|1 Aug 2003 @ 13:25, by Bruce Kodish|
Copyright, Bruce I. Kodish, 2003
When Alfred Korzybski's Manhood of Humanity was published in 1921, it had great popularity and widespread influence. Korzybski's Science and Sanity, too, was widely reviewed and respected when it first appeared in 1933. Now, in 2003, formulations originating from Korzybski's work often remain unacknowledged as such or have gotten watered down in various ways. This seems due not only to ignorance of their source or through misinterpretations of it (which can happen with the passage of time), but also from fear of being associated with general semantics (GS), the discipline he founded.
For instance, the editor of an anthology of GS-related articles informed a close associate of mine that one of the potential contributors, a behavioral scientist, had withdrawn his article. The man had 'second thoughts' about coming out openly in print with his GS-inspired formulations. This, he worried, might damage his academic career.
Given the potential importance of Korzybski's work, why has it not become better known among those whose fields it affects, and more importantly how did it become marginalized by some philosophers, scientists, and skeptics? And why, in the year 2003, do some people fear being associated with it?
In this article I explore some of the possible reasons for the marginalization of GS. After describing the unique location of GS among disciplines, I examine the critique of GS by Martin Gardner, one of its main skeptical opponents. In my view, a close look at Gardner's writings on GS will provide insight into some of the current confusion about and neglect of GS by the educated public and various academic communities. It also provides raises some embarrassing questions about the unskeptical behavior of renowned 'skeptics' like Gardner and Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine. The article concludes with a suggestion for skeptics to reevaluate general semantics.
Locating General Semantics
General Semantics, qualifies as an unusual, tough-to-pin-down, discipline. It explicitly straddles the border area between philosophy and empirical science and between theory and application in a way that may appear off-center from people's usual either/or categorizations.
As a practical philosophy, GS focuses on examining the assumptions of many fields. Lou Marinoff, a founding father of the philosophical practice/counseling movement, noted that:
"Korzybski is another neglected but important philosopher, who viewed the human animal as in its collective childhood and suggested ways in which we might eventually mature as a species. He explained how structures of language and habits of thought condition and trigger destructive emotions and sought ways to restructure our thinking." (1)
Korzybski (1879-1950) did not find the term "philosophy" entirely congenial for designating his work. "Philosophy" had become associated with the academic activities of many philosophers of his day who had gotten caught up in verbalistic speculations detached from scientific knowledge and practical application. (Despite some progress, this still seems very much the case today.) Remembering that what we now call "science" was once called "natural philosophy," may allow us to more easily understand Korzybski's unitary, naturalistic vision which saw 'philosophy' and 'science' as inseparable aspects of general inquiry.
Korzybski especially respected the work of "a few 'philosophers' [who] really do important work. This applies to the so-called 'critical philosophy' and to the theory of knowledge or epistemology." (2) Indeed, he viewed his own inquiry into "the structure of human knowledge" (3) as "an up-to-date epistemology." (4) Korzybski pioneered in "naturalizing epistemology," i.e., applying scientific studies in physics, biology, neuroscience, psychology, etc., to epistemological questions. Conversely, this up-to-date, scientific epistemology can be applied to questions in physics, biology, etc.--and to daily life.
GS, as Korzybski claimed, has elements which also bring it within the larger field of the behavioral/social sciences. "There is nothing as practical as a good theory," psychologist Kurt Lewin said. (5) Korzybski's main scientific accomplishment was theoretical: his integrative theory of human evaluation. This theory was based on the best science of his time in a variety of fields. Formulated as a foundation for a new interdisciplinary "science of man [humanity]," (6) it provides substantive suggestions for ongoing research on neuro-semantic, neuro-linguistic factors in human behavior. It "leads to a far-reaching revision of all existing disciplines." (7)
Thus, the humanistic, interdisciplinary discipline of GS may best be seen as neither 'philosophy' nor 'science' but rather as both/and-a philosophy-science. Korzybski's broad naturalistic view of the connectedness of 'philosophy' with 'science' may seem radical to some--especially his audacity in daring to actually apply it.
