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 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.



Come MOOC with Me

Map Not Territory

Starting January 13, 2014, a free online course in general semantics will be offered on Canvas Network. Canvas is a leading platform for delivering massive open online courses (MOOCs).

General Semantics: An Approach to Effective Language Behavior

The six-week course is based on a for-credit course offered by Manchester University (Indiana), taught by Mary Lahman, Ph.D., Professor of Communication Studies at Manchester, Greg Thompson, Ph.D., Brigham Young University, and Steve Stockdale, former executive director for the Institute of General Semantics.

The 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.

This course has been designed specifically for the unique online environment enabled by Canvas Network. The interdisciplinary course will include material from 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.

The course will be conducted in English and is available to anyone in the world with an Internet connection. There is no cost to enroll and no cost for materials. Registration begins December 1, 2013, at


Mary LahmanMary Lahman is Professor of Communication Studies at Manchester University (Indiana). She is a 1983 graduate of Manchester University and holds advanced degrees from Miami University of Ohio and Indiana University. She incorporates service-learning and appreciative inquiry into her teaching of intercultural communication, public relations, and general semantics. Other research interests include the use of online discussions to build critical thinking skills and student engagement.

Gred ThompsonGreg Thompson received his PhD from the University of Chicago’s Department of Comparative Human Development. He served for two years as the Sanford I. Berman Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Department of Communication at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and remains as a Research Associate with the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition at UCSD. He is currently serving as a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Brigham Young University, where he studies pedagogical interactions.

Steve StockdaleSteve Stockdale holds a Masters degree in Education Psychology from the University of New Mexico. A former Executive Director of the Institute of General Semantics, he taught General Semantics for Mass Communications Practitioners for the Schieffer School of Journalism at TCU. He’s written for general semantics journals, contributed to an academic reader, and self-published an eBook, Here’s Something About General Semantics. He’s currently the IT Director and Canvas administrator for the Grants Community College campus of New Mexico State University.
MOOC information sheet

Here’s Something About General Semantics

Cover TitleHere’s Something About General Semantics:
A Primer for Making Sense of Your World

by Steve Stockdale

Available in eBook format (PDF) for immediate FREE download. ISBN 978-0-9824645-0-2; 290 pages.

Accessible, well-written introduction to GS principles, plus more! Written from 13 years teaching experience. Filled with examples, demonstrations, and explanations; over 50 illustrations.
Includes articles from the GS journal (ETC) and newspaper columns. Thirteen pages of Notes and Sources; Index of 270 names. Links to over 150 online video clips. Appropriate for all learners and teachers, middle grades through university. Learn how language and other symbols influence how you perceive your world,
how you respond to your perceptions, and how you think-and-talk about your responses.

The world in which we live is a world of differences. When we disregard differences, we generalize. When we generalize inappropriately, we stereotype, forming biases and prejudices. Troubles inevitably follow. We need to learn how to more critically differentiate, or discern, between what happens in our lives, how we respond, and how we think-and-talk. This book explains and applies the principles of General Semantics to promote an ongoing awareness of differences that make a difference. The book advocates an informed, open, and tolerant world view, deliberately derived from what we currently know from integrating the sciences, arts, and humanities … without deference to dogmas, traditions, or what passes for culturally-dependent “common sense.”

The book consists of a 4 MB PDF file. You will need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader software. You cannot edit or copy the file other than for your own personal use. You can print the file or selected pages from the file.


  • Right-click the link here to save the file on your computer, or left-click to open the file within your browser and then save to your computer.
  • A convenient hyperlinked version of the Contents for this eBook can be accessed using the Acrobat Reader’s Bookmarks feature, located in the left panel in most Reader configurations.
  • The “Find” search feature within the Acrobat Reader (or equivalent) performs a text-searchable function for the book.

What’s in the Book?

