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Self-help psychotherapy system created by Alfred Korzybski in the 1920s
General semantics is concerned with how events translate to perceptions, how they are further modified by the names and labels we apply to them, and how we might gain a measure of control over our own responses, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral. It can serve as an antidote to certain kinds of delusional thought patterns in which necessarily incomplete and possibly warped mental constructs are projected onto the world and treated as reality itself. After partial launches under the names human engineering and humanology, Polish-American originator Alfred Korzybski (1879-1950) fully launched the program as general semantics in 1933 with the publication of Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics.
In Science and Sanity, general semantics is presented as both a theoretical and a practical system whose adoption can reliably alter human behavior in the direction of greater sanity. In the 1947 preface to the third edition of Science and Sanity, Korzybski wrote: "We need not blind ourselves with the old dogma that 'human nature cannot be changed', for we find that it can be changed." However, in the opinion of a majority of psychiatrists, the tenets and practices of general semantics are not an effective way of treating patients with psychological or mental illnesses. While Korzybski considered his program to be empirically based and to strictly follow the scientific method, general semantics has been described as veering into the domain of pseudoscience.
In the 1946 "Silent and Verbal Levels" diagram, the arrows and boxes denote ordered stages in human neuro-evaluative processing that happens in an instant. Although newer knowledge in biology has more sharply defined what the text in these 1946 boxes labels "electro-colloidal", the diagram remains, as Korzybski wrote in his last published paper in 1950, "satisfactory for our purpose of explaining briefly the most general and important points". General semantics postulates that most people "identify," or fail to differentiate the serial stages or "levels" within their own neuro-evaluative processing. "Most people," Korzybski wrote, "identify in value levels I, II, III, and IV and react as if our verbalizations about the first three levels were 'it.' Whatever we may say something 'is' obviously is not the 'something' on the silent levels."
By making it a 'mental' habit to find and keep one's bearings among the ordered stages, general semantics training seeks to sharpen internal orientation much as a GPS device may sharpen external orientation. Once trained, general semanticists affirm, a person will act, respond, and make decisions more appropriate to any given set of happenings. Although producing saliva constitutes an appropriate response when lemon juice drips onto the tongue, a person has inappropriately identified when an imagined lemon or the word "l-e-m-o-n" triggers a salivation response.
"Once we differentiate, differentiation becomes the denial of identity," Korzybski wrote in Science and Sanity. "Once we discriminate among the objective and verbal levels, we learn 'silence' on the unspeakable objective levels, and so introduce a most beneficial neurological 'delay'--engage the cortex to perform its natural function." British-American philosopher Max Black, an influential critic of general semantics, called this neurological delay the "central aim" of general semantics training, "so that in responding to verbal or nonverbal stimuli, we are aware of what it is that we are doing".
In the 21st century, the physiology underlying identification and the neurological delay is thought to involve autoassociative memory, a neural mechanism crucial to intelligence. Briefly explained, autoassociative memory retrieves previously stored representations that most closely conform to any current incoming pattern (level II in the general semantics diagram) arriving from the senses. According to the memory-prediction model for intelligence, if the stored representations resolve the arriving patterns, this constitutes "understanding", and brain activity shifts from evaluation to triggering motor responses. When the retrieved representations do not sufficiently resolve newly arrived patterns, evaluating persists, engaging higher layers of the cortex in an ongoing pursuit of resolution. The additional time required for signals to travel up and down the cortical hierarchy constitutes what general semantics calls a "beneficial neurological delay".
Abstracting and consciousness of abstracting
Identification prevents what general semantics seeks to promote: the additional cortical processing experienced as a delay. Korzybski called his remedy for identification "consciousness of abstracting." The term "abstracting" occurs ubiquitously in Science and Sanity. Korzybski's use of the term is somewhat unusual and requires study to understand his meaning. He discussed the problem of identification in terms of "confusions of orders of abstractions" and "lack of consciousness of abstracting". To be conscious of abstracting is to differentiate among the "levels" described above; levels II-IV being abstractions of level I (whatever level I "is"--all we really get are abstractions). The techniques Korzybski prescribed to help a person develop consciousness of abstracting he called "extensional devices".