A great deal of wisdom was present in the culture when Korzybski formulated this theory of applied epistemology. Nonetheless, much of this wisdom did not get applied. To an appalling extent--despite the work of Korzybski and many others--it still doesn't. To a significant degree, this seems due to the neglect of neuro-semantic, neuro-linguistic, and epistemological factors in their own formulating by perhaps a majority of scientists, philosophers, politicians, economists, businesspeople, etc. Korzybski's legacy, his particular contribution to world culture, consists of his study of evaluation and evaluational methods--general semantics--which does apply this wisdom.
With this emphasis on application, the philosophy-science of GS exemplifies the practical philosophy of humanism. It connects GS to various other philosophy-like disciplines, like Zen. GS can be seen as an early precursor of the present philosophical practice/counseling movement, which has emphasized the everyday usefulness of rational inquiry for individuals, groups and organizations. Lou Marinoff has noted that, "It is only in the twentieth century that the term 'philosopher' came pervasively to mean someone inherently incapable of anything practical." (8)
GS has preeminent value as a philosophical practice in the best and most comprehensive 'meaning' of that much abused term 'philosophy' (which can include 'science')--the love of wisdom. How, then, did the reputations of Korzybski and the discipline he founded become associated with pseudo-science?
The King of Korzybski Bashers?
At least a partial answer may be found in the March 2002 edition of Scientific American where Michael Shermer, a well-known science writer and skeptic, devoted his monthly Skeptic column to the work of Martin Gardner. Gardner launched the modern skeptic movement in 1952 with his book, In the Name of Science, renamed Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, in 1957. Shermer listed Korzybski among the now forgotten and irrelevant 'pseudoscientists' and 'pseudosciences' that Gardner wrote about in his early book. The book is "still in print," Shermer wrote, and "arguably the skeptic classic of the past half a century." (9)
Arguably, indeed! In this book, Gardner served as a 'hitman', devoting most of Chapter 23--"General Semantics, Etc."--to a critique which lambasted Korzybski and labeled GS a 'cult'. Picking at Korzybski and GS remained a persistent albeit minor theme throughout Gardner's career. Something about Korzybski's work got under Gardner's skin, and he intermittently scratched away at the irritant with inaccuracy and invective for more than forty years. How unfortunate.
For Gardner's picking at GS actually constitutes a continuing source of potential embarrassment both for him and for the skeptic movement. Gardner has done significant legitimate work as a skeptic and as a writer/critic about science and mathematics. Serious students of GS share in a general skeptical outlook. Gardner's denunciations-as well as those of other eminent anti-korzybskians who should have known better, like Sydney Hook, W. V. Quine, Ernest Nagel, and Max Black--drove a wedge between "skeptics" and their korzybskian allies. It also put other debunking efforts by Gardner into question, at least in the eyes of some people--as well it should have.
If Gardner could so misrepresent Korzybski's work, one wonders what else he might have distorted during his long career. How much trust can one give to a 'fringe watcher'-which Gardner has called himself-who does not seem to be able to adequately distinguish between a flat-earth enthusiast and a Korzybski? Too bad that Gardner couldn't sufficiently delay his anti-korzybskian sniping long enough to have considered GS more fairly. Instead, this description by Lichtenberg seems to fit Gardner's published critiques of GS from 1952 to 1996: "He can't hold his ink; and when he feels a desire to befoul someone, he usually befouls himself most." (10)
The Trouble with Looking for 'Cranks'
Gardner's misrepresentations and their not insignificant influence constitute, I think, a significant source of the transmission of error about GS in the scientific, philosophical, academic communities. And with Michael Shermer's column, the chain of error has continued.
Shermer, an energetic historian/philosopher of science, seems to be taking up Gardner's mantle as a leader of the skeptic movement. The following excerpt from Shermer's March 2002 Skeptic column, "Hermits and Cranks," provides a basis for looking at Gardner's attempts to turn Korzybski into a pseudoscientific 'crank':
"What I find especially valuable about Gardner's views are his insights into the differences between science and pseudoscience....How can we tell if someone is a scientific crank? Gardner offers this advice: (1) "First and most important of these traits is that cranks work in almost total isolation from their colleagues." Cranks typically do not understand how the scientific process operates[,] that they need to try out their ideas on colleagues, attend conferences and publish their hypotheses in peer-reviewed journals before announcing to the world their startling discovery. Of course, when you explain this to them they say that their ideas are too radical for the conservative scientific establishment to accept. (2) "A second characteristic of the pseudo-scientist, which greatly strengthens his isolation, is a tendency toward paranoia"..."
