mirroring” activity to a particular type of neuron he called “mirror neurons.” In humans, these neurons are believed to play a pivotal role in one person being able to feel empathy for another. Rizzolatti also suggests they are necessary for the human ability to imitate others, enabling the perpetuation of rituals, traditions, and ultimately cultures (Da Cunha, 2010). Moreover, Kandel says there is evidence that mirror neurons may allow a child to more rapidly acquire language skills by watching the movement of the mother’s mouth as she speaks (Da Cunha, 2010, Episode 4).

4. The brain responds to stimulation, even when the stimulation is artificial.

The phenomenon known as “phantom limb” occurs when a person feels pain in the location of a limb that has been amputated. The patient experiences pain, but the attributed source of the pain is literally not there. This phenomenon manifested in a patient of neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran, causing the patient excruciating pain in his phantom right hand. Ramachandran suspected that the brain might be trying to communicate through the motor system to the right hand, but in the absence of feedback from the phantom hand, the brain continue to send commands that could not be executed by the missing hand. He wondered if he could trick the patient’s brain by providing a visual illusion that provided apparent feedback. To test his hunch, Ramachandran constructed a simple box with an open top and two holes in the side in which the patient could insert his good left hand and the nub of his right arm without the amputated hand. In the center of the box, Ramachandran mounted an upright mirror such that the patient could look down at the mirror and see the reflection of his left hand, as if it were his right hand. The mirror illusion was powerful enough to fool the patient’s nervous system and the phantom pain went away, suggesting that “even pain can be a construct of the mind” (NOVA, 2001).

5. To focus attention on one thing, the brain actively suppresses attention elsewhere.

In researching the ability of the human visual system to track a moving object, neuroscientists have discovered two different types of neurons. One type of neuron focuses attention on the object, while the other works to actively suppress the background surrounding the object in order to further highlight the object. Neuroscience researchers, authors, and amateur magicians Stephen L. Macknic and Susana Martinez-Conde report that this mechanism has been exploited by magicians in the many ways in which they distract and misdirect their subjects’ attention in order to accomplish their ‘magical’ illusions (Macknic, Martinez-Conde, & Blakeslee, 2010).

6. Some language habits, such as grammar, take years to develop.

Using EEG imaging, researcher Helen Neville has shown that both adults and children as young as six years old can listen to a story and detect errors of meaning or words that don’t make sense within 200 milliseconds, localized in the posterior of the cortex. When the story narration includes grammatical errors, such as saying words in the wrong sequence or reversing nouns and verbs, adults can detect the errors even more quickly (within approximately 100 milliseconds) in a localized area on the left frontal lobe. However, the response of children to grammatical errors is slower and dispersed over a wide area of the cortex. Neville suggests that it may take 10-15 years for children to fully develop their grammatical recognition capabilities. She notes that this localized area in the left frontal lobe is adjacent to an area that appears to be critical to tool use and sequential planning: “It’s possible that one aspect of language is closely tied to tool use, especially this kind of action planning and sequencing that we have to do in order to talk” (THIRTEEN, 2010).

Researchers such as Patricia Kuhl have concluded that early exposure (prior to age 7) to non-native languages is critical for a child to most efficiently develop non-native language proficiency. She also suggests that language learning is strongly dependent upon the development of social learning skills that babies acquire when they are nine to ten months old. Studies indicate that babies of that age who are exposed to non-native phoneme sounds in the presence of others have no trouble discriminating those sounds. However, babies who are exposed to non-native phonemes from a television set do not learn to discriminate (Da Cunha, 2010, Episode 5).

Given these six findings, what difference does knowledge from neuroscience make — or could make — in educational theory and practice?

Beginning with the most general implications, two seem foundational for teachers, administrators, and policy makers. The first is that the brain(or all brains in the plural) is not a black box. Although neuroscientists would be the first to admit that much remains to be discovered and learned, much is known at present. Authority figures within education can no longer be content to cling to theories and practices based solely on speculative theories, observational studies, and “common sense.” Secondly, they should consider themselves as brain changers. To best teach, they must understand how the brains of children (and adults) change (or learn) in response to myriad environmental stimulations. Educational theory should most fundamentally be based on the fact that the brain naturally seeks to learn. Rather than thinking of education as the dispensing or depositing of “knowledge” into a child’s mind, formal education or schooling could be viewed as a socially-desirable means to guide the child’s natural brain development (learning) in a direction consistent with cultural and social ideals.

We should also recognize that even though we talk about “the brain” in generalized, or even universal, terms, each individual brain is unique. So while we can appropriately generalize about “the” brain’s anatomy, function, capability, and limitations, we should be aware that each brain is different and unique due to effects of genetics, environment, and life experiences.

At the level of the individual, this attitude of difference-within-similarity should become internalized within each child from the beginning of the formal educational process. Each child should develop an informed sense of how he/she is similar to others, but also that he/she is also different from others and unique unto him/herself. Each child should develop a sense of “to-me-ness” that acknowledges the sensations, feelings, descriptions, and experiences of “the world” he/she is aware of are created by his/her own nervous system. Each person experiences “the world” differently, no matter how similar our descriptions of our experiences of that world are.

Educational practitioners should help the individual exploit the learning capabilities inherent not only in the sensory system, but also the motor system. Combining these capabilities with those of mirror neurons, it seems clear that instructional techniques should not rely exclusively on cognitive activities, but also incorporate the manipulation of tools, instruments, and other aids, as well as watching and imitating behavioral models. While such techniques may be common in grades K-6, there is no reason why they should not continue to be effective even for adult learning. Particularly for learning non-native languages after age seven, watching a speaker may significantly facilitate learning over simply listening to the speaker.

The final implication to be made in this paper, and the most specific, applies to the development of individual language habits. If the conclusions from Helen Neville’s research are correct — that it takes years for a child to develop proficient grammatical recognition and localization — it seems logical to devote significant study to determine what kinds of grammatical structure are important to process and evaluate experiences, rather than adherence to grammatical standards that have evolved arbitrarily. Two practical examples of language habits that deserve study in this regard are to reduce reliance on to be verbs (is, am, are, was, etc.) and absolutistic terms (all, every, none, perfect, etc.) Such practices logically result from the “to-me-ness” of individual experience and the limitations of our imperfect nervous systems.

Teller, the normally mute half of the Penn & Teller magic act, makes his living by exploiting the facts, foibles, and limitations of the human nervous system. Like his fellow magicians, his on-stage objective is not merely to entertain the audience, but to lead them to the realization that “it’s really hard to understand the world” (Randall, 2011). For educational practitioners, their objective should be to make it easier for their audience to understand the world. Without a fundamental understanding of neuroscience and how “the” brain effects learning change, educators risk propagating misunderstandings of the world and, by extension, the individuals in that world. Therefore, whether or not educators embrace and incorporate the findings of neuroscience is indeed a difference that makes a difference.

References

Crick, F. (1994). The Astonishing Hypothesis: The scientific search for the soul. New York, NY: Touchstone.

Da Cunha, C. (Director). (2009) Episode 1 of the Charlie Rose Brain Series: The Great Mysteries of the Brain. In Rose, C. ( Host and Executive Producer), & Vega, Y. (Executive Producer) The Charlie Rose Show. New York, NY. Charlie Rose LLC.

Da Cunha, C. (Director). (2009) Episode 2 of the Charlie Rose Brain Series: Visual Perception. In Rose, C. ( Host and Executive Producer), & Vega, Y. (Executive Producer) The Charlie Rose Show. New York, NY. Charlie Rose LLC.

Da Cunha, C. (Director). (2009) Episode 3 of the Charlie Rose Brain Series: The Acting Brain. In Rose, C. ( Host and Executive Producer), & Vega, Y. (Executive Producer) The Charlie Rose Show. New York, NY. Charlie Rose LLC.

Da Cunha, C. (Director). (2010) Episode 4 of the Charlie Rose Brain Series: The Social Brain. In Rose, C. ( Host and Executive Producer), & Vega, Y. (Executive Producer) The Charlie Rose Show. New York, NY. Charlie Rose LLC.

Da Cunha, C. (Director). (2010) Episode 5 of the Charlie Rose Brain Series: The Developing Brain. In Rose, C. ( Host and Executive Producer), & Vega, Y. (Executive Producer) The Charlie Rose Show. New York, NY. Charlie Rose LLC.

J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Committee (Producer). (2005) Consciousness: a neurobiological approach (Christof Koch). Available from http://jromc.org

J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Committee (Producer). (2009) Why can’t a computer be more like a brain? (Jeff Hawkins). Available from http://jromc.org

Macknik, S.L., Martinez-Conde, S., with Blakeslee, S. (2010). Sleights of Mind: What the neuroscience of magic reveals about our everyday deceptions. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company.

NOVA. (2001). Secrets of the Mind. Available from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/mind/

Randall, T. (Writer, Director). (2011) Magic and the Brain. In Randall, T. (Producer) NOVA Science Now. New York, NY. PBS.

THIRTEEN. (2010). The Human Spark with Alan Alda. Available from http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=3939596#Details

Module Completion Checklist

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open-checkbox21.png 1.  Did you review the Point of View Survey results, compare them to your own survey, and participate in the Discussion? (50 points)
open-checkbox21.png 2.  Did you read the explanations about Orientations and Environments and Evaluations, Meanings, and Values?
open-checkbox21.png 3.  Did you evaluate your evaluating by reading about Brain Based Evaluating and Your Inner Interpreter?
open-checkbox21.png 4.  Did you evaluate your would-be symbol rulers by viewing The Persuaders, Persuade Shoes, and reading about Response Side Semantics?
open-checkbox21.png 5.  Did you contribute to the Module Discussion? (50 points)
open-checkbox21.png 5.  Did you submit the Module Assignment? (50 points)

 

You’re almost done!

You’re ready to move on to the final module in the course Review and Reflection.

4: Linguistic Relativity

Course Home | 1: What is GS? | 2: Allness | 3: Bypassing | 4: Linguistic Relativity | 5: Symbol Rulers | 6: Review and Reflection


This course was developed and presented on the Canvas Network by Steve Stockdale, Mary Lahman, and Greg Thompson. It is reproduced here under terms of the Creative Commons Share Alike License as published on Canvas Network from 13 January – 24 February 2014.


Map for Module

Spiral Module Overview

In Module 1 we were introduced to the structural differential and the central problematic of General Semantics: the process of abstracting. In this Module, led by Greg Thompson, we will focus on using cross-cultural comparisons in order to provide real world examples of how language affects thought.

The idea that language affects thought has been called the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis or the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis – after linguistic anthropologists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf.

Relativity Effects can be seen in terms of:

  1. Effects of speaking a particular language on how one perceives the world.
  2. Effects of speaking a particular language on how one interacts with the world.
  3. Effects of speaking human language in the first place (sign language counts as a human language!), as opposed to not speaking a human language at all.

In this module, we will be focusing on the first two types of effects, but it should be noted that the third effect of language is exactly what Korzybski was talking about in his concept of time binding. Language is an instrument of time-binding. And written langauge is particularly powerful in this regard. While there are many examples of non-literate cultures passing down traditions through oral language, written language even further expands our ability to transmit knowledge across great distances of time and space (and indeed it is this very work in which we are presently engaged!).

Description of Module

First, we begin with an overview explanation of what we mean by linguistic relativity on the page titled Language, Thought, and Behavior.

In What We Do With Language – And What It Does With Us, Bruce Kodish provides an excellent overview of Linguistic Relativity and its relevance to General Semantics. He effectively rebuts some of the specific criticisms of LRH by Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker.

The module will be focused around a video presentation by University of California San Diego (UCSD) psycholinguist Lera Boroditsky, How Language Shapes Thought. In this engaging lecture, Dr. Boroditsky provides an outline of the general argument of the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis as well as a number of very rich examples of how language could affect how we understand the world around us.

After you’ve viewed the presentation, you can share your Reactions to Lera Boroditsky in a graded discussion.

Next, I explain the Relativity in Linguistic Relativity, focusing on examples of cultural relativity, followed by Implications of Linguistic Relativity.

The module concludes with two graded assignments: 1) a discussion that asks you to share a personal example of how language shaped your thinking; and 2) a short 250-word essay on a controversial cultural practice.

Don’t overlook the Optional Readings page with links to PDF articles you can download.

Thoughout the week, please review and contribute to the Module 4 General Discussion.


I should note that there are serious challenges to doing this kind of cross-linguistic work. First and foremost, we all have very different experiences with language. Some of us are monoglots (like me!), and some of us are bi- or multi-lingual. But there are no two languages that all of us share. This makes it difficult for us to use any two languages for comparison since only a subset of us will know those two languages well enough to understand the examples. This means that we will tend to treat more superficial examples of language effects (e.g. the effects of lexical items in one language vs. another), and will make it difficult to treat more complex examples of language effects (e.g., the effects of grammatical categories).

I am very excited about hearing people’s own personal experiences with bi- or multi-lingualism and what kinds of effects you have observed. So please be sure to participate in the discussions so that we will have some meaty first-hand examples of how speaking a language might affect other aspects of our behavior.

Language, Thought, and Behavior

Structural Differential with Labels

This week we are considering the relationship of language, thought, and behavior. In particular, we consider this using the comparative method. We will look at different languages and how these different languages affect how we think about and behave in the world.

Put slightly differently, this module considers how different maps can map the ‘same’ territory in a potentially indefinite number of ways.

Here we return again to the structural differential as a way of understanding how language functions to interpret the world for us.

We will be focused on the level that is most relevant to the actual formal features of the language that we use, namely the level of Description.

In this module, we will see how the different languages can give us different descriptions of the same reality.

In this unit, we will consider examples taken from a number of different languages that can help us to see how the language we speak can affect how we understand the world around us.

Beyond Eskimos and their 10/100/1000 Words for Snow: The Sapir-Whorf(-Korzybski?) Hypothesis

"100 words for Lawn"

Did you know that suburban white males have over 100 words for ‘lawn’?

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, also known as the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis (LRH), refers to the claim that the language that you speak will affect the way that you understand the world around you. The first to formally forward this hypothesis were Edward Sapir and his student Benjamin Whorf. Although Sapir first formulated the hypothesis, it was Whorf who was most active in researching the claim.

English examples of Linguistic Relativity

I’ll begin the discussion with some of the classic examples from Whorf’s work as a fire insurance claims adjuster. (Yes, Whorf was a leisure-scholar — meaning he had a full time job and studied language in his free time. Note that this is a point that many of his detractors cite as evidence that he wasn’t a serious scholar. Based on what you’ve learned so far, is this a reasonable inference? Perhaps it would be better to actually read his work and then decide?)

In his work as an insurance claims adjuster, Whorf was responsible for looking into the origins of fires (ostensibly so that the insurance company see if there was justification for them to not pay out the claim). In his line of work, it was generally accepted that one need only look into the physical situation in order to understand what “caused” the fire. Yet, in his work, Whorf came to the belief that it was not just the “physical situation” that caused the fire, but that the meaning of the situation was critical, and that, more specifically, the linguistic meaning or the label applied to the situation was critical to understanding the cause of the fire. Below are some of his examples.

  1. People working around “gasoline drums” will be extremely careful and cautious while people working around “empty gasoline drums” will not. The sense that they are “empty” suggests that they pose no harm. And thus, as Whorf discovered, a worker may with no concern, flick a cigarette stub into one of these “empty gasoline drums.” The results are, well, explosive. This, it turns out, is because “empty gasoline drums” in fact contain highly explosive vapors.
  2. At another plant, metal containers were insulated on the outside with “spun limestone”. Seeing that it was “limestone” (i.e., “stone”), workers made no attempt to protect it from heat or flame. Yet, it turned out that this material reacted with the chemical fumes inside to produce acetone, a highly flammable liquid. Thus, when these “stone” lined containers were exposed to flame, much to everyone’s surprise, the “stone” caught fire.
  3. A tannery discharged waste water containing animal matter into an outdoor basin partly roofed with wood. A workman working nearby lit a blowtorch with a match and then threw the match into the “pool of water.” Anyone want to guess the results?

Each of these examples show how the linguistic meaning of the situation can be seen to have very important, and perhaps even dire, consequences for participants involved. (Whorf is not clear as to whether anyone was hurt in these fires…)

Cross-linguistic examples of Linguistic Relativity

Consider the oft-quoted example of Eskimos and their words for “snow” that Whorf mentions in his paper titled “Science and Linguistics.”

It is interesting that the snow example is actually given as an elaboration of another point that nobody ever seems to talk about, the fact that the Hopi have one word for “insect”, “aviator”, and “airplane”. The point here is that if a Hopi speaker were to be walking through, let’s say, an airport and if she were to be looking out the window at an airplane at which point she saw a fly buzzing around a window just as she passed an “aviator” (i.e. a “pilot”), she would say that she just saw three of the “same” thing.

This is much like the non-skiing American for whom powder, slush, and crusty snow are all the “same” thing (I qualified that as “non-skiing American” because skiers have different terms for snow – and more importantly, they engage with those different categories of snow quite differently, often to the point of even having different types of skis for different types of snow).

Whorf’s point is that, for the Eskimo, these are not the “same” thing. One substance is good for making igloos (“hard-packed snow”), another is good for walking on (“ice-covered snow”), and another is generally a pain in the rear end (“powder”). But, for the Eskimo each of these different types of snow are, as Whorf says, “different things to contend with.” Having a different name for each of them tells an Eskimo what exactly it is that they are contending with.

So the next time someone says that the Eskimo have over 100 words for snow, after you have helped them understand how this is false-to-facts (11 seems a more plausible number), you can then tell them that the Hopi have only one word for “insect”, “aviator”, and “airplane”. That should blow their mind.

What We Do With Language – What It Does With Us

The article below by Bruce I. Kodish, Ph.D., presents an excellent overview of the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis (or Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis) and its relevance to General Semantics. He effectively rebuts some of the specific criticisms of LRH by Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker.

This article was published in ETC: A Review of General Semantics Volume 60 Issue 4. It also constitutes Chapter 10 in his 2003 book, Dare to Inquire (available on Amazon).

If you prefer to download the PDF version, click: What we do with language – what it does with us

Neuro-Linguistic Relativity

Dare to Inquire CoverA particular view of language relates to the applied, evaluational approach of general semantics. Language is intertwined with behavior, consciousness, etc. It has a neurological base; that is, language doesn’t exist entirely separately from nervous systems-persons using the words. By means of spiral feedback mechanisms, we create our language; our language affects us; we create our language; etc., ongoingly. This individual process is embedded in, influences and is influenced by, a particular culture and community of others.

This view, “linguistic relativity,” has a history in western culture going back at least several hundred years to the work of Vico and von Humboldt and more recently to linguistic anthropologists Franz Boas, Edward Sapir, and Benjamin Lee Whorf, among others.

For those who espouse linguistic relativity, what we call ‘language’ and ‘culture, ‘consciousness’ and ‘behavior’ develop and operate together through individual and group experience. (Since they do not function in complete isolation from each other, although they can be considered separately, I put the terms in single quotes here.) Linguistic anthropologist Michael Agar has coined the term “languaculture” to label the joint phenomenon of language-culture. How do these factors work together?

Without denying cross-cultural similarities among humans, the principle of linguistic relativity implies that, as Whorf scholar Penny Lee wrote:

…although all observers may be confronted by the same physical evidence in the form of experiential data and although they may be capable of “externally similar acts of observation”… a person’s ‘picture of the universe’ or ‘view of the world’ differs as a function of the particular language or languages that per­son knows. (1)

Korzybski and Keyser independently and earlier formulated similar notions in relation to undefined terms, logical fate, etc. As you may recall, they contended that the culturally inherited structure of an individual’s language, including his or her terminology, grammar, logic, doctrines, etc., relates to assumptions, premises, implications about the structure of ourselves and the world.

In Science and Sanity, Korzybski hinted at the practical implications of this structure even within a particular, apparently ‘unified’ languaculture:

We do not realize what tremendous power the structure of an habitual language has. It is not an exaggeration to say that it enslaves us through the mechanism of s.r [semantic or evaluational reactions] and that the structure which a language exhibits, and impresses upon us unconsciously, is automatically projected upon the world around us. (2)

Various distorted versions of this view have come to be known as the “Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis,” an academic abstraction which does not label anything that Sapir or Whorf ever put forward as a hypothesis on their own. (The principle of linguistic relativity which they did put forward can be interpreted in various ways and may lead to many different hypotheses.) Some scholars have pursued their own distorted interpretations and made a strawman rendering of Whorf’s views.

As you might imagine, much controversy has been generated by the various versions and responses to them. I consider this controversy important to examine in some detail in Dare to Inquire, due to the centrality of linguistic relativity in general semantics. I discuss the general-semantics view in the course of going into various other versions.

Language and Thought

According to psychologist Steven Pinker, both Whorf and Korzybski pre­ sented linguistic relativity as a single-valued, absolutistic and uni-directional belief that “language determines thought.” (3) This “strong version” (and ‘weaker’ ones as well) of the supposed Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is “wrong, all wrong” (4) claims Pinker (widely accepted as an expert in linguistics and psychology).

Actually, neither Whorf nor Korzybski posited a ‘language’ entirely isolated from human behavior-in-a-culture as the sole, one-directional, single­ valued determinant of some separable entity called ‘thought.’ According to both men, ‘language,’ ‘thought’ (more accurately, neuro-evaluational processes), ‘behavior,’ and ‘culture’ do not function separately but rather as elements within a gestalt (a unified whole) where they mutually interact in multi-dimensional and probabilistic ways.

In saying that ‘language’ does not function separately from ‘thought,’ I do not mean to imply, as Pinker does, that either formulator claimed that there is no ‘thought’ without ‘language.’ Whorf, at the very least, qualified this and Korzybski denied it.

Neither did they deny the possibility of inborn and ‘universal’ language­ related processes, more or less impervious to cultural modification. Neverthe­ less, the thrust of their work suggests that language has important aspects modifiable through learning. Through neuro-linguistic (a term originated by Korzybski) processes, our language use helps create modifiable neuro­-evaluational, neuro-linguistic environments, i.e., cultures, which can change and grow through time-binding. We not only do things with ‘language,’ ‘language’ does things with us.

The general-semantics view of linguistic relativity appears unique among other versions of linguistic relativity for several reasons. First is its explicit neurological emphasis. Using general-semantics language, we can talk more accurately in terms of neuro-linguistic relativity:

Even a gramophone record undergoes some physical changes before words or noises can be ‘stored’ and/or reproduced. Is it so very difficult to understand that the extremely sensitive and highly complex human nervous system also undergoes some electro-colloidal changes before words, evaluations, etc., are stored, produced, or reproduced? (5)

Before his untimely death, Whorf appeared to be struggling toward such an explicit neurological formulation as well. (6)

A second point which distinguishes general semantics from many other views of linguistic relativity is its focus on an individual’s language behavior or use as it relates to his or her evaluative (roughly ‘cognitive’) processes. The term “language” as neurocognitive linguist Sydney Lamb has noted, does not necessarily stand for one thing. Using a device suggested by general semanticists, Lamb indexes language(1), language(2), language(3).

..when we look closely we can see that it [“language”] is used for a number of quite distinct collections of phenomena selected from the kaleidoscopic flux, including especially these three: (1) language as a set of sentences (e.g. Chomsky) or utterances (Bloomfield); (2) language as the system that lies behind such productions; (3) language as linguistic processes, as in the title of Winograd’s Language as a Cognitive Process (1980). (7)

A given general language(1) system such as English, French, German, etc., can have within it distinguishable dialects (regional variations) and registers (professional and group variations, such as the language of physicians, etc.). Individual speakers or writers of a given language(1) will have unique particular variations within the more general system — which may include their vocabulary, logic, metaphors, doctrines, etc. Language(2) includes the neuro­linguistic processes by which we generate language(1). A large part of human evaluative processes relates to language behavior or use, i.e., language(3). We learn how to do things with words in a social context in order to negotiate our lives with others—and with ourselves. Language(3) has become an area of increasing academic interest in recent years, as for example in discussions of “thinking for speaking” and “speech acts.” General semantics especially focuses on language(3)—how an individual’s evaluative processes relate to their language(1) generated from the neurological processes involved in language production, language(2) .

A third factor that distinguishes general semantics from other forms of linguistic relativity is its specific attention to practical implications and applications—even within the boundaries of a particular, apparently ‘unified’ languaculture. Whorf, who died in his forties, noted but was not able to elaborate much on the more practical implications of linguistic relativity. On the other hand, general semantics focuses on ways in which individuals can become more aware of the effects of their language and its implicatory structure for ill and for good.

“Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never harm me,” goes a saying from my childhood. On the contrary, neuro-linguistic factors, i.e., words with the associated neuro-evaluative processes in each of us, can play a harmful, sometimes quite toxic role in our lives—especially if we remain unconscious of their implications.

We have particularly good access to our linguistic behavior, which appears modifiable to some degree. This is not any form of word magic. We’re interested in the underlying implications and orientation reflected in the structure of language. These involve our evaluational (semantic) reactions, including so-called verbal ‘thinking,’ as well as non-verbal ‘thinking,’ ‘feeling,’ behaving, etc. By becoming more aware of our language and its implications, we can nudge our orientation to get closer in line with so-called ‘facts.’

The Chomskyite Protest

The theory of Noam Chomsky has dominated linguistic studies in the United States for decades. Chomsky has consistently argued for the universal, innate and unlearned structure of human language. Building on Chomsky’s work (focusing on language(1), Steven Pinker has proposed that the structure oflanguage, i.e., grammar, etc., comes primarily by means of what he calls a “language instinct” determined by genes.

This chomskyite approach has now begun to show serious wear with little positive results for the claim that “language is an instinct.” (This failure has serious implications for the more general program of “sociobiology” or “evo­ lutionary psychology” as well) Linguist Geoffrey Sampson has done an especially thorough job of analyzing the inadequacies of chomskyite views. Sampson has concluded that:

…there are some universal features in human languages, but what they mainly show is that human beings have to learn their mother tongues from scratch rather than having knowledge of language innate in their minds. Except for the properties that lead to that conclusion, languages are just different (except that they probably do all contain nouns and verbs) … (8)

It seems that Dante had more or less the right view when he wrote in his Paradiso:

Tis nature’s work that man should utter words,

But whether thus or thus, ’tis left to you

To do as seems most pleasing. (9)

Nonetheless, the great popularity of the chomskyite program has probably prevented many people from taking Whorf’s and Korzybski’s work more seriously. To those who believe that most of language structure gets determined genetically, the differences between different linguistic groups can in some sense be considered trivial. If one accepts Pinker’s claim that in its most significant aspects “language is not a cultural artifact,” (10) then attention to language use cannot be used to affect human perception and behavior in the way general semanticists and others claim it can.

I decided to closely examine Pinker’s dismissal of linguistic relativity in his book The Language Instinct, to see if there was anything there that would require me to revise my own views. The lack of substance in his arguments surprised me. Pinker’s presentation does not seem notable for its accuracy and fairness regarding opposing views. It illustrates how someone nominally functioning as a scientist can block the way of inquiry. As Lamb noted, “Those who doubt that language can influence thinking are unlikely to be vigilant for the effects of language on their own thinking.” (11)

Non-Verbal ‘Thinking’

Pinker states that “General Semantics lays the blame for human folly on insidious ‘semantic damage’ to thought perpetrated by the structure of language.” (12) Pinker finds this something to scoff at. However, Korzybski did not talk or write in terms of ‘blame’ or of ‘thought’ and ‘language’ so elementalistically.

A more accurate rendering of a general-semantics view of ‘language’ and ‘thought’ states that the structure of a language, with its associated neuro­ semantic (evaluative) reactions —in each of us, at a given time, among other factors—affects our ongoing behavior, perception, evaluating, etc., for good and ill. Pinker may be unable to understand the nuances of this view because, as a good chomskyite, he lacks the linguistic consciousness that would allow him to stop objectifying the abstract terms ‘language’ and ‘thought’ as if they represented isolated entities in the world.

Despite his inaccurate description of general semantics, Pinker does correctly conclude that general semanticists find some support for their views in Whorf’s work. Unfortunately, Pinker also incorrectly concludes that linguistic relativity must imply that “thought is the same thing as language” (13) and writes at great length to refute this. However, his efforts here have no relevance whatsoever to either Korzybski’s or Whorf’s actual views. Neither claimed that “thought is the same thing as language.” In fact they both directly denied this while not eliminating the importance of what Penny Lee calls “linguistic thinking” (Lamb’s language(3)).

In Korzybski’s case, as I have already emphasized, the term “semantic(s)” in general semantics implies “evaluation” and does not typically refer to “just words” despite the usage of those ill-informed about general semantics. Evaluation refers to happening-meanings, i.e., ‘thinking,’ ‘feeling,’ verbal and non-verbal organism-as-a-whole transactions within an environment. Indeed, Korzybski stressed the importance of non-verbal formulating within his understanding of neuro-linguistic behavior, noting that silent contemplating and visualization can allow us to take in and develop fresh information, relatively unbiased by verbal ruts.

Basic Color Terms

Pinker also makes much of the “basic color term” research of Berlin and Kay, and of Rosch, as disproof of whorfian-korzybskian views. (14) Even though different languacultures have differing numbers of color terms, there does seem to exist a rough, cross-cultural sequence of those colors which get labeled first, second, third, etc. In addition, people across different cultures may tend to pick particular focal colors as the best examples or prototypes for a particular category. Although at least some of this work has flaws in both its data collection and interpretation, it does lend support to the notion that some aspects of language may depend upon the biologically based perceptual equipment of humans across cultures. This doesn’t, by the way, prove that some gene or genes are directly responsible for specific, observable language behaviors. Trial-and-error empirical learning may still play a role even in the development of color terms, however biologically based. (Note that “based” does not equate with “solely determined by.”)

Despite Pinker’s and other chomskyites’ attempts to make this an either-or issue, any research which shows the possibility of some cross-cultural, biological basis for some of the terms we use does not actually challenge the notion oflinguistic relativity. Neuro-linguistic relativity held non-absolutely has no inherent conflict with some degree of non-absolutist neuro-linguistic universalism, which may have some more or less direct biological basis.

Hopi Concept of ‘Time’

Unfortunately Pinker doesn’t play fair when it comes to discussing these issues. His representations of linguistic relativity cannot be relied upon for accuracy. For example, he uses selective quotes to ‘prove’ that Whorf made “outlandish claims” that the Hopi Indians were “oblivious to time” and did not have tenses in their language. (15) Although Whorfs analysis of Hopi languaculture may not be entirely flawless, a comparison of Pinker’s claims about it and what Whorf actually wrote results in very different pictures.

It seems clear from a full, non-selective reading of Whorfs work that he recognized the importance of how the Hopi languaculture clearly deals with durations and times. Whorf did not deny that the Hopi have used dating or calendars, counted the number of days or duration of events, etc. What he did claim was that the Hopi did not conceptualize “space or time as such” in the reified manner that we do in English and other Indo-European languages. This has been corroborated by others who have lived within and studied Hopi language and culture, such as anthropologist Edward Hall.

Eskimo Snow

In his crusade to show how linguistic relativity is wrong, Pinker doesn’t seem to mind descending to personal attack either. A common “urban legend” claims that Eskimo language has hundreds of different words for snow. By connecting Whorfs work to this popular claim, Pinker suggests that Whorf was party to a hoax. According to Pinker, from a report of four Eskimo words for snow made by Boas in 1911 “…Whorf embellished the count to seven and implied that there were more. His article was widely reprinted, then cited in textbooks and popular books on language, which led to successively inflated estimates in other textbooks, articles and newspaper columns of Amazing Facts.” (16)

Whorf actually wrote that English had one word for snow and Eskimo had three. Whorf used data that he had available at the time of this writing (1940) to emphasize that: “Languages classify items of experience differently. The class corresponding to one word and one thought in language A may be regarded by language B as two or more classes corresponding to two or more words and thoughts.” (17) To say that Whorf embellished anything here distorts what he said. Whorf does not have responsibility in any way, as Pinker tries to suggest, for other people’s exaggerations and misinterpretations. This constitutes pure name-calling and has no basis in fact. (18)

Experimental Evidence for Linguistic Relativity

Studies to deliberately test one or another interpretation of linguistic relativity have gone on for at least a half-century. This research remains an area of great contention and, despite the claims of chomskyites to some sort of victory, their efforts to declare linguistic relativity “bunk” don’t stand up to analysis. Pinker and others have attempted to downplay the significance of tests that corroborate the notion that words can in some sense have an effect on memory or categorization. However, the evidence hardly seems “weak.” The results of these tests have sometimes surprised researchers who didn’t necessarily favor linguistic relativity.