Satisfactory accounts of general semantics extensional devices can be found easily. This article seeks to explain briefly only the "indexing" devices. Suppose you teach in a school or university. Students enter your classroom on the first day of a new term, and, if you identify these new students to a memory association retrieved by your brain, you under-engage your powers of observation and your cortex. Indexing makes explicit a differentiating of studentsthis term from studentsprior terms. You survey the new students, and indexing explicitly differentiates student1 from student2 from student3, etc. Suppose you recognize one student--call her Anna--from a prior course in which Anna either excelled or did poorly. Again, you escape identification by your indexed awareness that Annathis term, this course is different from Annathat term, that course. Not identifying, you both expand and sharpen your apprehension of "students" with an awareness rooted in fresh silent-level observations.
Language as a core concern
Autoassociative memory in the memory-prediction model describes neural operations in mammalian brains generally. A special circumstance for humans arises with the introduction of language components, both as fresh stimuli and as stored representations. Language considerations figure prominently in general semantics, and three language and communications specialists who embraced general semantics, university professors and authors Hayakawa, Wendell Johnson and Neil Postman, played major roles in framing general semantics, especially for non-readers of Science and Sanity.
But the type of existence, if any, of universals and abstract objects is an issue of serious debate within metaphysical philosophy. So Black summed up general semantics as "some hypothetical neurology fortified with dogmatic metaphysics". And in 1952, two years after Korzybski died, American skeptic Martin Gardner wrote, "[Korzybski's] work moves into the realm of cultism and pseudo-science."
Former Institute of General Semantics executive director Steve Stockdale has compared GS to yoga. "First, I'd say that there is little if any benefit to be gained by just knowing something about general semantics. The benefits come from maintaining an awareness of the principles and attitudes that are derived from GS and applying them as they are needed. You can sort of compare general semantics to yoga in that respect... knowing about yoga is okay, but to benefit from yoga you have to do yoga." Similarly, Kenneth Burke explains Korzybski's kind of semantics contrasting it, in A Grammar of Motives, with a kind of Burkean poetry by saying "Semantics is essentially scientist, an approach to language in terms of knowledge, whereas poetic forms are kinds of action".
Early attempts at validation
The First American Congress for General Semantics convened in March 1935 at the Central Washington College of Education in Ellensburg, Washington. In introductory remarks to the participants, Korzybski said:
General semantics formulates a new experimental branch of natural science, underlying an empirical theory of human evaluations and orientations and involving a definite neurological mechanism, present in all humans. It discovers direct neurological methods for the stimulation of the activities of the human cerebral cortex and the direct introduction of beneficial neurological 'inhibition'....
He added that general semantics "will be judged by experimentation". One paper presented at the congress reported dramatic score improvements for college sophomores on standardized intelligence tests after six weeks of training by methods prescribed in Chapter 29 of Science and Sanity.
Interpretation as semantics
General semantics accumulated only a few early experimental validations. In 1938, economist and writer Stuart Chase praised and popularized Korzybski in The Tyranny of Words. Chase called Korzybski "a pioneer" and described Science and Sanity as "formulating a genuine science of communication. The term which is coming into use to cover such studies is 'semantics,' matters having to do with signification or meaning." Because Korzybski, in Science and Sanity, had articulated his program using "semantic" as a standalone qualifier on hundreds of pages in constructions like "semantic factors," "semantic disturbances," and especially "semantic reactions," to label the general semantics program "semantics" amounted to only a convenient shorthand.
Hayakawa read The Tyranny of Words, then Science and Sanity, and in 1939 he attended a Korzybski-led workshop conducted at the newly organized Institute of General Semantics in Chicago. In the introduction to his own Language in Action, a 1941 Book of the Month Club selection, Hayakawa wrote, "[Korzybski's] principles have in one way or another influenced almost every page of this book...." But, Hayakawa followed Chase's lead in interpreting general semantics as making communication its defining concern. When Hayakawa co-founded the Society for General Semantics and its publication ETC: A Review of General Semantics in 1943--he would continue to edit ETC. until 1970--Korzybski and his followers at the Institute of General Semantics began to complain that Hayakawa had wrongly coopted general semantics. In 1985, Hayakawa gave this defense to an interviewer: "I wanted to treat general semantics as a subject, in the same sense that there's a scientific concept known as gravitation, which is independent of Isaac Newton. So after a while, you don't talk about Newton anymore; you talk about gravitation. You talk about semantics and not Korzybskian semantics."
