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CHAPTER III. Korzybski's "meaningful" science of humanity

In the previous chapter I asked concerning Bloomfield's reification of language: is it appropriate to treat a uniquely human, uniquely social, phenomenon such as language as though it was scientifically and methodologically no different than an arrangement of atoms? Korzybski's answer may have been: "No, no, no, no, no!" If it seems like there is a sense of urgency in that hypothetical answer, it is because there likely would have been.

Recall that Korzybski's primary goal in formulating general semantics was to bring a scientific approach to the problem of ethics and the progress of humanity. One could point to obvious initiating factors: the carving up of Poland by foreign powers in his youth, the terror he must have witnessed while serving at the front of the Russian army in World War I as it was annihilated. Surely this had a huge effect on Korzybski. While Russia's ill-fated involvement in the war precipitated the Russian revolution, it set him in a different direction.

My service at the front during the World War and an intimate knowledge of life-conditions in Europe and the United States of America have convinced me that a scientific revision of all our conceptions about ourselves is needed. Investigation disclosed that all disciplines dealing with the affairs of man either do not have a definition of man, or, if they do, that it is formulated in metaphysical el[ementalistic], subject-predicate languages, which are unscientific and ultimately semantically harmful.

As we have at present, no general science of man embracing all his functions, language, mathematics, science and 'mental' ills included, I believe that to originate such a science would be useful. (Korzybski 1958{1933]:38)

He would preface the second edition of Science and Sanity (1941) with a section entitled "Revolutions and evolutions". In it he makes the case that the painful passing through history that mankind must go through, from one revolution to the next is part of a larger evolution from one system of thought to another. Currently from a system "inadequate for 1941 yet perhaps satisfactory 2,300 years ago, when conditions of life were relatively simple, when orientations were on the macroscopic level only, and knowledge of scientific facts was practically nil." (1958[1941]:xxxviii).

Korzybski mapped out the historical progression of western humanity in three stages. First there was the "Absolutist" period (also called metaphysical, Greek, or pre-scientific) which was characterized by Aristotelian subject-predicate based logic. It also featured a belief in the possibility of absolute knowledge of the nature of reality. The major emphasis of this era was the observer.

This Absolutist stage continued into the "Absolutist-Relativist" (or Classical Scientific) stage which really got under way during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with the Enlightenment - there is plenty of overlap between stages in Korzybski's model. The Absolutist-Relativist focused almost entirely on the observed with little consideration of the observer. The emphasis was on objective knowledge unalloyed by subjective bias. But since Aristotelian logic and viewpoints were still heavily relied upon, there were inconsistencies and confusion produced by treating newfound complexities in the natural world as absolute concepts. Recall Korzybski's claim, quoted in Chapter One that psychological behaviorists were conducting a futile study because "their knowledge of scientific method and structure belongs somewhere in the sixteenth century." (1933:303). That is, because they applied outdated Aristotelian concepts of causality and identification (of human reactions with those of other animals for example), they could never develop a complete science of humanity or a satisfactory psychology.

The period that Korzybski was attempting to herald was the "Relativist" period, which he believed began in earnest in 1854 with the publication of George Boole's Law's of Thought. In this new era, which was still only beginning to develop widely in 1933, there was a realization that knowledge is a joint product of the observer and the observed. It was further characterized by a holistic, consistent logic, and relativism in the place of absolutism.

Korzybski's own emphasis on relativism was indeed part of a larger trend at the time as the social philosopher Robert Anton Wilson (1982) has pointed out, "The major intellectual discovery of our age is Relativity; that is why the general public, with intuitive accuracy, always classifies Einstein as the archetype of the modern genius." (1982:xi). Wilson places Korzybski in a league with Einstein, Frobenius and the cultural relativists, Freud and Jung, Garfinkle and the ethnomethodologists, James Joyce, and Aleister Crowley as major figures that redefined their respective fields by introducing relativity - the notion of an interaction between the observer and the observed (1982:xi).

This historical interpretation is essential to understanding how Korzybski viewed the progression of human knowledge and hence, his view of language. The philosopher Max Black (1949), has made a similar point with respect to scientific knowledge.

Other thinkers, from Hume to Bertrand Russell, Dewey, and the Logical Positivists, who have hoped to use science as a key to philosophical problems have been anxious to stress the "unity" of the scientific method on which their hopes were fixed. Just because scientific method is a unified, identifiable system of procedures, one may hope, according to these writers, to apply it to unsolved problems of ethics or other controversial disciplines; conversely, if the character of scientific method varied according to the subject matter of its application, the call to use that method in untried fields would be less persuasive. (1949:228)

However, Korzybski stressed the discontinuous nature of scientific endeavor. He pointed out that our version of reality and our evaluation of life's events is very different when our knowledge, and the institutions and language based around it, are interpreted through a Newtonian-based view of physics, or a Euclidean-based view of geometry, or an Aristotelian-based view of logic. Korzybski stressed that the pioneers of modern mathematics, mathematical logic, and physics had recently overthrown the earlier scientific method and the assumptions upon which it was based. This is not insignificant in his conception of knowledge and meaning.

For instance a Euclid or a Newton had 'hunches', 'intuitions'[, etc.]; then they rationalized and verbalized them and so affected the rest of us and established the 'natural' feeling for E[uclidean] geometrics, N[ewtonian] mechanics[, etc.]. When new [non-Euclidean] or [non-Newtonian] systems were produced, many of the older scientists could 'understand' them, could even master the new symbolic technique; yet their 'feelings'[, etc.], were seldom affected. They 'thought' in the new way, but they continued to 'feel' in the old; their [semantic reactions] did not follow fully the transformation of their 'ideas', and this produced a split personality. (1958[1933]:27)

This quotation shows that Korzybski did not accept that humans have a "natural" conception of space-time and the nature of reality. Korzybski was a relativist who believed that the cultural aspect, as coded in our habitual language, has a major impact on our perception of events. That is, our view of reality changes with our linguistic practices and as our culture advances. This is very compatible with the Whorf-Sapir linguistic relativity hypothesis - most people who sympathize with general semantics refer to it as the Korzybski-Whorf-Sapir hypothesis.

Modern linguistic theory typically disregards linguistic relativity instead assuming that meaning in language can be subjected to a translational approach across cultures. The belief is that the cognitive architecture and/or functional requirements of human beings establish a basic theory of meaning. The linguistic forms may vary but they explain similar perceptions of similar phenomena. The following quotation from William Frawley's book Linguistic Semantics (1992) serves to underscore the split in opinion and clarify Korzybski's opposite assumption.

All spatial expressions in everyday language are understood with reference to a canonical conception of space. ... the content of our spatial expressions relies on a nontechnical, or naive, conception of geometry and physics ... it is this naive model of geometry and physics that invests our spatial expressions with content, even though this model is probably false in all its aspects when the technical aspects of physics and space are brought to bear. ... Our canonical conception of space is not only naive, it is also ideal and conceptually projected. For all intents and purposes, Euclidean geometry is enough to anchor our spatial expressions. (1992:252-3)

Frawley made similar points about time in a separate chapter (at odds with Korzybski already who insisted on the more accurate term "space-time"). Frawley and his contemporaries claim that our conception of reality is due to the processing requirements and functional needs of human speakers. For Korzybski, they are also historically and culturally determined through the structure of language, and its neuro-semantic effects.

Korzybski observed the rapid pace with which modern science was giving us new power over our environment, and potentially the power of destruction, and felt that our evaluations must be brought up to date to match our means. That is, because our society was becoming more complex, it was deemed necessary to refine our ability to evaluate, interpret, and act responsibly within it. He believed that the way to do this was partly through language revision, by eliminating certain aspects of our language and language practices and introducing others. But of primary importance to Korzybski's prescription for humanity was an awareness of language's conception-of-reality changing power. His relativism then applied not only to his view of scientific history and the cultural-linguistic effects on individuals, it also typified the assumptions and perspectives of the 'new era' into which humanity was entering, and defined his approach.

While Korzybski is remembered mainly, quite often only, as having dealt with language, Science and Sanity dealt with evaluation and meaning in a broad sense across a wide gamut of sciences, and it is necessary to understand at least some part of how these affected his theory of language. This represents a major, and in a sense incommensurable, difference between the programs of Korzybski and Bloomfield. Bloomfield stressed, as we have seen, the autonomy of language science from considerations of other disciplines, preaching for an "elimination" of psychological theory impinging on linguistics. His insistence on the advancement of other sciences for a study of semantics was primarily for translational purposes, not as a two-way interaction with other disciplines. But Korzybski's system, in his goal to improve the standard of humanity, drew on all disciplines as was necessary to elucidate what he saw as important about language and its role in human life. He also claimed that the increasing specialization of the various disciplines was detrimental to the study and solving of real-life problems.