In one set of classic studies, subjects were shown colored chips. The colors varied in their codability, how easily an individual could apply a color label or name from his or her language to a chip. The chips were then removed, mixed up and shown again to the experimental subjects, who were asked to pick out the chips they had been shown before. The more easily labeled, more codable chips, appeared more available. In other words, the subjects had a better memory for, and could pick out, the more easily labeled chips, even though they could also remember colored chips without names. (19)

Pinker briefly mentioned and pooh-poohed the significance of another study about which the experimenters concluded that the habitual categories of speakers’ languages could indeed influence their color-categorizing behavior. (20) One of the researchers, Willett Kempton, later wrote:

A simple experiment, clear data, and seeing the Whorfian effect with our own eyes: It was a powerful conversion experience unlike anything I’ve experienced in my scientific career. Perhaps this all just goes to affirm Seguin’s earlier quote, as applying to us as both natives and as theorists: “We have met the natives whose language filters the world—and they are us.” (21)

Neuro-Linguistic Revision

Do this simple experiment. Have a friend select a number of newspaper headlines of similar size. Find a distance at which the friend can hold the headlines so that you cannot make out what they say. At this distance, when your friend tells you what an unfamiliar headline reads, the headline will probably ‘pop out’ at you.

This experiment provides a literal demonstration of neuro-linguistic revision. It illustrates how your linguistic maps may have a visible effect on what you ‘perceive,’ respond to, etc. Indeed, to a great extent we react to what goes on around us as a function of the linguistic maps that we hold. In other words, we often appear to react to our neuro-linguistic reactions.

To the extent that the structure of our language fails to adequately map the non-verbal territory, we may ignore important ‘facts’ or respond to fictitious entities created by our way of talking. We do well to become aware of and, when necessary, change the structure of our language in order to create more adequate linguistic maps. The languages of science and mathematics not only provide another worldview but also serve as models for the kind of linguistic behavior that can help us improve our evaluative abilities. They provide especially powerful means for helping us to fit our language to the non-verbal world.

This doesn’t mean that we can create a language that perfectly matches the world. Quite the reverse: our representations remain that; never exactly the same as what we’re representing. Does it follow from this that we waste our time when we try to tidy up language, to make it more structurally in keeping with the structure of the non-verbal world? Surely not!

On the contrary, if our representations have properties not shared by the thing represented, or vice versa, we need to look at that. It indicates a lack of fit or structural similarity between our mode of representation and what we wish to represent. This lack of fit can lead to problems and should be put right to the degree possible. We can study other languages and linguistically expressed viewpoints, including the language of science and mathematics, to expand our ‘perceptions’ and ‘conceptions’ of the world.

Neuro-linguistic relativity provides another way of understanding logical fate. Its significance relates not only to different ‘languages’ as convention­ ally understood, i.e., English, Hopi, Tarahumara, etc. (languaget), but also and perhaps even more importantly to the “linguistic” behavior of each individual (languageJ). The words we use, the sentences we say, the logic we apply, the doctrines we espouse, insofar as they are done in language, must be produced and affect us through neuro-linguistic (languagez) mechanisms.

If we do not understand these mechanisms, we are more likely to misuse them and/or to become misused by means of them. The faith-based mass-murderers of September 11, 2001 probably screamed “Allahu Akbar” (Arabic for “God is Great”) as they killed themselves and thousands of others. They could not have done what they did without their particular language-based evaluations. Their actions inevitably required neuro-semantic, neuro-linguistic mechanisms and influences in order to occur.

Training in the system of GS provides an explicit language of evaluation. This language and its associated evaluative (semantic) reactions make our own neuro-evaluative, neuro-linguistic mechanisms more codable and thus more available for each one of us to consciously control. Semiotics pioneer Charles Morris wrote:

The work of A. Korzybski and his followers, psycho-biological in orientation, has largely been devoted to the therapy of the individual, aiming to protect the individual against exploitation by others and by himself. (22)

General Semantics can help us understand the basic mechanism through which this neuro-evaluative, neuro-linguistic control occurs. Out of this understanding, suggestions for practice follow including the use of neuro­ linguistic devices which can influence perception and behavior in less unsane/insane and more positive, inquiry-oriented directions.

Notes

  • Penny Lee 1996, p.87
  • Korzybski 1994 (1933), p.90
  • Pinker 1994, p.58
  • Ibid, p.57
  • Korzybski 1994 (1933), p.xl
  • Whorf, p.239
  • Lamb 2000
  • Sampson, p.136
  • Qtd. in Vossler, p.235
  • Pinker 1994, p.18
  • Lamb 2000
  • Pinker 1994, p.57
  • Ibid, p.57
  • Ibid, pp.61-63
  • Ibid p.63
  • Ibid, p.64
  • Whorf, p.210
  • Pinker gets his ‘information’ about this from original research by anthropologist Laura Martin (Martin, 1986) and an article on Martin’s work by Geoffrey Pullum, entitled “The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax.” Martin’s conclusions were later challenged by Stephen 0. Murray. The term ”hoax” implies a conscious act of deception. Pullum and Pinker abuse Martin’s research. They have no actual evidence of conscious deception by Whorf or his colleagues.
  • Agar, pp.69-71.
  • See P. Kay and W. Kempton, “What is the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis?” This research is discussed in Lakoff 1987, pp.330-334.
  • Kempton. Also see Alford, Minkel, and Nisbett and Norenzayan.
  • Morris, p.283

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Agar, Michael. 1994. Language Shock: Understanding the Culture of Conversation. New York: William Morrow and Company.

Alford, Dan. 1980. “A Hidden Cycle in the History of Linguistics.” In Phoenix, vol. 4, numbers I& 2. Available at http://enformy.com/dma-2.htm.

Hall, Edward T. 1984. The Dance of Life: The Other Dimension of Time. New York: Anchor.

Kay, Paul and Willett Kempton. 1984. “What is the Sapir-WhorfHypothesis?” Ameri­can Anthropologist 86 (l) March.

Kempton, Willett. 1991. “Whorf and Color.” Lingua List Newsgroup, Subject 2.700, Oct. http://www.umich.edu/-archive/linguisticsllinguist.list/volume.2/no.651-700.

Korzybski, Alfred. 1994 (1933). Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non­ Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics. Fifth Edition. Preface by Robert P. Pula. Brooklyn, NY: Institute of General Semantics.

Lakoff, George. 1987. Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lamb, Sydney M. 2000. ”Neuro-Cognitive Structure in the Interplay of Language and Thought.” In Explorations in Linguistic Relativity, Edited by M. Piitz and M. Ver­ spoor. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjarrilns Publishing Company. Also avail­able at http://www.ruf.rice.eduHambllt.htm.

—-. 1998. Pathways of the Brain: The Neurocognitive Basis of Language. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Lee, Penny. 1997. “Language in Thinking and Learning: Pedagogy and the New Whorfian Framework.” Harvard Educational Review Fall 1997: 430-471. Cambridge, MA.

—-. 1996. The Whorf Theory Complex: A Critical Reconstruction. Amsterdam/ Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Martin, Laura. 1986. “Eskimo Words for Snow: A Case Study in the Genesis and De­ cay of an Anthropological Example.” American Anthropologist 88 (June): 418- 423.

McNeil, David and Susan D. Duncan. 1998. “Growth Points in Thinking-for-Speaking.” Cogprints at http://cogprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/archive/ 00000664/.

Minkel, J. R. 2002. “A Way with Words.” www.scientificamerican.com/explorations/ 2002/032502language/.

Morris, Charles. 1946. Signs, Language and Behavior. New York: Prentice-Hall.

Murray, Stephen 0. 1987. “Snowing Canonical Texts.” American Anthropologist 89 (June): 443-444.

Nisbett, R. E. and A. Norenzayan. 2002. “Culture and Cognition.” In D. Medin and H. Pashler (Eds.), Stevens’ Handbook of Experimental Psychology, Third Edition, Volume Two: Memory and Cognitive Processes. New York: John Wiley & Sons. Article available at Richard Nisbett’s website: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~nisbett/index.html.

Pinker, Steven. 1994. The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language. New York: Morrow.

Pullum, Geoffrey. 1991. The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax and Other Irreverent Essays on the Study of Language. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Sampson, Geoffrey. 1997. Educating Eve: The ‘Language Instinct’ Debate. London: Cassell.

Slobin, Dan. 2001. “Language and Thought Online: Cognitive Consequences of Lin­guistic Relativity.” Draft Version. http://ihd.berkeley.edu/slobin.htm.

Vossler, Karl. Trans. by Oscar Oeser. 1932. The Spirit of Language in Civilization. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.

Whorf, Benjamin Lee. ed. by John B. Carrol. 1956. Language, Thought & Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf. Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press.

How Language Shapes Thought

Dr. Lera Boroditsky is now professor of psychology at the University of California, San Diego. At the time of this presentation, she was at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. One of the leading researchers studying linguistic relativity, in this engaging lecture sponsored by The Long Now Foundation, she brings together numerous examples of research on linguistic relativity, both her own and that of others.

The YouTube video is embedded below. The entire video is one hour forty-one minutes long. You may want to watch it in multiple viewings. Here is a time guide that may be helpful:

  • 0:00 Introductory video about Words (interesting, but not directly relevant)
  • 3:50 Stewart Brand’s introduction of Dr. Boroditsky (Stewart Brand published The Whole Earth Catalog from 1968-1972)
  • 5:08 Dr. Boroditsky’s presentation begins
  • 1:09:45 Question & Answer period
  • 1:41:11 End

If you would prefer to watch the video directly on YouTube or with a YouTube mobile app, copy/paste this link: http://youtu.be/cPGpZp1pfQQ

If you cannot view the video below, try this alternative link.

After viewing the video presentation by Dr. Lera Boroditsky, “How Language Shapes Thought,” select two examples of how language affects thought that you found most convincing (or most memorable) and explain your selections.

You will not be able to see others’ responses until you post yours.

Relativity, not determinism

One of the most important things to understand about the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis is that it is not about “determinism”. The argument is not that your thought is “determined” by the language that you speak – as is implied by George Orwell’s classic book 1984.

Rather, as Dr. Boroditsky noted in her lecture, the argument for determinism has been de-bunked. Rather the argument is that the language you speak will affect how you come to know the world around you. This is an important distinction because it means that it is indeed possible to understand people of different languages and cultures.

Relativity in Physics

As should be obvious from its name, Linguistic Relativity was related to the then emerging Theory of Relativity, which was also quite influential for Alfred Korzybski’s thinking. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity poses a serious problem to the way that most of us think about the world. Most of us think of the world as a thing that is always the same for all observers. And yet Einstein’s theory tells us that perspective matters.

This point is not so simple as the classic parable of the blind men touching different parts of an elephant and insisting that they are all touching something different. That is a worthwhile point, but Einstein’s theory goes much further than this.

The theory of relativity predicts that both time and mass change with relative velocity as you approach the speed of light. Thus, the closer you come to the speed of light, relative to some observer, the slower will be the passage of time for you in relation to those you have left behind (this has been demonstrated with atomic clocks on the space shuttle). Similarly, as you approach the speed of light, your mass will appear to an observer to have been foreshortened or compacted in the direction of travel.

Thus, if we were to take the elephant example, if a person is riding an elephant that is moving near the speed of light with respect to some other person, then the person riding the elephant (and the elephant herself) will experience time passing more slowly compared to an observer at rest. What’s more, the elephant will appear to be considerably compacted to that observer at rest.

So what?

The upshot of all this is that Physics has come to the understanding that your frame of reference matters quite significantly for the reality that you perceive.

Linguistic and cultural relativity took this idea into the realm of social life – noting that one’s frame of reference matters considerably when one is trying to understand the meaning of a given cultural practice. Or, to put it in a slightly different idiom, in order to understand a part (e.g., a practice within a culture), one must first grasp the whole (e.g., the culture’s system of meaning).

We have already seen some excellent examples of how language can affect our understanding of the world. Next I turn to how our cultural frames of reference can have a rather considerable affect on our understanding of the world – and with very serious consequences!

Cultural Relativity

As an anthropologist, cultural relativism is an important principle. But before anyone think that I am some kind of moral relativist, let me clarify what I mean by this. Cultural relativism, as I practice it, involves adhering to the principles of General Semantics that have been outlined thus far in the course. Most fundamentally, it involves holding off on semantic reactions until one has fully understood the situation and what it means for those involved. Below I will consider two rather charged examples of this kind of thing that have been hotly debated (what might this suggest?) in the media. But first a word on cultural relativism.

Cultural relativism, for me, is a methodological concept. That means that it involves how I go about understanding a situation. Thus, with methodological cultural relativism, one would want to suspend one’s judgment of a situation until one has a good grasp of the situation. This does not mean that one can never say what is good or bad. That is what is known as moral relativism. Rather, methodological cultural relativism (or just “cultural relativism”) involves exploring the conditions in what some other practice exists before making a judgment about whether or not that practice is good or bad.

“Bride Kidnapping” in Kyrgystan

To take an example, consider the practice of “bride kidnapping” in Kyrgystan. Watch this 20-minute video on the PBS website. (As you watch, remember that videos are representations of the world that already involve a lot of labeling and inferencing – i.e. only a few examples are shown to us, so we are already at a disadvantage. At the same time, this particular video is, at least, an interesting representation of the practice.)

Initially, the very label “bride kidnapping” suggests a practice that is cruel. And yet, watching the video, you begin to wonder if, perhaps, what they are doing is not quite the same thing as “kidnapping.” Often the kidnapping is arranged ahead of time between families, and it seems that the bride can be “in on it”. Further, it is important to know that the practice exists b.c. some families cannot afford to pay the necessary bridewealth (money paid from the husband’s family to the wife’s family). “Bride kidnapping” is the practice that these families must resort to if their sons are going to be married at all.

Thus, to offer another interpretation of the practice that may be true of at some or many of these cases of what is called “bride kidnapping”, it may be that these so called “kidnappings” are well known by the bride-to-be and even agreed upon by her (although this is not always the case in the video). It may be the case that, even if she wants to marry the man (or at least is not opposed to it), she must behave in a way that shows that she is not going easily because that would be disrespectful both to her family  since they would not be receiving a bridewealth payment and potentially degrading to her b.c. for her to willingly accept would suggest that she is not worth a bridewealth.

Note that it could still be the case that some or most, or even all, of the cases of “bride kidnapping” are actually instances where the woman is randomly snatched off the street by force and it is done against her will. The point is not to conclude that if one instance of the practice turns out harmlessly, then all instances of the practice are harmless, or that one can never be critical of another culture. Rather, the point is that deciding whether or not the practice is problematic will necessarily involve more than just relying on the label “bride kidnapping”. Instead, we need to take a scientific perspective, understand the situation and the relevant cultural frame of reference and then decide.

Female Genital Mutilation / Female Circumcision

A second example, that we can consider in slightly more detail is the example of the practice referred to as “Female Genital Mutilation” or “Female Circumcision”. We can see right from the get-go how labels really matter. The difference in English between “mutilation” and “circumcision” is dramatic. Whereas the former implies a grotesque and perhaps torturous act, the latter is a common cultural practice that has been widely accepted for male babies in the U.S. and elsewhere for quite a long time. So, then, we have a very practical problem at hand, for the purposes of this module, how should I refer to the practice?

For this module, I find “female circumcision” (or just FC) to be a less loaded term as compared to “female genital mutilation”. This keeps open the possibility that some may find that “female circumcision” is a despicable practice (perhaps similar to how some view male circumcision). Using the term “mutilation” makes it difficult for one to take the contradictory side – I mean, who would say “I support a cultural group’s right to mutilation”? Alternatively, one could imagine saying “I support a cultural group’s right to circumcision”. So, FC it is.

The debate over FC is a rather intense and hotly argued one. The politically correct position (in the U.S. at least) has been to oppose the practice. This is argued on the grounds that the practice is:

  • oppressive to women
  • evidence of male domination
  • is an attempt by men to reduce the sexual pleasure of women

I suspect that most who live in the U.S. have at least heard of this debate and have probably come to the conclusion that it is indeed a despicable practice.

And indeed, at this point, it would be difficult to imagine that this practice could be understood in any other way (particularly if we have heard it called “female genital mutilation”). And yet, on the other side of the issue, there are those that argue that this conception of the practice is a gross misunderstanding.

One rather striking example comes from anthropologist Fuambai Ahmadu, an anthropologist who received her PhD from the London School of Economics). In an essay entitled “Rites and Wrongs: An Insider/Outsider Reflects on Power and Excision“, Dr. Ahmadu writes of her own experience of female circumcision. As a woman from Sierra Leone living in the U.S., at 22 years of age, she chose to go back to Sierra Leone to be circumcised – as was standard part of entry into “womanhood” for Sierra Leonean women. As Ahmadu describes her experience of the practice, it was almost exactly the opposite of what most Americans think of the practice. First, it was a practice that was performed solely by women. This was an important part of the ritual because it involved the women removing themselves from the community to undertake the practice away from the men. Second, she argues that it was, for her, not at all a sign of patriarchal power (i.e. the power of men) but rather was a realization of the power of women because the practice could only be performed by women and because the practice involved getting rid of a kind of bodily maleness and becoming more fully female Finally, she argues, and further medical research supports her on this point, that her experience of pleasure during sexual activity was not affected by the fact that she was circumcised.

If you have now read the article and my explication, perhaps you are beginning to be convinced that this might not be the horrific practice of male domination that we thought it to be.

And as with “bride kidnapping”, following the principle of non-allness would mean that just because one instance of a practice was shown to be acceptable this does not mean that we should conclude that all instances are acceptable. But it at least opens us to the possibility that this practice might mean something different to the people who are undertaking it than it means to us.

If you are interested in further reading on the topic, here is a link to an article by Richard Shweder, an anthropologist who has addressed the topic in some detail (and he is quick to acknowledge that he may not be the best person to discuss it since he is a white, Western, male! But the article gives more historical and social perspective on the debate around the practice).

Implications of Linguistic (and cultural) Relativity – here and now

In addition to these implications for cultures around the globe, there are those who have begun to explore the role of relativity within our own culture. One standout in this regard is Carol Cohn’s study of defense intellectuals (click to download).

Although she was generally opposed to many of the policies that emerged from the world of defense intellectuals, Cohn decided that she wanted to study them in order to better understand their frame of reference. Although she saw their policies as inherently irrational, she sought to understand  To this end, she conducted ethnographic research where she became a participant observer in a community of defense intellectuals.

She found that these defense intellectuals had a different language that they would use to describe the act of war. For example, as many Americans will recognize, defense intellectuals don’t speak of “accidental death” caused by bombs but rather, they refer to “collateral damage.”

Examples abound in weapons and war talk. Missiles intended to kill people are called nuclear missiles with up to 400 times the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima are called “Peacekeepers”, bombs that kill people by explosive power rather than radiation are called “clean bombs”, and devices attached to missiles to help them go further into their target are called “penetration aids.” And this is where things take an interesting turn that makes one wonder What is this bomb-talk really all about? Back to that in a moment.

Cohn was particularly interested, as any good ethnographer or good GS thinker would, in figuring out how it is that people can talk this way without even noticing that they are doing it. How can people talk about killing people in terms that make it sound like a game of cricket. What she describes is that, as she becomes increasingly indoctrinated into the culture and the language of defense intellectuals, her thinking begins to change. As she writes:

“But as I learned their language, as I became more and more engaged with their information and their arguments, I found that my own thinking was changing. Soon, I could no longer cling to the comfort of studying an external and objectified ‘them.’ I had to confront a new question: How can I think this way? How can any of us?” (Cohn 1987, p. 488).

Cohn’s method of approach here is very much the kind of open-mindedness that one needs to do be a good ethnographer. Just as with the examples of “bride kidnapping” and “FGM/FC”, one needs to begin from a place of non-allness by acknowledging that the seemingly irrational acts that other people are engaged in may not be as irrational as they seem to us. Key to gaining this understanding is understanding their frame of reference. And most important to a frame of reference is the language that is used.

So what then does the language used by defense intellectuals mean?

Here is a passage from an earlier article of hers on defense intellectuals that should give us some clues as to what else might be involved in the bomb and missile talk of defense intellectuals (and note that this was recorded in the mid-80’s well after feminist critiques of weapon-as-phallus had been made – a point that Cohn was particularly struck by since nobody she observed using this language seemed at all aware of this interpretation of their language):

“Another lecturer solemnly and scientifically announced ‘to disarm is to get rid of all your stuff.’ (This may, in turn, explain why they see serious talk of nuclear disarmament as perfectly resistable, not to mention foolish. If disarmament is emasculation, how could any real man even consider it?) A professor’s explanation of why the MX missile is to be placed in the silos of the newest Minuteman missiles, instead of replacing the older, less accurate ones, was ‘because they’re in the nicest hole–you’re not going to take the nicest missile you have and put it in a crummy hole.’ Other lectures were filled with discussion of vertical erector launchers, thrust-to-weight ratios, soft lay downs, deep penetration, and the comparative advantages of protracted versus spasm attacks–or what one military adviser to the National Security Council has called ‘releasing 70 to 80 percent of our megatonnage in one orgasmic whump. ‘ There was serious concern about the need to harden our missiles and the need to ‘face it, the Russians are a little harder than we are.'”

Now, thinking about this in terms of general semantics, we would want to better understand what kinds of semantic reactions might come from making these kinds of associations between armaments and masculinity? (I could get more specific here with terminology, but that would be impolite). Cohn suggests one possibility: “if disarmament is emasculation, how could any real man even consider it?” Whether or not this is precisely what is going on here is certainly up for debate. But it nonetheless raises some interesting questions about whether or not this type of language might not be making the world a much more dangerous place than it really needs to be.

You may want to visit Cohn’s website for more.

Once again, we see that choice of language can potentially have very serious consequences.

Personal Examples

Indicate whether you are mono-lingual (English-only, in this case), bi-lingual, or multi-lingual, and tell us which languages you speak. Then provide an example from your own life where language proved particularly consequential.

For bi- and multi-lingual speakers

This could be an instance where there was a problem with translation from one language to another. Or, it could be a general experience that you have of feeling like you are one kind of person when speaking one language and an altogether different type of person when speaking another language. Or, it could be a difference that you experience in your ability to think about particular topics in one of the languages that you speak (assuming that this isn’t just a matter of insufficient vocabulary).

For mono-linguals

Describe some domain in which you had to learn a new set of terms (e.g. a job specific language or perhaps a mathematical language). How did learning that new set of terms affected how you understood the behavior that you were engaged in?

You cannot see others’ replies until you’ve posted your own.

Module 4 Assignment

Pick a controversial issue that you have heard practiced in another culture and do some web research in order to better understand the cultural frame of reference within which that practice is understood. By “controversial,” we mean an issue that is considered normal when seen from another culture’s frame of reference but which may not be seen as normal or acceptable from your own or someone else’s cultural frame of reference. Pay particular attention to the way language and labels encourage you to see the issue in a particular cultural frame of reference.

Here is a short list of some possible controversies:

  • eating dogs in some countries
  • Muslims chopping off hands of thiefs
  • Americans with guns
  • Americans with the death penalty
  • female genital mutilation
  • honor killings
  • arranged marriages
  • death penalty for gays

Write a short essay (250 words or less) describing what you learned from your research. You can type in the box below, or copy/paste from another application. If you found a particularly helpful online resource, include the link.

Optional Readings

These articles provide additional perspectives on the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis.

Benjamin Lee Whorf

John A. Lucy

Carol Cohn

Fuambai Ahmadu

Module Completion Checklist

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open-checkbox21.png 1.  Did you complete the readings about Linguistic Relativity?
  • Language, Thought, and Behavior
  • What We Do With Language – What It Does With Us
  • Relativity
  • Implications of Linguistic Relativity
open-checkbox21.png 2.  Did you view the Lera Boroditsky video presentation?
open-checkbox21.png 3.  Did you post your reactions to the Boroditsky presentation? (50 points)
open-checkbox21.png 4.  Did you contribute to the Personal Example discussion? (50 points)
open-checkbox21.png 5.  Did you submit your Module Assignment? (50 points)

 

Great!

You’re ready to move on to Module 5: Who Rules Your Symbols?

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3: Bypassing

Course Home | 1: What is GS? | 2: Allness | 3: Bypassing | 4: Linguistic Relativity | 5: Symbol Rulers | 6: Review and Reflection


This course was developed and presented on the Canvas Network by Steve Stockdale, Mary Lahman, and Greg Thompson. It is reproduced here under terms of the Creative Commons Share Alike License as published on Canvas Network from 13 January – 24 February 2014.


Module Map

AandA-border-350.jpgIn Module 2 we discovered the contributing factors and correctives for allness. In Module 3, we will continue to apply what we have learned about General Semantics to build more effective language behaviors.

Mary will lead this module based on excerpts from her PDF textbook, Awareness and Action. These excerpts can be read within the Canvas pages so it’s not necessary to download the PDF textbook. Because minor changes have been made to accommodate the online format and module numbering, we prefer and recommend you read the pages from within Canvas to complete the assignments. But you are welcome to download and read the complete Awareness and Action textbook.

Module Learning Objectives

After successfully completing this module, students will be able to:

  • Identify the GS premise that explains bypassing.
  • Explain the contributing factors to bypassing.
  • Explain why we why would we make the assumption that words mean the same to us as they do to another.
  • Identify the correctives needed to combat bypassing.
  • Explain how we can become sensitive to the contexts in which others are using words.

Module Activities

This week we will learn how to use GS principles to avoid bypassing. You will:

  1. Complete the module reading, excerpt from Chapter 5, Bypassing, from Awareness and Action.
  2. Watch another Lee video in which he explains bypassing.
  3. Review basic aspects of verbal awareness.
  4. Watch an episode of the Twilight Zone series titled “Word Play.”
  5. Analyze character behaviors from a sample Case Study.
  6. Participate in a Discussion related to bypassing.
  7. Choose one other Case Study for further analysis (from Cases 3.1, 3.2, or 3.3).
  8. Complete the module quiz.

 

Chapter 5: Bypassing

Missing Each Other With the Words that We Choose

In communicating with others, we often focus on the message instead of the person with whom we are interacting. We focus on words because we believe meaning is in the word. We forget Korzybski’s premise that “a map is not the territory” (the word is not the thing). Moreover, we must learn specific language behaviors needed to address bypassing, because as Anton proposed, “there is no not territory.”

Use the following questions and slides to guide your reading (excerpted from Chapter 5 in Awareness and Action, pages 47-52) and viewing of the Twilight Zone episode entitled “Word Play,” all on this page.

  1. Why would we make the assumption that words mean the same to us as they do to another?
  2. How can we become sensitive to the contexts in which others are using words?
  3. Are there situations where doublespeak might be ethically defensible? Why?
  4. What did you learn from watching the Twilight Zone episode entitled “Word Play”?

 

It is precisely because each of us sees and experiences the world differently that language becomes our most important means for coming to some kind of agreement on our individual experiences, on how we see the world.  — William Lutz (1989, p. 6)

DEFINITION: BYPASSING

The map–territory analogy resonates because people know that any given map cannot represent all of its territory. Additionally, we know that because maps are self-reflexive, we confuse levels of abstraction. Now, we will discover that we still can miss each other’s meanings because we forget that a map is not the territory it represents: “If we reflect upon our languages, we find that at best they must be considered only as maps. A word is not the object it represents” (Korzybski, 2000, p. 58).  The map represents the assumptions and experiences of the mapmaker. This section explores what happens when people do not recognize that meaning is in the mapmaker (person), not the map (word).

How many people can remember being sure that they understood what a teacher meant by “summarize the article” but later discovered that our interpretation of “summarize” and the teacher’s interpretation were very different? Haney (1992) explained this phenomenon as bypassing: “the listener presumably heard the same words that the speaker said, but the communicators seem to have talked past each other” (p. 268). The listener and speaker act as if the words mean the same thing to each person, but their interpretations are different. Similarly, communicators can use different words to refer to the same thing: some call a soft drink “soda,” whereas others refer to it as “pop.”  Miscommunication often results because these assumptions are faulty and go unnoticed.

When I tell students that there will be a “quiz” during the next class period, I receive few inquiries concerning the nature of the assessment. Students might ask what material will be included on the quiz, but rarely do they ask about the number or type of questions, and how the score will impact their final course grade. Many times, because quizzes are used to judge comprehension of material not mastery, there is little impact on final grades. We miss each other’s meaning because we do not check the meaning each person intended, even if we are using the same words.

Consequently, we need to explore contributing factors that lead to bypassing. Once we discover why we do not routinely inquire about others’ meanings, we will be challenged to build new habits, such as paraphrasing and exploring contextual clues.

You may want to refer back to the Consciousness of Abstracting-Evaluating page in Module 1 to review bypassing in the context of other behaviors to be aware of.

CONTRIBUTING FACTORS: BYPASSING

Haney (1992) suggested that bypassing is caused by two assumptions: words have mono-usage and they have meanings. First, we operate under the assumption that words have mono-usage when we forget that words have more than one meaning. Haney (1992) advocated for “learning about the prevalence of multiusage in our language . . . [so we] will anticipate that words can readily be understood differently by different people” (p. 274). He noted numerous examples of “word coinage,” the invention of new word with acronyms, such as “AIDS” (p. 275), and of “usage coinage,” the new use of existing words, such as “high” (p. 277).

Similarly, Haney (1992) challenged readers to find words that were used in only one way: “for the 500 of the most commonly used words in our language there is aggregate of over 14,000 dictionary definitions!” (p. 274). Regional variations and technical jargon encountered daily compound this conundrum. How many times have you been unable to understand medical terminology used by a physician?  Do conversations with a plumber and car mechanic make any more sense? How many people can follow the political jargon used to debate the national debt?

With a better understanding of multiuse language, we recognize that the assumption, words have meaning, also is inaccurate. We know from our understanding of general semantics that the “map is not the ‘territory,’ so there is no not territory,” so it follows that meaning in the person, not in the map (word). Similar to the inference–observation confusion, people take an uncalculated risk when they assume understanding based on words and nonverbal cues.

Moreover, we must remember that each person is operates from a particular cultural context. According to Hofstede (1984), cultures vary in how they manage power differences, are tolerant of ambiguity, value the individual or collective, and emphasize assertiveness or nurturance. Therefore, we may miss each other with meaning because we do not understand differences in attitudes and beliefs. As Morreale et al. (2007) explained:

In collectivist cultures, collective goals take priority over individual goals. People in collectivist cultures such as Japan, China, and Korea may find it hard to speak up and offer their opinions in a group setting, especially if those views are contrary to the group’s majority opinion.  Their sense of loyalty precludes them from voicing dissenting opinions and disrupting the group. (p.64)

Finally, when people use language with intent to miscommunicate, they are guilty of “deliberate bypassing” (Haney, 1992, p. 286). Lutz (1989) called this phenomenon “doublespeak”: language that avoids or shifts responsibility . . . that conceals or prevents thought” (p. 1). Doublespeak is used to mislead and deceive. Lutz has written several books and many articles about forms of doublespeak that are used by organizational and political leaders; in particular, he identified four forms:

  1. Euphemism: “an inoffensive or positive word or phrase used to avoid a harsh, unpleasant, or distasteful reality” (p. 2).
  2. Jargon: “the specialized language of a trade, profession, or similar group” (p. 3).
  3. Gobbledygook: “a matter of piling on of words, of overwhelming the audience with words, the bigger the words and the longer the sentences the better” (p. 5).
  4. Inflated language: “designed to make the ordinary seem extraordinary; to make everyday things seem impressive; to give an importance to people, situations, or things that would not normally be considered important; to make the simple seem complex” (p. 6).

Unfortunately, we find many examples of doublespeak in politics, business, and education. For instance, when leaders use “collateral damage” to describe civilians who die in warfare and “re-engineering” to describe layoffs, they are employing euphemisms to mislead the public involved. Similarly, when administrators use jargon and long sentences, they may be trying to obfuscate, not elaborate. These examples motivate us to confront bypassing in personal and professional contexts.

CORRECTIVES: BYPASSING

Similar to the previous patterns of allness and inference–observation confusion, we recognize that we cannot fully eliminate bypassing. However, the following correctives will prevent as much bypassing as possible. These actions must become a habit, an immediate response during a communication event.

Be Person-minded, not Word-minded

Do you ever find yourself arguing with friends over silly questions? It might be that you are not at odds about the facts involved but merely disagreeing about the “label” that each person gives those facts. For example, when you consistently arrive 15 minutes late for family dinners, some members may interpret your behavior as disrespectful of “family time,” whereas other family members think that it is fine to disregard a cultural norm of being punctual.