The regimen in the Institute's seminars, greatly expanded as team-taught seminar-workshops starting in 1944, continued to develop following the prescriptions laid down in Chapter XXIX of Science and Sanity. The structural differential, patented by Korzybski in the 1920s, remained among the chief training aids to help students reach "the silent level," a prerequisite for achieving "neurological delay". Innovations in the seminar-workshops included a new "neuro-relaxation" component, led by dancer and Institute editorial secretary Charlotte Schuchardt (1909-2002).
But although many people were introduced to general semantics--perhaps the majority through Hayakawa's more limited 'semantics'--superficial lip service seemed more common than the deep internalization that Korzybski and his co-workers at the Institute aimed for. Marjorie Kendig (1892-1981), probably Korzybski's closest co-worker, director of the Institute after his death, and editor of his posthumously published Collected Writings: 1920-1950, wrote in 1968:
I would guess that I have known about 30 individuals who have in some degree adequately, by my standards, mastered this highly general, very simple, very difficult system of orientation and method of evaluating--reversing as it must all our cultural conditioning, neurological canalization, etc....
To me the great error Korzybski made--and I carried on, financial necessity--and for which we pay the price today in many criticisms, consisted in not restricting ourselves to training very thoroughly a very few people who would be competent to utilize the discipline in various fields and to train others. We should have done this before encouraging anyone to popularize or spread the word (horrid phrase) in societies for general semantics, by talking about general semantics instead of learning, using, etc. the methodology to change our essential epistemological assumptions, premises, etc. (unconscious or conscious), i.e. the un-learning basic to learning to learn.
Yes, large numbers of people do enjoy making a philosophy of general semantics. This saves them the pain of rigorous training so simple and general and limited that it seems obvious when said, yet so difficult.
Successors at the Institute of General Semantics continued for many years along the founders' path. Stuart Mayper (1916-1997), who studied under Karl Popper, introduced Popper's principle of falsifiability into the seminar-workshops he led at the Institute starting in 1977. More modest pronouncements gradually replaced Korzybski's claims that general semantics can change human nature and introduce an era of universal human agreement. In 2000, Robert Pula (1928-2004), whose roles at the Institute over three decades included Institute director, editor-in-chief of the Institute's General Semantics Bulletin, and leader of the seminar-workshops, characterized Korzybski's legacy as a "contribution toward the improvement of human evaluating, to the amelioration of human woe...."
Hayakawa died in 1992. The Society for General Semantics merged into the Institute of General Semantics in 2003. In 2007, Martin Levinson, president of the Institute's Board of Trustees, teamed with Paul D. Johnston, executive director of the Society at the date of the merger, to teach general semantics with a light-hearted Practical Fairy Tales for Everyday Living. The Institute currently offers no training workshops.
Other institutions supporting or promoting general semantics in the 21st century include the New York Society for General Semantics, the European Society for General Semantics, the Australian General Semantics Society, and the Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Sciences (Baroda, India).
The major premises
Non-Aristotelianism: While Aristotle wrote that a true definition gives the essence of the thing (defined in Greek to ti ên einai, literally "the what it was to be"), general semantics denies the existence of such an 'essence'. In this, general semantics purports to represent an evolution in human evaluative orientation. In general semantics, it is always possible to give a description of empirical facts, but such descriptions remain just that--descriptions--which necessarily leave out many aspects of the objective, microscopic, and submicroscopic events they describe. According to general semantics, language, natural or otherwise (including the language called 'mathematics') can be used to describe the taste of an orange, but one cannot give the taste of the orange using language alone. According to general semantics, the content of all knowledge is structure, so that language (in general) and science and mathematics (in particular) can provide people with a structural 'map' of empirical facts, but there can be no 'identity', only structural similarity, between the language (map) and the empirical facts as lived through and observed by people as humans-in-environments (including doctrinal and linguistic environments).
