About General Semantics

individual being supportedThisIsNotThat is based on the principles of General Semantics (GS). GS can be considered an inter-disciplinary discipline for evaluating and adjusting to what happens in your life. General Semantics deals with the processes involved as we perceive, construct, evaluate, and respond to our life experiences. Our language-behaviors represent one aspect of these responses.

Generalizing What We’ve Learned

What if we could generalize the “best practices” to be learned from what the most effective:
conference meeting

  • doctors do when they diagnose a patient’s symptoms?
  • attorneys do when they cross-examine a witness to uncover the facts?
  • scientists do in their laboratories when they experiment?
  • police detectives do when they gather evidence at a crime scene?
  • engineers do when they must design solutions to new problems?
  • journalists do when they report a story?
  • artists, writers, and composers do when they express their creativity?


    1. We would increase our understanding and awareness of the role of language and symbols play in our verbal and non-verbal behaviors.
    2. We would limit the undesirable behaviors we are prone to exhibit, such as:
      • jumping to conclusions
      • holding unrealistic expectations
      • not recognizing the hidden assumptions and premises upon which we unknowingly act
      • making broad generalizations and promoting stereotypes
      • confusing our own inferences, opinions and beliefs as facts or ‘truths’
      • resisting change or failing to adapt to change
      • engaging in and perpetuating language habits that are more medieval than modern
      • responding to labels and categories rather than specific individuals and events
      • feeling ‘victimized’ by those who push our buttons, condition our wants, and propagandize our political sensibilities


  • We would increase those productive behaviors such as:
    • thinking-feeling-acting in the here-and-now, moment-to-moments of daily living rather than re-living the past or dreading the future
    • appreciating and promoting individuality and diversity
    • thinking, speaking, and listening more deliberately, critically, and productively
    • more effectively solving problems, resolving conflicts, and maintaining relationships
    • integrating and building upon all our sources of knowledge, and sharing that knowledge (in other words, “time-binding”)


The self explorer, whether he wants to or not, becomes an explorer of everything else. — Elias Canetti

Worlds of Differences

General Semantics helps you differentiate, and integrate, what we might think of as four different ‘worlds’:

  • the world ‘out there’, beyond your skin, that’s always changing, in perpetual process
  • the world ‘in here’, inside your skin, your nervous system and senses, through which you (only partially) experience the world ‘out there’
  • the world that’s not words, the sensory or non-verbal world that you see, hear, taste, smell and touch
  • the world of words, your verbal world of names, symbols, labels, opinions, assumptions, categories, values, beliefs, etc.

In our verbal world of words, we integrate what we ‘know’ about the world ‘out there’, the world ‘in here’ and the world that’s not words. This is not that.

All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions. — Leonardo da Vinci

Alfred Korzybski and Science and Sanity

Alfred Korzybski

General semantics, formulated by Alfred Korzybski in his 1933 book, Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems, is based on underlying premises, some of which include:

  • We live in a continually-changing, process-oriented world, much of which we have no means of directly observing or experiencing.
  • What we do experience is therefore partial and incomplete; we abstract only a small portion of what’s there – and there is always more.
  • Different people abstract differently from their own individual experiences, based on their backgrounds, capabilities, interests, biases, etc.
  • As we become more conscious of this abstracting process, we learn how to become more tolerant and accepting of our own – and others – limitations and potentialities.
  • We recognize the distinctions between the sensory or non-verbal world in which we sense and experience, and our verbal world in which we use symbols and language to talk about our experiences.
  • The methods of a scientific approach provide us with a basis for evaluating and modifying our attitudes, behaviors and beliefs.

If you deliberately apply these principles, the potential consequences include:

  • More effective, discriminating communications with others, and with yourself
  • More appropriate, and desirable, reactions, responses and adjustments to the inevitable “accidents waiting to happen” in your four ‘worlds’
  • A more tolerant, inquisitive, open-minded, “matter-of-fact” outlook that is less prone to prejudice, stereotyping, and dogmatic generalizations
  • A greater degree of moment-to-moment awareness of your own, and others’, different perspectives.

How we use language determines the way we evaluate our relationship with ourselves, others, and our world. Many human problems can be traced to our ignorance of the ways we use language and the ways language influences us. — Alfred Korzybski

Language Matters

untangle the tangled webs you verbally weave

With language we can …

  • 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

and … with language we can also …

  • 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.

“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.” — Irving J. Lee

Some Assumptions

  • Our language ought to reflect what we collectively know and understand about our common world.
  • A ‘scientific attitude’ is required for effective and productive thinking, communicating, and relating:Observe – Assume – Test – Revise (repeat)
  • We each experience our common world uniquely, partially, and with limitations. We each see the world with a sense of “to-me-ness.” There’s always more to observe, more to say, more to understand.
  • It’s important that we look for similarities among differences, and that we look for differences among apparent similarities.
  • Who rules our symbols, rules us. – Alfred Korzybski

Potential Benefits of Application

  1. Greater awareness of what goes on in your life.
  2. More appropriate responses, evaluations and adjustments to what goes on in your life.
  3. More effective, discriminating communications with others, and with yourself.
  4. A more tolerant, inquisitive and “matter-of-fact” outlook that’s less prone to prejudices, stereotypes and dogmatic generalizations.
  5. A sharpened ability to differentiate facts from non-facts, and to avoid misunderstanding and confusion.
  6. The ability to look at situations and problems from different perspectives.
  7. More realistic expectations, fewer unexpected surprises.

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. — Marcel Proust


Listen to this interview for American Airlines SkyRadio inflight entertainment:

American Airlines SkyRadio

Watch this 7-minute overview from a lecture given at University of Nevada Las Vegas in 2004.

“If your language is confused, your intellect, if not your whole character, will almost certainly correspond.” — Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch