Wednesday, October 28, 2009

GS in India

The Times of India has a nice article on the new Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Studies in Vadodara, Baroda, India. which is holding its first National Workshop on the Ecology of Knowledge starting today. The seminar features the Institute of General Semantics' Executive Director Lance Strate, an established McLuhan and Media Ecology/Communication scholar and an up-and-coming GS scholar, who is helping to spearhead a long-needed Korzybski revival in academia. What a great topic and appropriate presenter for the Centre's inaugural event! Although the article confuses General Semantics with semantics, the study of linguistic meaning (not a minor error), it is generally positive, mentioning Prafulla Kar one of the founders of the Centre and also a trustee of the Institute of General Semantics. I hope that they're recording at least some of the presentations and I look forward to learning more about what happened. May the Parekh Centre go on to great success!

Centre to tickle scholarly tastebuds

A Language of Smiles

New evidence re Whorf's principle of linguistic relativity (which jibes with Korzybski's views about the role of language in the perceptual processes, etc.) in A Language of Smiles

Runes on Facts

Dagobert D. Runes in Dictionary of Thinking (1959)
Facts are difficult to accept because they must be grasped; fancies are quickly taken on, since they require belief only.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Runes on Thinking

From Dagobert D. Runes, Dictionary of Thinking
with my comments in brackets.:
Thinking can be shaped by heart, gall, glands, stomach, or even shifting eyes. Sometimes I wish that people's thoughts came in colors so one could see what part of the body sent them forth.

Thinking may be classified on a color chart, however, of poetic imagination. Some people's cognitions run rosy; others gray, even black. There are those who think yellow and those who live and breathe blood red. The minds of others are of peculiar color combinations. And there are sages whose badge is white, embodying all the colors. No human emotion is strange to them, yet none colors their thoughts.
[Probably a good thing that people's thoughts don't come in smells –BIK]
A good thought, even when poorly presented, will finally emerge right side up.
[A writer hopes. –BIK]
The last thought is always wiser than the first.
[Not always. One can get sicklied over with the pale cast of too much thought. Then one must say "enough!" –BIK]

A Forced Break From Work


I had surgery yesterday to repair a deviated nasal septum (remnants of a broken nose, a few decades ago). The surgeon also repaired another schnozzola-related problem, swollen turbinates--membranes in the nose that filter the air but that in my case were blocking air flow. The surgeon shrunk them. The deviated septum and the swollen turbinates were making breathing through my nose more and more difficult. The surgeon told me after the surgery that there was more of a mess inside than he expected (broken cartilage and bone fragments--oh my). Anyhow, in the recovery room, in spite of some drainage, I had quite a bit of airflow in the old schnoz, so I'm quite hopeful that the surgery will accomplish what I want it to. For one thing, my snoring, due to having to breath through my mouth when I was lying down, was becoming more and more bothersome to both me and my wife.

The recovery takes time. I had a general anesthetic, morphine and other pain meds. Pretty much knocked out yesterday and sleepy today. Currently I have a splint inside my nose to keep the repaired septum straight. There is some bloody drainage, not much but yuck! (see picture of 'poor me'). My wife is telling me to take it easy and I am following her orders today. I'm not allowed to blow my nose and with the drainage from the surgery, etc. I'm now pretty well blocked up and have to breath through my mouth. It feels like a moderately bad cold, except I'm not sick. I've been napping on and off all day. It's a forced break from working on the Korzybski biography. Although until I finish the manuscript (getting closer and closer--planning to finish it at the end of this year), I can't really get away from thinking about it and always have something simmering on the back burners of my brain.

I'm doing some recreational reading today when I can stay awake. I dug out my old used copy of Dictionary of Thought (1959) by Dagobert D. Runes, one of my favorite 20th Century philosophers. I don't put that in quotes as Korzybski often did when he used the word to indicate that the label didn't necessarily label actual lovers of wisdom). But Runes actually did love wisdom and pursued it. Korzybski would likely have called him an epistemologist (a purr word for him). He must have been aware of Runes and Runes of Korzybski but I haven't found any correspondence or mention of one by the other. But at any rate, I love what Runes says and how he writes. A Jew who loved Spinoza and wrote a huge number of books, and edited more, and was the mainstay of the Philosophical Library publishing house in New York for many years.

Here are a few Rune-ian gems on:
Thinking
Thought is a twig on the tree of emotion and instinct. As it was a million years ago, the first is still an outgrowth of the latter.

Men think quite alike; if it were different, they could not coexist even for a day. But most people judge by traditional or imitated judgment patterns, and snap judgments are the rule and the rulers.

Is thinking ever free? Wherever I meet it, I find it chained to a motive of one kind or another. The world operates on motivated thinking tied to prejudice, opportunism, greed, narrow-mindedness, selfishness, and a thousand other little passions and passionette that clutter up the narrow path of righteousness.

Friday, October 23, 2009

More To Ponder From Aristotle

"...the man of education will seek exactness so far in each subject as the nature of the thing admits,..."

