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Quotations: AK On General Semantics

Alfred Habdank Skarbek Korzybski (July 3, 1879 – March 1, 1950):

Alfred Korzybski (1933) "Science And Sanity: An Introduction To Non-Aristotelian Systems And General Semantics". Institute Of General Semantics.

"The negative premise is the peak of mentality".

"Whatever you may say something is, it is not".

"We see what we see because we miss all the finer details".

"A person does what he does because he sees the world as he sees it".

"Who rules our symbols, rules us".

"Words are not the objects they represent, structure, and structure alone, becomes the only link that connects our verbal processes with the empirical data".

"We copy animals in our nervous reactions".


Alfred Korzybski (1921) "What I Believe", in "Manhood Of Humanity".

"There is a tremendous difference between ‘thinking’ in verbal terms and ‘contemplating’, inwardly silent, on nonverbal levels and then searching for the proper structure of language to fit the supposedly discovered structure of the silent processes that modern science tries to find. If we ‘think’ verbally, we act as biased observers and project onto the silent levels the structure of the language we use and so remain in our rut of old orientations, making keen, unbiased observations and creative work well-nigh impossible. In contrast, when we ‘think’ without words, or in pictures (which involve structures and therefore relations), we may discover new aspects and relations on silent levels and so may produce important theoretical results in the general search for a similarity of structure between the two levels, silent and verbal. Practically all important advances are made that way".


Alfred Korzybski (1936) "General Semantics: Extensionalization In Mathematics, Mathematical Physics, And General Education. Paper I – The Extensional Method". Hansell Baugh (1938) "General Semantics: Papers From The First American Congress".

"A map is not the territory"(Non-Identity Premise)

"A map is not all of the territory"(Non-Allness Premise)

"A map is self-reflexive"(Self-Reflexive Premise)



Alfred Korzybski (1933) “Science And Sanity”:

"However, when a mathematician lays down a definition, such as 1 + 1 = 2, this has nothing to do with the application we make of it when...we add one gallon (of water) to one gallon (of alcohol) and do not obtain two gallons (of the alcohol-water mixture), but slightly less. This last is a profound experimental fact, intimately connected with the structure of 'matter' and therefore, of the world around us. The mathematician has nothing to do with the fact that his additive definitions, important as they are, do not cover the facts of the world around us which happens not to be additive in its more fundamental aspects".


"...the issues are not additive, one atom of oxygen 'plus' two atoms of hydrogen, under proper conditions will produce water, of which the characteristics are not the sum of the characteristics of oxygen and hydrogen 'added' together, but entirely new characteristics emerge".


Alfred Korzybski (1933) “Science And Sanity”:




Alfred Korzybski (1933) “Science And Sanity”:

“The problems of `formalism' are of serious and neglected psychological importance, and are connect'ed with great semantic dangers in daily life if associated with the lack of consciousness of abstracting; or, in other words, when we confuse the orders of abstractions. Indeed, the majority of `mentally' ill are too formal in their psycho-logical, one-, two-, or few-valued processes and so cannot adjust themselves to the ¥-valued experiences of life. Formalism is only useful in the search for, and test of, structure; but, in that case, the consciousness of abstracting makes the attitude behind formal reasoning ¥-valued and probable, so that semantic disturbances and shocks in life are avoided. Let us be simple about it: the mechanism of the semantic disturbance, called `identification', or `the confusion of orders of abstractions' in general, and `objectification' in particular, is, to a large extent, dependent on two-valued formalism without the consciousness of abstracting. In mathematics, formalism is uniquely useful and necessary.

We should not be surprised to find that under these more complex conditions human investigatory reactions may be of different types, culminating in the typically human investigatory reaction, which would introduce the natural, yet more important, delay in an immediate reaction to a former stimulus. We shall find, later, that consciousness of abstracting is such a distinctly human and very useful investigatory reaction that on the human complex semantic level brings relatively as much benefit to the human organism as it does on the animal level to animals...

We are now ready to define `consciousness of abstracting' in simpler terms; namely, in terms of 'memory'. The term 'memory' is structurally a physico-chemical term. It implies that the events are interconnected, that everything in this world influences everything else, and that happenings leave some traces somewhere. A similar analysis can be carried on in connection with the object and the event. Briefly, the object represents structurally an abstraction of some order, does not, and cannot; include all the characteristics of the event; and so, again, we have some characteristics left out as indicated by the lines (B') . Here we have the possibility of making a series of most general, and yet entirely true, negative statements of great semantic importance; that the label is not the object, and that the object is not the event,. For the number of m.o (multi-ordinal) characteristics which we ascribe to the label by definition does not cover all the characteristics we recognize in the object; and the number of characteristics which we perceive in the object is also not equal to the infinite numbers of characteristics the event has . The differences are still more profound. Not only do the numbers of m.o characteristics differ, but also the character of these abstractions differs from level to level of the successive abstractions. We can now define 'consciousness of abstracting' as `awareness that in our process of abstracting we have left out characteristics'. Or, consciousness of abstracting can be defined as `remembering the "is not", and that some characteristics have been left out'. It should be noticed that in this formulation, with the aid of the Structural Differential, we have succeeded in translating a negative process of forgetting into a positive process of remembering the denial of identity and that characteristics are left out . Such a positive formulation makes the whole system workable and available for the semantic training and education…