Time binding: The human ability to pass information and knowledge from one generation to the next. Korzybski claimed this to be a unique capacity, separating people from animals. This distinctly human ability for one generation to start where a previous generation left off, is a consequence of the uniquely human ability to move to higher and higher levels of abstraction without limit. Animals may have multiple levels of abstraction, but their abstractions must stop at some finite upper limit; this is not so for humans: humans can have 'knowledge about knowledge', 'knowledge about knowledge about knowledge', etc., without any upper limit. Animals possess knowledge, but each generation of animals does things pretty much in the same way as the previous generation, limited by their neurology and genetic makeup. For example, at one time most human societies were hunter-gatherers, but now more advanced means of food production (growing, raising, or buying) predominate. Except for some insects (for example, ants), all animals are still hunter-gatherer species, even though many have existed longer than the human species. For this reason, animals are regarded in general semantics as space-binders (doing space-binding), and plants, which are usually stationary, as energy-binders (doing energy-binding).
Non-elementalism and non-additivity: The refusal to separate verbally what cannot be separated empirically, and the refusal to regard such verbal splits as evidence that the 'things' that are verbally split bear an additive relation to one another. For example, space-time cannot empirically be split into 'space' + 'time', a conscious organism (including humans) cannot be split into 'body' + 'mind', etc., therefore, people should never speak of 'space' and 'time' or 'mind' and 'body' in isolation, but always use the terms space-time or mind-body (or other organism-as-a-whole terms).
Infinite-valued determinism: General semantics regards the problem of 'indeterminism vs. determinism' as the failure of pre-modern epistemologies to formulate the issue properly as the failure to consider or include all factors relevant to a particular prediction, and failure to adjust our languages and linguistic structures to empirical facts. General semantics resolves the issue in favor of determinism of a special kind called 'infinite-valued' determinism which always allows for the possibility that relevant 'causal' factors may be 'left out' at any given date, resulting in, if the issue is not understood at that date, 'indeterminism', which simply indicates that our ability to predict events has broken down, not that the world is 'indeterministic'. General semantics considers all human behavior (including all human decisions) as, in principle, fully determined once all relevant doctrinal and linguistic factors are included in the analysis, regarding theories of 'free will' as failing to include the doctrinal and linguistic environments as environments in the analysis of human behavior.
The concept of "silence on the objective level"--attributed to Korzybski and his insistence on consciousness of abstracting--are parallel to some of the central ideas in Zen Buddhism. Although Korzybski never acknowledged any influence from this quarter, he formulated general semantics during the same years that the first popularizations of Zen were becoming part of the intellectual currency of educated speakers of English. On the other hand, later Zen-popularizer Alan Watts was influenced by ideas from general semantics.
Neil Postman, founder of New York University's media ecology program in 1971, edited ETC.: A Review of General Semantics from 1976 to 1986. Postman's student Lance Strate, a co-founder of the Media Ecology Association, served as executive director of the Institute of General Semantics from 2007 to 2010.
^Linder-Pelz, S. and Hall, L.M., 2007. The theoretical roots of NLP-based coaching. The Coaching Psychologist, 3(1), pp. 12-17.
^Witkowski, Tomasz. "A review of research findings on neuro-linguistic programming". Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice (2011)
^Ellis, Albert. "General Semantics and Rational-Emotive Therapy". General Semantics Bulletin, 1993, Number 58. Institute of General Semantics, Englewood, NJ. pp. 12-28.
^ abKendig, M., "Alfred Korzybski's 'An Extensional Analysis of the Process of Abstracting from an Electro-Colloidal Non-Aristotelian Point of View.'" General Semantics Bulletin, Autumn-Winter 1950-51, Numbers Four & Five. Institute of General Semantics, Lakeville, CT. pp. 9-10.
^Wright, Barbara E., "The Hereditary-Environment Continuum: Holistic Approaches at 'One Point in Time' and in 'All Time'". General Semantics Bulletin, 1986, Number 52. Institute of General Semantics, Englewood, NJ. pp. 43-44. Wright, professor of biology at the University of Montana, wrote, "In the 1930s, when Korzybski wrote about colloids, they represented the frontier of our emerging knowledge about the complex interdependence of cellular structures and biochemical systems.... Today, the word colloid is used very rarely; I could not find it in the indices of several current textbooks of biochemistry. Perhaps this change in usage came about because we now know so much more about individual kinds of colloids; the word became so all-inclusive as to lose its usefulness."