[Aristotle's Ethics, Trans. by D. P. Chase. NY: Everyman's Library. Book I, III, p. 3]

Friday, October 16, 2009

"Some Thoughts on GS-Training" by Benjamin Eckenfels

I received the following email yesterday from a correspondent in Germany, Benjamin Eckenfels. He had some very significant responses to a recent blogpost of mine and I wanted to share his comments with others. With his permission, here's what Benjamin had to say:
Dear Bruce,
I just read your blogpost A GS Revival? – Korzybski in Academia & the Communication Connection about how GS might start to reenter the academic world (which I would appreciate very much). In fact when I became interested in GS the absence of scientific reviews and recent research was a thing that nearly kept me from learning about GS at all. The reason: How could some discipline that claims to be rooted deeply in the scientific method be trusted, if it is not critically reviewed, revised and updated by scientists at regular universities?

I soon learned that GS seems to take a long winter sleep since the 'good old days' when it seemed to be comparatively popular. Undoubtedly you and your wife are with your book(s) two of the few persons that might change that by means of making GS accessible for readers in 2009. Since GS as a matter of fact is 'driving me sane' I would personally like to thank you for your efforts in making GS more understandable.

Nevertheless from my point of view two main problems remain: As far as I know there is a substantial lack of 'real' research on GS and a severe dearth of practical training material. Towards a solution to the first problem persons like the present IGS Executive Director Lance Strate might contribute in the near future. But what can be done with regard to practical training in GS?

The crucial importance of application of GS in every day life is stressed in nearly every book on GS I've read so far. But besides some kind of “homeworks” there is no material for training available. Therefore every persons interested in GS has to develop it's own training from scratch. I believe this complicates things especially for people from outside the USA (like me) who have not the opportunity to meet with others to work or discuss issues regarding GS so easily. The new IGS-website has a forum and a section called “Learning Center” and this is definitely a good start. But still this provides no means for systematic training; a way to get GS formulations 'into the human nervous system'.

So why do I dwell on this specific point so much? In your blogpost mentioned above you write that you have been influenced (maybe trained?) by some general semanticists like Charlotte Schuchardt Read, Allen Walker Read, Stuart A. Mayper, Robert Pula, Kenneth G. Johnson, etc. You also write that you “qualify as the world's foremost living authority on Korzybski's life and work”. Together with your proven ability to write on GS very 'well', that makes you the only candidate I can imagine to design a practical GS-training - maybe in form of an “workbook” additional to “Drive Yourself Sane”.

I believe such a “workbook” might be a beneficial project for a writer like you and a true 'time-binding' from your teachers in GS towards the people who try to learn about GS in the future.

To cut a long story short: For by now (2009) I believe GS is in fact too 'acadamic' (theoretic rather than practical) to be 'academic' (being a subject of scientific research). How can we expect persons not trained in GS to evolve a discipline that is not theirs? Who is doing the research in chemistry? The trained alchemists? I hope you give this ideas a try.

Last but not least: Let me again thank you for what you have done so far. It really helped me to get along with a lot of things.

Kind regards,
Benjamin Eckenfels (Gie├čen/Germany)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

From the Stray Thought Bin- Urban Legends

How easy would it be to start an urban legend? As easy as thinking of something absurd and outrageous, then telling someone else by word of mouth or telephone or by typing it into an email or a web page or a blog or by texting it or twittering—and then pressing a key or clicking a computer mouse. These are not sufficient but they do seem necessary factors. Which absurdities and lies gain traction involve other considerations. The potential for passing off nonsense to others seems frighteningly easy, however. Which perhaps shows the merit of the ancient Talmudic advice:
Silence makes a fence for wisdom.

Message to 'General Semanticists' From Aristotle

Those who consider themselves serious students of Korzybski's work would do well to heed the words of Aristotle, who said in his Ethics (a book—by the way—that Korzybski read carefully):
We are right then in saying, that these virtues are formed in a man by his doing the actions; but no one, if he should leave them undone, would be even in the way to become a good man. Yet people in general do not perform these actions, but taking refuge in talk they flatter themselves they are philosophising, and that they will so be good men: acting in truth very like those sick people who listen to the doctor with great attention but do nothing that he tells them: just as these then cannot be well bodily under such a course of treatment, so neither can those be mentally by philosophising. [Book II, IV, p. 32. D.P. Chase, translation. NY: E.P. Dutton, 1911, (1915, 1920)]
Like it or not, what is called "consciousness of abstracting" in korzybskian lingo constitutes something, like the 'virtue' mentioned above, to be developed through deliberate action over time, in order to become a habit. Korzybski and others following him (including my wife and I) have taught techniques for developing such consciousness. (Of course, one does not necessarily need to study 'general semantics' to do this.) Although,using general semantics will surely involve some changes in how you talk, talking about general semantics does not necessarily indicate that you are practicing it.

From the Stray Thought Bin- New Thoughts

Sometimes I come up with what seems like a brilliant new notion or at least a neat turn of phrase and then I realize that I already wrote something similar a while ago. Or somebody else did.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A GS Revival? – Korzybski in Academia & the Communication Connection

The discipline of GS [General Semantics] was founded by an independent scholar, outside of academia. But Korzybski was in continual contact with academic university scholars in a variety of fields while he was formulating his work in the 1920s and early 1930s and he continued to make such contacts as he developed his work until the end of his life in 1950.