We often forget that words are meaningless symbols until someone attaches meaning to them. One of my favorite ways to demonstrate the arbitrary nature of language is to watch the Twilight Zone episode, “Wordplay,” which can be found on YouTube. In the “Wordplay, Episode 1,” the main character, Bill, quickly discovers that the words people use do not make sense in the context in which the words are normally used. For example, as Bill leaves for work, the neighbor refers to their dog, which just had puppies, as an “encyclopedia.” When Bill gets to work, a customer discusses celebrating 17th wedding “throw rug,” meaning, of course, a 17th wedding “anniversary.” Later in the episode, when a colleague and Bill’s wife both refer to “lunch” as “dinosaur,” Bill knows that he has entered the “twilight zone.” As “Wordplay, Episode 2” unfolds, however, Bill painstakingly communicates with his family by focusing on the people and contexts, not the words being used.

In real life, people who are aware that meaning resides “in the person” are less concerned with dictionary definitions and are more attuned to what senders mean in different contexts. If we clarify that we are using words in the same way as those with whom we communicate, we are being “person-minded.” For example, imagine how it would feel to interact with someone whose first priority is to understand what you mean by “down time.” Instead of assuming that you want to read a magazine and then take a nap, he or she would understand that cleaning might energize you more than reading and napping.

Query and Paraphrase

Curious people find it easy to be person-minded. Unlike those who are sure that they know what others mean, inquisitive individuals are more worried about learning than whether others perceive them as being intelligent. Many college professors and business managers agree with Haney’s (1992) conclusion that asking thoughtful questions will earn the respect of superiors because questions show “interest and a sense of responsibility” (p. 290).

Similarly, if we paraphrase—using our words to summarize a speaker’s message and to clarify the accuracy of our interpretations—we are being person-minded. If you have tried to accurately summarize what another person’s directions, you know the time-consuming nature of this process. However, when you avoid getting lost because you have paraphrased well, ultimately, you might save time and build supportive communication climates.

Be Approachable

In addition to remembering to query and paraphrase, we must do all we can to be receptive to others’ ideas and behaviors. Haney (1992) recommended asking the following question each day: “Am I genuinely receptive to feedback, and do I continually communicate my receptivity to others?” (p. 293). This means paying close attention to messages that we might be unintentionally sending, both verbally and nonverbally. Researchers note the importance of nonverbal cues for mutual understanding: we need culturally appropriate occulesics (use of eyes), proxemics (use of personal space), and haptics (use of touch), in addition to effective vocalics (use of voice) and kinesics (use of body) for the various settings in which we communicate (Morreale et al., 2007).

Perhaps by identifying what makes other people approachable in various contexts, we can incorporate such verbal and nonverbal skills when interacting with others. Moreover, we could solicit feedback from those we trust. If someone suggests that lack of eye contact makes us seem “unapproachable,” we could purposefully monitor our connections with others, especially if we are living and working in the United States, where providing good eye contact is a sign of caring and respect.

Be Sensitive to Contexts

Haney (1992) proposed that the “surrounding words (verbal context) and the surrounding circumstance (situational context)” (p. 295) provide the clues needed to prevent bypassing. We know this to be true in educational contexts when we discover the meaning of new concepts by noting how they are used in a sentence.

Many of us like the challenge of a good mystery, so we might enjoy being a “language detective,” discovering the meaning in the person and the context. Postman (1976) coined the phrase “stupid talk” to refer to language used by those who ignore contextual cues; it is “talk that does not know what environment it is in” (p. 20). He argued that effective communication includes people and their purposes, in addition to “general rules of the discourse by which such purposes are usually achieved . . . [and that] particular talk actually being used in the situation” (Postman, p. 8). We need to explore whether our language is both appropriate and effective for the context.

Correctives for BypassingBe person-minded, not wordminded — Disagree with the dictionary and agree with the person’s background.

Query & paraphrase — Summarize a speaker and then ask clarifying questions.

Be approachable — Be open to verbal and nonverbal feedback.

Be sensitive to contexts — Be mindful of the situation in which the word was used.

 

SUMMARY

In communicating with others, we often focus on the message instead of the person with whom we are interacting. We focus on words because we believe meaning is in the word. We rely on dictionaries and past experiences to find meaning, instead of being curious about the contexts in which we find ourselves. Moreover, we forget that most of our words have multiple meanings. We are unaware that people might use euphemisms and jargon to mislead.

To implement the premise that “a map is not the ‘territory,’ so there is no not territory,” we must act as if we know that meaning is in the person. We need to be sensitive to contexts in which a person is using a word, carefully paraphrasing answers to clarifying questions. Throughout this text we have learned that additional inquiry can lead to more effective message construction because we cannot possibly know everything about anything and because language is self-reflexive. Even though paraphrasing might be time-consuming at the outset, it builds trust in a relationship, which might save valuable time in the long run. Perhaps we might learn something new and become more approachable in the process.

REFLECTION AND ACTION

1. Document your reflections on these questions in your Personal Journal:

  • How might you teach your supervisor at work about bypassing?
  • Why would we make the assumption that words mean the same to us as they do to another?
  • Are there situations where doublespeak might be ethically defensible?

2. Throughout the week (and the duration of the course):

  • Engage a supervisor, co-worker, or friend at work in a conversation in which you explain the significance of understanding bypassing.

3. Share your insights and experiences with others in the course by participating in the Module 3 Bypassing discussion.

Remember, you won’t be able to see others’ responses until you’ve posted yours.

 

Bypassing-Slide1.jpg

Bypassing-Slide2.jpg

Irving J. Lee from “Talking Sense” on Bypassing

 

If you have trouble viewing YouTube videos, try this as an alternative:

ML-edit-lee-bypass.mp4

 

The basic question is not, “What did a person say?” The question is, “Does what a person says fit the life facts.”

Verbal Awareness

from Chapter 2 of Awareness and Action

Korzybski (2000) argued for a “complete denial of ‘identity,’” an elimination of identification, to help us match the structure of our language to the nonverbal world it represents (p. 10). In other words, we need to challenge our perceptions because, as we learned earlier, what we describe is not what we sense, and what we sense is not what happened. Korzybski was concerned with humans confusing these levels of abstraction: “When humans who are engaged in abstracting identify (confuse) orders of abstracting they are “identifying” . . . [and] identification [becomes] the primary mechanism of misevaluation” (as cited in Pula, 2000, p. 23). Similarly, Chisholm (1945) explained what happens when we confuse levels of abstraction:

What I say about it is what it is

My statement = truth about subject of the statement

WORDS=TRUTH

What I say about anything = what it is (p. 3)

Unfortunately, our nervous systems may prevent us from knowing what “it” is for sure but our language allows us to operate as if words, or labels, represent reality. The need for structural changes in our language is apparent in the following example:

If it is what I say it is, it is perfectly safe for me to guide myself entirely in terms of my verbal formulation. I don’t have to look out at the world again at all because I have in me some words which are equivalent to it.

But what is in the cans in a grocery store is more important than the labels wound around them: if a can containing spinach is by mistake labeled pumpkin, no amount of looking at the label will make the pie of the contents palatable pie for anyone but Popeye. Yet identification behavior equates label and thing labeled, and assumes ican safely guide my reactions by the label. (Chisholm, 1945, p. 3)

Even if we laugh at this fuzzy logic, how many times do we react to labels on a daily basis? Labeling some people as “kind” and others as “rude,” we move through our interactions without an awareness of how people change. This is why some general semanticists advocate for elimination of the verb “to be,” proposing that we write in “E-prime,” avoiding the “is” of identity (Bourland, 1989). Murphy (1992) explained that the verb “is” joins “nouns at different levels of abstraction [Mary is a woman]” and joins “a noun to an adjective that neither completely nor permanently qualifies it [Mary is cold]” (p. 20).

Write a paragraph about your best friend and then check it for forms of the verb “to be.” See how many times you use the “is of identity” to link nouns as if they were identical, on the same level of abstraction (e.g., my friend is a physician). Similarly, how often did you find the “is of prediction,” linking nouns with adjectives as if personality characteristics remain constant (e.g., she is amazing)? Just because I am “outgoing” today does not mean that I will act that way in a few days, let alone in a few years.

Murphy (1992) continued with more problems with the verb “to be”:

. . . the verb makes possible the widespread use of the passive voice, conditions us to accept detours around crucial issues of causality (“Mistakes were made”). It makes possible the raising of unanswerable, because hopelessly formulated, questions (“What is truth?”). It makes possible, too, the construction of a variety of phrases (“As is well known . . .”) that casually sweep reasoning under a rug. One also finds the verb to be pressed into service on behalf of stereotypical labeling (“Scotsmen are stingy”) and overbroad existential generalization (“I am just no good”). These issues aside, semanticists say, the verb to be, broadly “Yet identification behavior equates label and thing labeled, and assumes ican safely guide my reactions by the label.” speaking , imputes an Aristotelian neatness, rigidity, and permanence to the world around us and to the relationships among all things in it—conditions that rarely have a basis in dynamic reality. (p. 20)

Such examples demonstrate the need to scrutinize the verb “to be” in our daily thinking, writing, and speaking.

Consequently, we can fully appreciate the need for verbal and nonverbal awareness in light of the
abstraction process. The following chapters of this text help us to put this general semantics methodology into daily practice. Ultimately, we want to avoid being trapped at higher levels of abstraction and pursuing unattainable goals, the result of which is well described by Wendell Johnson (1946):

In spite of all the prizes he captures, “success” eludes him! It eludes him for the remarkably obvious, but persistently unnoticed, reason that it is merely a verbal mirage. What he seeks to escape is an absolute failure, what he anxiously pursues is an absolute success—and they do not exist outside his aching head. What he does in fact achieve is a series of relative successes; and these are all that he, these are all that anyone, can ever achieve. But in the midst of relative abundance, absolutistic idealists suffer the agonies of famine. (pp. 5–6)

 

Twilight Zone episode, “Word Play”

In order to understand the fallacy that words have meanings, that words are just meaningless variables until someone fixes the variable and chooses to interpret the words in a particular way, watch the following Twilight Zone episode.

Why do people argue over silly questions?  They think they are disputing facts, but they are disagreeing about what name they will give to those facts.

If you have trouble viewing the embedded video below, click here to view the 18-minute episode on YouTube.

Multiple Meanings for “FAST” and “CALL”

Enjoy the following excerpt from William Haney’s 6th edition of Communication and Interpersonal Relations: Texts and Cases (1992, p. 274):

haney-bypassing-examples.jpg

Miscommunication Worksheets

The following worksheets (one completed, one blank) can be used to help recognize patterns of miscommunication, including Allness and Bypassing.

In Column 1, explain with detailed dialogue “who” said “what.”

In Column 2, use the definitions for each contributing factor and then apply it specifically to the dialogue included.

In Column 3, use definitions for each corrective and then apply the correctives to your behavior (it is tempting to want the other person to use the correctives, but they don’t know the correctives like you do!)

Completed Worksheet for Bypassing

Download printable version (pdf)

Worksheet-Example-for-Bypassing-revised.jpg

Blank Miscommunication Worksheet

Download printable version (pdf)

blank-miscomm-worksheet.jpg

 

Bypassing – Sample Case Analysis

Instructions

We can use hypothetical cases to study characters who are unaware of their bypassing behaviors. The cases that follow were developed by students who were familiar with the contributing factors of bypassing, and they created characters with such faulty language habits.

After reading the Allness Sample Case below, Phonathon, explore how Jenny and Professor Burch were exhibiting bypassing behaviors. You can find the contributing factors defined and explained in the second column of Table 3.1 below. Similarly, you can see how each character can use a bypassing corrective.

Bypassing Sample Case:  Soon

Jenny worked hard. She studied weeks before a test to make sure that she was prepared. She stuck to a strict schedule to keep her assignments and classes in order; consequently, she liked to know how she was doing in a course, to see which class needed more time. Professor Burch, her literature instructor, changed his syllabus, switched due dates, and rarely returned assignments. These actions meant trouble for Jenny.

Professor Burch assigned long papers in all his classes; therefore, it often took him several days to return papers. This literature class was one of four courses that he taught during a semester. He had assigned a 10-page paper about Shakespeare in the class that Jenny was taking.

Jenny had stayed up for several nights to complete her work, so she was relieved to be turning in the paper during Tuesday’s class. Turning to Steve, she asked, “Where is your paper?”

“He said he’d accept them by the end of the business day, so I’ll finish mine and then run it to him later,” Steve said. “Professor Burch usually does not stick to due dates unless he specifically says that he will.”

Professor Burch told the class members that he would return their papers soon. Because he said that he would turn the papers back to them soon, Jenny was confident that she would receive her paper the following week. She waited patiently but soon realized that the professor was taking much longer than she anticipated.

[2 weeks later]

Full of nervous energy, Jenny walked into class and headed straight for the professor’s desk. Trying to sound as calm as possible, Jenny asked, “Professor, we still have not received our papers about Shakespeare. When are we going to get the papers back?”

Professor Burch replied, “I am just finishing up the last few grades, so you will be getting them back soon.”

Jenny found a seat next to Steve and grumbled, “I cannot believe that he has not given our papers back.”

Steve calmly replied, “I really do not think it is a big deal. He said that he will give them back soon, so I am sure that we will get them later this week.”

Later that class period, Professor Burch assigned another paper that was longer and worth more points. Not knowing what her grade was for the previous paper, Jenny was unsure how to begin the current one. She would have to go to Professor Burch’s office hours tomorrow. Perhaps he might even have her other paper graded by then.

Character Analysis

A character analysis helps you identify, define, and explain contributing factors for each character. It can be used to define and explain how to demonstrate correctives. The following table illustrates how you might analyze the behaviors of Jenny and Professor Burch in terms of contributing factors and correctives.

Table 3.1

Character Contributing Factor (define, explain) Corrective (demonstrate, define, explain)
Jenny Definition: Word have meanings — The false assumption that meaning is in words, not people.Explanation: Jenny assumes that she and Professor Burch have the same meaning of the word soon. Definition: query and paraphrase — Summarize a speaker and then ask clarifying questions.Explanation: Jenny realizes that the meaning of soon depends on the person, so she asks Professor Burch to estimate the date he hopes to return papers.
Professor Burch Definition: Words have mono-usage —The false assumption that a word has only one meaning. Explanation: Professor Burch is unaware that students have different meanings for soon. Definition: Be person-minded, not word-minded —Disagree with the dictionary and agree with the person’s background.Explanation: Professor Burch recognizes that Jenny is a student who diligently completes assignments, so he gives her a specific date for when he will be done with the grades.

 

Bypassing – 3 Case Studies

Carefully read these three cases. Pay particular attention to the characters whose names are in bold. Following the third case is a list of six characters from the cases. From this list, click on the link for ONE character who will serve as the basis for your next assignment – to recognize contributing factors and offer corrective actions for that character’s bypassing behavior.

Bypassing Case 3.1: Hard Work

Samantha, a junior volleyball player, headed to her weekly meeting with the head coach. Sometimes, these meetings went well; other times, she was scared of what might happen. This coach’s behaviors differed from what Samantha usually expected of a head coach, the coach only interacted with players at individual meetings.  Samantha assumed that this week’s meetings would focus on the team’s performance at the end of the season.

“Good morning, Samantha.  How do you feel about your performance in both games and practices this year?” the head coach asked.

“I think that I worked hard during practice, but I rarely had the opportunity to play in the games.”

“I thought that the amount of time you played during games matched your performances during practice,” answered the coach.  “Do you think that you are going to play next season?”

“I have a heavy course load, and I may need to look for a job or an internship. More important, I believe that I should be rewarded with more playing time for all my hard work.”

“Well, your hard work is appreciated,” explained the coach.  “Regardless of whether you play, I believe that the team could use a good teammate and hard worker like you. You really show the rest of the team how to be a good sport and have a good attitude. We would like to have you on the team, but either way, I wish you luck next year.”

Meanwhile, Kendra, also a junior volleyball player, met with the assistant coach.  Kendra did not care about these evaluation meetings.  Sometimes, she even skipped them simply because she knew that neither coach would punish her.  Because she was the best player on the team, she knew it did not matter whether she tried at practice, as the coaches always played her and she started every game.

The assistant coach inquired, “Kendra, how would you rate your effort in both games and practices?”

“Well, practices never seem important because I start every game. You have my statistics, so you know how hard I work during games.”

“Do you think you will play next year?” asked the assistant coach.

“Of course I’m going to play. I am not sure that the team could win without me. I work the hardest out there,” claimed Kendra.

“Well, those are all the questions I have for you.  Keep your grades up and we will see you next season,” the assistant coach concluded. She sighed deeply as she headed to the next round of player meetings. Someday when she was a head coach, she would definitely address players with bad attitudes.

In the hallway, Samantha and Kendra crossed paths outside of the coaches’ offices and discussed their individual meetings. Samantha rarely enjoyed these interactions, but she decided to ask Kendra about meeting with the assistant coach.

“They want me to play next year. Those silly meetings never mean anything to me.  I told the assistant coach that practice was not important and she did not even get mad.”

“Coach told me they appreciate my hard work at practice. See you next season,” Samantha finished, hoping she would not cross paths with Kendra anytime soon.

 

Bypassing Case 3.2: Volume

Late one weeknight, Trey, a sophomore political science major, had music playing in his dorm room. The walls were thin, so the music bothered his neighbors. The bass sound started to shake the floor, which meant that the ceiling in the room below was vibrating. Trey’s resident assistant, a senior named Calvin, was studying for an important 400-level chemistry exam that he needed to complete successfully to get into graduate school. Another resident, Kyle, had an 8:00 am class the next day and wanted to get some sleep.

Kyle went to Calvin’s room and asked, “Can you have Trey turn his music down? I’m trying to sleep and I have class in the morning.”

Calvin agreed to talk to Trey. Because the loud music was happening during “quiet” hours, Calvin ran upstairs and asked Trey to turn his music down to respect the other residents.

“This is your only warning for the night, Trey. There are other people on this floor besides you,” Calvin reminded Trey. Trey begrudgingly agreed to turn down the music.

On his way back to his room to study, Calvin told Kyle that Trey agreed to turn the music down. Kyle thanked Calvin and went back to bed.

After a couple of minutes, Calvin realized that he could still hear the bass from Trey’s music. He trudged back to Trey’s room and firmly stated, “I thought I asked you to turn that music down. Now, I am going to have to write you up.”

“I did turn it down a notch,” Trey protested.

Calvin looked at the volume dial on Trey’s speakers.  Perhaps Trey had turned down the volume since the previous visit, but it was not enough.

“Considering that your bass still is shaking the floor, you need to turn it way down. I really do not want to write you up. At this hour, you should be the only one who can hear your music,” Calvin concluded.

Trey sighed after Calvin left the room. As far as Trey was concerned, the volume was turned down. He slammed his headphones over his ears. Within minutes, he was swaying to the music, forgetting the whole incident and focusing on political science theory.

 

Bypassing Case 3.3: Light Mayo

On Sunday afternoon, Eliza, a 20-year-old university student, clocked in for her shift at a local restaurant.

Eliza’s manager, Olivia, approached Eliza when she arrived and asked, “Eliza, can you do inventory later tonight?”

Eliza nodded in agreement and started her normal shift as a waitress. She took orders, delivered food, refilled drinks, and bused tables. Eliza knew Olivia expected assigned tasks, such as inventory, to be done before a shift was over. Because it was a Sunday night, Eliza knew that there would be a lot of down time towards the end of her shift.

After the dinner crowd dwindled, Eliza started to head to the backroom to start inventory. Just then, Todd, a regular customer, walked in, and asked, “Hello, Eliza, may I have a chicken sandwich with light mayo?”

“Sure, chicken with light mayo?” She repeated to confirm Todd’s order as she typed it into the computer. Ten minutes later, Eliza served Todd his sandwich and headed for the back room.

Todd took a bite of his sandwich and called for Eliza to come back. “Eliza, I said light mayo, right?”

“Yes, a chicken sandwich with light mayo,” she replied.

“I wanted a chicken sandwich with just a little bit of mayo. I cannot eat a sandwich with all of this mayo,” Todd complained as he pushed the plate across the table.

“I am so sorry. I thought you wanted the brand of light mayonnaise that we use. I will have the cook make you another one.” She headed back to the kitchen to correct the mistake.

“I sure wish that this one would have been right. I have so much work to finish tonight,” Todd muttered. “Have the cook put it in a box for me to take home.” Todd pulled out his phone to check for e-mails and waited.

When Eliza returned with Todd’s sandwich, he snatched it from her and left the restaurant without tipping. Upset about the mistake, Eliza started scrubbing tables. Just then, Cindy, Eliza’s overdramatic friend, rushed into the restaurant. Eliza could only imagine what had happened now. Cindy always had gossip to share, especially when Eliza was at work.

“We need to talk!” Cindy said urgently.

“Can it wait until later? I am work, remember?” Eliza asked.

“But there is no one in here! What do you have to do?” Cindy questioned.

As Cindy was begging her friend to listen, Olivia came from the back of the restaurant and reminded, Eliza, “Make sure you get to that inventory soon.”

“See, Cindy, I have do work to do,” Eliza argued.

“But Olivia said to do that soon, not right now,” Cindy protested. Cindy then took a seat at the nearest booth, rambling on about her crisis “du jour,” unaware that Eliza had stopped listening and started taking inventory.

Assignment

After understanding how to identify contributing factors and apply correctives as demonstrated in the Bypassing Sample Case Analysis, now it’s your turn to analyze a character.

Six of the characters from the three Bypassing cases are listed below. Select just one of them by clicking on the name. You will then be taken to a discussion forum for that character. Re-read the case, then post your character analysis as a Reply. Your analysis should include:

  1. a contributing factor (words have mono-usage, words have meaning) to the character’s bypassing behavior;
  2. an explanation as to how the character exhibited the contributing factor;
  3. a corrective (be person-minded, not word-minded: query & paraphrase: be approachable; be sensitive to context ) specific to that character;
  4. an explanation regarding how the character could use the corrective when interacting with other characters in the case.

Now select one character and proceed to the discussion for that character:

  • Case 3.1 (Hard Work): Samantha
  • Case 3.1 (Hard Work): Coach
  • Case 3.2 (Volume): Trey
  • Case 3.2 (Volume): Calvin
  • Case 3.3 (Light Mayo): Eliza
  • Case 3.3 (Light Mayo): Todd

NOTE: ON THIS PAGE, DO NOT FOLLOW THE NEXT BUTTON. CLICK ON ONE OF THE SIX CHARACTER LINKS.

ASSIGNMENT INSTRUCTIONS – COACH

After understanding how to identify contributing factors and apply correctives as demonstrated in the Bypassing Sample Case Analysis, now it’s your turn to analyze a character. You have selected to analyze Coach.

Re-read the Hard Work case below, then post your character analysis of Coach as a Reply to this topic. Your analysis should include:

  1. a contributing factor (words have mono-usage, words have meaning) to Coach’s bypassing behavior
  2. an explanation as to how Coach exhibited the contributing factor
  3. a corrective (be person-minded, not word-minded; query & paraphrase; be approachable; be sensitive to context ) specific to Coach’s bypassing behavior
  4. an explanation regarding how Coach could use the corrective when interacting with other characters in the case.

The case is copied below for reference. Remember that you will not see others’ responses until you post yours.


Samantha, a junior volleyball player, headed to her weekly meeting with the head Coach. Sometimes, these meetings went well; other times, she was scared of what might happen. This coach’s behaviors differed from what Samantha usually expected of a head coach, the coach only interacted with players at individual meetings.  Samantha assumed that this week’s meetings would focus on the team’s performance at the end of the season.

“Good morning, Samantha.  How do you feel about your performance in both games and practices this year?” the head coach asked.

“I think that I worked hard during practice, but I rarely had the opportunity to play in the games.”

“I thought that the amount of time you played during games matched your performances during practice,” answered the coach.  “Do you think that you are going to play next season?”

“I have a heavy course load, and I may need to look for a job or an internship. More important, I believe that I should be rewarded with more playing time for all my hard work.”

“Well, your hard work is appreciated,” explained the coach.  “Regardless of whether you play, I believe that the team could use a good teammate and hard worker like you. You really show the rest of the team how to be a good sport and have a good attitude. We would like to have you on the team, but either way, I wish you luck next year.”

Meanwhile, Kendra, also a junior volleyball player, met with the assistant coach.  Kendra did not care about these evaluation meetings.  Sometimes, she even skipped them simply because she knew that neither coach would punish her.  Because she was the best player on the team, she knew it did not matter whether she tried at practice, as the coaches always played her and she started every game.

The assistant coach inquired, “Kendra, how would you rate your effort in both games and practices?”

“Well, practices never seem important because I start every game. You have my statistics, so you know how hard I work during games.”

“Do you think you will play next year?” asked the assistant coach.

“Of course I’m going to play. I am not sure that the team could win without me. I work the hardest out there,” claimed Kendra.

“Well, those are all the questions I have for you.  Keep your grades up and we will see you next season,” the assistant coach concluded. She sighed deeply as she headed to the next round of player meetings. Someday when she was a head coach, she would definitely address players with bad attitudes.

In the hallway, Samantha and Kendra crossed paths outside of the coaches’ offices and discussed their individual meetings. Samantha rarely enjoyed these interactions, but she decided to ask Kendra about meeting with the assistant coach.

“They want me to play next year. Those silly meetings never mean anything to me.  I told the assistant coach that practice was not important and she did not even get mad.”

“Coach told me they appreciate my hard work at practice. See you next season,” Samantha finished, hoping she would not cross paths with Kendra anytime soon.

Bypassing Review and Reflection

Write down any thoughts or comments you want to document in your Personal Journal.

William Lutz on Doublespeak

Watch this 1-hour interview with author William Lutz on doublespeak:

http://www.booknotes.org/Watch/10449-1/William+Lutz.aspx

Irving J. Lee from “Talking Sense” on Words

If you have trouble viewing YouTube videos, try this as an alternative:

ML-edit-lee-words.mp4

Optional Activities

  1. Language, Appearance and Reality: Doublespeak in 1984 – by William D. Lutz, as published in ETC: A Review of General Semantics.
  2. The Science and Sanity of Listening – as published in ETC: A Review of General Semantics.
  3. Try the New York Times Dialect Quiz.

Bypassing Discussion

Now that you’ve had some experience studying the contributing factors and correctives for the GS behavior known as bypassing, please share your learning experiences with others in the course by discussing these two questions by replying to this topic.

  1. Explain how you taught bypassing to a friend or relative.
  2. What did you learn about bypassing from this experience?

Remember, you won’t be able to see others’ responses until you’ve posted yours.

After reviewing others’ responses, provide at least one insightful response to a classmate’s post by building on his/her ideas and encouraging further exploration. Avoid simple statements of agreement or disagreement, support or criticsim.

Question 1 5 pts

There are times when doublespeak can be ethically defensible.

There are times when doublespeak can be ethically defensible.
True
False

Flag this Question
Question 2 5 pts

The word is not the object it represents.

The word is not the object it represents.
True
False

Flag this Question
Question 3 5 pts

Cultural context, according to Hofstede, involves just 2 dimensions: power difference and tolerance of ambiguity.

Cultural context, according to Hofstede, involves just 2 dimensions: power difference and tolerance of ambiguity.
True
False

Flag this Question
Question 4 5 pts

When we say “words have mono-usage,” we are operating on the assumption that a word has only one meaning.

When we say “words have mono-usage,” we are operating on the assumption that a word has only one meaning.
True
False

Flag this Question
Question 5 5 pts

Bypassing resonates with which General Semantics premise?

Bypassing resonates with which General Semantics premise?
None of these.
The map is not the territory and there is no “not” territory.
Maps refer to parts of the territory becoming reflexive to other parts at different levels of abstraction.
A map covers not all the territory, so any map is only part of the territory.

Flag this Question
Question 6 5 pts

When you are trying to discover what a word means to another person, which of the suggestions below is NOT a corrective for bypassing?

When you are trying to discover what a word means to another person, which of the suggestions below is NOT a corrective for bypassing?
Query and paraphrase
Be person-minded, not word-minded
Finding definitions in the dictionary
Be sensitive to contexts

Flag this Question
Question 7 20 pts

Match the following terms to their descriptions.

Match the following terms to their descriptions.
Inoffensive or positive word/phrase used to avoid harsh, unpleasant, or distateful reality
A matter of piling on words or overwhelming the audience with words.
Specialized language of a trade, profession, or similar group.
Designed to make ordinary seem extraordinary.

References

Anton, C. (n.d.). A thumbnail sketch of General Semantics. Unpublished manuscript.

Bois, J. S. (1978). The art of awareness (3rd ed.). Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown.

Bourland, D. D. (1989). To be or not to be: E-prime as a tool for critical thinking. ETC: A Review of General Semantics, 46, 546–557.

Chisholm, F. P. (1945). Introductory lectures on general semantics. Lakeville, CT: Institute of General Semantics.

Cooperrider, D. L., Whitney, D., & Stavros, J. M. (2008). Appreciative inquiry handbook: For leaders of change, (2nd ed.). Bedford Heights, OH: Lakeshore.

Covey, S. R. (2004). The 8th habit: From effectiveness to greatness. New York, NY:FranklinCovey.

Elson, L. G. (2010). Paradise lost: A cross-contextual definition of the levels of abstraction. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Haney, W. V. (1992). Communication & interpersonal relations: Texts and cases (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Irwin.

Hayakawa, S. I., & Hayakawa, A.R. (1990). Language in thought and action (5th ed.). New York, NY: Harcourt.

Hofstede, G. (1980). Culture’s consequences: International differences in work-related values. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Institute of General Semantics Seminar. (July 2002). Milwaukee, WI: Author.

Johnson, K. G. (2004). General semantics: An outline survey (3rd ed.). Fort Worth, TX: Institute of General Semantics.

Johnson, W. (1946). People in quandaries: The semantics of personal adjustment. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Kodish, B. (2011). Korzybski: A biography. Pasadena, CA: Extensional.

Kodish, S. P., & Kodish, B. I. (2011). Drive yourself sane: Using the uncommon sense of general semantics (3rd ed.). Pasadena, CA: Extensional.

Korzybski, A. (2000). Science and sanity: An introduction to non-Aristotelian systems and general semantics (5th ed.). Brooklyn, NY: Institute of General Semantics.

Kreber, C. (2001). Learning experientially through case studies? A conceptual approach. Teaching in Higher Education, 6, 217–228.

Lahman, M. P. (2011). Appreciative inquiry + general semantics ? IFD disease resistance. ETC: A Review of General Semantics, 68, 395–401.

Lee, I. J. (1941). Language habits in human affairs: An introduction to General Semantics. New York, NY: Harper & Brothers.

Lutz, W. (1989). Doublespeak. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Martin, J. N., & Nakayama, T. K. (2011). Experiencing intercultural communication: An introduction (4th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Meiers, A. (1952). Avoiding the dangers of semantic adolescence. ETC: A Review of General Semantics, 9, 273–277.

Morreale, S. P., Spitzberg, B. H., & Barge, J. K. (2007). Human communication: Motivation, knowledge, & skills (2nd ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Murphy, C. (1992, February). “To be” in their bonnets. The Atlantic Monthly, pp. 18–24.

Postman, N. (1976). Crazy talk, stupid talk. New York, NY: Random House.

Postman, N. (1996). The end of education: Redefining the value of school. New York, NY: Vintage.

Pula, R. P. (2000). A general semantics glossary: Pula’s guide for the perplexed. Concord, CA: International Society for General Semantics.

Stockdale, S. (2009a). A brief explanation of Korzybski’s structural differential. Retrieved from This is Not That website: http://www.thisisnotthat.com.

Stockdale, S. (2009b). Here’s something about General Semantics: A primer for making sense of your world. Retrieved from This is Not That website: http://www.thisisnotthat.com.

Whitney, D., & Trosten- Bloom, A. (2010). The power of appreciative inquiry: A practical guide to positive change (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Module Completion Checklist

checkbox.jpg

open-checkbox21.png 1.  Did you complete the reading about Bypassing?
open-checkbox21.png 2.  Did you view the Twilight Zone: Word Play video episode?
open-checkbox21.png 3.  Did you contribute to one of the six case character discussions: Coach, Kendra, Trey, Calvin, Eliza, or Todd?
open-checkbox21.png 4.  Did you submit your case analysis assignment?
open-checkbox21.png 5.  Did you complete the Bypassing Review Discussion assignment?
open-checkbox21.png 6.  Did you view and reflect on the William Lutz and Irving J. Lee videos, then contribute your thoughts to the Ongoing Course Discussion?
open-checkbox21.png 7.  Did you successfully complete the Module 3 Quiz?

