July 3, 1879|
Warsaw, Vistula Country, Russian Empire
|Died||March 1, 1950
Lakeville, Connecticut, U.S.
|Occupation||Engineer, philosopher, mathematician|
Alfred Habdank Skarbek Korzybski ([kɔˈʐɨpski]; July 3, 1879 – March 1, 1950) was a Polish-American independent scholar who developed a field called general semantics, which he viewed as both distinct from, and more encompassing than, just the field of semantics. He argued that human knowledge of the world is limited both by the human nervous system and the languages humans have developed, and thus no one can have direct access to reality, given that the most we can know is that which is filtered through the brain's responses to reality. His best known dictum is "The map is not the territory".
Early life and career
Korzybski was born in Warsaw, Poland which at that time was part of the Russian Empire. He was part of an aristocratic Polish family whose members had worked as mathematicians, scientists, and engineers for generations. He learned the Polish language at home and the Russian language in schools; and having a French governess and a German governess, he became fluent in these four languages as a child.
Korzybski was educated at the Warsaw University of Technology in engineering. During the First World War Korzybski served as an intelligence officer in the Russian Army. After being wounded in a leg and suffering other injuries, he moved to North America in 1916 (first to Canada, then the United States) to coordinate the shipment of artillery to Russia. He also lectured to Polish-American audiences about the conflict, promoting the sale of war bonds. After the War, he decided to remain in the United States, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1940. He met Mira Edgerly, a painter of portraits on ivory, shortly after the Armistice, and married her in January 1919. Their marriage lasted until his death.
His first book, Manhood of Humanity, was published in 1921. In the book, he proposed and explained in detail a new theory of humankind: mankind as a "time-binding" class of life (humans perform time binding by the transmission of knowledge and abstractions through time which are accreted in cultures).
Korzybski's work culminated in the initiation of a discipline that he named general semantics (GS). As Korzybski said, GS should not be confused with semantics, a different subject. The basic principles of general semantics, which include time-binding, are described in the publication Science and Sanity, published in 1933. After the publication of Science and Sanity he traveled about teaching briefly in many schools and universities. In 1938 Korzybski founded the Institute of General Semantics in Chicago. The post-World War II housing shortage in Chicago cost him the Institute's building lease, so in 1946, he moved the Institute to Lakeville, Connecticut, U.S., where he directed it until his death in 1950.
Korzybski's work maintained that human beings are limited in what they know by (1) the structure of their nervous systems, and (2) the structure of their languages. Human beings cannot experience the world directly, but only through their "abstractions" (nonverbal impressions or "gleanings" derived from the nervous system, and verbal indicators expressed and derived from language). Sometimes our perceptions and our languages actually mislead us as to the "facts" with which we must deal. Our understanding of what is happening sometimes lacks similarity of structure with what is actually happening.
He stressed training in awareness of abstracting, using techniques that he had derived from his study of mathematics and science. He called this awareness, this goal of his system, "consciousness of abstracting".
His system included modifying the way we consider the world, e.g., with an attitude of "I don't know; let's see," to better discover or reflect its realities as revealed by modern science. One of these techniques involved becoming inwardly and outwardly quiet, an experience that he termed, "silence on the objective levels".
Many devotees and critics of Korzybski reduced his rather complex system to a simple matter of what he said about the verb form "is" of the more general verb "to be." His system, however, is based primarily on such terminology as the different "orders of abstraction," and formulations such as "consciousness of abstracting." It is often said[need quotation to verify] that Korzybski opposed the use of the verb "to be," which is a profound exaggeration (see "Criticisms" below).
He thought that certain uses of the verb "to be", called the "is of identity" and the "is of predication", were faulty in structure, e.g., a statement such as, "Elizabeth is a fool" (said of a person named "Elizabeth" who has done something that we regard as foolish). In Korzybski's system, one's assessment of Elizabeth belongs to a higher order of abstraction than Elizabeth herself. Korzybski's remedy was to deny identity; in this example, to be aware continually that "Elizabeth" is not what we call her. We find Elizabeth not in the verbal domain, the world of words, but the nonverbal domain (the two, he said, amount to different orders of abstraction). This was expressed by Korzybski's most famous premise, "the map is not the territory". Note that this premise uses the phrase "is not", a form of "to be"; this and many other examples show that he did not intend to abandon "to be" as such. In fact, he said explicitly that there were no structural problems with the verb "to be" when used as an auxiliary verb or when used to state existence or location.
It was even acceptable at times to use the faulty forms of the verb "to be," as long as one was aware of their structural limitations. This was developed into the language "E-Prime" by D. David Bourland, Jr. 15 years after his death (E-Prime a form of the English language in which the verb "to be" does not appear in any of its forms; for example, the sentence "the movie was good" could translate into E-Prime as "I liked the movie", thereby distinguishing opinion from fact). Bourland "translated" several Rational Emotive Therapy books by psychotherapist Albert Ellis into E-Prime, including Ellis and Harper's A New Guide to Rational Living.