Even in his lifetime there was a great deal of interest and ferment in many academic fields as a result of Korzybski's teaching. He had many students in psychiatry, medicine, art, English education, Speech, psychotherapy, social psychology, anthropology, business management, et cetera. Also in Korzybski's lifetime, some interest existed and efforts were made in the direction of affiliating the Institute of General Semantics in some way with a university. The interest of academic scholars in a variety of fields who have used GS in some way in their teaching and research continued after Korzybski's death. As did various efforts, which fell flat for various reasons, to affiliate the Institute with some university.

GS, because of its radically transdisciplinary and also its applied nature has had a surprising bit of influence on the general culture but has never, in my opinion, had the kind of influence that I and other korzybskians have wished. It doesn't fit easily into any conventional way of 'pigeonholing' fields of study. This probably explains why there have been many courses in various academic departments and a surprising amount of research that have made use of Korzybski's work but that there has never, to my knowledge, been an academic center or department of general semantics anywhere. There has certainly been a dearth of direct interest in Korzybski and his work in academia.

From my perspective, the dearth of present-day Korzybski and GS scholarship in academic departments seems a pity. It seems sad to me, and is not a matter of bragging at all, that I qualify as the world's foremost living authority on Korzybski's life and work. It seems a shame—although I'm not ashamed of what I've done— that there are only a handful of people that I know of (mainly outside of academia) who qualify as serious Korzybski scholars. (There are a few more scholars specializing in other things who have at least a serious interest in Korzybski and his work.) I apprenticed at the Institute of General Semantics when it was run by or influenced by some of Korzybski's closest students (primarily Charlotte Schuchardt Read and Allen Walker Read) and serious korzybskian scholars, like Stuart A. Mayper, Robert Pula, Kenneth G. Johnson, Thomas Nelson, and others. Some of my teachers and associates functioned as university academics but many did not and the Institute itself, then, as now, functioned as an independent, non-academic institution.

But I'm very happy now that the Institute has begun to make more connection to the academic world. The current Executive Director Lance Strate, is a veteran teacher of Communication Studies and Media Ecology at Fordham University. New members of the Institute Board of Directors include esteemed Communication scholars like Corey Anton, Thom Giancarelli and Eva Berger, and English Literature Scholar Prafulla Kar.

As evidenced by many of the presenters at the September International Conference on General Semantics (I not only listened to their talks but had personal conversations with many of them), many academics are beginning to see Korzybski on their radar as a significant formulator whose work they ought to know better. I do see a glimmer of the possibility of a GS and Korzybski revival. From my point of view, the increasing interest of academics, i.e., university scholars, in GS and Korzybski seems long overdue and most welcome. Lance Strate, who organized the conference, should get a great deal of credit for stimulating this. By the way, it was hands-down the best GS conference that I've ever attended and I plan on writing more on this blog about a number of the presentations and presenters I interacted with.

It's especially rewarding to see that scholars and professionals in the field of Communication have such a great interest and have become members of the Institute Board of Trustees. Last May, I went to Chicago to represent the Institute of General Semantics at the International Communication Association Conference held there. I gave a presentation on a panel with Corey Anton, who gave a dynamite talk about Korzybski and Heidegger. I also worked at the IGS booth in the exhibitor hall and attended a number of other communication presentations and talked with a lot of people attending.

In my conversations, I learned that the field of Communication (what morphed out of Speech and Rhetoric in the last half century) has become a vast interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary field of academic studies. The Communication field promises to become a major force in unifying the burgeoning social-behavioral sciences and seems a natural place for the Institute of GS and GS-oriented people to 'ply their wares'. There are many theories and subfields within the Communication profession and GS (along with 'Media Ecology') provides a great core approach that could help bridge some of these subfields as well as help Communication professionals apply their work to other fields. It seemed very positive that so many people that I talked with at this Communication conference, knew about korzybskian GS or had an interest in learning more.

The Communication field seems like a natural place for korzybskian and GS-oriented scholars to develop their work and do research. I hope to write more about this later.

It seems smart that the Institute board has brought a number of Communication professionals and scholars onto the board as new trustees. The Institute has a great-looking future if it makes use of the interest and resources these people can provide.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Perils of Big Brains

"There is usually only a limited amount of damage that can be done by dull or stupid people. For creating a truly monumental disaster, you need people with high IQs."
—Thomas Sowell

More at The Brainy Bunch

Korzybski and Jung? The Typealyzer

Thumbs up to Mattias Ostmar, who describes himself as a "Musician, blogger, INTP, psychographer, web guy." He made use of korzybskian understandings while developing a web-based tool based on Jung's and others' work on psychological types. His interesting post on this tool which he calls the "Typealyzer" shows some sharp insight into what Korzybski was up to. He understands what Korzybski intended with the term 'general semantics'. Check out his post A Few Basic Thoughts and Concepts Behind the Typealyzer Meanwhile, I'm going to check out the Typealyzer.