Preface: Something About This Book

  • How I Learned About General Semantics
  • Why GS is “quest-worthy”
  • How GS is consistent with current neuroscience understanding
  • Benefits of GS as reported by university students

Part 1 Introductions to General Semantics

  • Introduction
  • A Structured System of Formulations
  • Some Questions and Answers About GS
  • A Tutorial
  • Two Video Reviews
  • Seven Stories to Illustrate Some GS Principles

Part 2 Explanations and Descriptions

  • Report from an 8-Day Seminar-Workshop
  • My ME Model
  • Report from a Weekend Seminar
  • About “Mindfulness” and GS
  • The Girl and the Match
  • Other Descriptions of General Semantics
  • An Explanation of the Structural Differential
  • 13 Symptoms of Language Misbehaviors
  • A GS Perspective

Part 3 Extensions and Applications

  • Toward an Informed World View
  • Eating Menus
  • Calling Out the Symbol Rulers
  • Words by Other Names
  • Response Side Semantics
  • Semantic Pollution Fouling the Airwaves
  • How Do You Play the Game?
  • But What If …?
  • A Fence Sieve Language
  • Why Make a Federal Case Out of Bad Words?
  • How to Size Your (Thinking) Box
  • The Bridge at Neverwas

Part 4 Some History

  • General Semantics Across the Curriculum
  • Snooping Around the Time-Binding Attic
  • Heinlein and Ellis: Converging Competencies


  • Full Transcript, “Lay Off of My PERSUADE Shoes”
  • Bib-Vid-liography: Some Resources
  • An Essay on Levels of Abstractions



Student Reactions

Following are end-of-semester comments written by students in my General Semantics for Mass Communications Practitioners class, 2005-2008.

General semantics is by far the most relevant class I have taken toward my B.S. in Communication Studies. No other class has provoked the amount of interest and relevancy in the scope of human interaction, both interpersonally and worldly. Understanding abstraction and evaluation has been far more beneficial in comprehending human interaction than studying Maslow or Skinner.

In a way, GS is a way of life. I realize now that there are so many things in general semantics that I can use on a daily basis. The presentations in class also proved that GS can relate to so many things that only a fool could argue that it is not applicable to us.

So far in my college years I have had three classes that have molded the future me. My world religion class influenced the way I perceive religion, my communication graphics class influenced the way I perceive my visual surroundings, my general semantics class influenced me in my understanding all these and realizing there is always more that meets the eye.

I still plan to work in the communications field one day, and what I will take from this discipline into that career is, most basically, a heightened sense of awareness of both the words I choose to use and the words used by those with whom I am assigned to communicate. An awareness that the same word can mean different things to those two parties. An awareness that I can never know all about anything — and neither can anyone else. An awareness that each issue has more than one side and more than one possible solution, that no issue is black and white. An awareness that true objectivity is unattainable and that bias must therefore be examined in all communication.

I wish I had been taught earlier about some of the general semantics principles, such as to recognize that the word is not the thing and that what we see is only a fraction of what is happening “out there” (and that what other people — namely parents, teachers, news anchors, reporters, movie directors, politicians, ministers, anyone who seems to be “all-knowing” or speak about “irrefutable truths” — see and share is only a fraction of all that occurs).

This course has given me a new lens to view life through, and has expanded what, in sociology, is called my cultural capital. Just as I have been able to relate what I learned in sociology to just about every course I have taken since then, I know that I will be able to apply general semantics principles to courses I have yet to take. I feel that I will be less susceptible to misinformation and miscommunication because I often ask myself questions such as “So what?” and challenge myself to look more skeptically at what is presented as fact.

This class was so much different from any class I’ve taken in college thus far. In my opinion, it was a class teaching us HOW to think, rather than WHAT to think.

There is one aspect of GS that discourages me. It seems as though GS could benefit society, or even the world. Now I know that we have only discussed the tip of the iceberg, but wouldn’t we be better off if our schools actively taught this subject? Why is this a secret? Just look at the greatest problem in our world to-day, Iraq. If either side employed some of the approaches of GS, perhaps there would be a possibility of resolution. It would be naive, in my opinion, to think that GS could create a society without problems, but it could help.