One day, Korzybski was giving a lecture to a group of students, and he interrupted the lesson suddenly in order to retrieve a packet of biscuits, wrapped in white paper, from his briefcase. He muttered that he just had to eat something, and he asked the students on the seats in the front row if they would also like a biscuit. A few students took a biscuit. "Nice biscuit, don't you think," said Korzybski, while he took a second one. The students were chewing vigorously. Then he tore the white paper from the biscuits, in order to reveal the original packaging. On it was a big picture of a dog's head and the words "Dog Cookies." The students looked at the package, and were shocked. Two of them wanted to vomit, put their hands in front of their mouths, and ran out of the lecture hall to the toilet. "You see," Korzybski remarked, "I have just demonstrated that people don't just eat food, but also words, and that the taste of the former is often outdone by the taste of the latter."
William Burroughs went to a Korzybski workshop in the Autumn of 1939. He was 25 years old, and paid $40. His fellow students—there were 38 in all—included young Samuel I. Hayakawa (later to become a Republican member of the U.S. Senate), Ralph Moriarty deBit (later to become the spiritual teacher Vitvan) and Wendell Johnson (founder of the Monster Study).
Korzybski was well received in numerous disciplinary realms, as evidenced by the positive reactions from leading persons in the sciences and humanities in the 1940s and 1950s.
Some of the persons listed are, like Korzybski, polymaths and several categories apply to them. For example, Heinlein was the "dean of science fiction writers" because he was "the scientist" of science fiction.
As reported in the Third Edition of Science and Sanity, The U.S. Army in World War II used Korzybski's system to treat battle fatigue in Europe with the supervision of Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, who went on to become the psychiatrist in charge of the Nazi prisoners at Nuremberg.
Writers and artists
The general semantics concept "non-Aristotelian logic", influenced the science fiction of the most prolific, best selling, influential authors of the genre during its flowering and height. General semantics has helped guide the thinking of artists contemplating what to say to society, or how to study society, influencing a notable lyricist, a filmmaker, and other writers.
- Isaac Asimov, Science and Science Fiction author, professor of biochemistry
- Robert A. Heinlein, set the standard for scientific and engineering plausibility
- William S. Burroughs, novelist, short story writer, essayist and spoken word performer
- Frank Herbert, critically acclaimed, science fiction author of the best-selling science fiction novel of all time: Dune
- L. Ron Hubbard, author; founder of both the Church of Scientology and of Dianetics
- Robert Anton Wilson, polymath, author, philosopher, editor, playwright, poet, futurist, civil libertarian, (edu. in engineering, math, psychology), (See also Prometheus Rising.)
- "[Science and Sanity] got a lot of enthusiastic reviews from a lot of distinguished people. And it had a tremendous impact on all the social sciences for a while."
- Ken Keyes, Jr., sold or distributed millions of self-help books he wrote, organized lectures for his many students, spoke to dignitaries at political gatherings, and knew and moved among the self-help elite
- A. E. van Vogt, regarded as one of the most popular and complex science fiction writers during its "Golden Age"
- John W. Campbell, an influential science fiction writer who "shaped the Golden Age of Science Fiction"
- Steve Allen, television personality, musician, composer, actor, comedian, and writer
- Neil Postman, (1931 – 2003) author, media theorist and cultural critic
- Tommy Hall, lyricist for the 13th Floor Elevators
- Jan Bucquoy, surrealist, anarchist, author, filmmaker, cartoon script-writer
Gurus, futurists and philosophers
These are the psychological, sociological, and knowledge-worker types.
- Kenneth Burke, literary theorist, linguist
- Albert Ellis the psychologist who developed Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy
- Jacque Fresco, futurist, founder and director with his colleague Roxanne Meadows The Venus Project
- Stephen Gaskin Self-proclaimed professional Hippy, author, political activist and musician.
- John Grinder, (with Richard Bandler) Neuro-linguistic programming, esp. the Meta model and "human modeling for performance"
- Alejandro Jodorowsky, filmmaker, playwright, actor, author, comics writer and spiritual guru
- Alvin Toffler, futurist
- Alan Watts, Author, theologist, zen philosopher, interpreter of Eastern Philosophy and speaker.
- Benjamin Lee Whorf, linguist and fire prevention engineer
- The article on Whorf states "Drawing on Nietzsche's ideas of perspectivism Alfred Korzybski developed the theory of general semantics which has been compared to Whorf's notions of linguistic relativity. (Pula 1992)".