 

Wonderful!

You’re ready to move on to Module 4: Language and Culture.

reachforstars.jpg

2: Allness

Course Home | 1: What is GS? | 2: Allness | 3: Bypassing | 4: Linguistic Relativity | 5: Symbol Rulers | 6: Review and Reflection


This course was developed and presented on the Canvas Network by Steve Stockdale, Mary Lahman, and Greg Thompson. It is reproduced here under terms of the Creative Commons Share Alike License as published on Canvas Network from 13 January – 24 February 2014.


Module Map

AandA-border-350.jpgIn Module 1 we addressed the question, “What is General Semantics?” During the next two weeks, we will focus on applying what we learned about GS to produce more effective language behaviors.

Mary will lead this module based on excerpts from her PDF textbook, Awareness and Action. These excerpts can be read within the Canvas pages so it’s not necessary to download the PDF textbook. Because minor changes have been made to accommodate the online format and module numbering, we prefer and recommend you read the pages from within Canvas to complete the assignments. But you are welcome to download and read the complete Awareness and Action textbook.

Introduction

As a communication studies professor who is also a parent, I often advise my children, “Change your perception and you change your world.” As a researcher with interests in general semantics and appreciative inquiry—a method for organizational change that involves stakeholders focusing on what is going well—I recently updated my advice to include, “Words create worlds so choose wisely” (Whitney & Trosten-Bloom, 2010, p. 52). Regardless of the contexts in which we find ourselves, we might communicate more effectively if we explore our daily language behavior. A general semantics methodology provides the opportunity to do so.

I first learned about general semantics in a 1982 Language and Thought class taught by Paul Keller at Manchester. Professor Keller studied general semantics with Irving Lee at Northwestern University. Since 1996, I have taught a number of courses using books by William Haney (1992), Susan and Bruce Kodish (2001), and Steve Stockdale (2009a). I credit these authors for the various sections of Awareness and Action:

  1. Stockdale (2009a) outlined a “structured system of formulations” to explain general semantics, and I address two of its premises, “scientific orientation” and “time-binding,” in Chapter 1, leaving “abstraction,” “nonverbal awareness,” and “verbal awareness” for Chapter 2.
  2. Kodish and Kodish (2001) operationalized “nonverbal awareness” with student-friendly exercises that I include in Chapter 2.
  3. Haney (1992) explained “contributing factors” and “correctives” for patterns of miscommunication that occur when we are not aware of the abstraction process. I introduce several of these patterns in the following four chapters: Allness, Inference—Observation Confusion, Bypassing, and Differentiation Failures. For each pattern, I include case studies developed by former students.

AllnessBypassing-patterns.jpg

In short, Awareness and Action shows how general semantics can be used as a systematic inquiry into language behavior, followed by an application of these formulations. I use case studies to engage readers in all four phases of Kolb’s (1984) experiential learning cycle:

  1. When discussing the abstractions of characters in the cases, we work with accommodative knowledge: the “transformation of the intuitive aspects of experience through active experimentation.”
  2. When applying the contributing factors needed to address characters’ faulty language behaviors, we develop divergent knowledge: the “transformation of the intuitive aspects of the experience through reflection.”
  3. When working together to evaluate how one corrective is better than another for each character in a case, we acquire assimilative knowledge by “deciding on the best solution.”
  4. When role playing a case with appropriate correctives for each character to address faulty language behaviors, we create convergent knowledge by presenting “an implementation plan”  (as cited in Kreber, 2001, p. 224).

General semantics is not just a theory but a practical approach to delay the way that humans automatically respond: it is something we must do. The case studies approach ensures that we practice applying the formulations, taking action with our newfound awareness of faulty language behavior.

Module Learning Objectives

After successfully completing this module, students will be able to:

  • Identify the GS premise that explains allness.
  •  Explain the contributing factors to allness.
  • Use the structural differential to explain why we neglect to distinguish between a group and individuals within the group.
  • Identify the correctives needed to combat allness.
  • Explain why we are closed to new and different ideas as we grow older.

Module Activities

This week we will learn how the GS principle of allness applies to our language behaviors. You will:

  1. Read the excerpt from Chapter 3: Allness of Awareness and Action.
  2. Analyze character behaviors from a sample Case Study (Case 3.1).
  3. Participate in a Discussion related to allness.
  4. Choose one other Case Study for further analysis (from Cases 3.2, 3.3, or 3.4).
  5. Complete the module quiz.

ALLNESS

Discovering It is not Possible to Know Everything about Anything

Allness occurs because we forget that we are abstracting, overlooking the premise that “a map cannot cover all of its territory, so any map is only a part of the territory.” Haney (1992) advocated for an awareness of abstraction to combat allness.

Use the following questions to guide your reading of the material below (excerpted from Chapter 3 of Allness in Awareness and Action, pp. 21-25).

  1. Compare and contrast allness and abstraction.
  2. Why don’t we remember that others abstract different details than we do?
  3. Use the structural differential to explain how it is possible to neglect to to distinguish between a group and individuals within the group.
  4. Why are we closed to new and different ideas as we grow older?

 

In Korzybski’s view, knowledge and uncertainty belong together . . . to live with both required courage—the courage to act despite imperfect knowledge and the courage to self-reflect and self-correct when needed, i.e., with frequency.   —Bruce Kodish (2011, p. 8)

DEFINITION: ALLNESS

When prompted to think of a “know-it-all,” we often envision other people and rarely see how our language may appear indisputable to others. We might agree with Haney (1992) that is it impossible to “know and say everything about something” or that what we say “includes all that is important about the subject” (p. 321), but our language choices often include words of certainty, tones of finality, and absolutes (e.g., always, never, all, and none).

Haney (1992) named this pattern of miscommunication allness, defining it as follows: The attitude of those who are unaware that they are abstracting and thus assume that what they say or know is absolute, definitive, complete, certain, all-inclusive, positive, final—and all there is (or at least all there is that is important or relevant) to say or know about the subject (p. 323).

Even though we are now aware of how “we inescapably abstract,” reducing people, places, and things to one-word descriptors, how many of us will remember to introduce family members with more than a job title? Will we distinguish colleagues from their political and religious affiliations? We easily forget that we might be “focusing-on-some-details-while-neglecting-the-rest,” thus making it easier to act as if what we know is “all that we really need to know” (Haney, 1992, p. 323).

Allness occurs because we forget the general semantics premise that “a map cannot cover all of its territory, so any map is only part of the territory.” Korzybski (2000) demonstrated this principle by asking students to tell “‘everything’ or ‘all’ about the object [an apple] in question” (p. 471). When he had collected all of the students’ responses and exhausted their patience, he would cut the apple into pieces, eventually using a magnifying glass to demonstrate that “they did not tell us ‘all’ about the apple” (p. 472). For instance, how many of us know that when cutting an apple in half around the middle, we will discover a “star” formed by the core and seeds? As the following contributing factors to allness demonstrate, even if we monitor our language choices, we often act as if what we are saying, writing, or thinking includes all that is important about a subject, person, and event at that moment. The correctives will help us to remember that our maps (words) do not account for all of the territory—that is, all that is going on in the empirical world.

You may want to refer back to the Consciousness of Abstracting-Evaluating page in Module 1 to review allness in the context of other behaviors to be aware of.

CONTRIBUTING FACTORS: ALLNESS

One of the contributing factors to allness is an unawareness of abstraction that results in an assumption that we have covered it all. Kodish and Kodish (2011) explained why this unawareness might happen: “The scientific ‘object’ is not the ‘object’ as you or we experience it but seems to consist of events, processes, changing relations at the level of the very small, smaller than we can view even with a microscope” (p. 60). For instance, we might remember learning about the submicroscopic proton, electrons, and quarks in a high school classroom, but we rarely remember that language is an abstraction of an event, which, itself, is an abstraction of all that is happening in this submicroscopic world. To communicate more effectively with others, we must be conscious of how we abstract to delay acting on limited details gathered by our nervous systems.

We also abstract different details than others do, leading us to assume that what we know is what others know. How many of us have been guilty of arguing a point (e.g., who is to blame for a missing item) only to find out later that we did not know important details? Haney (1992) contended that the consequence of engaging in such behavior is “the rigid drawing of lines and unintelligent, destructive conflict” (p. 325). Perhaps we need to listen for understanding first. Covey (2004) argued for “seeking first to understand, then to be understood when we listen with the intent to understand others” (p. 153). Listening to understand means identifying “how” we abstracted different details, not who is right and who is to blame.

Another contributing factor of allness occurs when we act on the assumption that “our experience with one or a few members holds for all” (Haney, 1992, p. 327). We evaluate a group based on limited interactions with individuals from that group. That assumption has particularly dangerous consequences when we assign stereotypes to people solely on the basis of the political party or religious community with which they associate. We often forget to distinguish between the group and the individuals within that group. How many of your friends and family members who are registered Republicans or Democrats identify with all of the policies advocated by Republican or Democratic candidates?

Haney (1992) suggested that as we age, we may become “closed to the new or different” (p. 329). Even though we often accuse parents and grandparents of being closed-minded, this indifference is not just a problem for older generations. I often ask students to compare and contrast the insatiable curiosity of a kindergartner with the quiet classroom demeanor of a college student. Students suggest that they have often censored curiosity because of concern for peer and instructor evaluations. This high self-monitoring might keep them from learning new ideas.

Furthermore, Haney (1992) explained why people might be more afraid of change as they age:

As we grow older, more and more of what we learn is actually relearning. To learn something new or especially something different may require we relinquish something we already hold—that we discard certain accepted assumptions and cherished beliefs. This can be an unpleasant, uncomfortable experience. But some people find it a distinctly threatening state of affairs. And when we are threatened we often resort to some defense mechanism or another. Allness can be particularly effective bastion at such times. (p.330)

This rationale reminds us that we can delay “automatic” evaluation when encountering non-life-threatening situations. We need courage to do so.

CORRECTIVES: ALLNESS

Because we know it is impossible not to abstract, Haney (1992) argued that the “antidote for allness is not the avoidance but the awareness of abstracting” (p. 335). What follows are his suggestions for how to become more fully aware of the abstraction process.

1. Develop a Genuine Humility

When we remember that abstraction inhibits our ability to cover everything, we find it easier to be humble. Haney (1992) defined humility as “a deep conviction that you can never know or say everything about anything” (p. 335). I like the humor he provided to help us remember these limits:

Bailiff: Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

Witness: Look, if I knew the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth—I would be God! (p. 335)

When I first learned about general semantics, Professor Keller suggested that we should expect to be proven wrong; as Haney (1992) cited Disraeli, “To be conscious that you are ignorant is a great first step toward knowledge” (p. 335). Perhaps when we fully understand how little we really do know, we will be more curious and ask more clarifying questions.

2. Add (or at Least Silently Acknowledging) Etcetera

Korzybski (2000) named “etc.” as one of five extensional devices to achieve an extensional orientation. Haney (1992) summarized the use of etc. as follows: “When you see a period in my writing or hear one in my talking, please translate it as etcetera. It will remind both of us that I have not covered everything” (p. 337). Consequently, adding etc. to our thinking processes reminds us to be aware of abstraction. As rebuttals race through our minds, perhaps we can pause long enough to remember that there is more we might not know—the etcetera still waiting to be discovered.

Haney (1992) warned that, when talking, we should not “make a fetish of conspicuously ‘etcetering’ every statement” (p. 337), as doing so may lead others to evaluate us as lacking understanding or having adequate support for our conclusions. Adding etc. to our communication skill set is best tolerated, and perhaps most useful, when we apply it first to our thoughts. For example, we can think to ourselves, “There is more here than meets the eye,” using the familiar idiom to remind us to silently acknowledge the etcetera.

3. Ask Yourself, “Do I have an All-wall?”

In addition to realizing that abstraction inhibits our ability to cover everything, Haney (1992) proposed exploring how often we are closed to new and different ideas. For example, when we have a chance to hear a new perspective, do we listen carefully and then paraphrase what we hear? Many of us rarely paraphrase because we have been preparing rebuttals instead of listening. Morreale, Spitzberg, and Barge (2007) outlined various opportunities to withhold judgment during the three stages of the listening process:

  1. Receiving: postpone evaluation of the message
  2. Constructing meaning: set aside bias and prejudice
  3. Responding: clarify meaning by asking questions. (p. 149)

Monitoring how often we listen to new and differing viewpoints could help us to decide whether we have an “all-wall.” Similarly, asking a close friend and family member about how well we listen might provide invaluable insight. Who knows how much we will learn when we remember to postpone evaluation as we receive their messages and set aside bias when constructing meaning about our interactions.

SUMMARY

Allness occurs because we forget that we are abstracting, overlooking the premise that “a map cannot cover all of its territory, so any map is only part of the territory.” Because we are unaware that we abstract, we do not remember that others abstract different details than we do. Furthermore, we neglect to distinguish between a group and the individuals within the group, and we often are closed to new and different ideas as we grow older.

Haney (1992) advocated for an awareness of abstraction to combat allness. If we develop a genuine humility that we cannot possibly know everything about anything, we will silently add etc. to our thinking and avoid acting as if we have an all-wall. Furthermore, when we delay evaluations of messages as we listen to others and ask others questions to clarify meaning, we are using specific behaviors that demonstrate an understanding of the general semantics premise that “a map cannot cover all its territory, so any map is only part of the territory.”

REFLECTION AND ACTION

1. Document your reflections on these questions in your Personal Journal:

  • How might you teach the pitfalls of allness to a friend?
  • Compare and contrast allness and abstraction.
  • Which correctives for allness do you personally find most meaningful and relevant?

2. Throughout the week (and the duration of the course):

  • Discuss the topic of allness with a friend or family member. Observe the course of the conversation in terms of their questions and reactions, as well as your explanations, examples, etc.
  • Consciously apply at least one of the allness correctives during your regular day-to-day activities.

3. Share your insights and experiences with others in the course by participating in the Allness Review discussion.

 

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Corey Anton’s Corollaries

Korzybski (2000) proposed a map–territory analogy to encourage daily exploration of verbal “maps” (words), noting that these maps do not accurately describe what is happening in the “territory” (empirical world): “A map is not the territory it represents” (p. 58). He used a familiar relationship, maps and territories, so that we would remember when the territory (reality) changes, we need to update the map (language). More recently, Corey Anton (n.d.) proposed that we are better served with the premise, “there is no not territory” (p. 11), because the territory (reality) consists of many maps. He argued, “Once we recognize how all maps, as part of the territory, are the means by which one part selectively releases and appropriates another part at different levels of abstraction, we no longer need to postulate that ‘reality’ lies somehow ‘behind’ and/or ‘beyond’ our experiences and/or language” (Anton, p. 11–12).

In his second book, Science and Sanity, published in 1933, Korzybski (2000) proposed his formulations as a non-Aristotelian system that promoted a “complete and conscious elimination of identification” (p. xcvii). For Korzybski, a “non-Aristotelian” orientation meant illuminating the limitations of Aristotle’s “law of identity,” or the “is of identity” (Pula, 2000, p. 21–22). He argued that even though people, places and things have specific characteristics, which Aristotle labeled as identity, these characteristics are constantly changing and are incomplete representations of the empirical world.

For example, I am a professor, but if that is all you say about me then you are leaving out other important roles in my life—friend, wife, counselor, mother, church member, sister, and many more. This illustration provides evidence of Korzybski’s (2000) second premise of general semantics: “No map represents all of ‘its’ presumed territory” (p. xvii). Recognizing that each one of us plays many roles during a lifetime, we begin to understand how one or two language labels are a static representation of a dynamic reality. Anton (n.d.) updated this premise of Korzybski’s as well, “Any map is only part of the territory” (p.11).

In the introduction to the second edition of Science and Sanity, published in 1941, Korzybski further delineated general semantics as “a new extensional discipline which explains and trains us how to use our nervous systems most efficiently” (p. xxxviii). In other words, if nature is constantly changing—and we know it is when we see flowers bloom from barren ground in the spring—then people’s nervous systems detect, or abstract, only a small percentage of these changes. Korzybski (2000) created a diagram of this abstraction process, called the “structural differential” (p. 471), providing a visual reminder of how we leave out many characteristics when we sense objects and events. We leave out even more details when we use language to explain what we sense.

The structural differential visually demonstrates how we omit numerous characteristics of an event, or reality, and continue to use those inaccurate descriptions to make more inferences.  This diagram of the abstraction process depicts Korzybski’s (2000) third premise of general semantics: “Maps are self-reflexive” (p. xvii). In order to account for abstraction levels confusion within, as well as between levels, Anton (n.d.) reworked Korzybski’s third premise: “maps” is the word used to refer to parts of the territory becoming reflexive to other parts at different levels of abstraction (p. 11).  For instance, if I state that “I am angry that I got angry,” then I am making an inference about my behavior, confusing levels of abstraction and leaving out important characteristics about what angered me today. Consequently, the ability to make maps of maps (the self-reflexive nature of maps) when the original map is inaccurate, may confuse how we interpret events and mask what we share that with others. Unfortunately, if my reasons for getting angry today include being passed over for a promotion because I am too old, then important conversations about age discrimination may not take place.

In the 1948 preface to the third edition of Science and Sanity, Korzybski stressed the need to apply general semantics formulations, arguing that “when the methods of general semantics are applied, the results are usually beneficial, whether in law, medicine, business, etc.  . . . If they are not applied, but merely talked about, no results can be expected” (p. xxxi). Consequently, this course encourages action—applying language behavior correctives rooted in Anton’s (n.d.) new corollaries for general semantics premises:

  1. The map is not the territory, and there is no not territory.
  2. A map covers not all the territory, so any map is only part of the territory.
  3. Maps refer to parts of the territory becoming reflexive to other parts at different levels of abstraction. (p.11)

More Practice with the Structural Differential

sd-labels-240w.jpgTo demonstrate how our nervous systems limit perceptions of reality, Korzybski (2000) created a visual representation of the abstraction process—the structural differential. He proposed that this diagram could be used to explain semantic reactions, noting both intellectual and emotional responses of human beings during abstraction. Moreover, the structural differential explains how we think-feel-evaluate, leaving out characteristics as we move from the event (WIGO) to object level (our senses), and even more details as we use language in the descriptive and inference levels.

Because maps are self-reflexive, we can use language to talk about language, often confusing descriptive and inference levels.  Korzybski (2000) warned about this “false-to-fact ‘is’ of identity”: using an inaccurate map to make further inferences. Consequently, he advocated using of the structural differential to explain our experiences because we could involve several senses and our kinesthetic centers when we state, “this is not this,” engaging the ear, with the eye focused on the motion of the hands, indicating the big distance between WIGO and inferences.

Some people, however, seem to appreciate Stockdale’s (2009a) abstracting model (Figure 2). They find the nonverbal world easier to comprehend because of the five senses pictured and the phrase “what I sense is not what happened” (p. 29).  Additionally, students appreciate the explanation of the verbal levels: “what we describe is not what we sense” and “what it means is not what we describe” (p. 29).

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Structural Differential Worksheet

Use the following worksheet to analyze your abstraction process in a recent miscommunication with another person. The worksheet has key terms from Steve Stockdale’s “somebody cut me off” story, which you also read to complete the Abstracting-Evaluating discussion in Module 1.

Once you have completed the worksheet, explain your abstraction process to a friend. Remember that Korzybski proposed using the structural differential to explain abstracting would involve the whole body as one states, “this is not this,” engaging the ear, with the eye focused on the motion of the hands, indicating the big distance between the event, description, and inference levels.

Click to download a printable PDF version of the worksheet shown below.

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More Practice with Sensory Awareness

Kodish and Kodish (2011) proposed that nonverbal (sensory) awareness exercises help people explore how structures and meaning emerge as a function of their senses.

In addition to using the structural differential to explain recent miscommunication events with others, explore using Kodish and Kodish’s (2011) “sensory awareness” exercises to become more aware of the nonverbal world. For example, they suggest the following exercise to experience a world without words:

  • What are you doing right now? As you [hear] these words let yourself become aware of how you are sitting or lying down or standing . . .
  • How can you allow yourself to feel the support of what holds you up?
  • How much do you need to hold yourself up?
  • Where do you feel unnecessary tensions?
  • Do you feel tension in your jaw?
  • In your face?
  • Where do you feel ease?
  • How clearly do you feel yourself breathing?
  • Many events are occurring inside and outside your skin right now. Can you allow yourself nonverbally to experience these activities? When you focus unnecessarily on labeling and explaining, you may miss something important going on in and around you. (Kodish & Kodish, p. 105–106)

The following exercises (some of which are included below) help you focus on one sense at a time:

  • Day 1: Touch the cloth of your clothes. Notice the sensation in your finger, your hands. Allow the sensations to travel where they will. Move to a different part of your clothes. Notice any differences in sensations.
  • Day 2: Listen to whatever sounds come to you right now . . . Do you find yourself labeling what you hear? Listen again and this time if you begin to label sounds just notice that you are doing it and allow yourself to come back to the sound again.
  • Day 3: Choose something to look at. Without words, take in what comes to your eyes. Continue looking: what else come to you?
  • Day 4: Consider the sounds, sights, aromas around you as structures to explore. Pick an “object” such as a stone or a pencil. Examine it closely, silently, for several minutes. Use “all” of your senses: see, hear, touch, smell, taste, move it. How well can you do this without labeling or describing? (adapted from Kodish & Kodish, 2011, p. 106)

After completing these exercises, answer the following two questions:

1. What “structures” emerge as a function of this sense?

2. What “meanings” do you discern?

Reflecting about “structures” leads to an awareness of abstraction: recognizing that our senses limit what we know about WIGO. Discerning “meaning” reminds us that we can delay evaluation: revising meaning (maps) with more exploration of the “territory.”

Keep your answers from each exercise, noting progress, or lack thereof, toward experiencing the nonverbal world. Many of us in the United States struggle with such exercises because we have not been taught to be silent, let alone to find value in silence. However, these exercises encourage “semantic relaxation,” making us more aware of ourselves as “map makers” (Kodish & Kodish, 2011, p. 104).

Korzybski (2000) believed that because both “affective, or ‘emotional,’ responses and blood pressure are neurologically closely connected, [then]  it is fundamental for ‘emotional’ balance to have ‘normal’ blood pressure, and vice versa” (p. lix).  Much like the relaxation techniques you might have learned in a yoga or exercise class, Korzybski worked with students to relax tensions, to be “more open to their experiences, better able to take in and evaluate information” (as cited in Kodish & Kodish, 2011, p. 104).

In addition to the nonverbal awareness exercises focused on our five senses, Kodish and Kodish (2011) recommended the “means whereby” to focus on the “how” (p. 108) we move through the world.  I have students practice getting up and sitting down, and walking around a building, trying to focus on “how” they move. We find this nearly impossible to do, as our senses focus on the weather, others’ movements, and the terrains across which we traverse.

Ultimately, these experiential approaches help us practice what Korzybski meant by an extensional orientation: giving “priority to ‘facts’ or nonverbal happenings rather than verbal definitions and labels, and maintaining our consciousness of abstracting” (Kodish & Kodish, 2011, p. 98).

Nonverbal Awareness Exercises

Listen and Reflect

Answer the following in a journal or notebook after listening to and viewing the files below.

1. What “structures” emerge as a function of this sense? (Awareness of abstraction)

2. What “meanings” do you discern? (Delay evaluation)

Audio File 1

Audio File 2

Audio File 3 (with instructions on screen)

Audio-Visual File

This exercise is not just about watching “a sunset,” but it’s watching “the sun set” and becoming more aware not only of a visual scene, but a sense of how much change is possible in just 6 minutes.

All 5 Senses

Find an apple. Write down all of the characteristics of the apple. Push yourself to describe all of the characteristics you can observe. (The more you dislike the term the better according to Korzybski)

Cut into the apples and use a magnifying glass. Now write down all of the characteristics that were not previously observable.

Eat the apple. Use all of your senses: see, hear, touch, smell, & taste it.

Allness – Sample Case Analysis

Instructions

We can use hypothetical cases to study characters who are unaware of their allness behaviors. The cases that follow were developed by students who were familiar with the contributing factors of allness, and they created characters with such faulty language habits.

After reading the Allness Sample Case below, Phonathon, explore how Georgina and Chris were exhibiting allness behaviors: abstracting different details and unawareness of abstraction. You can find the contributing factors defined and explained in the second column of Table 2.1. Similarly, you can see how each character can use an allness corrective.

Allness Sample Case:  Phonathon

Georgina, a senior business major, started working as a supervisor for the college phonathon team at the beginning of fall semester. After being a team member for 2 years, she looked forward to her new role. Her duties included creating mailing labels, training new callers, and ensuring that experienced callers stay on task.

On her first day at work, Georgina’s boss, Chris, told her to train callers how to properly fill out the pledge cards. Alumni received these pledge cards after agreeing to donate. Georgina’s speech included directions to “always add an ID number” and “never turn in a pledge card without a note on the back.”  That night, she showed callers how to fill out a pledge card and asked them to start calling.

Alice, a new team member, worked that first Monday night. After hearing Georgina’s instructions, Alice promptly began calling. On the first pledge card, Alice felt confident that it was filled out correctly. Unfortunately, she forgot a vital section of the pledge card: the ID number. Alice continued this way for every pledge that she received that night. The next day, Chris had to locate every ID number for Alice’s pledge, and he was frustrated that he had to add this tedious task to his normal workload.

Confident that Wednesday evening would go better, Chris reminded Georgina to instruct callers about the correct way to complete pledge cards. That night, after Georgina gave her training speech, callers asked a number of questions.  Phil, a second-year team member, called Georgina over to ask questions about each pledge card; other experienced callers asked a number of questions as well. Consequently, the team members did not make many calls. The following day, Chris wondered if Georgina was having difficulty explaining the pledge-card procedure when he saw how few calls had been completed.

Thursday night was the end of the calling week for the team. When Georgina asked if there were any questions, no one raised a hand. She felt that Thursday night went smoothly because callers remained on task and did not ask any questions. She did not realize, however, that the room was full of new callers who were afraid to ask questions. When Chris saw the pledge cards the next day, he was livid, as they had even more missing ID numbers than on Monday night. He needed to get to the bottom of this right away and scheduled a meeting with Georgina for later that afternoon.

Character Analysis

The following format will help you identify, define, and explain contributing factors for each character. It can be used to define and explain how to demonstrate correctives. The following table illustrates how you might analyze the behaviors of Georgina and Chris in terms of contributing factors and correctives.

Table 2.1: Character Analysis for Sample Allness Case

Character Contributing Factor (define, explain) Correctives (demonstrate, define, explain)
Georgina Definition: Abstract different details — I assume that what I know is what you know.

Explanation: When Georgina uses always and never, she assumes that callers will then use IDs and include notes, like she does.Definition: Develop a genuine humility — I am aware that I omit details because of my nervous system.

Explanation: Georgina recognizes that she might leave out information, so she asks individuals to restate her directions and encourages them to ask questions.ChrisDefinition: Unawareness of abstraction—I have limited details due to my nervous system. 

Explanation: Chris is unaware that he has limited details about Georgina and the callers. Many things are happening outside the detection of his nervous system (e.g., callers not listening and cards not printed clearly).Definition: Adding ecetera—I will add an “etc.” when I hear or see a “period.”

Explanation: Chris recognizes that there is much to be discovered about phonathon activities, so he brainstorms with Georgina about other factors, the ecetera that may be affecting the callers (e.g., fatigue, long calls with alumni, and why IDs are needed).

 

 

Now it is your turn to analyze a character from another allness case. Choose a character from one of the cases found on the next page: Case 2.1: Exams; Case 2.2: Student IDs; and Case 2.3: Paperless policy.

 

Allness Case Assignment Instructions

Carefully read these three cases. Pay particular attention to the characters whose names are in bold. Following the third case is a list of six characters from the cases. From this list, click on the link for ONE character who will serve as the basis for your next assignment – to recognize contributing factors and offer corrective actions for that character’s allness behavior. 

Allness Case 2.1:  Exams

Sue walked into Professor Smith’s classroom looking like she just rolled out of bed. She moped over to her seat wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt. Sue, a senior English major and good student, did not have a good morning. She stayed up late finishing a paper, overslept, and nearly missed Professor Smith’s Colonial History class that morning.

Similarly, Professor Smith could not contain his foul mood.  During his previous class, students whispered throughout the lecture and then asked questions about material that he just had covered.  Not only did they not pay attention to his lecture but they got angry when he handed back an examination. He did not feel like dealing with difficult students today, especially when they wanted to argue about the exams that he spent hours developing and grading. If the students just paid attention, they would not get bad grades, he thought to himself.

As he returned the exams, he explained, “If you feel you have a right answer and I marked it wrong, you may explain your answer to receive partial credit.”

Sue raised her hand because even though she only missed one question, she was sure that she had the right answer.  When Professor Smith called on her, she asked, “Could we discuss question 5?”

“Sure. How can I help?”

“The question is ‘What shape is the Earth?’ I answered that it is ‘flat’ and you marked it wrong.”

“That is the wrong answer.”

“To me, the question did not give enough detail, so I thought you wanted the answer from the colonist’s point of view because this is a Colonial History class.”

“I provided feedback about why you missed points.  Please read those comments and come see me during office hours.”

Having already read the feedback, Sue was angry that they could not finish their discussion.  She slammed her paper down and stormed out of the room.

Later that day, Sue had another class where the professor returned exams and asked if anyone had questions regarding exam scores.  Sue had a question, but remembering how Professor Smith had embarrassed her the class period before, she decided not to ask it.  She returned her exam and decided that she needed to go for a run immediately following class as running always helped her feel less stressed.

 

Allness Case 2.2: Student IDs

It was 1:00 am on a crisp fall morning. Nearly 20 students were studying in a library computer lab when Officer Jones, a new campus security officer, was finishing his late night rounds. He first approached a group of four students who were working on a project for their small group communication class; he requested that the students present their university IDs. He knew that the student handbook stated that students should have their university IDs with them at all times, so he was sure his checking for IDs would be no problem.

“I need to see each person’s ID, please” Officer Jones said calmly.

“Excuse me?” Shane asked. “I have gone to this school for 4 years, and I have never had to show my ID in a computer lab.”

“I’m sorry,” Officer Jones explained. “I’m going to need to see your ID, or I will have to escort you from the premises.”

“Let’s just listen to him,” said Jessica, a freshman, who nervously tried to convince the others to obey the request. She had heard a lot of stories about how campus security was very strict when enforcing the rules, even going so far as to escort students off campus in handcuffs.

“I don’t understand this!” exclaimed Eli, a sophomore international student. “Why do campus employees think that they have the right to take away student privileges?” Eli had a “run-in” with the registrar’s office earlier that day. They told him that it would take an extra year for him to finish his degree because he was missing several requirements.

“This policy is clearly stated in the student handbook. Please get your IDs out now,” Officer Jones said. He was tired of the students disrespecting his authority. Earlier in the week, he and the other security officers had to endure criticism from students who had been drinking at a party. Because another officer had just quit, Officer Jones had to pick up extra shifts around the campus, so he knew that his reputation was growing as the “new guy.”

“I live off campus, so I don’t have my ID. I have not had a reason to carry it,” Molly, a junior student, explained. “It’s really late and we are just trying to finish our project. Can’t you let it go this one time?”

“I am afraid not,” Officer Jones stated. He was tired of students disobeying the rules, so he sounded annoyed. “Those of you who cannot show me your ID need to exit the library now. If you would read the student handbook, this would not be such an ordeal.”

“I hate that students can’t get anything done without adult interference!” Eli protested angrily.

“Let’s all leave,” Jessica stammered. “I will finish the project from my room and e-mail it you.”

Shane rolled his eyes and muttered, “As a senior, I need to be in the library late to finish my senior projects. This seems unfair because we are not bothering anyone.”

“I’ll remember my ID the next time,” Molly apologized as the three of them left the computer lab.

Officer Jones watched as the students exited the lab, and scanned the room for a friendly face to begin the next ID check.

 

Allness Case 2.3: Paperless Policy

After surviving two difficult lectures, Amber made a beeline to the campus store where students retrieved packages because she had a package waiting for her.  As a college junior, she stills gets excited when there is a package waiting because it means that somebody cares. She walked up to the counter and smiled as she requested her package.

Agatha, an experienced employee, explained, “Did you read the e-mail we just sent? You cannot pick up your package until 11:00 am.”