GS Videos: Topical Excerpts

These videos were created to illustrate specific topics covered in class. *Some content may be considered objectionable and inappropriate for younger viewers.*

The Power (?) of Words (6:10)

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Winner or Loser? (3:30)

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Language, Symbols, and Meanings (10:30)

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Perspectives about Race (2:57)

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The Tyranny of Categories (5:34)

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Perspectives from Herbie Hancock’s “Possibilities” (10:41)

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Prejudice & Obscenity (13:44)

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GS Videos: Class Reviews

*Some content may be considered objectionable and inappropriate for younger viewers.*

Fall 2008 Semester, Review of Classes 1-8 (4:11)

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Fall 2008 Semester, Review of Classes 9-14 (4:30)

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Spring 2008 Semester Review of over 70 video clips shown in class (31:00)

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GS Videos: Created

Videos Created for General Semantics Classes

Fall 2006 Semester Review, Part 1 of 3 (7:08)

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Fall 2006 Semester Review, Part 2 of 3 (13:23)

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Fall 2006 Semester Review, Part 1 of 3 (4:16)

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Alfred Korzybski Explains the Structural Differential (2:48)

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Alfred Korzybski and his Fan Disk (3:04)

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A Listening Exercise (5:20)

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Are Words Obscene? (4:39)

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A New Sort of Man: Balvant K. Parekh

ETC Cover 65-1(Published in ETC: A Review of General Semantics, Volume 65 No. 1, January 2008. Prepared for a presentation to the National Workshop on General Semantics, Vadodara, India.)

Irving J. Lee related a conversation he had with Alfred Korzybski in which Lee asked, “Now, Alfred, you have been thinking about this stuff for a very long time. Can you tell me, in a nutshell, what are you trying to do? What is the objective of all this reading and studying and talking and sweating that you go through day after day, year after year? What are you after?”

Korzybski replied to Lee, “Irving, we are trying to produce a new sort of man.” (1)

Lee goes on to describe how Korzybski attempted to describe this new sort of man in the pages of Science and Sanity. During the course of a speech he gave in 1951, Lee outlined a profile of this new sort of man that included traits and characteristics such as:

  • Competence, not merely in terms of knowledge, but in the application of his knowledge.
  • Curiosity about the world and the people around him.
  • Productive and efficient memory in terms of remembering the important and the significant, but forgetting the unpleasant, the petty, and the trivial.
  • Highly discriminating awareness of differences, nuances, and subtleties; he would never “suffer from the blindness that obliterates uniqueness.”
  • Integrative personality in a holistic sense; he would know and do, diagnose and prescribe, think and feel and act. He will embody both “rugged individualism” and cooperative altruism.
  • Unapologetic sincerity in his beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes toward those things he deemed to be relevant and significant, with an equal ability to disassociate himself from that which he determined to be unimportant and trifling.
  • Constant awareness that his beliefs, no matter how sincere or deeply-held, are beliefs and therefore not final Truth or Knowledge; he would not shirk from exploring what lies beyond his beliefs.
  • Patience in great reserves.
  • Sociability and friendliness without pretention.
  • Clarity and precision in his speaking, with confidence and without apology.
  • Persistence and perseverance in his endeavors, while taking care to pick his battles carefully and admitting, but ‘dating,’ his setbacks and defeats.
  • “Ruthless realism” to the maximum degree possible.
  • Cooperation, inventiveness, or steadfast determination, depending on the circumstances but always acting toward resolution and accomplishment.
  • Alertness to “the possibilities and potentialities of the human being,” while still recognizing the practical limitations of humanness: “Limitation of aims is the mother of wisdom and the secret of achievement,” (Goethe) and “Knowledge of the possible is the beginning of happiness.” (Santayana)

In the person of Mr. Balvant K. Parekh, Lee and Korzybski would surely have found a fellow traveler of this new sort. To support this evaluation, to publicly recognize his contributions as Time-Binder, and to illustrate the transcultural applicability of Korzybski’s system of extensional orientation (i.e., general semantics), we are pleased to present portraits of Mr. Parekh sketched in two parts.

The first part, “Felicitations” (or celebrations of an accomplishment) includes four excerpts from a book of well-wishes presented to Mr. Parekh on the occasion of his 75th birthday in 1999. These four short and very personal comments about Mr. Parekh, sampled from over one hundred published, portray representational images of him by his daughter, granddaughter, personal assistant, and recipient of his philanthropy.