The main problem with depending on the criteria of crankdom to determine the value of a set of formulations was noted by philosopher Morris R. Cohen: "If the premises are sufficient, they are so no matter by whom stated." (11) Gardner's criteria not only do not rule out the scientific value of a set of formulations. Quite the contrary, they can encourage the premature rejection of potentially useful viewpoints.
More significantly, as in Gardner's apparently shameless attack on Korzybski, Gardner's criteria can become excuses for ad hominem attacks. Self-anointed fringe-watchers can very easily slip into an attitude in which they try to confirm their beliefs in someone else's 'crankdom'. Unless one applies the criteria very carefully with an attitude based on fairness, they can provide an excuse for a distortion of 'facts' about people and their views which can block the way of inquiry.
Gardner's Case Against Korzybski
Much, if not most, of Martin Gardner's case against Korzybski and GS is based on uncritically treating higher-order inferences as if they were lower-order statements of fact. In so doing, Gardner demonstrated what is called in GS terminology an "intensional orientation," evaluating in terms of predetermined definitions instead of facts. Applying what in GS we call an "extensional orientation," i.e., evaluating in terms of facts instead of definitions, let us dare to inquire, shining some fact-oriented 'light' on Gardner's inferences about GS.
Name-Calling and the Art of the Fascinating Irrelevancy
Gardner referred to GS as a "cult," starting with his first sentence in Chapter 23 of Fads and Fallacies and continuing throughout the chapter. In this example of the petitio principii fallacy or "begging the question," Gardner assumed what he set out to prove. This fallacy has an interesting neuro-linguistic aspect--keep calling GS a 'cult' long enough and the label might stick. Such name-calling has a 'thought'-stopping, inquiry-blocking quality that provides a basic tool for fundamentalists and propagandists--not scientific skeptics.
The level of Gardner's argument remained suprisingly puerile but, since his work continues to get referred to uncritically, perhaps Gardner knew a thing or two about getting his point across, even to those whom, I would have hoped, would know better. Martin Maloney noted Gardner's use of "the technique of the fascinating irrelevancy." (12) Consider this melange of fact and inference:
The Count's institute [sic] of General Semantics, near the University of Chicago, was, established in 1938 with funds provided by a wealthy Chicago manufacturer of bathroom equipment, Cornelius Crane. Its street number, formerly 1232, was changed to 1234 so that when it was followed by "East Fifty-Sixth Street" there would be six numbers in serial order. (13)
The facts-about Korzybski's background in the Polish nobility, Crane's bathroom business, and the Institute street number-would be considered irrelevant in themselves to a critic playing by the rules of scientific skepticism. Not, however, to Gardner-who, for example, used Korzybski's connection with Crane in later attempts at 'bathroom' humor to denigrate GS. (14) Gardner's further suggestion that Korzybski indulged in numerology qualifies as utter misrepresentation. In fact, Korzybski found numerology objectionable. Korzybski did not choose the building for any reason other than location, space and cost, nor did he change the street number. He simply found it curious. (15) To suggest otherwise ("Its street number...was changed...") shows the level that Gardner often descended to throughout his intermittent career of denouncing general semantics.
Korzybski and His Colleagues
Gardner worked to make a case that Korzybski's operated as a 'hermit', an isolated loner utterly outside the stream of the scientific activity of his lifetime. "Cranks work in almost total isolation from their colleagues...in the sense of having no fruitful contacts with fellow researchers." (16) If Korzybski 'was' a crank, by definition he must have worked in total isolation. Gardner's 'investigations' confirmed this for him: "Modern works of scientific philosophy and psychiatry contain almost no references to [Korzybski's] theories." (17) Gardner must not have looked very hard.
