Barry SCHWARTZ (Barijo ŜVARC) (chemoelectric) wrote,

A little gs

I'm in a mood to discuss a little about general semantics. This is difficult for me in part because I have made a mockery of the field in past years, because of my ignorance. Also the field has been incredibly stagnant, with no significant advances since the 1930s.

I'd like to discuss the name of the field, 'general semantics', and then the central theory, 'time-binding'.

The name, 'general semantics'. This is often rendered as 'semantics'. That usage is erroneous and should be strictly avoided. 'Semantics' is a branch of study in linguistics, or, in older usage, philology. The only significant relation 'general semantics' has in common with 'semantics' is that they come from the same Greek root, meaning 'significance'. In 'general semantics', this root is used because, for instance, gs deals with the difference in 'significance' and 'meaning' between a flat world divided into 'earth' and 'heaven' versus a spherical world in an unbounded expanding universe. Clearly this 'meaning' has nothing to do with linguistics as such.

Also, and this is often misunderstood, the phrase 'the structure of a language' in general semantics has only a little to do with grammar as studied in linguistics. The grammar of our spoken languages does have some involvement, but mostly through insufficient flexibility. In particular, 'eliminating the "is" of identity' does not mean avoiding the word 'is' in any of its grammatical uses and cannot be explained in linguistics terms.

Mr. Korzybski, who invented the term 'general semantics', was aware of the new field of 'semantics' and also chose the name 'gs' as a tribute to the pioneers of semantics.

The 'general' in 'general semantics' is in part a tribute to Albert Einstein for 'general relativity'. Also it simply says that the material is a generalization of the content of Korzybski's first book, Manhood of Humanity (which was a very popular book in 1921).

Regarding the central theory, 'time-binding'. This is probably the most easily confirmed scientific theory in existence; anyone reading this can confirm the theory without any instruments or special work. Yet it is so hard to learn the theory, for people raised in our culture, that correct usage of the term 'time-binding' has come close to extinction, replaced by misuse.

The theory of time-binding says that the human species is distinguished from animal species by the fact that each generation of humans may begin where the previous generation left off. It's as simple as that. That humans begin where their parents left off is easily observed by comparing the technology of one's childhood with that of middle age. That no animal species displays non-negligible time-binding is observed by noting that animal species all live essentially the same way they did even long before modern humans came to exist. Animal species may advance, but it is such a slow advance that, in comparison to human time-binding, animal advancement can be completely disregarded.

The practical application of this theory can be hinted at by noting that, despite the simplicity and indubitability of this distinction between human and animal species, it is employed as a definition of Man in no field other than gs. The time-binding characteristic is almost completely neglected in our society, to talk about and understand ourselves. Can you imagine talking about automobiles without taking into account that they have motor-driven wheels? Yet that's what we do almost always in talking about ourselves.

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