Basic Understandings 2017-12-21T08:44:04+00:00

What Are the Core Beliefs of General Semantics?

General semantics was founded on fundamental ideas stemming from scientific insights, synthesized by its founder Alfred Korzybski and extended by a number of his students.  Below is a list of basic understandings held by many of those who train in general semantics.

  1. Only humans have demonstrated the capability to build on the knowledge of prior generations.  Alfred Korzybski referred to this capability as time-binding.
  2. Language serves as the principle tool that facilitates time-binding.
  3. Time-binding forms the basis for an ethical standard by which to evaluate human behavior; does the behavior advance time-binding and human progress based on what is known at the time, or does it deny time-binding?
  4. Acknowledging our time-binding inheritance dispels us of the “self-made” notion; as we understand how much we owe to others, we begin to understand our own limitations.

  1. Humankind’s ability to time-bind is most evident when we apply a scientific approach, method or attitude in our evaluations and judgments.
  2. A scientific approach involves the process of continually testing your assumptions and beliefs, gathering as many facts and as much data as possible, revising your assumptions and beliefs as appropriate, and holding your conclusions and judgments tentatively.
  3. Hidden, or unstated assumptions and “unknown unknown’s” guide our behavior to some degree; therefore we do well to acknowledge their influence and attempt to increase our awareness of them.
  4. We live in a process-oriented universe in which everything changes all the time. The changes may be readily apparent to us, or microscopic, or even sub-microscopic (inferred).
  5. Many times we are not concerned with the lack of apparent change. However, we invite trouble when we sometimes fail to account for change in people or things and act as if no change occurred.

  1. Our awareness of “what goes on” outside of our skin, is not “what is going on”; our awareness of our experience is not the silent, first-order, neurological experience.
  2. As human organisms, we have limits as to what we can experience through our senses. Given these limitations, we can never experience ‘all’ of what’s ‘out there’ to experience.
  3. Given our ever-changing environment (which includes ourselves, and our awareness of ourselves), we never experience the ‘same’ person, event, situation, ‘thing’, experience, etc., more than once.
  4. To the degree that our reactions and responses to all forms of stimuli are automatic, or conditioned, we copy animals, like Pavlov’s dog. To the degree that our reactions and responses are more controlled, delayed, or conditional to the given situation, we exhibit our uniquely-human capabilities.
  5. We each experience “what’s out there” uniquely, according to our individual sensory capabilities, our past experiences and conditioning. We do well to maintain an attitude of “to-me-ness” in our evaluations of our own behavior, as well as in our evaluations of others’ behavior.

  1. The language that we use can be considered as uniquely-human behavior which allows human to pass knowledge from generation to generation, as well as within generations.
  2. However, our language has evolved with structural flaws in that much of the language we use does not properly reflect the structure of the world we experience ‘out there’.
  3. Among the flaws or mistakes we perhaps unknowingly commit in our language use:
  4. confusing the word itself with what the word stands for;
  5. acting as if the meaning of the words we use is contained solely in the word, without considering the significance of the individuals speaking and hearing the word;
  6. confusing facts with our inferences, assumptions, beliefs, etc.;
  7. not accounting for the many “shades of gray”, simplistically looking at things as if they were black or white, right or wrong, good or bad, etc.;
  8. using language to ‘separate’ that which in the actual world cannot be separated, such as “space” from “time”, “mind” from “body”, etc.
  9. Korzybski proposed the use of several language habits he called “extensional devices” to help us become more aware of these language flaws in our everyday talking and listening, and thereby behave more responsibly:
  • Indexing — Muslim(1) is not Muslim(2) is not Muslim(3); respect differences
  • Dating — Bob Jones(2004) is not Bob Jones(1994)
  • Quotes — a caution that the term may be used in a peculiar or ‘not normal’ way
  • Etc. — a reminder than more could always be said, our knowledge is incomplete

  1. We actually ‘experience’ our daily living on the silent, non-verbal levels; in other words, on a physiological-neurological level different from our verbal awareness.
  2. Our ability to experience the world outside our skins is relative, unique to our own individual organism’s capabilities.
  3. Our language habits can affect our organism’s behavior; we can allow what we see, hear, say, etc., to affect our blood pressure, pulse, rate of breathing, etc.
  4. As we become more aware of our own non-verbal behaviors, we can practice techniques to achieve greater degrees of relaxation, less stress, greater sense of our environment, etc.