The second part, “Selections from Gamta no kariye Gulal,” offers more impressionistic insights about Mr. Parekh. These statements, quotes, and articles from his own compilations of material published in his own journal, beginning in 2003, reveal much about the interests, passions, and character of this new sort of man. The title of the journal, Gamta no kariye Gulal, translates into English as, “If you get what you like, do not keep it; rather, share it.”

I hope that as you learn more about this new sort of man, you might benefit from his new sort of time-binding.


The Bridge at Neverwas

(Published in ETC: A Review of General Semantics, Volume 65 No. 1, January 2008. Prepared for a presentation to the National Workshop on General Semantics, Vadodara, India.)

Neverwas BridgeOnce upon a time there was a beautiful land known as Neverwas. The people who settled in Neverwas loved it, for it provided everything they needed to live and prosper. There were fertile fields for farming, mountains for mining and timber, and a broad river with crystal clear water that ran through the land. To the west, on the other side of the mountains, a natural harbor invited access to the vast ocean. To the east, as far as anyone could see, a great golden plain extended into the rising sun.

The Neverwas-ites felt truly blessed, except for one flaw in their near-paradise. The mighty river, which in many ways represented the life force of the people and the land, divided Neverwas into two distinct lands: the mountains with the mines and timber sat west of the river, with the ocean still further west; the great fertile farmland and endless plains lay to the east of the river. The people of Neverwas could only cross the broad river twice a year when the river flow slowed enough to allow them to guide their flat-bottomed barges with long poles.

Over the years, the people of Neverwas adapted to the challenges resulting from the river divide. The people on the east side of the river learned to farm and irrigate the vast fields. They grew a healthy variety of food crops, and also cotton for making clothes. On their side of the river, they built great mills powered by the river flow and processed their grains into flour and meal. The people on the east side became experts in growing and processing the crops that their fertile fields produced.

The people on the west side of the river learned to mine the mountain ore and forge metal tools and utensils. The trees from the mountain forests provided plentiful wood for building shelters and eventually boats. They learned how to harness the power of the river to mill the lumber. They became expert builders and designers, making use of their never-ending supply of timber and ore to engineer new tools, devices, and structures. Some of the westsiders became sailors, and over the years they learned to venture out well beyond the Neverwas harbor.

And twice a year, every year, the people on both sides of the river devoted themselves to crossing the river and exchanging food, cloth, timber, tools, utensils — all the goods that had to be traded in order for people on both sides of the river to live and prosper.

Over the years, all the people in Neverwas spent their nights gazing into the brilliant sky above. The Neverwas-ites on the east side observed the changing shapes and patterns of the moon and stars. Over the years, they noticed how the landscape of the sky was arranged when certain events occurred in their land. When they experienced great joy upon the births of new babies, they looked to the sky; when their crop harvests were bountiful, when the river brought them many fish, whenever good fortune embraced them. But they also looked to the sky when they experienced great suffering during plagues, droughts, floods, and other tragedies. Over the years, they began to see connections between what occurred in the sky and what resulted on the land. They wove wonderful stories about the creatures and characters they saw in the sky, and passed these stories down from generation to generation.

Like their neighbors to the east, the people who lived west of the river developed a fascination with the sky. Over the years, they too carefully watched the movement of the moon and stars. They learned how to predict when certain formations would appear, and where in the sky they would appear. As their sailors began to sail farther away from Neverwas, they observed that the position of the sky landscapes changed.

Over the years, they charted the sky formations, noting the dates, times, and locations of the moon and the brightest stars. They used their knowledge of mathematics to calculate and predict their location based on the position of the moon and stars. They eventually learned how to navigate the vast ocean by using the sky landscape to guide them.

Over the years, the council leaders of Neverwas met together to talk about how they could make life better for people on both sides of the river. Every year, the leaders from both sides discussed how wonderful it would be if they could cross the river throughout the year, rather than just twice a year using the pole-driven flat-bottomed barges. Every year, the leaders would speculate how wonderful it would be if there was a bridge at Neverwas. But the people on the east side of the river knew nothing about designing or building bridges, and the people on the west side of the river, including their best engineers, had no idea how they could build a bridge that would span the broad expanse of the river.