It must be sadly admitted that even professionals, no matter how prominent they may be in their narrow specialties, as individuals or specialized groups are at present scientifically unequipped to deal with such problems ... because those whose duty it was to integrate methodologically the vast knowledge at hand, have failed. Such conditions can only be remedied by diversified methodological investigations, co-operation, and concerted action of specialists in different fields, which no private undertaking can organize effectively. (1958[1941]:lxix)

On a strictly physical level then, reality was constant, but what Korzybski called "structural assumptions" in our language and by extension our perception meant that reality for humanity at different stages of progress was fundamentally different. Recall Korzybski's definition of man as a time-binding class of life. He maintained that because of our symbolic capacity, as expressed by language, we are able to progress as a species in a way that animals were not able to. Humanity had the power to progress at geometric rates so long as our linguistic and conceptual abilities allowed for this. When our linguistic practices did not keep pace with our technological practices there would be wars, crime, hopelessness, society in disarray, etc.. From this basis then, Korzybski worked on a theory of language and meaning with a goal of helping to shift humanity from an Aristotelian orientation to a non-Aristotelian orientation. Of the various ills of humanity, Korzybski said:

They are circular, as all functions connected to knowledge are. This difficulty is very serious and connected with the structure of language, disclosing also a most important fact, that languages may have structure. This subject could not have been even suggested in the [Aristotelian]-system; nor could it have been analyzed by [Aristotelian] means. (1958[1933]:45) [recall that Korzybski's concern with structure was not structuralist -krh]

The picture I have been sketching of Korzybski's theory is so far lacking explicit comments concerning the positivist and mechanistic aspects of Korzybski's approach. Considering the problems that Bloomfield encountered when he abandoned his essentialist 'mentalism' in favor of a reductionist 'mechanism' it is hard to see how Korzybski could have made his relativistic claims under the same conditions. Korzybski never stated that semantics was the weak point in language study as Bloomfield did, but stressed that it was the point in examining not only language, but everything else connected with human behavior as well. Korzybski referred to semantic reactions as the defining characteristic of humanity.

Recall from Chapter One that the academic environment in Poland when Korzybski came of age was split between two camps: the Young Poland movement which was concerned with the affective, expressive, and psycho-semantic aspects of language; and Polish Positivism which saw language as primarily designative and descriptive and stressed an empiricist epistemology. I concur with Paulson's (1983) contention that Korzybski's intellectual development and basic orientation was influenced by both of these movements. I also agree with his contention that Korzybski's empiricist leanings were the stronger of the two. What I disagree with is the intensity by which this aspect is generally stressed, especially by Korzybski's various American popularizers and interpreters. I do not believe it plausible that Korzybski's 'mechanism' can be directly identified with Bloomfield's. Consider the following quotation from Science and Sanity.

It is pitiful to watch how even some of the most outstanding scientists in the world are unable to understand what a passing from one system to the next means. Thus, for example, an Encyclopedia of Unified Science was projected. A number of very scholarly treatises were published in it, and yet because the difficulties were not faced squarely the authors are missing the point that neuro-semantic and neuro-linguistic mechanisms are involved and that we are passing from one system to another. (Korzybski 1958[1941]:xxxviii)

The fact that he decried the approach of the Encyclopedia of Unified Science from which I quoted Bloomfield in Chapter Two, should give an early indication that he did not follow the same path in his mechanism or in his philosophy of social science. This divergence is even more interesting considering that Korzybski was schooled in mechanism by the biologist Jacques Loeb who, according to Esper (1968), also "misled" Weiss and other American behaviorists (1968:177).

While a discussion of the fundamental differences between the two scholars' conceptions of mechanism would probably make a good conclusion - and a large chunk of Chapter Four - to this thesis, I will turn to it now, before looking explicitly at Korzybski's theory of meaning. In brief, Korzybski was able to retain a 'mental' (or, proper to Korzybski's system, evaluational) aspect and a 'natural-sounding' account of human behavior because he retained meaning as a functional aspect of human action.