“But I have class at 11:00, and its 10:50, so may I have the package a little early? We used to get packages whenever the campus store was open, so why did that that policy have to change?”

Agatha tried again, “You should have received an e-mail telling you this. Policies change.”

Beth, a new supervisor, overheard the conversation and intervened, “What seems to be the problem here?”

“I cannot get my package and I have class in 10 minutes!” exclaimed Amber.

“I told her the same thing that I tell all students: no one claims packages until 11:00,” Agatha emphasized, aggravated by college students who do not read e-mail.

Beth sensed the frustration and explained, “I created this paperless policy. Do you know how long it took us to create all those yellow slips of paper? Now we send you an e-mail in the morning and you retrieve your package at lunch time.”

Amber, clearly taken aback by how much trouble a mere package was causing, sadly thought to herself how much she will miss receiving the golden slips of paper in the mail, which reminded her of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory movie.  On a more practical note, she wished that the policy would not have to change because some students did not have time for lunch.  Unfortunately, she did not have time to discuss this matter any further today or she would be late to class.

Analysis Assignment

After understanding how to identify contributing factors and apply correctives as demonstrated in the Allness Sample Case Analysis, now it’s your turn to analyze a character.

Six of the characters from the three Allness cases are listed below. Select one of them by clicking on the name. You will then be taken to a discussion forum for that character. Then post your character analysis as a Reply. Your analysis should include:

  1. a contributing factor to the character’s allness behavior;
  2. an explanation as to how the character exhibited the contributing factor;
  3. a corrective action specific to that character;
  4. an explanation regarding how the character could use the corrective when interacting with other characters in the case.

Now select a character and proceed to the discussion for that character:

NOTE: ON THIS PAGE, DO NOT FOLLOW THE NEXT BUTTON. CLICK ON ONE OF THE SIX CHARACTER LINKS.

ASSIGNMENT INSTRUCTIONS – SUE

After understanding how to identify contributing factors and apply correctives as demonstrated in the Allness Sample Case Analysis, now it’s your turn to analyze a character. You have selected to analyze Sue.

Re-read the Exams case below, then post your character analysis of Sue as a Reply to this topic. Your analysis should include:

  1. a contributing factor to Sue’s allness behavior;
  2. an explanation as to how Sue exhibited the contributing factor;
  3. a corrective specific to Sue;
  4. an explanation regarding how Sue could use the corrective when interacting with other characters in the case.

The case is copied below for reference. Remember that you will not see others’ responses until you post yours.


Sue walked into Professor Smith’s classroom looking like she just rolled out of bed. She moped over to her seat wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt. Sue, a senior English major and good student, did not have a good morning. She stayed up late finishing a paper, overslept, and nearly missed Professor Smith’s Colonial History class that morning.

Similarly, Professor Smith could not contain his foul mood.  During his previous class, students whispered throughout the lecture and then asked questions about material that he just had covered.  Not only did they not pay attention to his lecture but they got angry when he handed back an examination. He did not feel like dealing with difficult students today, especially when they wanted to argue about the exams that he spent hours developing and grading. If the students just paid attention, they would not get bad grades, he thought to himself.

As he returned the exams, he explained, “If you feel you have a right answer and I marked it wrong, you may explain your answer to receive partial credit.”

Sue raised her hand because even though she only missed one question, she was sure that she had the right answer.  When Professor Smith called on her, she asked, “Could we discuss question 5?”

“Sure. How can I help?”

“The question is ‘What shape is the Earth?’ I answered that it is ‘flat’ and you marked it wrong.”

“That is the wrong answer.”

“To me, the question did not give enough detail, so I thought you wanted the answer from the colonist’s point of view because this is a Colonial History class.”

“I provided feedback about why you missed points.  Please read those comments and come see me during office hours.”

Having already read the feedback, Sue was angry that they could not finish their discussion.  She slammed her paper down and stormed out of the room.

Later that day, Sue had another class where the professor returned exams and asked if anyone had questions regarding exam scores.  Sue had a question, but remembering how Professor Smith had embarrassed her the class period before, she decided not to ask it.  She returned her exam and decided that she needed to go for a run immediately following class as running always helped her feel less stressed.

Review and Reflection about Allness

Irving J. Lee from “Talking Sense” on Allness

 

Irving J. Lee from “Talking Sense” on All Wall

 

Optional Activities

  1. Allness Case Studies   from Chapter 11 of William Haney’s Communication and organizational behavior: Text and cases.
  2. Haney’s original book, Communication: patterns and incidents (offsite).
  3. Allness in Language and Politics   a student paper published in ETC: A Review of General Semantics.

Quiz Instructions

This quiz includes four True/False questions, two multiple choice, and four matching questions. Each answer is worth 5 points. Select the best response to each question.

There is no time limitation. You may take the quiz three times to improve your score, but note that the score for your latest attempt will be recorded.

1. The antidote for allness is to avoid abstraction. (True/False)

2. Allness is acting as if what we say includes all that is important about the subject. (True/False)

3. Allness occurs because we forget the General Semantics premise that “maps refer to the parts of the territory becoming reflexive to other parts at different levels of abstraction.” (True/False)

4. Allness is defined as the attitude of those who are unaware that they are abstracting and thus assume that what they say or know is absolute, definitive, complete, and certain. (True/False)

5. When adamantly disagreeing with her mother, Jill remembers her General Semantics training for each of the three stages of listening process. Which of the following is NOT one of the three stages?

  1. Receiving: postpone evaluation of the message
  2. Constructing meaning: set aside bias and prejudice
  3. Responding: clarify meaning by asking questions
  4. Evaluating: to argue for personal values

6. Which corrective to allness is defined as “remaining open”?

  1. ask if I have an “all-wall”
  2. develop a genuine humility
  3. get more data
  4. add etc.

7. Match the contributing factors for allness with the accurate definitions.

      A) I unconsciously assume that my experience with one or a few members holds for all.

 

      B) I have limited details due to my nervous system.

 

      C) I assume that my way is the correct way.

 

      D) I assume that what I know is what you know.

a. abstracting different details
b. closed to the new or different
c. evaluating a group
d. unawareness of abstraction

References

Anton, C. (n.d.). A thumbnail sketch of General Semantics. Unpublished manuscript.

Bois, J. S. (1978). The art of awareness (3rd ed.). Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown.

Bourland, D. D. (1989). To be or not to be: E-prime as a tool for critical thinking. ETC: A Review of General Semantics, 46, 546–557.

Chisholm, F. P. (1945). Introductory lectures on general semantics. Lakeville, CT: Institute of General Semantics.

Cooperrider, D. L., Whitney, D., & Stavros, J. M. (2008). Appreciative inquiry handbook: For leaders of change, (2nd ed.). Bedford Heights, OH: Lakeshore.

Covey, S. R. (2004). The 8th habit: From effectiveness to greatness. New York, NY:FranklinCovey.

Elson, L. G. (2010). Paradise lost: A cross-contextual definition of the levels of abstraction. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Haney, W. V. (1992). Communication & interpersonal relations: Texts and cases (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Irwin.

Hayakawa, S. I., & Hayakawa, A.R. (1990). Language in thought and action (5th ed.). New York, NY: Harcourt.

Hofstede, G. (1980). Culture’s consequences: International differences in work-related values. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Institute of General Semantics Seminar. (July 2002). Milwaukee, WI: Author.

Johnson, K. G. (2004). General semantics: An outline survey (3rd ed.). Fort Worth, TX: Institute of General Semantics.

Johnson, W. (1946). People in quandaries: The semantics of personal adjustment. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Kodish, B. (2011). Korzybski: A biography. Pasadena, CA: Extensional.

Kodish, S. P., & Kodish, B. I. (2011). Drive yourself sane: Using the uncommon sense of general semantics (3rd ed.). Pasadena, CA: Extensional.

Korzybski, A. (2000). Science and sanity: An introduction to non-Aristotelian systems and general semantics (5th ed.). Brooklyn, NY: Institute of General Semantics.

Kreber, C. (2001). Learning experientially through case studies? A conceptual approach. Teaching in Higher Education, 6, 217–228.

Lahman, M. P. (2011). Appreciative inquiry + general semantics ? IFD disease resistance. ETC: A Review of General Semantics, 68, 395–401.

Lee, I. J. (1941). Language habits in human affairs: An introduction to General Semantics. New York, NY: Harper & Brothers.

Lutz, W. (1989). Doublespeak. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Martin, J. N., & Nakayama, T. K. (2011). Experiencing intercultural communication: An introduction (4th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Meiers, A. (1952). Avoiding the dangers of semantic adolescence. ETC: A Review of General Semantics, 9, 273–277.

Morreale, S. P., Spitzberg, B. H., & Barge, J. K. (2007). Human communication: Motivation, knowledge, & skills (2nd ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Murphy, C. (1992, February). “To be” in their bonnets. The Atlantic Monthly, pp. 18–24.

Postman, N. (1976). Crazy talk, stupid talk. New York, NY: Random House.

Postman, N. (1996). The end of education: Redefining the value of school. New York, NY: Vintage.

Pula, R. P. (2000). A general semantics glossary: Pula’s guide for the perplexed. Concord, CA: International Society for General Semantics.

Stockdale, S. (2009a). A brief explanation of Korzybski’s structural differential. Retrieved from This is Not That website: http://www.thisisnotthat.com.

Stockdale, S. (2009b). Here’s something about General Semantics: A primer for making sense of your world. Retrieved from This is Not That website: http://www.thisisnotthat.com.

Whitney, D., & Trosten- Bloom, A. (2010). The power of appreciative inquiry: A practical guide to positive change (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Module Completion Checklist

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open-checkbox21.png 1.  Did you complete the reading about Allness?
open-checkbox21.png 2.  Did you complete the Reflection and Action activity at the bottom of the reading about Allness?
open-checkbox21.png 3.  Did you contribute to the Module 2 Discussion? (50 points)
open-checkbox21.png 4.  Did you contribute to one of the six case character discussions: Sue, Professor Smith, Officer Jones, Shane, Amber, or Agatha? (50 points)
open-checkbox21.png 5.  Did you view and reflect on the Irving J. Lee videos on allness?
open-checkbox21.png 6.  Did you successfully complete the Module 2 Quiz? (50 points)

 

Terrific!

You’re ready to move on to Module 3: Awareness and Action – Bypassing.

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1: What is General Semantics?

Course Home | 1: What is GS? | 2: Allness | 3: Bypassing | 4: Linguistic Relativity | 5: Symbol Rulers | 6: Review and Reflection


This course was developed and presented on the Canvas Network by Steve Stockdale, Mary Lahman, and Greg Thompson. It is reproduced here under terms of the Creative Commons Share Alike License as published on Canvas Network from 13 January – 24 February 2014.


Module Map

Artwork by Alice Webb

Artwork by Alice Webb Art

In this first module, we’ll provide a broad introduction to the field of study called General Semantics (GS). Steve is the lead instructor this week.

As depicted in the module list, this week we’re going to introduce you to GS in this sequence:

PRELIMINARIES

  • Point of View Survey — We begin with a 20-question Point of View survey. The survey results and significance will be presented and discussed in Week 5.
  • Defining and Describing General Semantics — Several different viewpoints on how to briefly characterize GS.
  • Basic Understandings — A first-pass explanation, to be developed further throughout the course.

KORZYBSKI AND GENERAL SEMANTICS

  • Alfred Korzybski (1879-1950) — A short biography of the man who “wrote the book” and (perhaps unfortunately) coined the label, “General Semantics.”
  • Korzybski’s Quest —Three questions guided Korzybski’s work.
  • Map|Territory: Foundational Premises —Three premises underlie the GS theory or methodology, each an aspect of the Map|Territory analogy.
  • Abstracting-Evaluating—Integral to General Semantics is an understanding of the neurological processes Korzybski termed abstracting (or evaluating). As we will see, while his label has not be embraced by the medical sciences, his description of the processes and their implications was on the mark.
  • Discussion Assignment — We’ll ask you to share your own example that illustrates the abstracting process, worth 30 points.
  • Two Worlds —A consequence of the brain’s abstracting process is the realization that we live in “two worlds.” As reflected in current neuroscience understanding, our brain actively mediates, or constructs, what we experience as the “real world.”
  • Language(s) as Map(s) — Some of the implications and consequences of the Map|Territory analogy relate to our language habits and bahaviors.
  • Consciousness of Abstracting — A comparison of behaviors that reflect a consciousness (or awareness) of one’s abstracting and evaluating processes, vs. unawareness.

ILLUSTRATIONS AND EXAMPLES

  • A variety of demonstrations we hope will make the notions of abstracting and evaluating more meaningful, at least in terms of vision and hearing.

MODULE COMPLETION

  • Review and Reflection — A summary of key takeaways and highlights of Module 1.
  • Optional Activities — Readings, viewings, and other activities that you may find beneficial and interesting.
  • Discussion — We ask you to participate in a Discussion and share your reactions to the material presented in this module, worth 50 points.
  • Quiz — We ask you to complete a 50-point Quiz which has been structured to facilitate and confirm learning, also worth 50 points.
  • References
  • Completion Checklist —To make sure you haven’t missed anything.

This module is designed to be completed in sequence. As you complete each page or activity, you’ll see navigation buttons at the bottom to either return to the Previous page or advance to the Next page. You can always skip around if you prefer or if you need to review specific pages.

At the bottom of most pages, you’ll see links for the Ongoing Course Discussion and Your Personal journal. We encourage you to regularly jot down notes and thoughts in your journal and participate in the ongoing course discussion. Your Personal Journal is worth a total of 20 points.

Module Learning Objectives

After successfully completing this module, students will be able to:

  • Summarize the story of Alfred Korzybski and he came to develop the discipline of General Semantics.
  • Explain the abstracting process and its significance.
  • Explain the significance of the map|territory distinction.
  • Identify key differences between facts (or descriptions of observations) and inferences (or opinions, judgments, assumptions).
  • Explain how Korzybski’s 1933 understanding of how the nervous system works has been validated by 21st-century neuroscience.
  • Demonstrate familiarity with the GS vocabulary.
  • Demonstrate self-awareness of ineffective, unproductive, or self-defeating language habits and behaviors.
  • Offer your own explanation in response to the question, “what is General Semantics about?”

 

Concerning Expectations

Please watch this 9-minute video that addresses a few items regarding expectations. (You can click on the “CC” on the video player control bar to see the closed captions.)

Below the video we will maintain an updated list of the countries represented in the course and the chart of enrollment growth.

 

Countries represented in the course

If yours isn’t listed, please let us know. Updated 20 January.

  1. Algeria
  2. Argentina
  3. Australia
  4. Bangladesh
  5. Belgium
  6. Brazil
  7. Burkina Faso
  8. Canada
  9. Chile
  10. China
  11. Colombia
  12. Croatia
  13. Czech Republic
  14. Dubai
  15. Ecuador
  16. Egypt
  17. France
  18. Germany
  19. Greece
  20. Grenada
  21. Hungary
  22. Iceland
  23. India
  24. Iran
  25. Ireland
  26. Italy
  27. Japan
  28. Jordan
  29. Kazakhstan
  30. Kuwait
  31. Latvia
  32. Lithuania
  33. Macedonia
  34. Malaysia
  35. Mexico
  36. Moldova
  37. Morocco
  38. Netherlands
  39. New Zealand
  40. Nicaragua
  41. Nigeria
  42. Norway
  43. Pakistan
  44. Paraguay
  45. Peru
  46. Philippines
  47. Poland
  48. Puerto Rico
  49. Romania
  50. Russia
  51. Saudi Arabia
  52. Serbia
  53. South Africa
  54. South Korea
  55. Spain
  56. Sweden
  57. Switzerland
  58. Tasmania
  59. Thailand
  60. Tunisia
  61. Turkey
  62. U.K. (England, Wales, and Scotland included)
  63. United Arab Emirates
  64. Uruguay
  65. U.S.
  66. Vanuatu
  67. Venezuela

 

MOOC-registration-jan20.jpg

Point of View Survey

mandoor.jpgThis survey contains 20 statements that you’ve probably heard. In fact, you’ve probably heard them a lot since most of them can be considered as aphorisms or cliches. For each of the statements, indicate to what degree you agree or disagree with the sentiment expressed. Go with your first impression. Once you’ve marked your response and advanced, you can’t go back.

Disregard the terminology used (“question” and “correct answer”) since this ungraded survey uses the same format as a quiz. There are no correct answers, but we had to identify “correct” answers in order to award points for completion.

The survey results will be aggregated at the class level and discussed during Week 5.

NOTE: These statements may not be recognized by students who are not so familiar with American culture. However, these kinds of aphorisms or cliches or truisms probably exist in all cultures. If you don’t recognize the significance of one of the statements, see if you can think of an appropriate substitute that you are familiar with.

Strong
Disagree
Disagree No Opinion Agree Strong
Agree
1. You’re either for something or against it.
2. You can’t change human nature.
3. Everything happens for a reason.
4. The will of the majority should always be respected.
5. Expect a miracle.
6. Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus.
7. To thine own self be true.
8. It’s all good.
9. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
10. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
11. Clothes make the man.
12. Love the sinner, but hate the sin.
13. Everybody has one true soul mate.
14. Time heals all wounds.
15. In the end, people get what they deserve.
16. The pen is mightier than the sword.
17. It is what it is.
18. Image is everything.
19. You get what you expect.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Defining and Describing General Semantics

What is General Semantics?

You might think such a simple question would have a simple answer. Unfortunately, in this case there isn’t a simple answer. Just like there’s really no simple answer to the question, “What is chaos theory?”

In the course description there’s a phrase that could serve as a beginning definition of General Semantics:

General Semantics—the study of how we transform our life experiences into language and thought.

The definition I used in my eBook, Here’s Something About General Semantics (download the pdf), provides a broader view:

General Semantics deals with the process of how we perceive, construct, evaluate, and respond to our life experiences. Our language-behaviors represent one aspect of these responses (Stockdale, 2009, p. 21).

Following are several different approaches to describe General Semantics. From these, you might begin to sketch a picture for yourself of what GS is about.

Books

You can get an idea of the scope and domain of General Semantics from the titles of some of the prominent books in the field. (These are all listed in the Module 1 References.)

  • Science and Sanity (Korzybski)
  • Language Habits in Humans Affairs (Lee)
  • Language in Thought and Action (Hayakawa)
  • People in Quandaries (W. Johnson)
  • Your Most Enchanted Listener (W. Johnson)
  • The Art of Awareness (Bois)
  • Levels of Knowing and Existence (Weinberg)
  • Symbols, Status, and Personality (Hayakawa)
  • Drive Yourself Sane (Kodish & Kodish)
  • Communication and Organizational Behavior: Text and Cases (Haney)
  • The Speech Personality (Murray)
  • The Language of Wisdom and Folly (Lee)
  • The Tyranny of Words (Chase)
  • Making Sense (Potter)
  • Culture, Language and Behavior (Russell)
  • Mathsemantics (MacNeal)
  • Nothing Never Happens (K. Johnson and others)
  • Explorations in Awareness (Bois)

from Wendell Johnson

Wendell Johnson was one of the most important and distinguished of the “early adopters” of General Semantics. A clinical professor at the University of Iowa (see the Wendell Johnson Speech and Hearing Center), Johnson wrote two wonderful books centered around GS, People in Quandaries and Your Most Enchanted Listener. The following excerpt comes from his first lecture of the Fall 1956 semester, which was broadcast over the campus radio station and recorded.

[General Semantics is concerned with the role] … our use of words, designs — symbols of all kinds — tends to play in the development of our individual personalities, our institutions, and our human societies. So we shall be concerned in the course with the disorders of our symbolic processes, which is to say the language of maladjustment — the language which reflects maladjustment and which tends to produce maladjustment. We shall be even more concerned with the kinds of language which we are able to develop or cultivate which tend to be very effective, which tend to be conducive, to what we call “normal adjustment.”

… I do not mean by adjustment some kind of self-satisfaction, some sort of blind acceptance of things as they are, but something much, much more dynamic and helpful than that. I mean by adjustment, by healthful adjustment, something that we might call the “realization of our own individual potentials for development.” I don’t mean being like somebody else, like the average man, or like the mold, but being oneself as fully as possible.

Well, there is a way to use language which tends to encourage this sort of development. Then there is a way to use language — there are probably many, many ways to use language — which tend to make it difficult to develop one’s full potential, and so we will be concerned with these kinds of language. This means we’re going to be concerned with things like speaking, writing, listening, reading, designing, and figuring with the pictures we make in our heads. We’ll be concerned with the talking we do to ourselves that we recognize as thinking, and feeling, and imagining, and wishing, and regretting, and so forth.

We’re going to be concerned especially with the language we use for talking ourselves into trouble, and that which we use for talking ourselves out of trouble. We are going to be concerned with the language that is effective for the solving of problems and for the realization of potential selfdevelopment. We’re going to be especially concerned with language in its most effective forms for the purpose of solving problems. This means we will be especially interested in the language used by scientific research workers, and also by others — outstanding novelists, poets, any of the users of language who are very effective in the solving of human problems (Johnson, 1957).

from Irving J. Lee

Along with Wendell Johnson and S.I. Hayakawa, Irving J. Lee, professor of speech at Northwestern University, earned a place among the handful of most influential early proponents of General Semantics. The following 4:46 clip comes from a 1952 series of lectures on General Semantics called “Talking Sense” broadcast in Chicago as part of the “Of Men and Ideas” program.

Several excerpts from this series will be used througout the course. Note that some of Professor Lee’s terminology is a reflection of his time – e.g., “men” rather than “people” or “men and women” – but the content of his presentations remain relevant.

from Dr. Russell Meyers

Dr. Russell Meyers also taught at the University of Iowa, but in the medical school as a neurosurgeon. He held leadership positions in the two GS organizations in the 1940s and was a principle lecturer at Institute of General Semantics seminars throughout the 1950s.

There are two premises we must operate on whenever we try to communicate. First, we must expect to be misunderstood. Second, we must expect to misunderstand. This may seem “obvious” but too few human beings act as if it were true. We are striving to minimize misunderstanding, not to eliminate it. This is true not only of inter-personal but intra-personal communication.

Communication can be competent or incompetent; it can lead to improvement or to destruction.

General Semantics is less interested in answers to examination questions than in personal behavior in day-to-day situations. It grew out of a comparison of the kinds of behavior that have led to adaptation and the kinds that have led to mis-adaptation.

Most of GS is unspeakable. It must be experienced and practiced over a period of time. Concepts basic to General Semantics:

  • Scientific method (generalized)
  • Communication
  • Evaluation
  • Creativity

Alfred Korzybski compared the efficient communication behavior of scientists to the inefficient behavior of “mental” cases. He then took those kinds of adaptive behavior that could be identified and taught and generalized them for everyday use.

The aim of GS is robust psychological health, not merely correcting or preventing maladjustment (Meyers, 1957).

from J. Samuel Bois

In The Art of Awareness, J. Samuel Bois describes a hypothetical situation to illustrate the scope of what General Semantics is concerned with. I’ve paraphrased it.

Imagine a scene in a hospital examining room. There’s a doctor, a patient, and the patient’s wife. A lab technician knocks on the door and enters, carrying a medical folder with the patient’s charts. He hands the folder to the doctor, nods to the patient and the wife, and leaves the room. The doctor silently looks through the pages of the chart. She takes a deep breath, gathers herself, and turns to the husband to say, “The tests confirm that you’ve got cancer.”

From a strictly semantic standpoint, or in terms of how the word cancer is defined in a dictionary, there is probably little ambiguity or lack of understanding among the three participants in this imaginary scene. They each share a common understanding that cancer refers to a medical diagnosis of cellular growths that may, or may not, be treated in certain ways, that may result in certain health outcomes for the patient. However, the common understanding of the definition of what the word cancer refers to is not at all the same as the emotional and physiological response of each individual person in the room upon hearing the utterance, “you’ve got cancer.”

In other words, what hearing “you’ve got cancer” means to the doctor who articulates the words is something entirely different to what it means to the patient who hears the words. And what it means to the patient is something qualitatively different from his wife’s response.

According to Bois, the study and understanding of such individual in-the-moment reactions, or happenings-meanings, “is the field of General Semantics” (Bois, 1966, p. 32).

Alfred Korzybski

The analysis of … living reactions is the sole object of general semantics … (Korzybski, 1994, p. xli).

Throughout this module we will concentrate on the work of Alfred Korzybski and his development of General Semantics.

booth-igs-760.jpg

Used with permission of Institute of General Semantics

Basic Understandings of General Semantics

Since 1998, I’ve used a framework of five major topics as a way to structure a curriculum to introduce General Semantics. This page presents an high-level overview of the inter-related components that comprise the system or methodology of General Semantics, originated by Alfred Korzybski. These components will be expanded upon and developed further throughout the course, as suggested by the outward spiral in the image below.

hsgs-spiral.png

Time-binding

Through our use of languages and symbol systems such as music, math, art, etc., we can facilitate learning among our fellow planet dwellers. But we also have access to the accumulated knowledge that has been learned, documented, improved upon, and passed along from generation to generation. This unique capability to transfer and build upon knowledge has resulted in ever-expanding human progress.

We can also, however, use such symbol systems to perpetuate atavistic feuds, myths, superstitions, prejudices, etc., that result in conflict, suffering and death. What accounts for the difference in our ability to progress technologically and inability to progress sociologically?

  • Only humans have demonstrated the capability to build on the knowledge of prior generations. Alfred Korzybski referred to this capability as time-binding. We ‘bind time’ when we use language and symbols to organize and pass along knowledge from one generation to the next, as well as within a generation.
  • Language serves as the primary tool that facilitates time-binding, and language is enabled and powered by the astounding capabilities of the human cortex.
  • Time-binding forms the basis for an ethical standard by which to evaluate human behavior: to what degree does the action or behavior promote, or retard, time-binding?
  • Acknowledging our time-binding inheritance dispels us of the ‘self-made’ notion and encourages us to ‘bind time’ for the benefit of those who follow.

Scientific Orientation

The methods of science that have resulted in four centuries of advancement in medicine, engineering, physics, etc., have application for us in our daily lives. From our day-to-day experiences, we gather information, form opinions and beliefs, gather more information, form more opinions and beliefs, etc. Does the information we gather from our daily experiences support our beliefs and opinions? Do we modify those beliefs and opinions when the ‘facts’ of our experiences warrant? Do we apply what we ‘know’ about ourselves and the world around us in our daily living?

  • Our ability to time-bind is most evident when we apply a scientific approach, method or attitude in our evaluations and judgments.
  • A scientific approach involves the process of continually testing assumptions and beliefs, gathering as many facts and as much data as possible, revising assumptions and beliefs as appropriate, and holding conclusions and judgments tentatively.
  • Hidden, or unstated assumptions guide our behavior to some degree; therefore we ought to make a special effort to become more aware of them.
  • Even if testing confirms the hypothesis, continue to make observations, collect data, and check to see if the hypothesis remains valid or should be revised.
  • We live in a process-oriented universe in which everything changes all the time. The changes may not be readily apparent to us if they occur on microscopic, or even sub-microscopic, levels.
  • We should remember that there is always more going on than we can sense or experience.

hsgs-scimethod-570.jpg

One test is worth a thousand expert opinions. — Anonymous

 

Abstracting-Evaluating

Our day-to-day experiences are partial and incomplete abstractions of all that we could possibly see, hear, touch, taste or smell. Therefore the opinions and beliefs (or evaluations) we derive from those experiences ought to be tempered with some degree of tentativeness, uncertainty, and to-me-ness.

  • As humans, we have limits as to what we can experience through our senses. Given these limitations, we can never experience ‘all’ of what’s ‘out there’ to experience. We abstract only a portion of what’s ‘out there.’
  • Our awareness of ‘what goes on’ outside of our skin, is not ‘what is going on;’ our awareness of our experience is not the silent, first-order, neurological experience.
  • Given our ever-changing environment (which includes ourselves, and our awareness of ourselves), we never experience the ‘same’ person, event, situation, ‘thing,’ experience, etc., more than once.
  • To the degree that our evaluative reactions and responses to all forms of stimuli are automatic, or conditioned, we copy animals, like Pavlov’s dog. To the degree that these evaluations are more controlled, delayed, or conditional to the given situation, we exhibit our uniquely-human capabilities.
  • We each experience ‘what’s out there’ uniquely, according to our individual sensory capabilities, integrating our past experiences and expectations. We ought to maintain an attitude of ‘to-me-ness’ in our evaluations of our own behavior, as well as in our evaluations of others’ behavior.
We see the world as ‘we’ are, not as ‘it’ is; because it is the I behind the ‘eye’ that does the seeing. — Anais Nin

 

We see what we see because we miss the finer details (Korzybski, 1994, p.376).

 

hsgs-abstracting-760.jpg

Verbal Awareness

Language facilitates time-binding, for advancing progress within societies and cultures, as well as enabling individuals to adjust, adapt, survive and thrive within an increasingly chaotic verbal environment. We are, for the most part, unaware of the effects of our verbal environment on how we react to our daily experiences. How often do we react to words, labels, symbols and signs as if they were the ‘real’ things represented? Do we use language, or are we used by language? Who rules our symbols?

  • We can think of language as the unique capability that allows humans to time-bind, or build our learning, from generation to generation, as well as within generations.
  • However, language has evolved with structural flaws in that much of the language we use does not properly reflect the structure of the world we experience ‘out there.’
  • Among the mistakes we perhaps unknowingly commit:
    • confusing the word or symbol with whatever the word or symbol stands for;
    • acting as if the meaning of the words we use is contained solely in the word, without considering the context and the individuals;
    • confusing facts with our inferences, assumptions, beliefs, etc.;
    • not accounting for the many “shades of gray,” simplistically looking at things as if they were black or white, right or wrong, good or bad, etc.;
    • using language to ‘separate’ that which in the actual world cannot be separated, such as space from time, mind from body, thinking from feeling.
  • Revising our language habits by using these devices will help us become more aware and more deliberate in our everyday talking and listening. These five techniques were advocated by Korzybski and referred to as the extensional devices:
    • indexing : Muslim(1) is not Muslim(2); Feminist(1) is not Feminist(2);. Remember to look for the differences even among a group or category that presume similarities.
    • dating : Steve(2013) is not Steve(1968); Steve’s-views-on-global-warming(2013) are not Steve’s-views-on-global-warming(1988). Remember that each person and each ‘thing’ we experience changes over time, even though the changes may not be apparent to us.
    • quotes : ‘truth’, ‘reality’, ‘mind’, ‘pure’. Use quotes around terms as a caution to indicate you’re aware that there is an opportunity for misunderstanding if the term is particularly subject to interpretation, or if you’re being sarcastic, ironic, or facetious.
    • hyphen : mind-body, thinking-feeling. Use to join terms that we can separate in language, but can’t actually separate in the ‘real’ world. Remember that we can talk in terms that don’t accurately reflect the world ‘out there.’
    • etc.: Remember that our knowledge and awareness of anything is limited. We can’t sense or experience or talk about all of something, so we should maintain an awareness of the etc., that “more could be said.”

Additional devices or techniques designed to address ineffective language habits include:

    • E-Prime: eliminate or reduce forms of the to be verbs (is, are, were, am, being, etc.). In particular, reduce those that we consider is of identity (ex. John is a liberal) and is of predication (ex. The rose is red.) Download and read To Be or Not To Be: E-Prime as a Tool for Critical Thinking (PDF, 12 pages) by D. David Bourland, Jr (Bourland, 2004).
    • English Minus Absolutisms (EMA): eliminate or reduce inappropriate generalizations or expressions that imply allness or absolute attitudes. Examples include: all, none, every, totally, absolutely, perfect, without a doubt, certain, completely. Download and read Allen Walker Read’s Language Revision by Deletion of Absolutisms (PDF, 7 pages) (Read, 2004).
    • To-me-ness: Used by Wendell Johnson as a convenience to convey a consciousness of projection, as otherwise expressed by phrases such as “it seems to me,” “apparently,” “from my point of view,” and “as I see it” (Johnson, 1946, p. 61).

Sensory Awareness

You could say that we live in two worlds: our verbal world of words (and thoughts, opinions, beliefs, doubts, etc.), and the non-verbal world of our actual sensory experiences. We experience the world on the non-verbal levels, but many times our verbal pre-occupations preclude us from appreciating what we experience on a moment-to-moment, here-and-now, non-verbal basis. To what degree do we project our verbal world of expectations onto our non-verbal sensory experiences? Do we experience ‘what is going on’ in the moment, or do we see what we’re looking for, or hear what we expect to hear? Are we aware of ourselves, our non-verbal experiencing, and our limitations?