While it is true that Korzybski did not find much of value in the work of many philosophers of his day, he did acknowledge that of Mach, Cassirer, Royce, Russell, Whitehead, Oliver Reiser, and F. S. C. Northrop, among others. Philosophers like Reiser and Northrop, and French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, among others, had an interest in and wrote about GS. Korzybski did not, as Gardner claimed, cast "sly aspersions on almost every contemporary major philosopher except Bertrand Russell."18 As lexicographer and GS scholar Allen Walker Read pointed out:
"Korzybski discriminated carefully between sound philosophers, such as Russell and Whitehead, and unsound philosophers; but he made his way hard for himself by excoriating philosophers as a body in no uncertain terms. They in turn have ever since given him their cold shoulder. It is my own observation that a line divides philosophers into two groups--those who are aware of the neurological basis of human reaction, and those who ignore neuro-linguistic issues...To some people, 'thinking' seems to take place in a vacuum. I remember a discussion many years ago with a professor who assured me that he was talking about "pure mentation," and not about the nervous system at all. Sometimes it is called "ratiocination." Such people assume that they can live and think in a realm outside physical constraints."(19)
Gardner's anti-GS jihad involved one unwarranted claim after another circling around Korzybski's supposed paranoid inability to acknowledge important predecessors and colleagues or supposed paranoid tendency to attack them. For example, Gardner wrote "One finds in Science and Sanity almost no recognition of the fact that the battle against bad linguistic habits of thought had been waged for centuries by philosophers of many schools." (20)
What nonsense! In Science and Sanity you will find a huge set of bibliographic references, as well as a dedication, acknowledgements, and extensive notes which demonstrate Korzybski's recognition of his time-binding debt to other formulators, including some philosophers. The book also contains, in Korzybski's words, a "large number of important quotations" at the beginnings of its parts and chapters. He wanted:
"...to make the reader aware that, on the one hand, there is already afloat in the 'universe of discourse' a great deal of genuine knowledge and wisdom, and that, on the other hand, this wisdom is not generally applied and, to a large extent, cannot be applied as long as we fail to build a simple system based on the complete elimination of the pathological factors." (21)
Korzybski's failure to discuss the work of John Dewey was presented by Gardner as an example of his ignoring of modern philosophers. As indicated in the bibliography of Science and Sanity, Korzybski read Dewey's work. However, although pointed in a similar direction, Korzybski and Dewey moved along different tracks. Korzybski's failure to discuss Dewey in Science and Sanity hardly proves any crankdom on Korzybski's part. Interestingly enough, for a period Korzybski had an intensive correspondence with Arthur F. Bentley, a social scientist and philosopher who collaborated with Dewey in the 1949 foray into scientific epistemology, Knowing and the Known.
Gardner might have found it salutary to consider what Dewey and Bentley said about Korzybski at one point in their book, after they had traced a trail of confused formulating regarding symbols, words, entities, etc. in the philosophy of Bertrand Russell (whom, in spite of his faults, Korzybski admired greatly):
Fusion of "symbol" and "entity" is what Russell demands, and confusion is what he gets. With an exhibit as prominent as this in the world, it is no wonder that Korzybski has felt it necessary to devote so much of his writings to the insistent declaration that the word is not the thing. His continual insistence upon this point will remain a useful public service until, at length, the day comes when a thorough theory of the organization of behavioral word and cosmic fact has been constructed. (22)
Korzybski collaborated and corresponded with some of the most of important scientists, including mathematicians and psychiatrists, of his day. He received acknowledgement from many of them. These included mathematician Cassius Keyser, William Alanson White, M.D. (one of the leading American psychiatrists in the early twentieth century), the geneticist C. B. Bridges (who helped him edit the first draft of Science and Sanity), among many others. Both Keyser and White wrote about and used Korzybski's formulations quite explicitly in their work. Before his untimely death, Bridges had worked on using GS to create a non-aristotelian formulation of theoretical biology. (23) Hervey Cleckley, M.D., a psychiatrist whose book on psychopathy, The Mask of Sanity, is considered a standard work, reformulated the second edition to take into account his studies in GS. (24) And the list goes on.