I take my distinction between the kinds of mechanism in Bloomfield and Korzybski from Charles Taylor in his essay "How is mechanism conceivable" (1985[1971]:164-86). The basic problem is that a mechanistic explanation for human behavior seems to be at odds with our ordinary conception. When we talk about a person committing certain actions "our explanations in ordinary language terminate with the invocation of a purpose, desire, or feeling" (1985[1971]:165). We express actions as "'intentional', that is, [we] constantly [take] account of the meaning of things." (1985[1971]:165)

We can contrast this with the basic mechanistic approach. This is the attempt to reduce, not intentional acts, but behaviors to a strictly physical explanation as in the physical sciences - treating all behavior as strictly physical events concurrent with the laws of physical science. Recall that in his article for The Encyclopedia of Unified Science Bloomfield maintained that mechanism is concerned only with events that can be placed in the co-ordinates of time and space. By doing this, mechanists leave no room for an explanation of meaning in our regular usage and sense of the word, that is "This has meaning for me". This is especially so if we consider that meaning only exists and functions as an aspect of a larger web of meaning (cf. von Humboldt [1988(1839)]). Taylor pointed out the trouble with a strict mechanistic conception.

If we can give a complete mechanistic explanation of our behavior and feeling, then, we feel obscurely, this will amount to saying that these features are not essential after all. But surely our having goals is essentially involved in our being creatures of capable of freedom and responsibility. (1985[1971]:166)

When Korzybski wrote Manhood of Humanity (1921) he sought to bring a scientific approach to ethics. But what is there to ethics if we can explain human behavior by the same deterministic principles that we apply to inanimate objects? If we stick to the known laws of physics and physiology in interpreting human behavior then it appears that we have to accept a causal chain which can not take meaning into account. However it seems natural, and almost necessary to apply physical principles to ourselves since we are after all physical beings, and to deny this would incur vitalistic assumptions which seem even more unacceptable.

The seemingly untenable problem is that we see our intentional actions as being related to elements which we define ourselves by, wants, inclinations, evaluations - basically all things which involve meaning. However the mechanistic perspective examines behavior as a series of physical states which can be described as necessarily following one from another. Taylor noted that while the logic of the two explanations is very different there is nothing to stop us from connecting them, that is explaining physical assumptions as more basic explanations of our ordinary conceptions.

There would thus be nothing in the neurophysiological theory like the concept 'want', but this would not prevent us from using connecting propositions such as 'the state Px is the state of the CNS which corresponds to what we call "wanting peanuts". (1985[1971]:173)

Taylor noted then that for these theories, of meaning and mechanism, to correlate we must be able to 'save the phenomena' of our ordinary everyday account (1985[1971]:174). For this to happen one must be able to demonstrate that the conditionals of the two explanations do not diverge. Taylor's example was of a situation where a man kills his brother, remembers killing him, and feels guilty because he sees fratricide as wrong. A series of states P1 .... Pn must correlate with our ordinary conception. That is, if we can demonstrate that there is a connection between the P-states linked with the memory of the murder or seeing that it is wrong, and the feeling of guilt then we would have a physical explanation that preserves 'the phenomenon', and seems acceptable.

Even if our guilt is irrational (or misplaced) the reference must be to a perceived wrong for which we are responsible. The primary requirement is that the physical explanation does not "violate the logic of the terms we use to describe them" (1985[1971]:177). In keeping with this thesis, Taylor maintained that a convergence of the two explanations requires that the mechanist one keeps the distinctions present in our ordinary vocabulary, and that it is rich enough theoretically to incorporate a wide basis of distinctions. Furthermore people's self-understanding cross-culturally must be accounted for in an acceptable neurophysiological mechanist theory. Basically the distinctions by which people understand their own and each other's actions must be preserved. If physical states could be defined to correlate with our various ordinary conceptions then we would move towards "a neurophysiological theory which will not be reductive, in the sense that it will not show teleological and intentional concepts to be eliminated at a more basic level." (1985[1971]:179).

Taylor's convergence hypothesis presumes that the 'laws' of physics, chemistry and neurophysiology are not already 'known' by science. If we look at it as a choice between explanation by accepted scientific laws (in 1998 or 1933) or body-mind dualism then we find it hard to accept either one. Our current physico-chemical laws do not satisfactorily explain human behavior as they do inanimate objects. Taylor made the point that it is wrong to assume that because we say human behavior is "governed by" the laws of physics and chemistry it means that no other factors may be involved (1985[1971]:184). Taylor spelt it out clearly when he concluded that his convergence hypothesis would have to encompass factors besides widely accepted physical laws.

