Sunday 15 December 2013

VII National Workshop (Radical General Semantics) 13-16 November 2013

Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Sciences
Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies, Saurashtra University, Rajkot
Jointly organize
VII National Workshop
The Spirit of Democratic Citizenship
(Radical General Semantics)
13-16 November 2013
Venue: Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies
Saurashtra University, Rajkot  

Gad Horowitz, a Canadian political scientist and a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, Canada along with Shannon Bell, a Professor and Graduate Programme Director in the York University Political Science Department, Toronto had conducted the workshop.

Gad Horowitz introduces Radical General Semantics RGS

Toward a new general system of evaluation
and predictability in solving human problems
Alfred Korzybski
Author of Manhood of Humanity and Science and Sanity

The term general semantics originated with Alfred Korzybski in 1933 as the name for a general theory of evaluation, which in application turned out to be an empirical science, giving methods for general human adjustment in our private, public, and professional lives. His study has led ultimately to the formulation of a new system, with general semantics as its modus operandi.
This theory was first presented in his Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics.
“General semantics is not ‘the study of words’ or ‘the study of meaning,’ as these terms are ordinarily understood. It is more nearly correct to say that general semantics is concerned with the assumptions underlying symbol systems and the personal and cultural effects of their use. It is concerned with the pervasive problem of the relation of language to reality, of word to fact, of theory to description, and of description to data – of the observer to the observed, of the knower to the knowable. It is concerned with the role of language in relation to predictability and evaluation, and so in relation to the control of events and to personal adjustment and social integration.” – Wendell Johnson

The premises of the non-Aristotelian system can be given by the simple analogy of the relation of a map to the territory:
1.     A map is not the territory.
2.     A map does not represent all of a territory.
3.     A map is self-reflexive in the sense that an 'ideal' map would include a map of the map, etc., indefinitely.
Applied to daily life and language:
1.     A word is not what it represents.
2.     A word does not represent all of the 'facts', etc.
3.     Language is self-reflexive in the sense that in language we can speak about language.
Our habitual reactions today, however, are still based on primitive, pre-scientific, unconscious assumptions, which in action mostly violate the first two premises and disregard the third. Mathematics and general semantics are the only exceptions.
The third premise stemmed from the application to everyday life of the extremely important work of Bertrand Russell, who gave academic prominence to self-reflexiveness in his attempt to solve mathematical self-contradictions by his theory of mathematical types. We may speak (verbalize) about “a proposition about all propositions,” but in actuality we cannot make a proposition about all propositions, since in doing so we are in fact producing a new proposition, and thus we run into stultifying self-contradictions. Russell rightly called the products of these pathological verbal performances “illegitimate totalities.” By such unconscious over-generalizations we humans have been living, not very successfully.
Applied by Korzybski to our everyday lives, self-reflexiveness introduced neuro-linguistic factors important for human adjustment and maturity; i.e., the principles of different orders of abstractions, multiordinality, the circularity of human knowledge, second-order reactions, delay of reactions by space-time ordering, thalamo-cortical integration, etc.
Consciousness of Abstracting.
These principles in turn led to a general consciousness of abstracting as the necessary basis for the achievement of socio-cultural maturity. This produced, among others, means of eliminating active false knowledge, which is known to breed maladjustments. At the same time it was discovered that mere passive ignorance in humans often is impossible, but becomes active inferential knowledge, which may dogmatically ascribe some fictitious 'cause' for observed 'effects' ­the mechanism of primitive mythologies. Inferential knowledge, however, when consciously accepted as inferential, forms the hypothetical knowledge of modern science and ceases to be a dogma.
“Towards a deeper understanding of self, others and the world we live in.”   

The Structural Differential developed by Alfred Korzybski can be used to help us visualize the abstracting process and “circularity of knowledge,” or feedback.
The broken parabola – represents the complex submicroscopic, dynamic process level, inferred but not perceived, with an indefinite number of characteristics.

The circle below the parabola represents the object, person, situation, etc., that we perceive with our senses, abstracted from the process level. This is called the object or macroscopic level of ‘sense data,’ somewhat different for each person and from one time to another.
The third abstracting level is called the label or descriptive level, when we give a name or a description to what is perceived at the object level.
Then we can make statements that generalize or infer about the label or description, and continue these generalizations indefinitely.
The holes in the diagram represent characteristics. As we abstract, or select, from one level to the next we leave out some characteristics, designated by the hanging strings.
The connecting strings indicate the characteristics that are included in the subsequent level. As we generalize, we include fewer and fewer of the originally-perceived characteristics and introduce new characteristics by implication.
We can abstract on higher and higher orders, and we can make higher and higher order verbal generalizations as we move down the diagram and further from the immediate sense data.
Completing this cycle of abstracting, we project onto the silent, dynamic levels our assumptions, inferences, theories and beliefs.
At best this kind of knowledge is your abstraction of someone else’s abstraction of an event. Often many levels of abstraction are involved; reports of statements about generalizations from inferences about events, etc.

These abstractions differ from person to person based on their particular experiences, their backgrounds, capabilities, interests, biases, etc. General Semantics, in its pedagogical mode, aims to raise consciousness of this abstracting process, to teach people how to become more tolerant and accepting of the limitations and potentialities in themselves and others brought about by the process of abstracting. A consciousness of abstracting is more, however, than a form of mental hygiene - it constitutes, perhaps, a more general form of critical inquiry into the nature of language, mediation, perception, and action. Consequently, General Semantics can be understood, historically, within the tradition of critical theory, as a rigorous intellectual orientation and mode of inquiry that has serious grounding - even if today, in many academic circles, that grounding is not well known. Abstraction is a kind of evaluation, in the sense that it picks out certain features of the world or of experience as of interest. The attempt to understand this distinction in a "scientific" fashion is meant to provide a basis for evaluating and modifying attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs of those being trained in General Semantics.

To achieve the coveted consciousness of abstracting, more appropriate evaluations, etc., techniques were taken directly from modern physic mathematical methods, the use of which has been found empirically effective and of most serious preventive value, particularly on the level of children's education. Korzybski calls the following expediencies extensional devices:
  • Indexes to train us in consciousness of differences in similarities, and similarities in differences, such as Smith1, Smith2, etc.
  • Chain-indexes to indicate interconnections of happenings in space-time, where a 'cause' may have a multiplicity of 'effects', which in turn become 'causes', introducing also . Environmental factors, etc. For instance, Chair1-1 [NOTE, read chair “one” “one”] in a dry attic as different from Chair1-2 in a damp cellar, or a single happening to an individual in childhood which may color his reactions (chain-reactions) for the rest of his life, etc. Chain-indexes also convey the mechanisms of chain-reactions, which operate generally in this world, life, and the immensely complex human socio-cultural environment, included.
  • Dates to give a physico-mathematical orientation in a space-time world of processes.
  • Et cetera (etc., which can be abbreviated to double punctuation, such as ., or .; or .:) to remind us permanently of the second premise “not all”­ to train us in a consciousness of characteristics left out; and to remind us indirectly of the first premise “is not”­ to develop flexibility and a greater degree of conditionality in our semantic reactions.
  • Quotes to forewarn us that elementalistic or metaphysical terms are not to be trusted and that speculations based on them are misleading. [In this article single quotes are used for this purpose.]
  • Hyphens to remind us of the complexities of interrelatedness in this world.

“Form the habit of reacting yes to a new idea. First, think of all the reasons it is good; there will be plenty of people around to tell you it won’t work.” – Dr. Chauncey Guy Suits 

Attendee : Pooja Shukla, Gazal Pasnani ,Pooja Mehta.

-- Gazal Pasnani

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