^ abBlake, Robert R. and Glenn V. Ramsey, editors (1951). Perception: An Approach to Personality. New York: Ronald Press, pp. 170-205; chapter 7: "The Role of Language in the Perceptual Process" by Alfred Korzybski, p. 172.
^Black, Max. Language and Philosophy: Studies in Method. Ithaca, NY.: Cornell University Press. p. 239. Black's chapter about general semantics originated as an April 1946 lecture at the State University of Iowa.
^Korzybski, Alfred. Science and Sanity (5th ed.). p. 500
^Korzybski, Alfred. Science and Sanity (5th ed.). p. 36
^Korzybski, Alfred. Science and Sanity (5th ed.). p. lx.
^For example, a source reference for "scare quotes" and other extensional devices not treated in this article is Postman, Neil. "Alfred Korzybski," ETC: A Review of General Semantics, Winter 2003
^Encyclopædia Britannica (1947). 10 Eventful Years: 1937 through 1946. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica. Volume 4, pp. 29-32. "Semantics: General Semantics". The article, written by S.I. Hayakawa, states, "Korzybski did not intend these extensional devices simply as things to say by rote or to sprinkle through one's writing. Each of them was intended to point beyond itself to subverbal levels--to observing and feeling and absorbing as directly perceived data the nonlinguistic actualities...." Explaining the name selection for the devices, Hayakawa wrote, "Appropriating from formal logic the term 'extension,' which means the aggregate of things denoted by a term (as opposed to 'intension,' the qualities of properties implied by the term), he [Korzybski] called his rules extensional devices."
^Korzybski, Alfred. Science and Sanity (5th ed.). p. xxxiv.
^Black, Max. Language and Philosophy: Studies in Method. p. 246.
^"FOLLY with Steve Stockdale". FollyMag. June 2007. Archived from the original on 2012-04-25. Retrieved . Stockdale: "First, I'd say that there is little if any benefit to be gained by just 'knowing' something about general semantics. The benefits come from maintaining an awareness of the principles and attitudes that are derived from GS and applying them as they are needed. You can sort of compare general semantics to yoga in that respect... knowing about yoga is okay, but to benefit from yoga you have to 'do' yoga." Reprinted in Stockdale, Steve (2009). Here's Something about General Semantics: A Primer for Making Sense of Your World. Santa Fe, NM: Steve Stockdale. p. 36. ISBN978-0-9824645-0-2
^Burke, Kenneth (1945). "Scholarly outline of Burke's "A Grammar of Motives"". University of California Press. [Burke] would encourage the "delayed response" (p. 238). Korzybski's technique recommends that an individual interpose a "moment of delay" between the "Stimulus and the Response" in order to control meaning (p. 239). According to Burke, Korzybski's doctrine of the delayed action, as based on the 'consciousness of abstracting,' involves the fact that any term for an object puts the object in a class of similar objects" (p. 240). Burke points out that Korzybski's technique falls short with regard to the "analysis of poetic forms": "For 'semantics' is essentially science, an approach to language in terms of knowledge, whereas poetic forms are kinds of action" (p. 240).
^Burke, Kenneth (1945). A Grammar of Motives. University of California Press. pp. 238-242.
^Korzybski, Alfred. "An Outline of General Semantics". In Papers from the First American Congress for General Semantics, collected and arranged by Hansell Baugh (1938). New York: Arrow Editions. p. 1.
^Korzybski, Alfred. "An Outline of General Semantics". In Papers from the First American Congress for General Semantics. p. 4.
^Trainor, Joseph C. "Experimental Results of Training in General Semantics upon Intelligence Test Scores". In Papers from the First American Congress for General Semantics, pp. 58-62.
^Chase, Stuart (1966). The Tyranny of Words. New York: Harcourt, Brace. p. 7.
^Kodish, Bruce I. Korzybski: A Biography. pp. 343, 439.
^Shearer, Julie Gordon (1989). "From Semantics to the U.S. Senate: S. I. Hayakawa". This interview has been posted through the Online Archive of California. The cited statement by Hayakawa can be located via an internet search for Shearer + Hayakawa + "Keeping ETC. Independent of Korzybski" .