Although people like Gardner and philosopher Ernest Nagel seemed to take an intense dislike to Korzybski and his work, there were many others like mathematician Edward Kasner, who said:
"...I got to know Korzybski and under the influence of Keyser I started reading and admiring him...Korzybski is the only one that I ever met who united and had equal interest in mathematics and psychiatry. To me they seemed to dominate his career. He had a very sane view of mathematics....The more I read the more I have admired Korzybski..." (25)
Korzybski delivered many of his papers at scientific, mathematical, and psychiatric meetings and had articles in such publications as Science and The American Journal of Psychiatry, among others. Soon after Korzybski's death, an obituary comment in the May, 1950 edition of The American Journal of Psychiatry stated: "The death of this great teacher...deepens appreciation of his essential contribution to human understanding, on an individual, widely social, or international scale." (26)
Constructing a 'Crank'
"A second tendency of the pseudo-scientist, which greatly strengthens his isolation is a tendency toward paranoia." (27) I have already dealt with some suggestions of this by Gardner in relation to Korzybski and his colleagues, suggestions without substance. As part of further efforts to prove 'paranoiac tendencies', Gardner asserted that Korzybski "believed himself one of the world's greatest living thinkers." (28)
How did Gardner know this? Well, apparently Gardner had skills as a 'mindreader'. For someone who made part of a career out of debunking 'psychics', Gardner didn't feel at all shy about demonstrating his own 'psychic' abilities, declaring 'what Korzybski believed about himself' without documentation from any source.
However, there does remain the question of whether Korzybski overestimated the significance of his work. Again, Allen Walker Read:
"Korzybski has been accused, in speaking of his own work, of overstating its value and importance. Martin Gardner has called it too strong an 'ego drive.' But our Robert Pula has a good riposte to that. Drawing from a Polish source, he quoted: ‘A man who is a genius and doesn't know it, probably isn't.’
In the academic world it is expected that a scholar should build up a reputation in some specialty, and from that base go on to synthesize other fields into his own. Korzybski did not do this, but was a 'system builder' from a base as an engineer, if anything. He drew from a wider range of fields, some people thought, then he had competence in. The professors at the University of Chicago kept asking, ‘What right does he have to pontificate as he does?’ " (29)
Gardner--a former Christian fundamentalist who took up scientific philosophy at the University of Chicago and lost, at least, the Christian part--was possibly influenced by these professor's attitudes. (30) He attended some lectures that Korzybski gave while the Institute was in Chicago. (31)
Allen Walker Read, then working in Chicago, knew Gardner there:
"Among the budding philosophers on the...campus was a graduate student named Martin Gardner, whom I knew and respected, but who picked up a contemptuous attitude from the department there. He later, in 1951, pilloried general semantics in his influential book Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. This was not completely honest of him, since he admitted that Korzybski's work was "controversial, borderline," and that it "may or may not have considerable [scientific] merit." I conferred with Gardner as he was writing the book and found that he was unduly influenced by a published report from Los Angeles that a group of Korzybski's followers were founding a "General Semantics Church" and were about to go underground to preserve the purity of the faith from the impending destruction of the world. It turned out that within a few weeks this group lost its interest in general semantics and embraced scientology. But in this land of free speech, Korzybski could not prevent a few 'loonies', as I regard them, from proclaiming an alleged association with him." (32)
If Read advised Gardner not to 'go there', Gardner chose not to listen and linked GS to this 'Church' and to Scientology--then called "Dianetics," which Gardner seemed to consider similar to the GS 'cult' but "more exciting." (33) This appears especially ironic since one of the first serious critiques of L. Ron Hubbard's famous entry into 'fiction science', Dianetics, was published in General Semantics Bulletin by the korzybskian psychiatrist Douglas Kelley.
Korzybski's language usage and word-coinages, such as "semantic [evaluational] reaction," appeared to Gardner as further proof of Korzybski's paranoid 'crankdom'. Gardner's jeering attitude toward Korzybski's linguistic innovations was expressed in his description of them as "neologisms," a term sometimes used to describe the 'word salad' of schizophrenics. "Many of the classics of crackpot science exhibit a neologistic tendency." (34)
Apparently, Korzybski's use of the term "semantic," as in "semantic [evaluational] reaction(s)," in a different way than that used by "most contemporary philosophers" indicated this tendency to Gardner. Gardner wrote that Korzybski "used the word so broadly that it became almost meaningless." To bolster this claim, Gardner referred to Allen Walker Read's scholarly work writing that, "As Read points out, Korzybski considered a plant tropism, such as growing up instead of down, a 'semantic reaction'." (35) However, this remains Gardner's misinterpretation. Korzybski never made such a claim and Read was much too careful a scholar of GS to have pointed out what Gardner said he did. Korzybski, inspired by Jacques Loeb, had an interest in plant tropisms because he sought to understand the organic basis of human semantic (evaluative) reactions and their continuity with the 'irritability' and 'reactivity' of simpler organisms.