On my convergent hypothesis above, the present principles of neurophysiology, and a fortiori those of physics and chemistry, would be supplemented by concepts of quite a different kind, in which, for instance, relations of meaning might become relevant to neurophysiological process. If this turned out to be of explanatory value, then, we could conclude that these new principles also govern the phenomena. We can hope that the predictions we make with the aid of these new explanatory concepts differ from those which would be made with exclusive reliance on the old ones..." (1985[1971]:185) [emphasis added -krh]

Taylor noted that the only way a strict mechanist could reject the conceptual enrichment of neurophysiology that he is proposing "is to have identified the laws of science tout court with laws of the type now in vogue." (1985[1971]:186) In other words, basic mechanism would assume that whatever conception scientists currently have of natural laws are natural laws.

The striking thing about this last statement is how well it agrees with Korzybski's basic notion of science as discontinuous. When he stated that his theories were compatible with science he would always follow with a date in parenthesis as in "(1933)" to denote that he was speaking of the theories and data of the time. Actually Korzybski points out that science is itself only an abstraction of un-speakable reality which is a rough agreement of current scientists and based on their own particular "semantic reactions".

Would Bloomfield reject a conceptual enrichment of neurophysiology as non-mechanistic? His principled refusal of 'sense' in Ogden and Richard's (1923) three-part conception of meaning indicates that this is the case. Recall from Chapter Two that sense was posited as a mediary between the linguistic form and its referent. Sense can be interpreted as a 'mental' or neurological aspect of meaning. As Hall pointed out, "[Bloomfield] acquired a psychological block (as I observed in conversation with him on various occasions) against interpreting the terms mind or mental in any way except as referring to some kind of permanently unobservable, non-physical entity." (1987a:158). Bloomfield's own comments on the subject included the statement, "for the mentalist, language is the expression of ideas, feelings, or volitions. The mechanist does not accept this solution. He believes that [these] are merely popular words for various body movements." (1933:142).

Bloomfield's insistence on a very basic mechanist view of behaviorism accounts for his denial of meaning as having some 'mental' or subjectively contained aspect. This was maintained even when Hall stressed a neurophysiological explanation of the 'mental' aspect of meaning.

We will find that Taylor's conceptual neurophysiology with meaning relations functioning in addition to the natural laws of modern science is very compatible with what Korzybski proposed. Korzybski said of the approach in The Encyclopedia of Unified Science, "because the difficulties were not faced squarely the authors are missing the point that neuro-semantic and neuro-linguistic mechanisms are involved..." (1958[1941]:xxxviii). And remember that Korzybski had classified humankind in Manhood of Humanity as a time-binding (linguistic) class of life, which contrasts with a 'strict mechanist' assumption that humans can be studied like other animals or even objects.

Korzybski's implicit re-appraisal of mechanism with meaning allowed him to be true to the positivist assumptions which he maintained as of primary importance, but it also gave him a recourse from strict positivism which allowed him to deal with the themes that were examined by Young Poland. The synthesis of these two aspects of his intellectual upbringing appears then to be a major determinant of his general semantics.

This distinction between Bloomfield's and Korzybski's theories of neurophysiology and mechanism is important. Without defining the differences explicitly it becomes hard to comprehend how they could have accepted such different formulations of meaning. Although it may have seemed somewhat indulgent of me to invoke Taylor to clarify Korzybski, I believe that it is wholly justified. It should now be easier to detail Korzybski's theory of meaning without confusing identification of his term and application of 'mechanism' with Bloomfield's.

Korzybski noted in the preface to the second edition of Science and Sanity (1941) his frustration with people misinterpreting his use of the term 'semantics'.

There is a fundamental confusion between the notion of the older 'semantics' as connected with a theory of verbal 'meaning' and words defined by words, and the present theory of 'general semantics' where we deal only with neuro-semantic and neuro-linguistic living reactions of Smith1 Smith2, etc., as their reactions to neuro-semantic and neuro-linguistic environments as environment. (1958[1941]:xxx)

Here it is very clear that Korzybski was concerned with language in use, or even more directly, meaning in use. Further evidence that Korzybski did not accept an objectivist viewpoint in understanding is offered by the passage which follows in which he decried the popularity of 'referents' and 'operations' in defining behavior.