Mathematicians, scientists and physicists
- Gregory Bateson, polymath, anthropologist, social scientist, linguist, visual anthropologist, semiotician and cyberneticist
- Buckminster Fuller, systems theorist, architect, engineer, author, designer, inventor, and futurist
- Moshé Feldenkrais, physicist. The Feldenkrais Method improve functioning by increasing self-awareness through movement
- Douglas Engelbart, as an internet pioneer, the inventor of the computer mouse, in human–computer interaction, committed, vocal proponent of the development and use of computers and networks to help cope with the world’s increasingly urgent and complex problems
- Stuart Chase, economist, MIT trained engineer, writer. Coined the phrase "A New Deal"". Hybrid background of engineering and economics places him in the same philosophical camp as R. Buckminster Fuller
- Jacques Loeb, biologist
- Percy Williams Bridgman, physicist
- William Alanson White, neurologist and psychiatrist
- W. Horsley Gantt, researcher
- "There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything or to doubt everything; both ways save us from thinking."
- General Semantics
- The map is not the territory
- Structural differential
- Institute of General Semantics
- Robert Pula
- Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture
- Concept and object
- Alfred Korzybski, Selections from Science and Sanity, 2010.
- Ellis, Albert; Powers, Robert A. Harper; foreword by Melvin (1977). A new guide to rational living (1979 ed. ed.). Hollywood, Calif.: Melvin Powers, Wilshire Book Co. ISBN 0879800429.
- R. Diekstra, Haarlemmer Dagblad, 1993, cited by L. Derks & J. Hollander, Essenties van NLP (Utrecht: Servire, 1996), p. 58.
- "Notable Individuals Influenced by General Semantics". The Institute of General Semantics.
- Panshin, Alexei (1989). The World Beyond the Hill. ElectricStory. pp. 605, 1024. ISBN 978-1-60450-443-9. "One of the particular strengths of Foundation was that it presented in dramatic form, a full year before the publication of van Vogt’s The World of Null-A, some of the key ideas associated with Alfred Korzybski."
- Korzybski is mentioned in the 1940 short story "Blowups Happen" and the 1949 novella Gulf.
- “The Institute of General Semantics” Retrieved on 2010–08–17
- Stockdale Steve: “Heinlein and Ellis: converging competencies”, ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, Oct, 2007 Retrieved on 2010–08–17.
- Robert Anton Wilson, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsjdEClYke0&feature=related, minute 7
- See the seventh part of the comics series Jaunes: Labyrinthe, with its explicit references to Korzybski's "the map is not the territory".
- Burke, Kenneth (1945). "A Grammar of Motives". University of California Press. "[Burke] would encourage the "delayed response" (p.238). Korzybski’s technique recommends that an individual interpose a "moment of delay" between the "Stimulus and the Response" in order to control meaning (p.239). According to Burke, Korzybski’s doctrine of the delayed action, as based on the ‘consciousness of abstracting,’ involves the fact that any term for an object puts the object in a class of similar objects" (p.240). Burke points out that Korzybski’s technique falls short with regard to the "analysis of poetic forms": "For ‘semantics’ is essentially scientist, an approach to language in terms of knowledge, whereas poetic forms are kinds of action" (p.240)."
- Burke, Kenneth (1945). A Grammar of Motives. University of California Press. pp. 238–242.
- Fresco, Jacque (2013). "Jacque Fresco - Slovenia Lecture - The Venus Project". YouTube. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
- Bandler, Richard & John Grinder (1975). The Structure of Magic I: A Book About Language and Therapy. Palo Alto, CA: Science & Behavior Books.
- Unofficial biography of Alejandro Jodorowsky.
- Kodish, Bruce. 2011. Korzybski: A Biography. Pasadena, CA: Extensional Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9700664-0-4 softcover, 978-09700664-28 hardcover.
- Kodish, Bruce and Susan Presby Kodish. 2011. Drive Yourself Sane: Using the Uncommon Sense of General Semantics, Third Edition. Pasadena, CA: Extensional Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9700664-1-1
- Alfred Korzybski, Manhood of Humanity, foreword by Edward Kasner, notes by M. Kendig, Institute of General Semantics, 1950, hardcover, 2nd edition, 391 pages, ISBN 0-937298-00-X. (Copy of the first edition.)
- Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics, Alfred Korzybski, Preface by Robert P. Pula, Institute of General Semantics, 1994, hardcover, 5th edition, ISBN 0-937298-01-8. (Full text online.)
- Alfred Korzybski, Collected Writings 1920-1950, Institute of General Semantics, 1990, hardcover, ISBN 0-685-40616-4
- Montagu, M. F. A. (1953). Time-binding and the concept of culture. The Scientific Monthly, Vol. 77, No. 3 (Sep., 1953), pp. 148–155.
- Murray, E. (1950). In memoriam: Alfred H. Korzybski. Sociometry, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Feb., 1950), pp. 76–77.
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- Manhood of Humanity at Project Gutenberg
- Alfred Korzybski and Gestalt Therapy Website
- Australian General Semantics Society
- Institute of General Semantics