  • We ‘experience’ our daily living on the silent, non-verbal levels; in other words, on a physiological-neurological level different from our verbal awareness.
  • Our ability to experience the world is relative, unique to our own individual sensing capabilities.
  • Our language habits can affect our physiological behavior; we can allow what we see, hear, say, etc., to affect our blood pressure, pulse, rate of breathing, etc.
  • As we become more aware of our own non-verbal behaviors, we can practice techniques to achieve greater degrees of relaxation, less stress, greater sense of our environment, etc.

Charlotte Schuchardt Read

Charlotte Schuchardt Read began working for Korzybski as his literary secretary in 1939. A dance student, she became increasingly interested in what Korzybski called semantic relaxation, a guided practice of silencing one’s inner dialogue and striving for silence on the objective level. Charlotte expanded Korzybski’s methods through her work with Charlotte Selver and the Sensory Awareness Foundation.

In this clip from a 1999 interview recording by the Sensory Awareness Foundation, Charlotte explains how the non-verbal, or sensory, practices are an integral part of General Semantics (Read, 1999).

 

Alfred Korzybski (1879-1950)

Alfred Korzybski

Photo used with permission of Institute of General Semantics

Alfred Korzybski (pronounced kore-ZHIB-ski) was born in 1879 to a land-owning family in Poland. He was raised by servants from four different countries who spoke four different languages, growing up with a working knowledge of Polish, Russian, German, and French. In this type of multilingual environment, it came naturally to Korzybski to disassociate the word, or symbol, from the thing that the word or symbol represented.

As a student he studied engineering, mathematics, and chemistry. When the first World War erupted in 1914, he was enlisted into the Russian cavalry. Not only was he severely wounded, but he witnessed first hand the devastating effects of all the new weapons of war that debuted during this “war to end all wars” … airplanes, armored tanks, rapid-fire machine guns, poison gas.

He was sent to North America toward the end of the war when he could no longer serve on the battlefield. He supported artillery testing in Canada before transferring to the U.S. where he traveled the country speaking to groups and selling war bonds. After the war, he remained in the U.S. and married Mira Edgerly, a miniature portrait artist from Chicago.

He was haunted by his war experiences. As an engineer, he pondered this question: How is it that humans have progressed so far and so rapidly in engineering, mathematics, and the sciences, yet we still fight wars and kill each other? Or in his own words:

At present I am chiefly concerned to drive home the fact that it is the great disparity between the rapid progress of the natural and technological sciences on the one hand and the slow progress of the metaphysical, so-called social “sciences” on the other hand, that sooner or later so disturbs the equilibrium of human affairs as to result periodically in those social cataclysms which we call insurrections, revolutions, and wars (Korzybski, 1993, p. 22).

 

He devoted the rest of his life to this ‘fact,’ its implications, and consequences. In 1921 he published his first book, Manhood of Humanity: The Art and Science of Human Engineering. Then in 1933, he wrote the source book for the field of study we know as General Semantics—Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics.

Because our language-behaviors are so integral to human cooperation, as well as human conflict, much (not all) of Korzybski’s General Semantics directly addresses the role of language and language habits in human behavior.

Language Matters

To underscore how deeply language is ingrained as a human behavior, consider:

With language we can:

And with language we can also:

  • speak, write, read, and listen;
  • think and express our feelings;
  • analyze and solve problems;
  • establish rules, regulations, laws, policies, procedures, ordinances, and standards;
  • reach compromises, agreements, settlements, resolutions and contracts;
  • understand, to be understood, and to pass on our understandings to others;
  • dream, imagine, contemplate, cogitate, deliberate, create, innovate and ponder.
  • mislead, misinform, and misunderstand;
  • deny, suppress, inhibit, prohibit and limit what others do and say;
  • rule, dictate, terrorize, intimidate, indoctrinate and alienate;
  • generalize, categorize, stereotype, pigeonhole and profile;
  • lie, cheat, steal, quibble, libel, slander, sue and defraud;
  • perpetuate myths, superstitions, prejudices, feuds, and atavistic traditions;
  • create and exacerbate fear, anxiety, regret, guilt, jealousy, paranoia, suspicion, and hate.

(Stockdale, 2009, p. 24)

 

Language plays a tremendous role in human affairs. It serves as a means of cooperation and as a weapon of conflict. With it, men can solve problems, erect the towering structures of science and poetry — and talk themselves into insanity and social confusion (Lee, 1958, p.60).

 

Korzybski’s Quest

I think it’s helpful to consider Korzybski’s work from 1920 to 1950 in the context of three broad concerns that shaped the arc of his personal “quest” (my term, not his).

  1. What makes the human species human? In other words, what are the similarities among humans that differentiate us from other species, that distinguish the organism named Smith from his canine best friend named Fido?
  2. What accounts for the vast differences in behaviors that are exhibited among humans such that, within one generation, we can produce Gandhi, Hitler, Einstein, and Stalin?
  3. Is it possible to characterize these vast differences such that we can more rapidly increase behaviors that advance and progress humanity, while minimizing the atavistic behaviors that retard or regress humanity?
The task of engineering science is not only to know but to know how (Korzybski, 1993, p. 11).

1. What makes humans human? Time-binding

Alfred Korzybski’s education focused on the sciences, especially chemistry and engineering. He had a deep curiosity about how things worked. Therefore in considering this first question, Korzybski sought an operational definition of humans — not merely a verbal definition. What did humans do that was different from non-human forms of life?

Plants as Chemistry-binders

First Korzybski considered plants. What do plants do? Plants absorb, or bind, specific chemicals in their immediate environment — nutrients from the soil and water — and together with the effects of sunlight (for above-ground plants), reproduce cells and produce growth. Plant growth and reproduction are influenced by other environmental factors such as climate, gravity, and (of course) plant-eating animals and pollinating insects, just to name a few.

Korzybski therefore distinguished plants by their ability to bind together the elements of their environment within and to their own organisms in order to produce and sustain life. He referred to them as chemistry-binders.

tb-plants-350.jpg

Animals as Space-binders

Turning to the animal kingdom (including birds and fish), Korzybski determined that, operationally, what animals do includes everything that plants do with one crucial difference. Animals possess (to varying degrees) the ability to move about in their environment. If the source of its food or water depletes, an animal can move to another place. The ability to move about in space also provides animals with defensive, and offensive, capabilities in their relations with other animals.

Based on this defining characteristic of being able to move about throughout their spacial environment, Korzybski referred to animals as space-binders in that they ‘binded’ the spaces within their living territory.

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Humans as Time-binders

MOH-cover-150.jpgIn assessing what humans do, over and above the capabilities of animals, Korzybski determined that the most critical difference is the ability to create, manipulate, record, and transform symbols. For him, however, the consequence of this uniquely-human capability was much more than just being able to think and communicate with symbols, words, signs, icons, etc.

Korzybski did not regard the human language capability itself as the defining characteristic of humans, but as the tool that enabled the capability that most differentiated humans from animals — the ability to transfer knowledge from human to human, within and across generations. Languages and other symbol systems, powered by the brain’s neo-cortex (Korzybski, 1993, p. 149) provide humans with the means to document experiences, observations, tips, descriptions, etc., which means that a child can pick up from where the parent leaves off. Knowledge among the human species can therefore accumulate and advance as a body, not simply as random lessons taught and learned by copying, mimicing, or experience.

As a plant binds its chemical environment to reproduce and grow, and as an animal binds space to survive, humans are able to bind time such that a school girl in 2014 can learn physics from Isaac Newton, dance to an 18th-century waltz, become entranced by the words of a sacred ancient text, and try to keep with Facebook’s ever-changing privacy settings. Like the plants that ‘bind’ chemicals directly into the living cells of their own organisms, and the animals that ‘bind’ their movements within their environments, humans bind time by the activities and changes of their individual brains.

Korzybski coined the term time-binding to denote this defining capability of human time-binders, first described in his 1921 book, Manhood of Humanity. He wrote:

We know that time-binding capacity — the capacity for accumulating racial [of the human race] experience, enlarging it, and transmitting it for future expansion — is the peculiar power, the characteristic energy, the definitive nature, the defining mark, of man; … to make improvement — to do greater things by help of things already done — are of the very nature of the time-binding capacity which makes humans human (Korzybski, 1993, pp. 174-175).

 

All human achievements are cumulative; no one of us can claim any achievement exclusively as his own; we all must use consciously or unconsciously the achievements of others, some of them living but most of them dead (Korzybski, 1990a, p. 13).

 tb-humans1-350.jpg

 2. What accounts for the differences in human behavior? Evaluating

While Korzybski defined time-binding as a characteristic human capacity (or capability), he knew from first-hand experience in World War I that human behavior did not always result in “improvement” or “greater things.” Therefore he contemplated how it was that some humans sought to advance and progress “human weal” (Korzybski, 1993, p. 1) while others sought to murder, steal, and subjugate other humans for their own selfish weal.

As we will emphasize throughout the course, Korzybski drew a sharp distinction between what we experience in our lives, and our reactions to those experiences. What our nervous system can sense and experience is but an abstraction of the total possible experience, and our reactions to what happens are yet another abstraction.

Because people can expect to experience the ‘same’ event or situation differently, their reactions to the experience will inevitably be different. Influenced by his understanding of the tropism effect from biology (plant growth results from the effects of external stimulation from light, moisture, gravity, etc.), Korzybski initially coined the term semantic reaction to refer to the total response of a human to a meaningful event or experience. However, in his later work he came to use the more general evaluational reaction or simply evaluation to denote human behavioral reactions as the collective or cumulative impact of one’s abstractions. Evaluations would therefore include activities we label as judgments, conclusions, opinions, beliefs, ideologies, etc. Here is a table of terms that could be considered under the umbrella term of evaluating.

adapt administer advertise analyze
anticipate apply appraise argue
arrange articulate ask assemble
assess associate break down calculate
categorize change choose cite
classify collaborate combine compare
compile complete compose compute
conclude connect consider construct
contrast convert convince copy
correlate create criticize critique
debate decide deduce defend
define demonstrate describe design
determine develop devise diagram
differentiate discover discriminate discuss
dissect distinguish divide dramatize
duplicate editorialize employ enumerate
establish estimate examine experiment
explain express extend facilitate
find focus formulate generalize
grade group hypothesize identify
illustrate imagine indicate infer
integrate interpret intervene interview
invent judge justify label
list listen locate manage
manipulate match measure memorize
modify name negotiate observe
omit order organize outline
paint paraphrase persuade plan
point out practice predict prepare
prioritize produce propose question
quote rank rate read
rearrange recall recite recognize
recommend record reframe relate
reorganize report represent reproduce
research review revise schematize
select separate show simulate
sketch solve speculate state
structure subdivide substitute summarize
support survey tabulate teach
tell test trace transfer
transform translate validate visualize
weigh write

So in assessing the differences in human behaviors, Korzybski theorized that these differences were matters of evaluation, due to the different meanings that individuals attached to events and experiences, based on their own individual values.

In Week 5, we’ll address the “big picture” implications of his theories about the complex inter-relationships among evaluations, meanings, and values. Here are some examples that may give you a feel for what Korzybski was getting at:

  • The European Union is divided over the ongoing financial crises in Greece and other countries. Generalizing and simplifying … the citizens in Greece evaluate the crisis differently than German citizens because the austerity that is being forced on Greece means something very different to the Greek than it means to the German. The Greek and the German evaluate the situation differently because the situation means something different because they hold different values.
  • The Tea Party in the United States evaluates the significance of U.S. debt and government spending levels differently from other political groups because of the meaning that Tea Partiers give to government debt based on their values.
  • People around the world hold different evaluations about global warming/climate change based what the phenomenon means to them and what values they hold. To the citizen of the Maldives, the threat of rising oceans bears meaningful consequences because they value their way of life (not to mention their actual lives), so they evaluate the evidence and forecasts about global warming one way. The owner/operator/customers of a coal-burning electricity plant in the remote southwest U.S., they evalute the issue differently because their economic and political values are affected in different meaningful ways.
  • The ongoing tensions between India and Pakistan can be considered in terms of different evaluations based on conflicting values and meanings.

3. How to characterize a method or system that can be taught, learned, and applied?

Korzybski published his time-binding theory in Manhood of Humanity in 1921. Throughout the 1920s, he worked through the implications of his theory, including his detailed analysis and description of the abstracting process that produced individual evaluations.

ss-cover-150.jpgFor two years he observed patients at St. Elizabeth’s mental hospital in Washinton, D.C. He carefully noted the language of the mentally ill, specifically how in many instances their language (maps) did not match the ‘real’ world (territory), which reflected pathological cases of misevaluation.

In contrast to the extremes of such inappropriate language behavior resulting from misevaluations, Korzybski studied the effective and productive language behaviors of scientists, mathematicians, engineers, artists, writers, etc. He worked diligently to analyze and understand the language behaviors at both ends of these two extremes. He specifically sought a way to articulate and communicate how a misevaluation differed operationally from an appropriate evaluation.

The result of Korzybski’s investigations and contemplations were published in 1933 in the source book for General Semantics, Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics. In it, Korzybski:

  1. describes the biological and neurological basis for his work,
  2. offers a detailed diagnosis of the many varieties of mistakes, errors, and misevaluations that humans consistently manifest,
  3. proffers prescriptions for recognizing, minimizing, and avoiding the causes of these misevaluations, and
  4. explains methods of teaching and learning these prescriptions.

For more on the life of Alfred Korzybski, check out Bruce Kodish’s thorough and worthwhile Korzybski: A Biography (link to Amazon.com listing).

Map|Territory: Foundational Premises

Base for The Map is Not the Territory

Artwork by Alice Webb Art

Alfred Korzybski used the Map|Territory analogy to illustrate three foundational premises of his General Semantics.

The Map|Territory Analogy

1. The map is not the territory.

A map depicts only limited aspects of the territory it represents or symbolizes. For a map to be useful, it must accurately reflect the relative structure or relationships of the key features of the territory. Similarly, our language behaviors can be thought of as maps of our actual life experiences. These verbal expressions of how and what we think, feel, react, judge, assume, etc., should be in accordance with the ‘territory’ of our lived experiences. And on a pre-verbal level, we can use the metaphor to remember that even our lived experiences — what we see, hear, feel, smell, taste, etc. — are neurological constructs (‘maps’) of whatever it is in the ‘real’ world outside ourselves that we are seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting.

Of course, “the map is not the territory!”

It’s rather easy to dismiss this statement of the obvious. Got it! Let’s move on.

But let’s not be so quick to take these six words for granted. Arguably, the whole of General Semantics derives from this six-word premise and the consequences which follow. So let’s spend a few minutes considering the implications for Korzybski’s General Semantics.

The map is not the territory. What does this mean to you? Perhaps something like …

  • The word is not the thing.
  • The symbol is not the thing symbolized.
  • The name is not the thing named.
  • The referent is not the thing referenced.

In other words, a particular type of distinction is expressed: one thing is not the same thing as another thing which the one thing is represented by. More generally, an abstraction is not that from which the abstraction is abstracted. The map (an abstraction) is not the territory ( whatever is not an abstraction; but hold that thought until the summary of this page).

In the four examples above, the abstractions are characterized in terms easily recognizable as abstract terms — words, symbols, names, referents.

However, in Korzybski’s General Semantics the pre-eminent, or foundational, map|territory distinction involves two seemingly non-abstract entities.

2. The map cannot show all of the territory.

Maps are limited in size and detail. They can only depict selected items of interest or importance. Similarly, our language behaviors — our talking, listening, writing, thinking — are limited and cannot include or comprehend all of whatever we are trying to describe or understand. And on a pre-verbal level, the maps of what we are seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, and smelling account for only a fraction of what exists in the territory of the ‘real’ world.

So in Korzybski’s term, we can think of a map as an abstraction of the territory it symbolizes; the words we use to express ourselves as an abstraction of the thoughts and feelings we experience; and even those thoughts and feelings as abstractions of whatever stimulates our sensory experiences with the ‘real’ world.

3. A map is self-reflexive and made by a map-maker.

Maps, like money, don’t grow on trees. They don’t spring forth from the earth or rain down from the heavens. Maps are constructed by their makers. A human being makes a map. An individual decides the purpose of the map, the size, the scale, the features to be included, how many copies will be made, who will use it, the colors, etc. In deciding all those details, the human map maker must also determine which features will not be included, which might be exaggerated or emphasized for importance, what descriptive annotations might be helpful. And if the map-maker were constructing a map of the territory which surrounded the map-maker herself, then a theoretically-complete map would include both the map itself and the map-maker.

In terms of our language behaviors, we can remember that whatever we “reduce to language,” or whatever thoughts and feelings we abstract from our experiences, are human constructions reflecting evaluations. We are making our own maps (evaluations) of our experiences, and we can also then evaluate our evaluations. In language, since we can almost endlessly talk about our talking, we are in a sense making maps of maps of maps, etc.

Two important characteristics of maps should be noticed. A map is not the territory it represents, but, if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness. If the map could be ideally correct, it would include, in a reduced scale, the map of the map; the map of the map, of the map; and so on, endlessly, a fact first noticed by [Josiah] Royce (Korzybski, 1994, p. 58).

 

Abstracting-Evaluating

Alfred Korzybski

Abstracting, in the context of Korzybski’s model, refers to physio-neurological processes that occur on non-verbal and verbal levels. From the world of energy stimulations that envelope us, our nervous systems abstract (or select, choose, pay attention to, etc.) only a fraction. From these partial, incomplete, and fleeting sensations, the nervous system must construct our conscious or aware experiences by matching patterns of stimuli with the brain’s ‘database’ of previous experiences.

Evaluating is used in much the same way as abstracting, although I consider it a higher-level, more generalized term in that we can cognitively evaluate the abstractions that result from our abstracting.

… we take for granted that all “perceptual processes” involve abstracting by our nervous system at different levels of complexity. Neurological evidence shows the selective character of the organism’s responses to total situations … that the mechanisms of “perception” lie in the ability of our nervous system to abstract and to project.

 

Abstracting by necessity involves evaluating, whether conscious or not, and so the process of abstracting may be considered as a process of evaluating stimuli, whether it be a “toothache,” “an attack of migraine,” or the reading of a “philosophical treatise.” A great many factors enter into “perceiving” … (Korzybski, 1990b, pp. 686-687).

Structural Differential

Structural Differential with LabelsAlfred Korzybski developed this diagram in the 1920’s as a means to visualize the abstracting process. Originally a three-dimensional, free-standing model (for which he applied for and received a U.S. patent; imagine a colander, or strainer, in place of the ragged parabola at the top), this printed version appeared in his source book for general semantics, Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems.

The parabola represents an environment (the world around us) consisting of innumerable characteristics or events, depicted by the holes, or dots (activities, people, things, etc., including what occurs on microscopic and sub-microscopic levels (Event level).

Only some of these characteristics (the hanging strings) can be detected by human senses. Those which connect to the circle (Object level) represent a specific object sensed by a specific nervous system, which has abstracted a particular set of characteristics (those connective strings) from all possible characteristics occurring in the parabola.

These initial sensory data are further abstracted and transformed as the nervous system/brain recognizes and associates the data with a word or label. The tag below the circle represents the Descriptive (verbal) level of abstracting.

From the descriptive level, the verbal abstracting process proceeds with the Inference levels that can continue indefinitely (implied by the ragged bottom tag). In other words, from our descriptions of events we form inferences, assumptions, opinions, beliefs, etc., by generalizing this experience with our past experiences.

And we can continue, indefinitely, to form inferences from inferences, which may then be subsequently recalled in future experiences, noted by the arrow and dotted line to the right.

As we become aware of these sensory experiences, we can talk about them, describe them, express how we feel, what they mean, etc.

Throughout this abstracting process, we need to remember that what we talk about is not the same thing that our brain registers as an experience, which is also not the same as our initial sensing, which in turn is not the same as the actual stimulus or event.

Abstracting is something that your body-brain-nervous-system does continually, regardless of whether you’re aware of it.

The differential in structural differential refers to a functional difference between humans and animals. An animal’s ability to abstract, depicted by the circle to the left (“Fido”), is limited; a human can continue to abstract and make inferences indefinitely, whereas animals are limited in their abilities to make inferences.

The different levels that Korzybski defines in the model refer to aspects of the overall process which seem to consist of clearly differentiated orders, or types, of activity — from perception, to nervous system construction of the experience, to cognitive evaluation, to our response or reaction.

Here’s an edited video review of the Structural Differential as explained by Korzybski. (2:48)

Significance of Abstracting

Redrawn Differential”So what?” is a reasonable question to ask at this point. What practical difference can this differential make? Let’s look at an illustrated example using my own simplified version of Korzybski’s structural differential model.

E — The parabola represents the Event level, the “what is going on” (WIGO) in the world around us. Each dot, figure, and line stands for an aspect or characteristic of the sub-microscopic process level that comprises WIGO.

O — The circle labeled for Object represents a human nervous system (let’s assume mine) interacting with WIGO. Through my sensing organs and brain, I construct the sights, sounds, smells, etc., that result in my experiences. My experiences are incomplete and unique to my nervous system.

D — The first verbal level in the abstracting process is labeled as Descriptive. What I say, think, etc., at this level about my experience should be limited, as much as possible, to just the facts as I experienced them.

I — The I tags represent the multiple levels of Inferences I might construct from my experience. These inferences will determine what meaning or significance I draw from this experience. As indicated, I can generate as many inferences, beliefs, theories, judgments, conclusions, etc., as I might care to.

It’s important to remember how time, order, or sequence plays into this model. Each level of the abstracting process occurs in a given order, i.e.:

Something happens (Event);

I sense what happens (Object);

I recognize what happens (Description);

I generate meanings for what happens. (Inferences)

We can depict a succession of these abstracting processes over time, one after the other, for every moment of our lives. In this case, with successive abstracting processes, we can see how the inferences (or meanings) we generate from every experience can factor into later experiences.

Abstracting over time

In terms of differentiation, we should note that:

  1. What happens (Event) is NOT
  2. What I sense non-verbally within my nervous system (Object), which is NOT
  3. What I can describe verbally about my sensing (Description), which is NOT
  4. The meaning(s) I generate based on what happened; etc. (Inferences)

Similarly, our experience/inference/meaning at Time(3) is not the same experience/ inference/meaning at Time(1) but due to projection and memory, what we experience at Time(1) may well affect our Time(3) experience and what that experience means.

Example of the Abstracting Process

Let’s take a situation in which a friend — call her Emily — relates with some anger an experience she just had while driving to the store … “somebody cut me off!” We can use the Structural Differential to deconstruct her experience and emphasize the different ‘levels’ between what she experienced and what she evaluated.

Abstracting Example

Event — What is Going On? Street, traffic, trees, rain, wipers … plus microscopic and sub-microscopic particles and activities that we cannot observe, but which we infer based on current science.

Object — Emily’s eyes capture (some of the) reflected light from (some of the) images in her (limited) field of view; the light is transformed (abstracted) by her visual system into nervous system signals that travel to her brain; neurons in her brain process the electrical/chemical signals and cause her to see …

DescriptionI was driving about 25 miles per hour, perhaps 50 feet from the car ahead. A dark vehicle driven by a middle-aged man emerged from my right field of view. He was going faster than me. His car suddenly accelerated and veered into the lane directly in front of me, reducing my following distance to no more than 10 feet, which meant …

Inference(1)This guy’s a rude jerk because …

Inference(2)He cut me off and almost made me have a wreck!

Inference(x)I’m too upset to go to work. I need to go home and relax with my dog.

Can you see that “he cut me off” is not what happened? Can you see that Emily’s reaction to what happened is not the same as a description of what happened?

One of the powerful lessons of general semantics, illustrated by the use of this type of model to analyze the abstracting process, is that we can better train ourselves to respond conditionally to what happens to us.

We humans don’t have to react with a conditioned response like Pavlov’s dog, reacting to a substitute stimulus as if it were ‘real’ — but we often do.

Our language helps confuse us, because we tend to say things like, “Ooh, it made me so mad!” We allow the it — the event, the what happens, the stimulus — to determine our response. You need to remember that between the stimulus and your response, there is a YOU who, to some degree, can control your response:

STIMULUS —–> YOU —–> RESPONSE

Time(1) ——-> Time(2)——-> Time(3)

Again, ‘time’ is an important aspect of our conditional responses. Remember the old adage encouraging you to count to 10 before getting mad? There’s a lot of merit to be gained by practicing your ability to consciously — conditionally — delay your responses.

Summary of Abstracting

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  • Abstracting refers to ongoing physio-neurological processes that occur on non-verbal levels.
  • We can verbally differentiate certain phases, or levels or orders, of the abstracting process to analyze our behaviors and reactions: EVENT is not OBJECT is not DESCRIPTION is not INFERENCE, etc.
  • We can acknowledge that our abstracting occurs at different times … we should expect different results, reactions, responses, etc., from different experiences occurring at different times.
  • We have human limitations that constrain all of our experiences — we never experience all of what happens.
  • Similarly, we can never say all or describe all about our experiences; more could always be said. Etc.
  • What we experience is, to some degree, a function of our past experiences (feedback, projection, etc.).
  • What we experience is a function of the unique capabilities and limitations of our own individual nervous system.
  • We should therefore expect not only to see things differently, we should expect to evaluate and react to things differently.
  • When we delay our responses and react conditionally, we tend to behave more sanely, more rationally, more appropriately to the facts of the situation and our experience.

When we react immediately — when our responses are conditioned and controlled by the stimulus (the ‘thing’) — we behave like Pavlov’s dog and subject ourselves to control by others. You can use this model and process whenever you want to analyze the behavior, responses, reactions, etc., of a particular individual in a specific situation. (Personally, I find this type of analysis works best when the particular individual happens to be my ownself.) Remember that the structural differential model, or any similar model, represents the process of abstracting. 4 Steps of Abstracting

The more you apply this process to analyze your own abstracting, evaluating, inference-making, belief-generating, etc.:

  • you will become more aware and conscious of your own abstracting;
  • you will better differentiate between: 1) what happens; 2) what you sense of what happens; 3) what you describe of what your senses sense; and 4) what you infer from what you’ve described;
  • you will respond more conditionally to what happens in your life;
  • you will experience less conditioned responses (less like Pavlov’s dog);
  • you will delay more of your responses, leap to fewer conclusions, snap to fewer judgments, and make fewer inappropriate assumptions;
  • you will ____________ (fill in your own benefit).

Here’s another clip of Irving J. Lee talking about abstracting and evaluating.

passbox.jpgYou’ve finished the article that explains the Structural Differential and the abstracting-evaluating process. In that article, I use the example of Emily and her “somebody cut me off” story to illustrate how her statement that somebody cut me off did not accurately map the territory of her actual experience while driving.

For 30 points, share a story from your own experiences, or make up a story, that could be used to illustrate the process by which we abstract from an event, to an experience, to a description, to inferences. Please keep your stories short, no more than 200 words.

After you’ve posted your story, feel free to comment on other stories.

Two Worlds

As a consequence of our abstracting-evaluating processes, you can say we live in two worlds — the world that exists out there beyond our skin, and the world in here within our skin. What each of us knows about the world out there is constructed by our in here nervous systems based on our individual sensory interactions with the world out there.

As early as the 1920s, Korzybski extended the mathematical and linguistic notions of abstraction to refer to the biological and neurological functions by which our senses-brains-nervous-systems abstract (or construct) our experience of the world “out there.”

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In this video (created using silent movie footage and separate audio recording), Korzybski emphasized the role of abstraction in how our internal nervous system makes sense of our external world.

Although these recordings are from the1940s, Korzybski had worked through the premise and consequences of abstracting by 1923 (Korzybski, 1990, p. 33). In a series of lectures at Olivet College in 1937, Korzybski explained:

I showed you that disc that was made up of rotating blades—it was really rotating blades, not a disc. That disc did not actually exist. Your nervous system manufactured it inside your heads. This applies to all ‘matter.’ All you see is a nervous construct that you have made up. It is a process. Anything you see is made up of rotating electrons. What you feel is not what you see. It turns out that anything we can see is only a stimulus to our nervous system and therefore the ‘object’ we see had ‘reality’ only within us, although the outside electronic image has independent reality (Korzybski, 2002, p. 122).

 

And yet, the ‘fact’ that humans construct or abstract their experiences of the external world of ‘reality’ has still not been absorbed by most educated adults. As evidence, following are four attempts by 21st-century neuroscience authorites to educate the public about this specific distinction that Korzybski matter-of-factly recognized 90 years ago.

1) Christof Koch

Formerly the head of the Koch Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology and currently the Chief Scientific Officer of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, Christof Koch is the author of The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach (Koch, 2004). In 2005, he delivered the the annual J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Lecture in Los Alamos, NM, where he presented several visual demonstrations.

In the 2:27 clip below (which I have edited for instructional purposes; the effect is shown twice, then the audio is repeated a third time with on-screen captions) he illustrated the visual effect known as afterimage. Following the demonstration, he summarized the significance of the effect:

It belies the simple notion there’s a one-to-one relationship between the outside world and my inner mental experiences. … So clearly this naive, realistic view that there’s a world, there’s my head and this simple mapping, it can’t be true. (J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Committee, 2005)

 

Koch later expands on this distinction between the “outer world” and our “inner mental experiences” and underscores the fact that our brains construct our perceptions:

Conscious perception is, in a sense, a con job of the brain. It suggests there’s a stable world out there and there’s a very simple relationship between what’s out there in the world and what’s inside our head but in fact it’s a very complicated relationship. It [conscious perception] is actively constructed by our brain. We’re now beginning to understand that what I see in my head is actually constructed by my head, by my neurons (J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Committee, 2005).

 

2) Jeff Hawkins

Jeff Hawkins invented the Palm Pilot personal digital assistant (PDA), co-founded Palm Computing, and later founded the Redwood Neuroscience Institute which became the Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience (now associated with the University of California at Berkeley). In 2004, he co-authored with Sandra Blakeslee the best-selling book, On Intelligence (Hawkins & Blakeslee, 2004).

In 2009, he delivered the J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Lecture to the affluent, well-educated audience of Los Alamos, NM. His address was titled, “Why can’t a computer be more like a brain?” He ended his presentation with a question period. In response to the final question, Hawkins felt it necessary to reiterate this important, “hard to believe,” out there | in here distinction.

(referring to the continual firing of neurons in the cortex and the brain’s recognition of patterns) That is the currency of the brain. That’s it. That’s what your brain works on. And believe it or not, I said this in the beginning and I’ll say it again, your perception of the world is not … it’s really a fabrication of your model of the world. You don’t really see light or sound. You perceive it because your model says this is how the world is, and those patterns invoke the model. It’s hard to believe, but it really is true (J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Committee, 2009).

 

Here’s the video clip (1:48).

In their book, Hawkins and Blakeslee expand on the point:

All our knowledge of the world is a model based on patterns. … This is not to say that the people or objects aren’t really there. They are really there. But our certainty of the world’s existence is based on the consistency of patterns and how we interpret them. There is no such thing as direct perception.

 

Can we trust that the world is as it seems? Yes. The world really does exist in an absolute form very close to how we perceive it. However, our brains can’t know about the absolute world directly.

 

The brain knows about the world through a set of senses, which can only detect parts of the absolute world. The senses create patterns that are sent to the cortex, and processed by the same cortical algorithms to create a model of the world. … Through these patterns the cortex constructs a model of the world that is close to the real thing, and then, remarkably, holds it in memory (Hawkins & Blakeslee, 2004, pp. 63-64).

3) Eric Kandel

Dr. Eric Kandel won the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his study of memory. Beginning in the fall of 2009, he co-hosted a special series of interviews with Charlie Rose on the brain. As of October 2013, more than 25 episodes have aired ranging from the anatomy of the brain to consciousness to emotions to diseases to creativity. Here is a linked listing of all the episodes with video excerpts and synopses for each episode.

In the second episode of the series (Da Cunha, 2009b) that focused on the human visual system, Dr. Kandel felt this notion that the brain “re-constructs” (Kandel’s term) our sense of the world was worth emphasizing both at the beginning and end of the interview. Without using Korzybski’s terminology, Kandel2009 provides a succinct, updated description of abstracting1923. Here’s the 1:13 excerpt.

4) Stephen Macknik and Susanna Martinez-Conde

Neuroscience researchers and co-authors of Sleights of Mind: What the neuroscience of magic reveals about our everyday deceptions, put it this way:

The spooky truth is that your brain constructs reality, visual and otherwise. What you see, hear, feel, and think is based on what you expect to see, hear, feel, and think. In turn, your expectations are based on all your prior experiences and memories.