Gardner combined such misrepresentation with bald unsupported statements about Korzybski's 'nutty' language use:
"[Science and Sanity] is a poorly organized, verbose, philosophically naïve, repetitious mish-mash of sound ideas borrowed from abler scientists and philosophers, mixed with neologisms, confused ideas, unconscious metaphysics, and highly dubious speculations about neurology and psychiatric therapy." (36)
"When a book and a head collide and there is a hollow sound, is it always in the book?" (37) Gardner's friend and supporter, humanist philosopher Paul Kurtz, has coined a number of new words he saw as necessary to represent new views. Does this make Kurtz a 'crank'? Gardner's non-skeptical unwillingness to attempt to go at least partway in understanding Korzybski's terminology indicates an attitude of inquisition instead of inquiry. If he had followed an attitude of inquiry, he would have delayed his initial pre-set reaction and looked for evidence both for and against the point of view he started with.
Max Black--although he in some ways misread Science and Sanity as badly as Gardner did--found, to his credit, something of value in Korzybski's use of language. Black wrote, "Any reader of Korzybski's major work, Science and Sanity, must be impressed by the liveliness, vigor, and freshness of the exposition." (38)
Gardner clearly did not see the significance that others have found in Korzybski's work. After the first edition of Gardner's 'skeptic' classic came out in 1952, he continued his mudslinging until 1996. I'm not aware of any further anti-korzybskian missives from him since then. Perhaps this silence about GS indicates that he has changed his attitude. I don't know, though I doubt it.
At any rate, although he still writes, Gardner seems near the end of his career and whatever damage he has personally done to Korzybski's reputation and to GS has been done. Or perhaps not, as others like Shermer have taken up his mantle, uncritically referring to his old work on GS (which he himself may have second thoughts about by now) and seem intent on repeating his at-times mistaken approach to skepticism.
For all the 'good' Gardner may have done in criticizing deserving nonsense, the failure of leading skeptics and skeptics' organizations to acknowledge Gardner's unskeptical abuse of a great scientific-philosophical formulator like Korzybski indicates some problems within the 'scientific' skeptical movement and within some parts of the related humanist and academic communities as well.
Other Reasons for Neglect
Other factors, besides critics like Gardner, may be responsible for some of the relative failure of the scientific and philosophical academic communities to embrace Korzybski's work, in the way that some general semanticists might have liked.
For example, GS proponents like S.I. Hayakawa, presented a watered-down version of GS, which he called "semantics." Hayakawa's approach seemed more palatable to Gardner. (39) However, as Allen Walker Read noted, "From reading Hayakawa one would never get the impression of richness and depth that Korzybski actually provides." (40)
Other proponents of 'semantics', like Hayakawa's colleague Anatol Rapoport, had an especially uneasy relationship with Korzybski and his work. Rapoport waxed hot and cold on GS throughout his long career and at times seemed similar to Gardner in the level of inaccurate portrayal, misinterpretation and nasty invective against Korzybski, both in print and to colleagues. (41)
Some people's difficulties with Korzybski and his work may have come from the man himself. His disregard for convention and his direct way of communicating, though attractive to some, put other people off.
I have little doubt that the aristotelian, essentialist 'worms within the apples' of much scientific, humanist and skeptic formulating also had an important part to play in Gardner's, Rapoport's, and other's basic opposition to Korzybski's pioneering, non-aristotelian, non-essentialist system. Their concomitant ignoring of neuro-semantic, neuro-linguistic factors in their own formulating, fueled their opposition.
The interdisciplinary character of GS, focused on structure, evaluation, abstracting, etc., goes beyond the traditional divisions-among disciplines, between theory and practice, and between intellectual and emotional aspects of living. This may also have seemed like a challenge to some academics with more traditional views of their fields.
The sine qua non of GS remains personal application. Gardner and others may have considered as true but trivial such general-semantics formulations as "the map is not the territory" and the use of various extensional techniques and devices. "Everybody knows" these things. However, we find that everybody does not act as if they know them. Quite the reverse. The GS insistence on going beyond detached verbalism no doubt left such people unhappy.