Let us consider some facts, and how the theories of referents and operational methods fit human evaluations. Here is, for instance, Smith1 who, through family, social, economic, political, etc., conditions has become 'insane'. Smith1 finally, in ordinary parlance, kills Smith2. From a human point of view it is a very complex and tragic situation. Let us account for it in terms of referents and operations. The body and the heart of Smith2, the hand of Smith1, the knife, etc., are perfectly good referents. The grabbing of the knife by Smith1 and plunging it in the heart of Smith2, the falling down on the ground by Smith2 and the kicking of his legs are perfectly good operations. However, where is the human evaluation? Where is concern with 'sanity' and 'insanity'? Here we deal with some of the deepest human and social tragedies which, in this case, involve not only the killing of Smith2 by Smith1, but the sick, unhappy, twisted life of Smith1, affecting all his life connections, and with which we must be concerned if we are to be human beings and different from apes. (1958[1941]:xxx)

Korzybski admitted that the example was a bit harsh but also went on to detail some of the problems students who are taught to deal with reality in such a way encounter. He contended that the official teaching of these methods of evaluation implied the teaching of human values and has a "definite sinister effect" (1958[1941]:xxxi). For instance, he noted that identifying operations with meanings can result in the identification of sex with a mature love life (1958[1941]:xxxi). In keeping with his relativism, we see that Korzybski stressed that theories of evaluation are realized as actual habitual evaluation. He finally concluded his discussion of the use of operations and referents with a clear statement about such theories of meaning and pointed towards his own theory.

Thus theories of 'meaning' or still worse, 'meaning of meaning', based on 'referents' and 'operational' methods are thoroughly inadequate to account for human values, yet they do affect the nervous systems of humans. We must therefore work out a theory of evaluation which is based on the optimum electro-collodial action and reactions of the nervous system. (1958[1941]:xxxi)

One more quotation from this section should suffice.

Existing theories of 'meaning' of any school do not take into consideration that any definition of words by words must be based ultimately on undefined terms. ... and so the existing theories run in a vicious circle, just like a dog chasing his tail, and are bound to be ineffective, if not harmful. (1958[1941]:xxxii)

The difference between the mechanistic approaches of both scholars is reflective of what is so clear in the above quoted passages. In Chapter Two, I stated that although Bloomfield's theory of meaning was less than clear, it could be analyzed as including or excluding any of three semantic aspects. These were referential semantics, behavioral semantics, and translational semantics. The last three quotations show quite clearly that Korzybski eschewed each of them. Behavioral and referential because they did not take into account actual human evaluation, and translational because it ignores that symbolic re-representation assumes unaccounted for knowledge of basic undefined forms.

In fact, it is quite clear that when Korzybski speaks of meaning he is not at all concerned with finding standard definitions for specific linguistic forms. By examining where Korzybski placed meaning and how it is placed, it is striking just how much Korzybski's conception matches Taylor's phrase "relations of meanings" (quoted above).

Because Korzybski wanted general semantics to be a "strictly empirical science" (1958[1941]:xxvi) he defined meaning in terms which were, or could be, accessible to observation and experimentation. If meaning is to be scientifically defined in physical terms as a 'thing' or a 'process' then there are two basic choices. One is to deal mainly with stimuli and responses, behaviors, or referents - external to the subject. The other choice is to define meaning as something, not without but, within the subject. Thus the actual meaning of a linguistic form was placed inside the human nervous system quite explicitly. Korzybski stated plainly that he was concerned with a "neurological attitude towards 'meaning'" (1958[1933]:22).

Thus Korzybski's conception of meaning is compatible with C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards' (1923) three part semantics expressed as linguistic form - sense - referent. Sense, the internal 'representation' of meaning, mediates the connection between a linguistic form and its referent. Recall from Chapter Two that the linguist Robert A. Hall Jr. (1972 & 1987a) criticized Bloomfield for rejecting such a system. Yet, for Korzybski, with his "neurological attitude", a tripartite system like this seems natural. He was definitely familiar with the theory; he quotes Ogden and Richards in several places throughout Science and Sanity. So we can tentatively call Korzybski's semantics representational in the sense that a word refers to a representation or sense which exists neurologically.

Korzybski's concern with studying human evaluation required that he examine meaning as it operated within the nervous system of individuals. His evaluational relativity, that every person experiences the world differently based on their personal semantic reactions, meant that he always referenced meaning back to the individual. To rephrase a popular refrain, words don't have meanings, people have meanings. Korzybski used an example of an "extraordinary parrot" who could be trained "to repeat all the verbal 'wisdom' of the world", but notes that "these noises would mean nothing to him." (1958[1933]:24). Korzybski's concern with practical solutions kept him from objectifying either language or the individual.