Magicians understand at a deeply intuitive level that you alone create your experiences of reality … they exploit the fact that your brain does a staggering amount of outright confabulation in order to construct the mental stimulation of reality known as “consciousness.” This is not to say that objective reality isn’t “out there” in a very real sense. But all you get to experience is a simulation. The fact that consciousness feels like a solid, robust, fact-rich transcript of reality is just one of the illusions your brain creates for itself. Think about it. The same neural machinery that interprets actual sensory inputs is also responsible for your dreams, delusions, and failings of memory. The real and the imagined share a physical source in your brain (Macknik & Martinez-Conde, 2010, pp. 8-9).

Catching up with Korzybski?

Even though Koch, Hawkins, Kandel, Macknik, and Martinez-Conde don’t refer to abstracting or evaluating, their descriptions of the process by which we create or re-construct our sense of the outside world validate Korzybski’s foundational premises. Amazingly, what Korzybski grasped almost instinctively or intuitively 90 years ago has been verified, confirmed, and now accepted by neuroscientists … and yet they themselves still feel it necessary to use phrases like:

  • “It’s hard to believe but it really is true.”
  • “We’re now beginning to understand that what I see in my head is actually constructed by my head, by my neurons.”
  • “It makes us realize how magical the brain is.”
  • “The spooky truth is that your brain constructs reality …”

Summarizing

A. We need to acknowledge and take into account the characteristics of these two worlds.

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B. We need to understand that even our most basic sense experiences of the out-there world are created by our brains.

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C. We need to maintain awareness, and take responsibility, for the neurological fact of this foundational distinction — what we experience in here is not what’s out there to be experienced.

In Korzybski’s terminology, we need to maintain a consciousness of abstracting, beginning with the understanding that everything we experience represents an abstraction of something else. In a very real sense, all we can ‘know’ are abstractions and associated neurological constructions.

2worlds-4-TINTb.jpg

… we used and still use a terminology of ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’, both extremely confusing, as the so-called ‘objective’ must be considered a construct made by our nervous system, and what we call ‘subjective’ may also be considered ‘objective’ for the same reasons (Korzybski, 1990c, p.650).

 

Language(s) as Map(s)

Artwork by Alice Webb

Artwork by Alice Webb Art

The Importance of Constructing Proper ‘Maps’

Humans can build on the knowledge of prior generations. Alfred Korzybski referred to this capability as time-binding. Language serves as the principle tool that facilitates time-binding. Language also serves as a guiding influence in shaping our world view and life experiences.

We can apply the map-territory analogy to evaluate our language habits and behaviors. As a map represents a territory, so our language symbolizes our thoughts, emotions, ideas, opinions, and experiences. To the degree that the maps we construct accurately portray the structural relationships of the territory, they serve us well.

If, however, the maps we construct inaccurately depict  the relationships among the territory of our experiences, they can result in trouble. To best serve our own time-binding interests, our verbal ‘maps’ ought to be congruent and consistent with the realities of our non-verbal ‘territories’.

On the previous page, we learned that current brain scientists agree that what we have naively believed were direct experiences of ‘reality’ we are instead experiences that we construct within each of our own brains, minds, and nervous systems.

How does this knowledge affect our language habits and behaviors?

We ought to easily recognize, then, that ancient notions such as objective or absolute reality do not accurately reflect the limitations of our nervous systems as they interact with the outside world. Therefore language structures, patterns, or terms that rely on this false-to-fact notion that what I experience (or say) “is” the same as what exists “out there” in the world misrepresent, mislead, and misinform. The fact of the matter is that the ‘real world’ is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group … We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation. — Edward Sapir (Carroll, 1956, p. 134)

 

Language Misbehaviors

No language is perfect. Every language, being man-made and not inherent or inerrant, has structural flaws and cannot properly reflect the structure of the world we uniquely sense and experience. If we accept the view that language(s) shape, influence, affect, etc., how a given culture constructs the ‘realities’ of that culture’s experiences, behavioral norms, world view, etc. (Ramachandran, Sapir, and others), then it behooves us as individuals and societies to acknowledge these flaws and revise our language habits and behaviors accordingly.

In addition to these structural flaws, individuals are prone to commit errors that result from lack of awareness of the abstracting/ evaluating process, conventional language habits and usages, or careless inattention.

Some of the symptoms of language misbehaviors include:

  1. We uncritically accept our perceptions of the world ‘out there’ as complete, accurate, and “the way it is.”
  2. We fail to consider the perceptions and perspectives of others who see “the way it is” differently than we do.
  3. We confuse the word itself with what the word stands for.
  4. We act as if words have ‘meanings’ on their own, without respect to individuals and context.
  5. We mistake or confuse facts with inferences, assumptions, beliefs, etc.
  6. We simplistically consider issues in terms of either-or, black or white, right or wrong, good or bad; we do not account for “shades of gray.”
  7. We tend to look for and recognize similarities more than differences, which results in mistaken generalizations, stereotypes, biases, etc.
  8. We forget or overlook the fact that every person and every thing changes over time.
  9. We use language to verbally ‘separate’ what cannot be separated in the real world (ex. mind from body, thoughts from feelings, style from content, form from function, “pure” reason or emotion, etc.).

Developing New Language Behaviors and Attitudes

Our language habits can affect our physiological behavior; we can allow what we see, hear, say, etc., to affect our blood pressure, pulse, rate of breathing, etc. As we become more aware of our verbal and non-verbal behaviors, we can practice techniques to achieve greater degrees of relaxation, less stress, greater sense of our environment, etc.

When we respond automatically, without exercising control over our response, we allow the stimulus to condition or determine our response. In other words, we behave more like Pavlov’s dog than an aware human being when we let someone or something “push our emotional hot buttons.”

Korzybski referred to two aspects of these behavioral implications of our internal language habits. He continually stressed the importance of what he called “cortico-thalamic” integration (Korzybski, 1994, p. xxvi). By this he meant that there needed to be a balanced integration of the new brain (the cortex) and the old or reptilian brain (which in the terminology of the time he referred to generally as the thalamus – what we now understand to be the amygdala). In other words, he described how, with proper awareness, one could use the capabilities of the cortex to temper, dampen, or even override the emotional or reactive responses of the thalamus/amygdala.

He emphasized that aware humans have the ability to respond conditionally to both non-verbal and symbolic stimuli. In other words, we have some degree of control over our response to a specific stimulus.

This is the gist of what current neuroscientists and psychologists now refer to with new terms, as evidenced in this excerpt of four clips from the PBS series “This Emotional Life” with Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert (Sweet & Gilbert, 2010).

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimation of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment. — Marcus Aurelius

We cannot command the wind, but we can adjust our sails. — Anonymous

 

Our ability to achieve “maximum humanness” and evolve to our human potential is a function of how accurately our language behaviors (what we do) reflect and are consistent with what we know. Therefore can evaluate our language behaviors according to criteria such as how well we:

  • maintain an ongoing attitude of “to-me-ness;”
  • hold our opinions, judgments, beliefs, and assumptions with a degree of tentativeness and willingness to change if new information or experiences warrant;
  • live comfortably with uncertainty;
  • exercise a healthy degree of skepticism and inquisitiveness;
  • strive for more description and less opinion, as approriate to the occasion;
  • strive for more unique and personal observations in our pronouncements, and fewer cliches, stock phrases, aphorisms, and conventional wisdoms;
  • look for differences among similarities, as well as recognize similarities among differences, seeing both the forest and the trees, depending on the circumstances; and
  • maintain a deserved sense of humility and minimize know-it-all attitudes.

Consciousness of Abstracting

One of the expressed goals in General Semantics is what Korzybski referred to as “consciousness of abstracting.” In other words, the objective of learning anything is to apply it in some way to one’s own circumstances, and one way to apply GS is to maintain an ongoing awareness of the abstracting process.

That’s all well and good, but then one can ask, “what is it exactly that I’m supposed to be conscious or aware of?” After all, abstracting, as you may have observed thus far in the course, can be a rather … abstract … notion to grasp.

Therefore the following table may help summarize some of the key differences between maintaining an awareness of your own abstracting processes, compared to remaining unaware of abstracting.

ConsciousOfAbstracting.jpg

 

Presumption of Allness, what is experienced or sensed is exactly what is there to be experienced. Aware of the abstracting process and limitations of the nervous system, recognition that one can never know or experience all about anything.
Conditioned responses, jump to conclusions, make snap judgments. Conditional responses, delayed reactions.
Bypassing – presuming that meanings are in words, that listeners presume speakers should use words the same way the listener uses them. Meanings are found in individuals and how they use words; ask what does the speaker mean? Definitions in dictionaries, meanings in people.
Two-valued, either-or, right-wrong, good-evil thinking. Multi-valued thinking, acknowledging shades of grey.
Talking is prone to absolutisms, certainty, closed-mindedness. Talking recognizes limitations of abstracting process, open-minded, tentative, acknowledges degrees of uncertainty.
Confusion between facts and inferences/observations, low standard for what is treated as fact. Prone to treat inference statements as if they were factual statements. Aware of differences between facts and inferences, sets a high bar for facts: 1) must have already occurred; 2) must be personally observed/experienced; 3) as close to certainty as humanly possible.
Assumptions are bad and should be avoided. Assumptions are inevitable and useful for time-binding, but need to be acknowledged and brought to awareness as much as possible.

 

Seeing (Visual Abstracting)

On this and the following pages, we present a variety of images, media files, and articles that illustrate different aspects of abstracting and evaluating.

Take care to note your reactions to the images and videos seen below in your Personal journal or in the Ongoing Course Discussion.

1. Visualizing Abstracting

Used/published with permission of the artist, Paul Dennithorne Johnston.

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2. Benham Disc

This 3-minute video has no sound.

 

3. Vision Explained

From the Charlie Rose Brain Series (Da Cunha, 2009a), Dr. Eric Kandel and the panel explain how the visual system works, without using the word abstracting, but they summarize in detail the abstracting process that Korzybski articulated.

4. Vision Confusion

Also from the Charlie Rose Brain Series ((Da Cunha, 2009a), these examples illustrate how our eyes-brain-visual-system is not a perfect recorder of how we convert our “out there” sensations into “in here” sensory experiences.

In some cases, our brains have been trained to interpret certain visual stimuli in very specific, and sometimes misleading, ways. In other cases we can recognize certain images (such as faces) with very sketchy and ambiguous inputs.

In other words, the result of what we abstract is not the same as the object of what we are abstracting.

 

5. Seeing what’s not there

Too often we tend to think of the abstracting process only in terms of a reducing filter, selecting and rejecting the sensory stimuli. We forget or overlook a key part of the process – even at the neurological level, our brains have to make inferences and guesses as they try to make sense of what we sense. As demonstrated with the Benham disc, sometimes what the brain constructs and reports is only a rough approximation of the ‘territory.’

Here is another example. Can you count the black dots in this image?

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Dimples and Bumps

As one illustration of these visual abstracing principles, look at the following image. This image includes what might be considered as “dimples” which appear to recede into the image, and “bumps” which appear to come out of the image. How many “dimples” and how many “bumps” do you see?

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Now rotate it 180 degrees. How many “dimples” and how many “bumps” do you see from this perspective? (It’s the same image, just turned upside-down.)

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Dimples and Bumps in the ‘Real World’

The two photographs below were grabbed from this story on CNET.com. Each depicts a satellite image as it was shown in the article, paired with the same photo rotated 180 degrees. What differences do you see, based on the orientation of the photo, with respect to relative height? Is the Citadel of Aleppo on a hill or in a crater? Is the Colorado River elevated above its surrounding terrain or at the bottom of a canyon?

Citadel of Aleppo, Syria

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Colorado River, United States

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Contribute to Ongoing Course Discussion      Add to your Personal Journal

Hearing (Auditory Abstracting)

Take care to note your reactions to what you hear below in your Personal journal or in the Ongoing Course Discussion.

1. Hearing Explained

From the Charlie Rose Brain Series (Da Cunha, 2013c), Dr. David Corey explains the hearing process. Again, he doesn’t use the term abstracting, but he describes the process that Korzybski highlighted 90 years ago.

 

2. A Listening Demonstration

This video illustrates that sometimes we need pointers to direct our sensing.

3.  My Tinnitus

mri-250.jpgAbout four years ago, experiencing the quiet and stillness of a full moon and late night in the high desert south of Santa Fe, NM, I noticed that it wasn’t quite as quiet as I expected. I was hearing something … something like a high-frequency buzzing in my left ear.

After extensive testing at the nearby veteran’s hospital (including an MRI), it was clear I was experiencing tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, a fairly common affliction associated with aging. My hearing wasn’t degraded in any way, it’s just that I have this continual whine in my left ear, predominantly, which isn’t really noticeable unless it’s quiet.

The medical community have a variety of theories about what causes tinnitus, but nothing conclusive. The only real treatment is to wear something that looks like a hearing aid that emits a masking tone (not dissimilar from noise-canceling headphones), but even that has mixed results.

It’s very strange. I hear something, but what I’m hearing isn’t “out there” … it’s something that my own brain is creating. And it’s not like hearing some other audible internal process like when your stomach growls, or … well, I won’t list other internal bodily processes that you hear on occasion. But it’s a very personal reminder to me that my brain is creating everything I experience – even when it’s self-created.

Touch

3 Buckets

Consider this demonstration in terms of differentiating between what happens on non-verbal levels as compared to what can be verbalized. What do the results of this activity suggest about verbal constructs such as absolute and relative?

If you have access to three buckets or large bowls, water and five minutes, you can gain some insights to the relative nature of your conditioning by doing this exercise.

Helping Hands and Buckets Put cold water in one bucket, or bowl, placed to your left, comfortably hot water in a bowl to your right, and lukewarm (“just right”) water in a middle bowl. Place your left hand in the cold water and your right hand in the comfortably hot water. Keep your hands submerged in the water for about a minute. Then raise both hands and place them in the middle bowl.

What do your senses tell you about the water temperature in the middle bowl?

You’re probably sharp enough to speculate what happens. (But go ahead and do it for yourself anyway.) Your left hand, conditioned by the cold water, tells you that the middle water is “warmer”; while your right hand, conditioned by the comfortably hot water tells you the middle water is “cooler.” You have only one stimulus – the middle bowl of water – but you have two different sensory responses. Which one is “right” or “true”?

Just like the left and right hands in the experiment, we are each ‘conditioned’ by our past. Each of us has lived through our own unique, no-two-the-same life experiences. To every new situation or experience, we bring our own unique perspectives and attitudes resulting from our past experiences. We therefore can’t help but experience each situation uniquely from anyone else. If we fail to recognize this – if we expect others to see or feel or smell or otherwise experience something exactly the same as we do – then we forget the lesson of the three water buckets:

This (warmer water to the left hand) is not that (cooler water to the right hand); or
This (high school experience of a student from Harwood Junior High) is not that (high school experience of a student from Euless Junior High);
This (what I find “pretty”) is not that (what you find “ugly”).
This (what I find “funny”) is not that (what you find “revolting”).
This (what I find “offensive”) is not that (what you find “satirical”).
Etc.

Identification

In General Semantics, the behavior we label identification is normally to be avoided, or at least recognized. We talk about it as a misevaluation in that when we identify, we confuse or mistake our impression or reaction to something as the something itself. Put another way, we allow the stimulus to determine our response, without deliberately or conditionally evaluating the stimulus (like Pavlov’s dog). Examples of identification include:

  • Mistaking the word as the thing, or the map as the territory. With a map in hand, some people will presume the map is correct and the land around them “should” be like the map. An extreme example would be someone eating a menu because the pictures of the food look so tasty.
  • Have you ever been disappointed when you arrived at a hotel by your Deluxe accommodations?
  • I read a product review recently on Amazon.com recently in which an outraged reader wrote a negative review of a plastic product made by a company called Steelmaster. This, even though the reader acknowledged the product was described as being made of plastic.
  • Imagine someone who is allergic to something, like a flower. If you gave that person a very real-looking silk flower, and the person had an allergic reaction, that would be identification.
  • Someone who eats an unfamiliar food, then later has a rather upsetting reaction when informed what the food was, isn’t reacting to the food. The person is reacting to the sound of the name of the food. The verbalized name is associated (identified) with a previous or imagined terrible experience and that drives the reaction.

Can you recall or imagine other examples of identification? Feel free to share them in the Ongoing Course Discussion.

Phantom Limb Pain

Following, however, is an example of identification that resulted in a positive and therapeutic result for someone experiencing “phantom limb” pain. This features Dr. V.S. Ramachandran from the 2001 PBS documentary, “Secrets of the Mind.”

 

The Marshmallow Experiment

Dr. Walter Mischel’s famous “Marshmallow Experiment” relates to his study of children’s ability to delay gratification. However, one of the secondary findings, according to Mischel, is that this identification mechanism can be manipulated to increase, or decrease, a child’s ability to delay gratification.

In this clip from The Charlie Rose Brain Series, Dr. Mischel explains the experiment and its findings. The discussion about the experiment begins at the 2:00 point. The description of identification (he doesn’t use Korzybski’s term) begins at 7:40 mark.

 

 

Maps without Territories

In his Your Most Enchanted Listener (Johnson, 1956b), Wendell Johnson explores the special kind of talking we do with ourselves. He called this “inner speech” and observed that, “The worlds we manage to get inside our heads are mostly worlds of words.”

As we have emphasized throughout this first module, we can evaluate our language behaviors in the way we can judge the effectiveness of a map – do our behaviors properly and appropriately reflect the ‘territories’ of our lived experiences?

Johnson’s observation begs the question, what happens when all we put into our heads are words? When those words/maps have no corresponding experience/territory, what then?

The examples on this page illustrate that we are prone to certain kinds of evaluations and behaviors in the absence of any “out there” stimuli.

1. Higher levels of abstracting

From the PBS Series “The Human Spark” (Lipworth & Chedd, 2010) narrated by Alan Alda featuring Daniel Povinelli discussing differences between humans and chips to evaluate highly-abstract thoughts and concepts … like “heavy” and “light.”

 

2. Inventing the unobservable

From the same documentary, Povinelli discusses one difference between humans and chimps that may not always be productive. Can you think of some examples?

 

 

3. Attention hijacking

Daniel Goleman, in a radio interview with Diane Rehm on National Public Radio, describes one example of how we can let the words in our heads, in partnership with our brain’s older structures, create worlds of their own.

from the online transcript:

GOLEMAN: Well, here’s the problem. The way the brain was designed worked very well in ancient days when we lived in jungles, and we, you know, there was a Saber-tooth tiger and we had to have this radar for threats called the amygdala on watch all the time because you never know when that rustle in the leaves is going to mean you better run if you’re going to survive. Today that same brain mechanism is looking for threat constantly, and it reacts to symbolic threats as though they were real biological ones.

REHM: Give me an example.

GOLEMAN: For example, someone doesn’t answer your email. You’re expecting something right away and you start obsessing about it, and in fact you start to review everything that’s happened in the relationship for the last week and what you may have done wrong that made them mad at you. In other words, you make the assumption that there’s an emotional emergency and what happens is the amygdala can hijack your attention so that you’re thinking about that instead of, you know, the work you’re supposed to be doing or the person you’re with, whatever it is. But that’s the way our brain is wired.

Questions to ponder:

  1. Is there a difference between Goleman saying “the way the brain was designed,” as opposed to him saying, “the way the brain has evolved”?
  2. What are the limitations of using the metaphor that our brains are “wired”?
  3. Can you think of examples that illustrate this ability to create highly abstract evaluations can reflect both the best, and the worst, of human thinking?
  4. Do the above comments of Daniel Goleman support or refute the sentiments in the clips from This Emotional Life that you saw on the Language(s) as Map(s) page? (re-posted below)

 

What is a ‘weapon’? (the perils of zero-tolerance thinking)

Taylor Hess ExpulsionAs maps are not the same as territories, so are words not the same as the objects, things, or life events they represent. When we act as though the words have priority over the things the words stand for, we often cause problems for ourselves, or others.

In 2002, a 16-year-old high school honor student at L.D. Bell High School in Hurst, TX, was expelled from school for a year and sentenced to the Tarrant County Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program.

His offense? He had helped his parents move his grandmother’s belongings on a Sunday afternoon. The next Monday, while his pickup truck was parked in the school parking lot, a security guard found a bread knife in the bed of the truck.

Local newspapers reported that the school district administration insisted that the young student had been expelled for bringing a “weapon” onto campus. In the wake of the 1999 Columbine High School murders in Colorado, a Texas Education Code statute mandated a “zero tolerance” one-year expulsion from school. The law explicitly defined by statute what constituted a “weapon.” The bread knife, the common tableware type of knife, met the statute’s definition of a “weapon.” Therefore, by the school district’s interpretation of the state statute, the student “brought a weapon onto campus.”

Not only did the student bring a “weapon” (by definition) onto campus, but according to one school district official, by the very act of bringing the “weapon” onto campus (in the bed of his truck in the student parking lot), “I do feel he put students at risk, whether he knowingly did that or not.” Of course this benign bread knife, hiding in the bed of a pickup truck in the far reaches of the sophomore parking lot, posed a “threat” to campus students — by definition.

Perhaps so in the verbal world of carefully scripted legislated words written on papers collected in notebooks stacked on shelves in offices in the state capitol. But in the ‘real world’ of real weapons, real threats, and real harmful intentions, this benign bread knife posed no threat … other than to the future education and life for a 16-year-old honor student. Read the news account (pdf).

Questions to ponder:

  1. Do “zero-tolerance” laws and regulations serve a productive purpose in societies?
  2. In the case of a law such as this one, is it better to leave “weapon” undefined, or to explicitly define it as specifically and descriptively as possible?
  3. Do you agree with the evaluation of the school district official that Taylor, whether he intended to or not, did “put students at risk”?

Was Uncle Bruce a Nazi? (or, the meaning of symbols)

A second uncle of my great-grandfather became a graphic artist and moved to New York City as a young man. While perusing my family mementos, photos, and scrapbooks one day, I found a handmade Christmas card that “Uncle Bruce” mailed to my great-grandparents in 1924.

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The card features a silhouette of a family in their decorated home, seen through the grill of a frosted window. Hanging in the window frame are several different seasonal ornaments and symbols. Featured prominently in the center of the window, I was taken aback to see an unmistakable … swastika!

Was Uncle Bruce a Nazi?

Rudyard Kipling Book CoverWell, no. After just a few minutes of online research, I discovered that, prior to Hitler’s German National Socialists party appropriating the swastika symbol for its own branding, the symbol had been used as an expressive symbol for good fortune, good luck, good wishes, etc., for centuries.

In fact, Rudyard Kipling featured the symbol prominently on the front covers and title pages of several early editions of his books, at least through the 1920s. Was Kipling a Nazi? Even before there were Nazis?

We need to remember that every symbol — every word, sign, icon, code, etc. — was created by humans. Just as there is no, to my knowledge, piece of music or art that spontaneously emanated with inherent (and inerrant) ‘meaning,’ there exists no symbol with inherent and inerrant ‘meaning.’ As the American pragmatist philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce is attributed with saying: You don’t get meaning; you respond with meaning.

SwastikWhile traveling in India in 2007, I learned there is a neighborhood known as “Swastik” in the ancient city of Ahmedabad, home of Gandhi’s Ashram. From a professor at a city university I heard a story that the swastika symbol, according to Indian tradition of more than three thousand years, depicted the life-sustaining image of a water wheel.

From my standpoint, I’m not particularly interested in where or when the symbol originated. I find it important to remember that the symbol we recognize and call a “swastika” can convey — or, perhaps more appropriately, can evoke — different meanings among different people in different contexts. The symbol itself carries no inherent meaning or sense of goodness or evil or luck.

As George Carlin said of “dirty words” … they’re innocent! It’s the people who use the words or symbols that you have to worry about (Carlin, 1990).

Questions to ponder:

  1. Can you think of any examples of words or symbols whose meanings have evolved over the years?
  2. Can you predict what current word or symbol usages might change over the next 20-30 years?

Driving with an old map

 

Map of St. LouisIn 1999, I drove from Texas to Chicago. While passing through St. Louis, I called some friends to meet for lunch. They gave me directions to a particular expressway intersection. I looked at my road atlas — the atlas I had owned for 20 years, the one that I’d used to drive all over the western United States.

The atlas of highway maps that had all kinds of notes and mileage and phone numbers scribbled on it.

The one I would never even think about leaving at home when I traveled.

But there was a problem. The expressway intersection to which I had been directed by my friends wasn’t on my map. One of the expressways did not exist when my map was published — it had only recently been constructed. My map was out of date. The freeway system (or territory) had changed, but my map hadn’t. I needed a new map if I wanted to meet my friends for lunch.

Too often we rely on static, outdated ‘maps’ that don’t fit the current situations, circumstances, conditions, or ever-changing ‘territories’ of our daily lives.

Questions to ponder:

  1. Do any of your ‘maps’ need to be updated?
  2. What kinds of attitudinal maps have you changed over the years?

Module Review and Reflection

Dare to be naive (Fuller, 1975, p. xix).

Foundational Premises of General Semantics

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Any language, to be most effective, must incorporate what we know (from scientific investigations) about the world around us and what we understand about ourselves. Therefore it’s important to discern the world “out there” (beyond our skin) from the world “in here” (within our skin).

  • Our awareness of ‘what goes on’ outside of our skin is not the same as ‘what goes on.’
  • Our ability to experience the world is relative, unique to our own individual sensing capabilities (or sensory acuities), past experiences, and expectations.
  • Every person abstracts and evaluates their life experiences differently, based on their prior experiences, genetics, their their environments.
  • Our environment, the world around us (including ourselves), is ever-changing. We never experience the ‘same’ person, event, situation, or thing more than once.
  • We have limits (due to evolution, genes, physics, etc.) as to what we can experience.
  • We can never experience all of what’s to experience. We abstract only a portion of what we can sense. We experience incompletely on all levels (macroscopic, microscopic, sub-microscopic, cosmologic, etc.).
  • We sense and experience on silent, non-verbal levels, from which we speak, think, infer, etc.

What Happens ? What I Sense ? How I Respond ? “What It Means”

  • These facts lead to the inevitable conclusion that, for our language behaviors to be most effective, they must reflect our knowledge about ourselves and our world. We must apply all of our knowledge to our language habits, evaluations, and how we view ourselves in our world.

 

Scientific Orientation

I want to emphasize that the the system or methods of General Systems, including the language habits and behaviors which are espoused in this course, are not random tips, hints, secrets, or common sense aphorisms. These methods and recommendations flow from the premises and logical consequences that are consistent and integrated throughout General Semantics.  Again, we want to reiterate that GS begins with a scientific orientation.

The application of a scientific approach or method has proven to be the most effective problem-solving process yet created by humans. Therefore it makes sense to apply a scientific approach in our evaluations and judgments about ourselves and our experiences.

This means that we should continually test our assumptions and beliefs; continually gather new facts, data, and observations; revise our beliefs and assumptions as appropriate; and then hold our conclusions and judgments tentatively, in accordance with our own experiences, pending the possibility that new data, new experiences, might necessitate new theories or new assumptions to be tested.

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Unstated or hidden assumptions of which we are unaware can often drive our behaviors and attitudes. One of the oft-repeated “conventional wisdoms” we hear is the admonition to avoid making assumptions. The joke goes, “You know what happens when you assume, right? You make an ASS out of U and ME!”

This aphorism is problematic from my GS perspective, in addition to just being lame humor. Making assumptions and inferences is not only unavoidable, but a vitally-important human capability. Some of our most intelligent and productive human behaviors depend on our ability to intuit, correlate with past experiences, match patterns, and dozens of other activities akin to “making assumptions.” In short, we cannot NOT make assumptions.

The key takeaway is here that rather than trying to avoid assumptions, we need to make a special effort to recognize and become more aware of our assumptions, inferences, beliefs, etc. An activity to highlight how much we unknowingly infer about simple situations is the uncritical inference test.

GS as an Overlay to Evaluating

General Semantics itself can be considered a special type of map.

As the man-made invention of latitude and longitude enabled predictable navigation across (and above) the earth possible, you can think of GS as providing an overlay to guide one’s evaluating processes.

latlong.gif

Map of Latitudes and Longitudes provided by World Atlas with permission.

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In other words, you can apply the GS principles to:

  1. making better verbal maps;
  2. evaluating the maps that others make;
  3. evaluating your own evaluations.

Neil Postman on Korzybski

Neil Postman held the position of Paulette Goddard Professor of Media Ecology at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education, and former Chair of the Department of Culture and Communication. He authored 17 books on education and culture, such as Amusing Ourselves to Death, Teaching as a Subversive Activity with co-author Charles Weingartener, and Conscientious Objections: Stirring up trouble about language, technology, and education.

Less well-known about Postman is that he edited the quarterly journal, ETC: A Review of General Semantics, from 1976-1986. During his tenure, I think it’s fair to say that his views about Korzybski changed. From an initial ambivalence about Korzybski, Postman came to appreciate and even admire him by the time he wrote the following.

postman-CO-cover-183.jpgLike psychoanalysis, general semantics lends itself, too easily, to the predilections and idiosyncrasies of its practitioners, and there has been no firm consensus about the path it should follow. Moreover, general semantics is not easy to fit into conventional academic territories. It is simply too broad in its scope to be contained within a single discipline, for it is part philosophy, part epistemology, part psychology, part linguistics, and several other “parts,” all of which when taken together comprise the university curriculum. In a world of specialists, general semantics appears too diffuse, too divergent, too holistic to suit the modern style of academic thought. In a word, to study and teach it is not likely to further one’s chances for tenure.

And yet, although [Alfred] Korzybski’s name is relatively obscure at the moment, his impact has been felt. Some of his terminology and many of his insights have found their way into semiotics, psycholinguistics, educational psychology, media studies, and, of course, semantics. Many people in the nonacademic world – in business, government, social work, psychotherapy – employ Korzybski’s methods with great effectiveness and freely acknowledge their debt to him. But beyond all this, it is indisputable that together with such figures as C .S. Pierce, William James, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and I.A. Richards, Alfred Korzybski helped to heighten our awareness of the role of language in making us what we are and in preventing us from becoming what we ought to be but are not yet (Postman, 1988, p. 146).

Steve Stockdale

This 6-minute excerpt is from a 56-minute lecture I presented at the University of Nevada Las Vegas in 2004 (Stockdale, 2004). Note: adjust your volume lower, this recording is pretty loud.

 

General Semantics

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Optional Activities

monitor.jpgDepending on your interests and curiosities, you may find some of these additional readings, videos, and activities worth investigating.

Media

Difference between Facts and Inteferences

This 27-minute lecture is one of six episodes of “Talking Sense,” a series presented by Northwestern University professor Irving J. Lee in 1952 on Chicago television. This lecture provides wonderful insight into Lee’s high standard for differentiating facts from inferences with several excellent examples.

2006 General Semantics Course Review

An edited 25-minute Powerpoint presentation by Steve Stockdale to review the Fall 2006 General Semantics course at Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth, Texas. The video summary, in three parts, was necessary after the final class of the semester was canceled due to inclement weather.

General Semantics Overview

Applications for Students

After You’ve Studied General Semantics

A General Semantics Perspective

This 9-minute narrated Powerpoint presentation by Steve Stockdale is excerpted from the 50-minute presentation, “Lay Off My Persuade Shoes (external link),” to the American Advertising Federation chapter in Amarillo, Texas, in 2009. The script follows the video.


 

Script

Let’s look at the author of Perspective #2, Alfred Korzybski. Korzybski was born in 1879 to a land-owning family in Poland. He was raised by servants from four different countries who spoke four different languages. So he grew up with a working knowledge of Polish, Russian, German, and French. In this type of multi-lingual environment, it came naturally to Korzybski to disassociate the word, or symbol, from the thing that the word or symbol represented.

As a student he studied engineering, mathematics, and chemistry. When the first World War erupted in 1914, he was enlisted into the Russian cavalry. Not only was he severely wounded, but he witnessed first hand the devastating effects of all the new weapons of war that debuted during this “war to end all wars” … airplanes, armored tanks, rapid-fire machine guns, poison gas.

He was sent to North America toward the end of the war when he could no longer serve on the battlefield. He supported artillery testing in Canada before transferring to the U.S. where he traveled the country speaking to groups and selling war bonds. After the war, he remained in the U.S. and married a woman from Chicago.

He was haunted by his experiences during the war. As an engineer, he pondered this question: How is it that humans have progressed so far and so rapidly in engineering, mathematics, and the sciences, yet we still fight wars and kill each other?