Renewing the Partnership of GS and Skepticism
The performances of both some 'skeptics' and some 'proponents'-unable to delay their initial evaluations about GS-show how 'science' and 'skepticism' can become labels not for inquiry, but rather for 'emotional' outbursts, the avoidance of 'ideas', and the 'freezing' of convictions. One would expect that Korzybski's naturalistic, applied approach to human knowledge would find opposition from fundamentalist religionists, who would also oppose humanism and scientific skepticism. It now seems appropriate to move beyond its unreasonable dismissal by so-called 'skeptics', functioning as fundamentalists themselves, who have created a climate of ridicule and fear that has prevented humanists and scientists from fairly examining GS.
This kind of performance by 'critical thinkers' demonstrates the need for many avowed skeptics to further develop the kind of evaluational skills that GS training can help provide. For example, skeptics can benefit from using the Haney Uncritical Inference Test, based on William V. Haney's doctoral research in general semantics. (42) This test, and versions of it, have been used for years in general-semantics seminars to help teach the critical evaluating skill of distinguishing observation statements (descriptions, reports, statements of fact) from inferential statements, which may appear quite similar.
"Misread, unread, and superficially treated" has been the lot of Benjamin Lee Whorf's work, writes Whorf scholar Penny Lee. (43) Korzybski's related work has shared a similar lot. We have now reached a time when humanists, philosophers, scientists and skeptics, as well as laypeople--who are seeking to create a broadened understanding of 'science' and its relation to humanity--should reexamine previously accepted accounts of general semantics. (44) The transmission of errors about GS, based on hostile and/or oversimplifying opponents and proponents, will no longer do.
1. Marinoff 1999, p. 282
2 Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. 78
3. Ibid, p. 73
4. Ibid, p. 554
6. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. 17
7. Ibid, p. xcviii
8. Marinoff 2002, p. 273
10. Lichtenberg, p. 85
11. Qtd. in Chase, p. 60
12. Maloney, p. 217
13. Gardner 1957 (1952), p. 283
14.In his book, Science: Good, Bad, and Bogus, Gardner used this 'bathroom' connection in another juvenile critique of GS, a satirical "Manifesto of The Institute of General Eclectics" where he makes fun of "Science and Sanitation, by the late Count Aulayore Beeyemski," pp. 59-61.
15. Korzybski 1947, p. 325
16. Gardner 1957 (1952), p. 8
17. Ibid, p. 286
18. Ibid, p. 283
19. Read 1984, p. 14
20. Gardner 1957 (1952), p. 283
21. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. xci
22. Dewey and Bentley, p. 220
23. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. 784
24. Kendig 1950/1951
26. "Comment: Alfred Korzybski"
27. Gardner 1957 (1952), p. 11
28. Ibid, p. 283
29. Read 1984, pp. 16-17
30. Frazier, p. 35
31. Gardner 1993, p. 262
32. Read 1984, p. 14
33. Gardner 1957 (1952), p. 287
34. Ibid, p. 14
35. Ibid, p. 282
36. Gardner 1957 (1952), p. 281
37. Lichtenberg, p. 25
38. Black, p. 223
39. Gardner 1957 (1952), p. 287
40. Read 1984, p. 15
41. See Macneal, pp. 46-47 and Rapoport 2000.
42. See references to Haney. Copies of the Haney Uncritical Inference Test can be ordered from the International Society for General Semantics at www.generalsemantics.org.
43. Lee, p. 14
44. See Kodish and Kodish 2001 for a practical introduction to GS. Kodish 2003 presents the broad, scientific-philosophical background of the system. These provide a solid foundation for the further study of Korzybski's
Black, Max. 1949. Language and philosophy: Studies in method. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Chase, Stuart. 1956. Guides to straight thinking: With 13 common fallacies. New York: Harper & Brothers.
Comment: Alfred Korzybski. 1950. The American Journal of Psychiatry 106 (11). Reproduced in General Semantics Bulletin 3: 32.
Dewey, John and Arthur F. Bentley. 1949. Knowing and the known. Boston: The Beacon Press.
Frazier, Kendrick. 1998. A mind at play: An interview with Martin Gardner. Skeptical Inquirer 22 (2): 34-39.
Gardner, Martin. 1996. Weird water and fuzzy logic: More notes of a fringe watcher. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.
---. 1995. Fuzzy logic. Skeptical Inquirer 19 (5): 9-11, 56.
---. 1993 a. E-Prime: Getting rid of isness. Skeptical Inquirer 17 (3): 261-266.