We should notice that the consciousness of abstracting, or the remembering that we abstract in different orders with omission of characteristics, depends on the denial of the `is' of identity and is connected with limitations or `non-allness', so characteristic of the new non-systems. The consciousness of abstracting eliminates automatically identification or `confusion of the orders of abstractions', both applying to the semantic confusion on all levels. If we are not conscious of abstracting, we are bound to identify or confuse the object with its finite number of characteristics, with the event, with its infinite numbers of different characteristics. Confusion of these levels may misguide us into semantic situations ending in unpleasant shocks. If we acquire the consciousness of abstracting, and remember that the object is not the event and that we have abstracted characteristics fewer than, and different from, those the event has, we should expect many unforeseen happenings to occur . Consequently, when the unexpected happens, we are saved from painful and harmful semantic shocks. If, through lack of consciousness of abstracting, we identify or confuse words with objects and feelings, or memories and `ideas' with experiences which belong to the un-speakable objective level, we identify higher order abstractions with lower. Since this special type of semantic identification or confusion is extremely general, it deserves a special name. I call it objectification, because it is generally the confusion of words or verbal issues (memories, `ideas'.,) with objective, unspeakable levels, such as objects, or experiences, or feelings, . If we objectify, we forget, or we do not remember that words are not the objects or feelings themselves, that the verbal levels are always different from the objective levels. When we identify them, we disregard the inherent differences, and so proper evaluation and full adjustment become impossible. Similar semantic difficulties arise from the confusion of higher order abstractions; for instance, the identification of inferences with descriptions. This may be made clearer by examples. In studying these examples, it should be remembered that the organism acts as-a-whole, and that 'emotional' factors are, therefore, always present and should not be disregarded. In this study, the reader should try to put himself 'emotionally’ in the place of the Smith we speak about; then he cannot fail to understand the serious semantic disturbances these identifications create in everybody's life...

The neurological importance of `consciousness of abstracting' is based precisely on the fact that it automatically involves a fraction of a second of psycho-logical delay, and thus is fundamentally based on, and introduces in training, a wholesome `inhibition'.


 Marjorie Mercer Kendig (1892-1981):
 "’Always’ and ‘never’ are two words you should always remember never to use".
Alfred Korzybski (1921) “Manhood Of Humanity”:
"(Time-Binding) - I mean the capacity to summarise, digest and appropriate the labours and experiences of the past; I mean the capacity to use the fruits of the past labours and experiences as intellectual or spiritual capital for developments in the present; I mean the capacity to employ as instruments of increasing power the accumulated achievements of the all-precious lives of the past generations spent in trial and error, trial and success; I mean the capacity of human beings to conduct their lives in the ever increasing light of inherited wisdom; I mean the capacity in virtue of which man is at once the heritor of the by-gone ages and the trustee of posterity.  And because humanity is just this magnificent natural agency by which the past lives in the present and the present for the future, I define HUMANITY,  in the universal tongue of mathematics and mechanics, to be the TIME-BINDING CLASS OF LIFE".
“Suppose PR to denote the amount of progress made in some important field by a given generation – which we may call the first generation; where R denotes the common ratio – the ratio of improvement – that is, the number by which the progress of one generation must be multiplied to give the amount of progress made by the next generation; then the amount of progress made by the second generation will be PR2; that made by the third generation will be PR3; and so on; now denote by T the number of generations, counting the first one and all that follow in endless succession.  Then the following series will show the law of human progress in the chosen field:
                                                               PR, PR2, PR3, PR4, PR5,..., PRT, PRT+1,...; 
…this total gain is given by the formula,
                                              Total gain in T generations = -------(PRT -P)
                                                                                                R - 1
Operates in all fields I have just now said; as a matter of fact, as before pointed out, it does not so operate now in all fields nor has it ever done so.  My point is that it will so operate when we once acquire sense enough to let it do so.  That sense we shall have when and only when we discover that by nature we are time-binders and that the effectiveness of our time-binding capacity is not only a function of time but is, as I have explained a logarithmic or exponential function of time – a function in which time (T) enters as an exponent, as in the expression PRT”.
Alfred Korzybski (1933) "Science And Sanity: An Introduction To Aristotelian Systems And General Semantic":
“(In Manhood of Humanity), I defined man functionally as a time-binder, a definition based on a non-el functional observation  that  the human class of life differ from animals in the fact, that in the rough, each generation of humans, at least potentially, can start where the former generation left off – a definition which, in the language of this particular structure, is sharp, and  corresponds to empirical facts”.      

Alfred Korzybski (1921) "Manhood Of Humanity":

 "Consider now any two matters of great importance for human weal - jurisprudence for example and natural science -- or any other two major concerns of humanity...if progress in one of the matters advances according to the law of geometric progression and the other in accordance with a law of an arithmetical progression, progress in the former matter will very quickly and ever more and more rapidly outstrip progress in the latter.  So, that, if the two interests involved be interdependent (as they always are), a strain is gradually produced in human affairs, social equilibrium is at length destroyed, there follows a period of readjustment by means of violence and force.  It must not be fancied that the case supposed is merely hypothetical.  The whole history of mankind and especially the present condition of the world unite in showing that far from being merely hypothetical, the case supposed has always been actual and is actual today on a vast scale than ever before".




Alfred Korzybski's (1923), "Fate And Freedom". 


Where "Logical Destiny" entails Cassius Jackson Keyser's (1922) “Logical Fate”:     



Category: Quotations | Added by: Paul_Sidle (2010-08-27) | Author: Paul S. Sidle E W
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