He devoted the rest of his life obsessed with this problem. In 1921 he published his first book, Manhood of Humanity. Then in 1933, he wrote what became the source book for the field of study we know as General Semantics …. Science and Sanity.

general semantics definedNow, I realize that the focus of this presentation is not General Semantics. But since I’ve taught the subject for the past four years to “mass communications practitioners” I’d like to say a few words about it because it does represent a perspective that I think is important.

The definition I’ve come to use with my university students is this: General semantics deals with the study of how we perceive, construct, evaluate and then express our life experiences through our language-behaviors.

Note that I’ve connected language and behavior with a hyphen and refer to language-behavior. I think most people usually talk in terms of language AND behavior as though the two are separated and not associated. But in General Semantics we consider language as something that humans, something that you and I as individuals, do … it’s a part of our behavior just as much as our breathing, our eating, our laughing, our crying, our working or playing.

We do language. And because our language-behaviors are so integral to human cooperation, as well as human conflict, Korzybski spent his life observing, understanding, and documenting this process of perceiving, constructing, evaluating and then responding.

He developed a model or a diagram for visualizing and understanding what he referred to as the abstracting process. But as a way to introduce that, I want to first show you a similar model that you might already be familiar with.

I learned this as the “Information Theory” model. It’s simply a pyramid divided into four sections:
The largest section on the bottom is labeled “data”. Above that is a smaller section labeled “information.” Then a smaller section labeled “knowledge”, and then a top section labeled “wisdom.” (Sometimes the “wisdom” section isn’t included, and other labels could be substituted for it.)

But the point of the model is to show the relationships that: from much data, we derive (or to use Korzybski’s term, we abstract) usable information, from which we can further abstract what we call knowledge … and then wisdom.

So it’s as though we filter out the data that doesn’t concern us, we keep and use what does, and from that we construct “information” that we find meaningful. Then we further filter what we’ve labeled as information that results in what we label knowledge.

Here’s a quick example. Take everything that I’m saying as a part of this presentation, as well as every slide and media clip. Every word and every image can be considered a single item of data. As you observe and listen, some of the words and images will amount to nothing more than noise … but some of it (I hope, a lot of it) will register with you as something that’s relevant or meaningful as information. And when it’s over, perhaps you’ll say that you learned something and feel more knowledgeable.

Now let’s look at Korzybski’s model as similar to this Information model, after we’ve turned it upside down. Each level compares generally to its corresponding level in the Information model.

GS process of abstractingRemember that this GS model is diagramming or ‘mapping’ the process of how we perceive, construct, evaluate, and respond to our life experiences.

The first step in this process of experiencing is that … well, there’s some kind of an experience. Something Happens. It’s important for us to realize and be aware that, as humans with finite sensory abilities, we cannot know or experience everything that happens. There are limits to what we can see, hear, smell, touch and taste. So there’s a lot more that happens … there’s a lot a more DATA … than what we can experience.

Secondly, through our senses we interact with our environment. Within the limits of our sensing capabilities, we detect whatever is happening. But it’s important to remember that not only can we not sense everything, but what we do sense is to some degree unique to our individual sensory abilities. We each have a different sensory acuity when it comes to our vision, our hearing, our taste discrimination.

And it’s also important to remember that what we sense is not “what happened” … our sense experience is an imperfect abstraction of what happened that’s been filtered, you could say, or constructed by the nervous system.

The next part of the process, labeled as “evaluation,” represents the first verbal level in which we can describe, or cognitively recognize, what our senses tell us about the experience. But again, what we can say or think or write about the experience, is NOT the experience itself.

The fourth level then, after the descriptive phase, is labeled as “meaning” … what the experience means is something more or different than just how we describe it.

So to summarize this process of abstracting:

  • What we can sense is NOT what actually happens.
  • What we can describe is something other than what we actually sense.
  • What an experience means is something more than just what we can describe. What an experience means is the result of this filtering, or abstracting process in which each stage represents a different activity of a physiological process.

As an example, let’s consider again what’s going on in this room. The “goings on” or “things that are happening” are experienced by each one of you as different individuals. Each of you sees and hears what goes on slightly differently than anyone else.In the diagram, you see four individuals experiencing the same happening. But we start to see differences in their individual abstracting processes at the evaluation stage, or the third level of describing what they experienced. Let’s say they were each asked to write a simple report of “what happened” during today’s meeting.

Jane may give a detailed summation of each part of the meeting, as if she were preparing the minutes. John might comment only on the business that was conducted and simply state there followed a program. Elvis might describe what he selected from the lunch buffet in detail, skip over the business matters, and summarize points from my presentation. So each individual’s report might be colored or flavored differently.

But then in the final step of the process we can really see the differences between each our hypothetical observers. What they individually got out of this meeting, or what the meeting meant to them, varies a great deal.

In this case, “You” enjoyed it, without any reaction one way or the other. Jane, however, loved it. John didn’t really care for it and lost interest, but while his thoughts drifted to a problem he has at work he had a brainstorm he can’t wait to go back to implement. Elvis was left wondering about how any of this related to shoes.

So that’s a basic introduction to the abstracting process that’s central to the GS understanding of how we perceive, construct, evaluate, and respond to our life experiences.

Historical Note on the Structural Differential

A mash-up by Steve Stockdale that adds images to audio excerpts from Alfred Korzybski’s recorded explanation of how he was inspired to create the structural differential as a means to visually represent the abstracting process.

On the “Power of Words”

Do Word Actually Possess Power? — Four short video clips that illustrate different considerations of the question.

The Tyranny of Categories

During their reporting on Hurricane Ike in 2008, the Weather Channel’s on-air presenters and remote reporters faced a peculiar linguistic dilemma.

They, and their viewing audience, have been trained to communicate about the power of a hurricane based on a system of five categories. The sole, and arbitrary, basis of the five categories is sustained wind velocity.

Watch what happens when Ike’s sustained winds persist at the 110 miles/hour (177 km/hour) reading, which happens to be the arbitrary dividing line between Category 2 and Category 3.

  • Does it really matter to the audience whether or not the storm is Category 2 or 3?
  • Does it matter to the hurricane?
  • Can you see how these human-created categories (or labels, genres, classes, etc.) can sometimes take on a life of their own in terms of how humans react to them?

You may want to turn your volume down for this one, it’s pretty loud.

Readings

Uncritical Inference Tests

These two uncriticial inference tests are based on the work of William V. Haney. Carefully read the brief story which follows. Assume that all of the information presented in the story is definitely accurate and true. Next, read the statements following the story. If the statement is definitely true based on the information presented in the story, check the TRUE column. If the statement is definitely false based on the information presented, mark it FALSE. If the true or false answer cannot be determined based on the information presented, check NOT SURE. You may refer back to the story whenever you wish. But you must answer the questions in order, and once answered, you can’t go back and make changes.

Stephanie’s CD (by Steve Stockdale)

Stephanie and her friend walked into the music store after lunch. Stephanie wanted to buy the new CD by the group, “No Girls Allowed”. There was only one other person in the store when Stephanie and her friend arrived. Stephanie asked, “How much is this CD?” Stephanie’s friend said, “Here, let me see it. I don’t think he heard you. This tag says it costs $11.99.”

 

TRUE FALSE NOT SURE
1. Stephanie wanted to buy a CD.
2. Stephanie and her friend ate lunch together.
3. Stephanie owns a CD player.
4. There was only one boy in the store.
5. Two girls walked into a music store.
6. There are no boys in the “No Girls Allowed” group.
7. Stephanie and her friend are teenagers.
8. The store’s owner didn’t hear Stephanie because the music was too loud.
9. Stephanie had enough money to buy the CD.
10. The “No Girls Allowed” CD cost $11.99.
11. The owner of the store is a woman.
12. Stephanie wanted to buy a CD as a gift.
13. One of the CDs costs $11.99.
14. There were two boys in the store.
15. The clerk was hard of hearing.

 

Hospital Grand Opening (by Andrea Johnson)

It was the grand opening for Saudi Arabia-Mayo Hospital when AJ Jones entered the administration office. Jones walked from desk to desk pleasantly greeting the new employees.  One person sat at her desk with her back turned to Jones.  She didn’t acknowledge the greeting; in fact she kept her eyes cast downward.  Jones looked at her desk nameplate, which said “Raheena,” frowned and walked briskly out of the office.

 

TRUE FALSE NOT SURE
1. Jones is the new hospital administrator.
2. Raheena doesn’t speak English.
3. The new hospital is connected to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
4. Jones greeted new employees as he walked from desk to desk.
5. AJ Jones entered the administrator’s office.
6. It was the grand opening for Saudi Arabia-Mayo Hospital.
7. Raheena hates Americans.
8. Raheena is shy and a little hard of hearing.
9. Raheena did not acknowledge Jones’s greeting.
10. Jones made an inference about the woman who did not acknowledge his greeting.

Pretty easy? Did you notice how you projected information into these simple stories that wasn’t stated as ‘fact’? In every encounter or situation we face, we bring our past experiences to it in the form of unstated, usually unconscious assumptions and premises. We draw inferences based on these assumptions about the situation as if they were fact. Many times we cause problems for ourselves and others when we confuse our inferences with the ‘facts’, and when we don’t recognize our projections as projections.

Review and Reflection

Now that you’ve been introduced to general semantics, participate in this Discussion topic. Provide a short answer (no more than 2 sentences) to these questions.

  1. What is the most surprising or unexpected thing you learned this week?
  2. What is the most significant or meaningful thing you will take away from this week’s material?
  3. What material or information are you skeptical about or just don’t accept as valid?
  4. After you post this reply, read the responses from your classmates and reply to at least two of them – one that you like or agree with, and another that you disagree with. Each comment should be limited to one complete sentence.

Module 1 Quiz

1. Which of the following statements is most relevant to General Semantics?

  1. The territory is always a figment of the map maker’s imagination.
  2. A map is not required to be structurally similar to the territory.
  3. A map cannot depict all of the territory.
  4. A map can be an exact replica of the territory.

2. Korzybski was inspired by his experiences in which war?

  1. Spanish Civil War
  2. Spanish American War
  3. World War II
  4. World War I

3. Which statement best reflects the notion of abstracting as Korzybski used the term?

  1. What we see is not all of what’s there to be seen.
  2. Our thoughts, words, and deeds are always different from what we intend.
  3. Everything is abstract, nothing is concrete.
  4. The world is an illusion; nothing is real, everything is imagined.

4. Which statement supports the contention that there is a difference between the “out there” world and our “in here” experience of that world?

  1. All of these statements support the contention.
  2. “The spooky truth is that your brain constructs reality, visual and otherwise.”
  3. “Your perception of the world is … really a fabrication of your model of the world.”
  4. “The eye is not a camera.”
  5. There is not a “one-to-one relationship between the outside world and my inner mental experiences.”

5. Which statement comes closest to expressing the gist of Korzybski’s theory of time-binding?

  1. Unbounded by time constraints, animals will eventually become symbol manipulators.
  2. Time is a man-made construct, but we have become bound by it.
  3. Because of our symbol manipulating capabilities, humans can build on the knowledge of previous generations.
  4. Time heals all wounds, so eventually time will address all human problems and conflicts.

6. Which of the following statements is most correct regarding the scientific method?

  1. Even if your test results support your hypothesis, that doesn’t mean the hypothesis is true or proved.
  2. If your test results support the hypothesis, by definition the hypothesis is true and becomes a fact.
  3. Even if your test results don’t support your hypothesis, you might still be able to design a better test that would support what you’re trying to prove.
  4. The most important aspect of an experiment is to believe strongly in your hypothesis.

7. The significance of recognizing that we live in a “process-oriented universe” is best stated by which of the following statements?

  1. Everything is changing all the time, even if we cannot see the changes, therefore we should hold our evaluations tentatively.
  2. The universe is predictable once humans use time-binding to discover all of the true processes that underlie the physical and metaphysical worlds we live in.
  3. Everything is changing all the time, even if we cannot see the changes, therefore we should cling tightly to our beliefs and never doubt our certainty.
  4. Everything we experience happens according to a pre-defined process, therefore there is no such thing as “free will.”

8. If you and I observe the same stimulus at the same time, what might account for any differences we report in our descriptions of the stimulus?

  1. We’re observing from different perspectives.
  2. We may have different sensory capabilities or acuities.
  3. Our prior experiences may lead to different observations and evaluations.
  4. All of these statements are correct.

9. The extensional device of indexing uses ______________ to remind us that _______________.

  1. subscripts or index numbers; individuals within a group, class, or label are each unique
  2. quote marks; we should be careful not to judge others prematurely
  3. quote marks; we should recognize that every label lies a little
  4. subscripts or index numbers; individuals within a group, class, or label are the same and indistinguishable from each other.

10. The extensional device of dating uses ______________ to remind us that _______________.

  1. etc.; it’s okay to change our minds over time
  2. dating: regardless of when their life experiences happen, time-binders will maintain unchanging beliefs and evaluations
  3. dates; we should strive to not change
  4. dates; the same person or thing will change over time

11. The extensional device of etc. uses ______________ to remind us that _______________.

  1. etc.; there is always more that could be said or experienced.
  2. subscripts; there are always other members of the group of category to consider.
  3. quote marks; we should be careful about ending a statement prematurely.
  4. dates; it’s okay to change your mind at a later time.

12. Why might you want to avoid using absolutisms?

  1. By definition, absolutisms are absolutely true in all cases so they should NOT be avoided.
  2. If you want your language to reflect the tentativeness and uncertainties that are inevitable aspects of your evaluating processes.
  3. We should always avoid using words that end in “ism”.
  4. Because the fewer words said, the better.

13. _____________ serves as the primary tool that enables _______________.

  1. E-prime; humans to avoid absolutisms
  2. Time-binding; humans to continually re-invent the wheel
  3. Language; time-binding
  4. Chemistry-binding; humans to move through space

14. Ricardo was supposed to pick up Suri at 8:00pm for dinner. By 8:20pm, the normally punctual Ricardo had still not arrived. Rather than become overly worried, angry, or upset with Ricardo’s tardiness, Suri patiently waits. From a GS-perspective, Suri’s evaluative response can be best attributed to her:

  1. consciousness of abstracting and limiting her inferences.
  2. passive personality and not wanting to let Ricardo know she was worried.
  3. date-timing her reaction and inferring that it’s not unusual for dates to be late.
  4. ambivalence about Ricardo because she didn’t care much for artists.

15. Recognizing that we each individually evaluate events from our own unique perspectives and according to our own personal histories and sensory abilities, can be referred to as:

  1. to-me-ness
  2. emotional intelligence
  3. individual truthiness
  4. theory of intensional relativity

16. We should avoid making assumptions, inferences, or judgments, because we all know what happens when you ASSUME anything.

  1. True
  2. False

17. “You’re either with us or against us” is an example of a multi-valued orientation.

  1. True
  2. False

18. Alfred Korzybski was a communist because he fought for Russia in World War I.

  1. True
  2. False

19. A primary objective of GS is that you should strive for absolute precision in your language behavior and always use the right word according to the most recent dictionary.

  1. True
  2. False

20. The best way to practice the principles of General Semantics is to concentrate on spotting errors in other people’s evaluations and language behavior.

  1. True
  2. False

Module 1 References

searchlight.jpgBois, J.S. (1957). Explorations in awareness. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Bois, J.S. (1966). The art of awareness. Wm. C. Brown Company Publishers, Dubuque, Iowa.

Bontrager, O.R. (1957). Notes by Kenneth Johnson from the 1957 summer seminar-workshop. Institute of General Semantics Archives, Fort Worth, TX.

Bourland, D.D. (2004). To be or not to be: E-prime as a tool for critical thinking. ETC: A Review of General Semantics, 61-4, 546-557.

Carlin, G. (1990). Doin’ It Again. HBO Comedy.

Carroll, J.B., ed. (1956). Language, thought and reality: Selected writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA.

Chase, S. (1938). The tyranny of words. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company.

Crick, F. (1994). The astonishing hypothesis: The scientific search for the soul. New York, NY: Touchstone.

Da Cunha, C. (Director). (2009a)  Episode 1 of the Charlie Rose Brain Series: The Great Mysteries of the Brain. In Rose, C. ( Host and Executive Producer), & Vega, Y. (Executive Producer) The Charlie Rose Show. New York, NY. Charlie Rose LLC.

Da Cunha, C. (Director). (2009b)  Episode 2 of the Charlie Rose Brain Series: Visual Perception. In Rose, C. ( Host and Executive Producer), & Vega, Y. (Executive Producer) The Charlie Rose Show. New York, NY. Charlie Rose LLC.

Da Cunha, C. (Director). (2013c)  Episode 27 of the Charlie Rose Brain Series: The Acting Brain. In Rose, C. ( Host and Executive Producer), & Vega, Y. (Executive Producer) The Charlie Rose Show. New York, NY. Charlie Rose LLC.

Fairchild, D. (1938). The world was my garden: Travels of a plant explorer. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Fuller, B. (1975). Synergetics. New York: MacMillan.

Haney, W.V. (1973). Communication and organizational behavior: Text and cases (3rd ed.). Homewood, IL: Richard D. Irwin, Inc.

Hawkins, J., & Blakeslee, S. (2004). On intelligence: How a new understanding of the brain will lead to the creation of truly intelligent machines. New York: Holt Paperbacks.

Hayakawa, S.I. (1949). Language in thought and action (2nd ed.). New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company.

Hayakawa, S.I. (1963). Symbol, status and personality. New York: Harvest/HBJ.

J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Committee (Producer). (2005) Consciousness: a neurobiological approach (Christof Koch). Available from http://jromc.org

J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Committee (Producer). (2009) Why can’t a computer be more like a brain? (Jeff Hawkins). Available from http://jromc.org

Johnson, K.G., Senatore, J.J., Liebig, M.C., and Minor, G. (1974). Nothing never happens. Beverly Hills, CA: Glencoe Press.

Johnson, W. (1946). People in quandaries. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Johnson, W. (1956a). General Semantics course lecture, recording of radio broadcast by WSUI, Iowa City, IA. Institute of General Semantics Archives, Fort Worth, TX.

Johnson, W. (1956b). Your most enchanted listener. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Incorporated.

Koch, C. (2004). The Quest for consciousness: A neurobiological approach. Englewood, CO: Roberts & Company Publishers.

Kodish, B.I. (2011). Korzybski: A biography. Pasadena, CA: Extensional Publishing.

Kodish, S.P. & Kodish, B.I. (2001). Drive yourself sane: Using the uncommon sense of general semantics (2nd ed.). Pasadena, CA: Extensional Publishing.

Korzybski, A. (1990a). Fate and freedom. In Kendig, M. (Ed.) Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings 1920-1950 (p. 13 ). Englewood, NJ: Institute of General Semantics.

Korzybski, A. (1990b). The role of language in the perceptual processes. In Kendig, M. (Ed.) Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings 1920-1950 (pp. 685-720). Englewood, NJ: Institute of General Semantics.

Korzybski, A. (1990c). What I believe. In Kendig, M. (Ed.) Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings 1920-1950 (pp. 645-662). Englewood, NJ: Institute of General Semantics.

Korzybski, A. (1990a). Article Title. In Kendig, M. (Ed.) Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings 1920-1950 (pp. ). Englewood, NJ: Institute of General Semantics.

Korzybski, A. (1993). Manhood of humanity (2nd ed.). Englewood, NJ: Institute of General Semantics.

Korzybski, A. (1994). Science and sanity: An introduction to non-Aristotelian systems and general semantics (5th ed.). Englewood, NJ: Institute of General Semantics.

Korzybski, A. (2002). General semantics seminar 1937: Olivet College lectures (3rd ed.). Brooklyn, NY: Institute of General Semantics.

Lee, I.J. (1941). Language habits in human affairs. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers.

Lee, I.J. (1952). Talking Sense video series. Purchased from Institute of General Semantics.

Lee, I.J. (1949). The language of wisdom and folly. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers.

Lee, I.J. (1958). On language and general semantics. General Semantics Bulletin, 22-23, 59-60.

Lipworth, J. & Chedd, G. (Executive Producers). (2010). The human spark. Thirteen/WNET, New York.

MacNeal, E. (1994). Mathsemantics: Making numbers talk sense. New York: Viking.

Macknik, S.L. & Martinez-Conde, S. (2010). Sleights of Mind: What the neuroscience of magic reveals about our everyday deceptions. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company.

Maslow, A.H. (1987). Motivation and personality (3rd ed.). New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.

Meyers, R. (1957). Notes by Kenneth Johnson from the 1957 summer seminar-workshop. Institute of General Semantics Archives, Fort Worth, TX.

Murray, E. (1944). The speech personality. Chicago, IL: J.B. Lippincott Company.

Postman, N. (1988). Conscientious objections: Stirring up trouble about language, technology, and education. New York: Vintage Books.

Potter, R.R. (1974). Making sense: Exploring semantics and critical thinking. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Globe Book Company, Inc.

Ramachandran, V.S. (2004). A brief tour of human consciousness: From impostor poodles to purple numbers. New York: Pi Press.

Read, A.W. (2004). Language revision by deletion of absolutisms. ETC: A Review of General Semantics, 61-4, 456-462.

Read, C.S. (1999). Video interviewed available from the Sensory Awareness Foundation.

Russell, C.G. (2004). Culture, language and behavior. Fort Worth, TX: Institute of General Semantics.

Stockdale, S.E. (2009). Here’s something about general semantics: A primer for making sense of your world. Santa Fe, NM: Steve Stockdale.

Stockdale, S.E. (2004, October). An overview of general semantics. Retrieved November, 2013, from

Sweet, J. & Gilbert, D. (Writers). (2010). In J. Sweet, S. Streeter and A. Bloom’s This emotional life. PBS NOVA.

Weinberg, H.L. (1991). Levels of knowing and existence (3rd printing). Englewood, NJ: Institute of General Semantics.

More References and Resources

The following references and resources provide more opportunies to learn about General Semantics beyond this course.

Institute of General Semantics

 

Module Completion Checklist

checkbox.jpg Sorry, clicking in the box still doesn’t do anything — it’s just an image.
open-checkbox21.png 1.  Did you complete the Point of View Survey? (20 points)
open-checkbox21.png 2.  Did you complete all the assigned readings?
open-checkbox21.png 3.  Did you view all of the videos?
open-checkbox21.png 4.  Did you take a look at any of the Optional Activities?
open-checkbox21.png 5.  Did you contribute to your Personal Journal and the Ongoing Course Discussion?
open-checkbox21.png 6.  Did you contribute to the Abstracting-Evaluating Discussion assignment? (30 points)
open-checkbox21.png 7.  Did you contribute to the Module Discussion assignment? (50 points)
open-checkbox21.png 8.  Did you successfully complete the Module Quiz? (50 points)

 

Wunderbar!

You’re ready to move on to Module 2: Awareness and Action – Allness.

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About the General Semantics Course

Course Home | 1: What is GS? | 2: Allness | 3: Bypassing | 4: Linguistic Relativity | 5: Symbol Rulers | 6: Review and Reflection


This course was developed and presented on the Canvas Network by Steve Stockdale, Mary Lahman, and Greg Thompson. It is reproduced here under terms of the Creative Commons Share Alike License as published on Canvas Network from 13 January – 24 February 2014.


Welcome from your Instructors

Instructors

  • Mary Lahman, PhD, Manchester University (Indiana)
  • Greg Thompson, PhD, Brigham Young University
  • Steve Stockdale, MA, New Mexico State University (Grants Community College)

Read about the instructors.

Course Description

This course provides an introduction to General Semantics—the study of how we transform our life experiences into language and thought. Students will learn how language habits and behaviors, how they think about and share experiences, are what make them uniquely human. In other words, students will discover the critical, but sometimes subtle, distinctions between what happens in their lives and how they talk about what happens. The course will include readings from a wide array of disciplines, such as communication studies, neuroscience, and cultural anthropology, in addition to visual and auditory demonstrations, music and social media, and collaborative interactions with fellow learners. These types of learning experiences allow students to not only learn about more effective language behaviors, but also practice those new behaviors in order to communicate more effectively and appropriately in interpersonal and organizational contexts.

Course Modules

Learning Objectives

Participants will learn:

  • how language and thought shape, and are shaped by, our experiences;
  • the critical, but sometimes subtle, distinctions between what happens in our lives vs. how we talk about what happens;
  • the importance of distinguishing facts from inferences and opinions;
  • how to spot attempts to use language in manipulative ways;
  • the limitations and potential pitfalls of some language habits;
  • how to analyze unexamined assumptions and premises that contribute to many of our interpersonal and organizational communication difficulties;
  • and how to use simple, straightforward methodologies to more effectively and appropriately think, communicate, and behave as 21st century citizens of the world.

Course Organization

This six-week course is organized into weekly Modules that will open and be available to you each Monday morning at 08.00 Eastern Standard Time in the U.S. ( or UTC 13.00). Once opened, each Module will remain available throughout the duration of the course.

What do I do now?

New students should go directly to the Getting Started page and begin working your way through the Getting Started Module. Thereafter, you can pick up where you left off by going directly to the Modules List from the course navigation panel. And if you’re joining us after the 13 January course opening, please review all of the course Announcements.

About this Course – Specifically

Points

The course is worth a total of 1,000 points. Except for the quizzes (which are multiple choice, true/false, and short answer), you earn points for an assignment simply by completing the assignment. The purpose of the assignments is to facilitate and reinforce learning. As you earn points, you can track your progress by checking the Grades tab in the left menu.

To be clear, this course does not provide grades (A, B, etc.) or academic credit. The points simply provide a marker of progress and, we hope, some modest incentive or motivation to complete the assignments.

Badges

module1badge-125.jpgOne developing aspect about online courses, especially those like this which are open and do not offer academic credit, is the awarding of certificates or badges. In this course we are going to experiment with one type of badge – a Canvabadge. We’ll announce more specifics as the course proceeds, but the general plan is to offer one badge per module, and one badge for completing all of the course requirements, for a total of 7 badges that can be earned. If you are an educator interested in online badges, you might consider the Canvas Network course, Badge 101: The Discovery of Badging, beginning 27 January.

Schedule

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The course is organized into weekly modules. On 13 January, the Getting Started module and Module 1: What is General Semantics? will be open and available to students. Thereafter, each module will open on Mondays at 08.00a Eastern Standard Time in the U.S. (New York time). Once opened, every module will remain open until the course is completed on 24 February.

Weekly assignments are all “due” on Sunday evenings at 11.00 pm (23.00 hrs) New York time. However, for this course “due” dates are suggested and not fixed. You can always complete and submit an assignment later than the “due” date.

Discussion Forums

We will use the Canvas Discussion tool throughout the course on a variety of different topics. These will be identified within each week’s Module list.

We also have three “pinned” Discussions, meaning they will be available from now through the duration of the course.

  • Introduce yourself to the class.
  • Ongoing Course Discussion – for questions or comments about the course content.
  • About Canvas, miscellaneous questions, etc. – for questions or comments about Canvas, administration of the course, or anything else not directly related to the course content.

Personal Journal

Canvas doesn’t provide a Journal feature, but we’ve created an assignment that can function as your personal journal for making notes, jotting down questions, etc. You can always edit and resubmit the assignment to save your comments.

Chat

The Canvas Chat tool is a simple, always on way to connect with people in the course who happen to be online at the same time. There is only one Chat “room,” so within Canvas there isn’t a way to conduct a private chat. Throughout the course we will be scheduling one-hour open chats at different times. Watch your Announcements for specific dates and times. Please note: Chat posts cannot be deleted.

Video Tour of the Course

 

Instructor Responsibilities

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The three of us (Mary, Greg, Steve) will share responsibilities for leading the course. Since Steve knows Canvas (it’s part of his day job), he functions as the course designer and will handle everything related to Canvas. We have organized the course materials such that (other than Week 6) each of us will serve as the lead instructor for a specific week’s module. Our intent is that this approach will provide you with three different perspectives on General Semantics with consistency within each module.

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We will be monitoring the Discussions and commenting as we feel necessary or desirable. Please don’t feel offended or slighted if one of us doesn’t comment or praise your post – we’re going to be pretty busy keeping up with all the aspects of the course. We will do our best to provide affirmation or corrective clarification as warranted so that appropriate statements are reinforced and questionable interpretations are challenged. However, due to the nature of GS there is some merit to individuals figuring out things for themselves in terms of how they evaluate certain statements, judgments, and opinions.

Also regarding the nature of GS … we may express sentiments or address issues that you may strongly disagree with or even take offense with. Please know that our intention is solely educational and in no way do we want to demean or insult any individual or group. However, we cannot deal with matters of evaluation (a cornerstone of GS) without also dealing with presenting examples of misevaluations. So while we may indeed analyze and judge a certain reaction or response, we do so only to offer illustrative and relevant examples.

Teaching Assistants (TAs)

Because of the number of registrants in this course (more than 700) and the number of countries represented ( at least 25), we have asked several of our colleagues around the world to serve in the role of Teaching Assistant (TA).

  • from the United States: Andrea Johnson, Nora Miller, and Frank Nason
  • from Argentina: Laura Bertone
  • from France: Isabelle Aubert
  • from India: Jung Pravesh and Devkumar Trivedi

They will help us monitor and facilitate the discussions and chats, as well as answer your questions. We greatly appreciate their willingness to help out and add to your learning experience.

Student Responsibilities

Your responsibilities in this online course are highlighted below.

  • You have no responsibilities.

You are taking this course to fulfill whatever curiosities or motivations drive you. You can spend as much or as little time here as you want. You are under no obligation to do anything in this course other than what you are moved to do.

This online course experience is probably as close as we can all get to the notion of learning for the sake of learning. We (Mary, Greg, Steve) believe the material we will cover is important, relevant, and beneficial. We’re happy to do this. We aren’t getting paid, just as you aren’t paying for it. So let’s have fun in the pursuit of own time-binding learning experiences. (Details on what that means later.)

As in most things we experience in life, what you get out of the course will be a function of what you put into it. We’re looking forward to working with you to encourage your inputs and facilitate your takeaways.

That said …

The Announcements tool (in the left course navigation panel) will be very important for keeping you on track. Please make sure you have opted to receive Announcements immediately or daily in your Notification Preferences (click on your name in the Canvas header, then select Notifications in the left course navigation. Each week, you should plan to:

  1. Complete the readings and videos assigned for the topic area.
  2. Complete the assigned activities (discussions, assignments, quizzes).
  3. Participate in the discussions and engage with your fellow students (and instructors and TAs) with courtesy, respect, and a mutual interest in learning.

 

crowd-carries.jpgPlease introduce yourself, guided by the questions listed below.

  1. How would you like to be addressed?
  2. Where are you from?
  3. Where are you now? Why?
  4. How do you spend your time?
  5. If you could have a front row seat to observe any past, present, or future event, what would it be? (Think sporting event, concert, historical event or period, artist’s studio, conversation, museum, venue or place, etc.)

 

Invitation to MOOC with Me

I wanted to let you know that, together with two colleagues, we’re offering a free six-week course on the Canvas Network. This is just one of the platforms offering what has come to be referred to as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

The title of the course is General Semantics: An Approach to Effective Language Behavior (click for the description). As you may or may not remember, I taught General Semantics at TCU in Fort Worth from 2005-2008 in the Schieffer School of Journalism.

My collaborators are Mary Lahman, Ph.D. (communication studies), at Manchester University in Indiana, and Greg Thompson, Ph.D. (cultural anthropology) at BYU. This course is based on a course that Mary has taught at Manchester since the mid-90s called Language and Thought. Manchester University has agreed to sponsor the course on Canvas Network. Mary and I will each lead the class for two weeks, Greg for one, and we’ll all share duties for the last week.

The course begins January 13th. Right now our enrollment is at 531 and we’re projecting to have at least 700. Judging by the top-level domains in the registrants’ email addresses, we have at least 22 countries represented.

Here are some reasons you might be interested in registering for the course:

  1. To experience the capabilities (and limitations) of a Canvas Network online course, especially if you’re involved with education. And really, who isn’t these days?
  2. To interact with other adult learners from around the world, most of whom, according to the published statistics, have at least associates or bachelors degrees.
  3. To see first-hand what a MOOC is like and get a feel for its advantages and disadvantages.
  4. Last but not least, learn something about General Semantics (which, btw, is not the same as semantics).

If you’re interested, or if you know anyone who may want to check it out, our course description and registration is at https://www.canvas.net/courses/general-semantics-an-approach-to-effective-language-behavior. It’s completely free, no obligations, and you can do as much or as little of the work as you want. So if you just want to sign-up and lurk, that’s fine. If we can’t keep you interested in the content, shame on us.

🙂

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