Korzybski's "neurological attitude towards meaning" as it functions for individuals was developed into a rich set of concepts concerning the nervous system and semantic functioning. It is important to clarify that Korzybski never defined a 'unit' of meaning - recall Bloomfield's postulated sememe - either in theory or methodology. Korzybski maintained that the significant aspects of 'meaning' were structural, not in an American structuralist sense, but in a complex inter-related sense reflecting the relations between words, concepts and perceptions. He noted that "structure, and so relations, becomes the only possible content of 'knowledge' and of meanings" (1958[1933]:22-3).

Korzybski usually meant for the term "semantic" to be understood as an adjective of reactions - reactions that are inherently relational. This can be shown in a key concept of general semantics which is a good example of Korzybski's marriage of positivism with the expressive concerns of Young Poland: the multiordinality of terms and abstractions.

In claiming the science of 1933 as his "metaphysics" Korzybski noted that the universe is, by scientific standards, best described as a process which is "different in every instance, which never repeats itself, which is known to consist of extremely complex dynamic processes of very fine structure, acted upon by, and reacted upon, the rest of the universe, inextricably connected with everything else and dependent upon everything else" (1958[1933]:387). This unknowable indefinable 'true' reality is abstracted into a personal unspeakable objective level reality. This "knowable" reality is further abstracted by an individual by labeling and attaching meanings and these abstractions are further abstracted on progressively higher levels of abstraction, "abstracting to indefinitely higher orders" (1958[1933]:332).

Smith can always say something about a statement (L) on record. Neurologically considered, this next statement (L1) about statement (L) would be the nervous response to the former statement (L) which he has seen or heard or even produced by himself inside his skin. So his statement (L1) ... is a statement of a higher order. (1958[1933]:392).

A single linguistic form can be applied to various levels of abstraction of vastly different situations and thus all terms are multiordinal and posses multiple meanings. This general structural analysis of the relation between observer and observed is claimed to be consistent with neurological theory by modern general semanticists.

It is worth noting here that his American popularizers (cf. Hayakawa [1979]) have often simplified Korzybski's approach. Korzybski did encourage his readers to conduct critical evaluating and communication on 'lower' levels of abstraction. Promoting a fuller appreciation of objective reality was an essential aspect of his empiricist approach, his semantic therapy, and indeed the entire 'semantic hygiene' movement, which formed around general semantics. However focusing on this point is confusing Korzybski's therapy with his theory and turning a general model into a rigid one. This has caused a popular misrepresentation of Korzybski's theory of meanings.

General semantics, because the popular emphasis has been on 'lowering' levels of abstraction, has often been dismissed as "a poor man's logical positivism" (Paulson 1983:87). This interpretation is unfair as Paulson notes, "the early logical positivists' verification principle as applied to meaning was actually narrower than Korzybski's" (1983:87). The oft-neglected aspect of Korzybski's theory is the insistence of meanings as relations and the contextual semantics, which is necessitated by such an assumption.

How then is Korzybski's theory of meaning relational? Korzybski's basic notion of multiordinality can be applied to all terms, stating that each term has multiple, theoretically, infinite meanings. Consider his analysis of the multiordinality of the term "meaning".

'Meaning' must be considered as a multiordinal term, as it applies to all levels of abstractions, and so has no general content. We can only speak legitimately of 'meanings' in the plural. Perhaps, we can speak of the meanings of meanings, although I suspect that the latter would represent the un-speakable first order effect, the affective, personal, raw material, out of which our ordinary meanings are built. (1958[1933]:22)

In Korzybski's theory, our "ordinary meanings" are conceptualizations of what we pick up with our senses. But they are not simply labels, which we apply to the things we see or understand. Korzybski introduced the notion of "neuro-semantic environments as environments". While we are compelled by everything that we know and all modern intuition to define humans as existing in an objective environment, Korzybski also claims that each individual exists in his or her own neuro-semantic environment. Our language and the meanings that are structured by it create the environments we live in and react to - the observer and the observed can not be separated.

Korzybski did not only use the term environment as applied to "neuro-semantic environments" in a figurative sense, as an analogy, but in the traditional sense of the word. That we live in and interact with our neuro-semantic environments. These environments exist by virtue of the relations between meanings. Recall that Korzybski claimed structure and relations as the only possible content of meanings.

Thus, it is not possible to equate the semantics of general semantics with the semantics of logical positivism. It might be claimed that meaning is defined referentially in Science and Sanity, as represented neurologically, based on our sense data through orders of abstractions. However the relational aspect creates the need for a second interpretation; a conception of "neuro-semantic environments" implies something additional to the idea that words are simply labels attached to objects. The philosopher F. S. C. Northrop (1962) has claimed that Korzybski's system allows for two types of concepts. One is "concepts by intuition".