One year, the west side sailors returned from a long trip across the ocean with exciting news for the engineers. They had visited a faraway land and observed the largest and stoutest bridge they had ever seen! This great bridge spanned a river even broader than the Neverwas river, according to the sailors. The engineers were skeptical. How was that possible? They had to see it for themselves. They pooled their resources and selected their three most trusted engineers to sail on the next boat out to see this great bridge.

Months later, the boat carrying the engineers returned to Neverwas. The engineers literally sprang from the boat deck onto the dock, so eager were they to get started on their own bridge. For they had indeed seen the great foreign bridge! It did exist, and the engineers brought back detailed sketches of the bridge’s ingenious design. The engineers and the mathematicians immediately set about reproducing the structural calculations to design a bridge for the river at Neverwas.

Word spread quickly on both sides of the river about the prospects for the long awaited bridge. It was finally going to happen! The farmers and the mill operators on the east side of the river started looking for new land to acquire to grow more crops and mill more grain as they anticipated great riches from increased trade to the west side and beyond. The loggers and the builders on the west side began stockpiling building materials as they anticipated a great building boom on the east side, thanks to the easy transport the bridge would bring.

For one long year, everyone in Neverwas waited for the engineers to finish the designs for the bridge. The people on both sides of the river elected representatives to a new council, specially formed to oversee the bridge project. On the day that the new council was briefed on the project plans, there were great celebrations all across the land.

But the celebrations were brief. For the engineers from the west side had devised a plan for the bridge that the eastside council could not accept. The problem was not in the design or the structure or the cost of the bridge, but its location.

The plans specified that the bridge was to be built at the place where the river was narrowest and straightest. The west side engineer explained that this was the only feasible place where the bridge could be built for three reasons:

  1. As the location where the river was most narrow, there was more margin for error that the supporting structures on each side of the river could bear the weight of the wide span.
  2. As the location where the river ran most straight, there was less risk to the supporting structures due to erosion or flood.
  3. Due to the mountains on the west side of the river, the chosen location was the only place where there was adequate access to build a roadway that could connect to the bridge on the west side.

But the leader of the eastside council strongly objected to this location. It was simply not possible to build the bridge at this spot, he exclaimed, for three reasons:

  1. Three hundred years before, there had been a great drought on the east side of the river. The great drought was broken only after the eastsiders had gathered at this very spot to prayerfully appeal to the stars above. Every year since, the eastsiders held a festival to celebrate and to appeal to the stars that there would never again be such a devastating drought. The bridge simply could not be built on this sacred site.
  2. Their best and most revered sky readers had revealed that the stars in the heavens favored a site three miles up river, near a hill on which the eastsiders had always gathered to gaze up at the night sky.
  3. The eastside mill operators and farmers also supported the same site three miles up river, where the river happened to run the fastest and widest. But it also happened that three large mills were already planned to be built there, and the site bordered the farms of the two wealthiest and most powerful farmers in Neverwas.

For five long years, the Neverwas westsiders and eastsiders argued about where the bridge might be built. For every location the westside engineers considered workable, the eastsiders objected. For every location offered by the eastsiders, the engineers’ calculations showed it to be unworkable.

And so it happened that one spring, there was an abundance of rain and the river swelled and was in danger of flooding both sides of Neverwas. The eastsiders gathered on their sacred spot, now threatened by the rapidly rising water, at the very spot the bridge had been proposed. They prayed and appealed to the stars in the heavens for the rains to stop.

Despite their appeals and prayers, the storms grew even stronger. The river rose rapidly, flooding the farmers’ fields to the east. There were terrible lightning strikes over the mountains, causing devastating fires to the timber structures in the villages. Before the rains eventually doused the fires, many of the buildings on the west side burned to the ground.

One of the buildings that burned was where all of the plans, sketches, and designs for the bridge were stored. And that is the story of how the bridge at Neverwas never was built.