---. 1993 b. Letters to the Editor-Martin Gardner responds. 18 (Fall): 106-107.
---. 1981. Science: Good, bad, and bogus. New York: Avon Books.
---. 1952, 1957. Fads and fallacies in the name of science. 2nd edition. New York: Dover.
Haney, William V. 1986. Communication and interpersonal relations: Text and cases. Fifth Edition. The Irwin Series in Management and the Behavioral Sciences. Homewood, IL: Irwin.
---. 1961/1962. The uncritical inference test--applications. General Semantics Bulletin 28& 29: 26.
---. 1958. Police experience and uncritical inference behavior. General Semantics Bulletin 22 & 23: 51-54.
---. 1957. Are accident-prone drivers unconscious inference prone? General Semantics Bulletin 20 & 21: 79-80.
---. 1955. Measurement of the ability to descriminate between inferential and descriptive statements: Precis of a doctoral thesis, Northwestern University, 1953. General Semantics Bulletin 16 & 17: 49-51.
Kasner, Edward. 1950/1951. Kasner on Korzybski and mathematics. General Semantics Bulletin 4-5: 50.
Kelley, Douglas M. 1951. Book Comments on - Dianetics: The modern science of mental health, by L. Ron Hubbard. New York: Hermitage House, 1950. General Semantics Bulletin 6 &7: 94-95.
Kendig, M. [Marjorie Mercer]. 1952/1953. Caveat Emptor, or watch your blood pressure! General Semantics Bulletin 10 & 11: 96.
---. 1950/1951. Comments on The mask of sanity, Second Edition by Hervey Cleckley. General Semantics Bulletin 4 & 5: 71.
Kodish, Susan Presby and Bruce I. Kodish. 2001. Drive yourself sane: Using the uncommon sense of general semantics. Pasadena, CA: Extensional Publishing.
Kodish, Bruce I. 2003. Dare to inquire: Sanity and survival for the 21st century and beyond. Pasadena, CA: Extensional Publishing.
--. 1997. Contra Max Black: An examination of critiques of general semantics. General Semantics Bulletin 64: 24-44. Available at [link]
---. 1993. Getting off Hayakawa's ladder. General Semantics Bulletin 57: 65-76.
Korzybski, Alfred. 1994 (1933). Science & sanity: An introduction to non-aristotelian systems and general semantics. Fifth Edition. Brooklyn, NY: Institute of General Semantics.
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.
---. 1990. Collected writings: 1920-1950. (Collected and arranged by M. Kendig. Final Editing and preparation for printing by Charlotte Schuchardt Read with the assistance of Robert P. Pula.) Englewood, NJ: Institute of General Semantics.
---. 1947. Biographical material. Recorded by Kenneth Keyes, July 1947. Transcribed by Roberta Rymer Keyes. Indexed by Robert P. Pula. Unpublished.
Lee, Penny. 1996. The Whorf theory complex: A critical reconstruction. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Lichtenberg, Georg Christoph. (trans. and ed. Franz H. Mautner and Henry Hatfield). 1959. The Lichtenberg reader: Selected writings of Georg Christoph Lichtenberg. Boston: Beacon Press.
Macneal, Edward. 1994. Mathsemantics: Making numbers talk sense. New York: Viking Penguin.
Maloney, Martin. 1956. How To Avoid An Idea. Etc.: A Review of General Semantics. XII (3): 214-224.
Marinoff, Lou. 2002. Philosophical practice. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
---. 1999. Plato, not Prozac: Applying philosophy to everyday problems. New York: HarperCollins.
Marrow, Alfred Jay. 1967. The practical theorist: The life and work of Kurt Lewin. New York: Basic Books.
Rapoport, Anatol. 2000. Certainties and doubts: A philosophy of life. Montreal: Black Rose Books.
---. 1950. Science and the goals of man: A study in semantic orientation. New York: Harper and Brothers.
Read, Allen Walker. 1986. General Semantics. In Encyclopedic Dictionary of Semiotics, ed. Thomas A. Sebeok, 280-282. Amsterdam: Mouton de Gruyter.
---. 1984. Changing attitudes toward Korzybski's general semantics. General Semantics Bulletin 51: 11-25.
Shermer, Michael. 2002. Skeptic: Hermits and Cranks. Scientific American, March.