[A] word is a concept by intuition if its entire meaning derives from something which can be immediately apprehended inductively (1962:77)

This is typical of Korzybski's empiricist heritage. It represents the idea that a meaning of a linguistic form can be referenced to an image or set of images, thus giving it meaning. Concepts by intuition are compatible with Ernst Mach's empiro-criticism, which I have noted was very influential on Polish positivism. The other type of concept in Northrop's interpretation of Korzybski is "concepts by postulation".

A concept by postulation is a concept whose meaning in whole or in part is proposed for it imagelessly and syntactically by the axiomatically constructed postulates of a specific, deductively formulated theory. (1962:77)

A concept by postulation is then a meaning without a real-world referent or 'mental image' referent. It is constructed by the relations between other meanings or assumptions. Thus, as in mathematics, concepts can be created as a result of structure, without reference to a real-world object or set of objects.

Northrop notes further that, "Korzybski's respect for scientists like Gibbs, Newton, Maxwell, Poincaré, and Einstein [showed] that he was aware of the axiomatically constructed, deductively formulated concepts of mathematical physics" (1962:76). What Northrop calls concepts by postulation in Korzybski's theory of meaning are related to the mathematical philosophy, which Korzybski inherited from Cassius Keyser. As noted in Chapter One, Keyser sought to apply the process of mathematical logic and axiomatic procedures to humanity. Korzybski applied these procedures to his neuro-semantic issues, stressing relation and interaction of meanings.

This also reflected Korzybski's contention that the sciences of man ignored the most characteristic human behaviors. Recall that his major criticism of behaviorist psychology was that it ignored the activities of humans that dealt with abstract functioning. If a complex mathematical treatise, highly abstract in nature, could be created by the mind of a human, his or her conceptions must have relations rich enough to represent this creative process. Korzybski used the most abstract human creation he could find, mathematical logic, as an analogy and model for the complexity of human evaluation.

It is important to clarify that Northrop's interpretation of two types of concepts in Science and Sanity is an abstraction since Korzybski himself did not divide concepts along these lines. Separating "postulation" from "intuition" does serve to clarify where Korzybski diverged from positivism, however the notions cannot in truth be isolated in general semantics. Concepts by intuition might only be proper names with exact referents but even these, considering Korzybski's treatment of language in use and in environments, would be subject to relational factors.

The theory of meaning with which we are left when we reunite the two concepts is thus primarily contextual. While objects are experienced by the senses the evaluation of these objects is affected by relations to other meanings many of which do not have any referent outside of the neurological relations which they hold. The meaning of a single term, no matter how clear the referent, is, at least partly, determined by the relations to other meanings. And our neuro-semantic environment acts as a filter to our perceptions.

Because of his historical evolutionary perspective Korzybski studied the exceptional activities of humanity - both advanced mathematics and clinically insanity (different levels of sanity in his terms) - to determine the types of evaluations towards which we were moving. A creative "concept by postulation" is necessary to account for the different types of evaluation humans use as individuals and generally as cultural-linguistic groups within major stages of development. Unreferenced structural or relational assumptions determine the postulates that develop from them. Again, Korzybski maintained that these axioms are transmitted to us through language structure and symbolic practice.

We see then, that through mathematical analogy Korzybski attempted a re-appraisal of empiricism to include semantic considerations. In doing this he was able to address the concerns of the Young Poland movement: language as symbolic, psycho-semantic, and impressionistic (Paulson, 1983:81). It is important to clarify that Korzybski did not reference Young Poland; he maintained a very empirical outlook and list of references. However his semantics embraces a much larger system than positivism does by default and compels an analysis of and inferences concerning the Polish milieu.

Korzybski was very much an empiricist. However, his empiricism was of a different type than Bloomfield's. The assumptions which Bloomfield maintained as part of his mechanism and scientific methodology were vastly different than Korzybski's assumptions: that human activities should be studied as activities not objects as in the natural sciences (Aristotelian aspects of natural sciences Korzybski would interject, since modern natural sciences took process into account); that language should be studied starting with a concern with human meaning and evaluation not formal features; that language and meanings are variable across individuals and this variation is more important than the similarities; that while we can try to be objective, the nature of meanings make it impossible, and we should not be objective to the point of neglecting human values.

These assumptions in Korzybski's empiricism are practically the antithesis of Bloomfield's assumptions. The implications of these differences will be discussed in the following chapter.

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