^Kendig, Marjorie. "Reflections on the State of the Discipline, 1968". General Semantics Bulletin, 1983, Number 50. Institute of General Semantics, Baltimore, MD. p. 68.
^Pula, Robert P. (2000). A General-Semantics Glossary: Pula's Guide for the Perplexed. Concord, CA: International Society for General Semantics. p. viii. ISBN0-918970-49-0.
^Levinson, Martin H., Illustrations by Paul D. Johnston (2007). Practical Fairy Tales for Everyday Living. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse. ISBN978-0-595-42140-4.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
^"The Discovery of Algorithmic Probability," Journal of Computer and System Sciences, Vol 55, No. 1, pp. 73-88 (pdf version)
^"Van Vogt moves on next to General Semantics, a non-Aristotelian system of logic, which he promulgated in The World of Null-A and The Players of Null-A." Frederick A. Kreuziger, Apocalypse and science fiction: a dialectic of religious and secular soteriologies. Scholars Press, 1982. ISBN9780891305620 (p.42)
^"Heinlein was intensely interested in the work of Alfred Korzybski from 1933, the date of publication of Science and Sanity, Korzybski's masterwork and the foundation document of General Semantics." William H. Patterson and Andrew Thornton, The Martian Named Smith: Critical Perspectives on Robert A. Heinlein's. Stranger in a Strange Land. Nitrosyncretic Press, 2001. ISBN0-9679-8742-3 (p.44)
^"... Wolfe's incorporation of cybernetics into Limbo, then, was clearly picking up on contemporary anxieties over the apparently unbridled growth of technologies ... One of the figures he refers to positively as introducing a new way of thinking about this issue was Alfred Korzybski, the founder of the General Semantics movement." David Seed, "Deconstructing the Body Politic in Bernard Wolfe's Limbo". Science Fiction Studies July 1997. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
^Tim O'Reilly.Frank Herbert. New York, NY: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., Inc., 1981. (pp. 59-60) ISBN0-8044-2666-X . "Herbert had studied general semantics in San Francisco at about the time he was writing Dune. (At one point, he worked as a ghostwriter for a nationally syndicated column by S. I. Hayakawa, one of the foremost proponents of general semantics.)"
^O'Reilly, 1981 (p. 180), "The influence of General Semantics is particularly obvious in Whipping Star"...
Dare to Inquire: Sanity and Survival for the 21st Century and Beyond. by Bruce I. Kodish [Wikidata], (2003). Robert Anton Wilson wrote: "This seems to me a revolutionary book on how to transcend prejudices, evade the currently fashionable lunacies, open yourself to new perceptions, new empathy and even new ideas, free your living total brain from the limits of your dogmatic verbal 'mind', and generally wake up and smell the bodies of dead children and other innocents piling up everywhere. In a time of rising rage and terror, we need this as badly as a city with plague needs vaccines and antibiotics. If I had the money I'd send a copy to every delegate at the UN."
Trance-Formations: Neuro-Linguistic Programming and the Structure of Hypnosis by Richard Bandler and John Grinder, (1981). One of the important principles--also widely used in political propaganda--discussed in this book is that trance induction uses a language of pure process and lets the listener fill in all the specific content from their own personal experience. E.g. the hypnotist might say "imagine you are sitting in a very comfortable chair in a room painted your favorite color" but not "imagine you are sitting in a very comfortable chair in a room painted red, your favorite color" because then the listener might think "wait a second, red is not my favorite color".
The work of the scholar of political communication Murray Edelman (1919-2001), starting with his seminal book The Symbolic Uses of Politics (1964), continuing with Politics as symbolic action: mass arousal and quiescience (1971), Political Language: Words that succeed and policies that fail (1977), Constructing the Political Spectacle (1988) and ending with his last book The Politics of Misinformation (2001) can be viewed as an exploration of the deliberate manipulation and obfuscation of the map-territory distinction for political purposes.
Logic and contemporary rhetoric: the use of reason in everyday life by Howard Kahane (d. 2001). (Wadsworth: First edition 1971, sixth edition 1992, tenth edition 2005 with Nancy Cavender.) Highly readable guide to the rhetoric of clear thinking, frequently updated with examples of the opposite drawn from contemporary U.S. media sources.
Doing Physics : how physicists take hold of the world by Martin H. Krieger, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992. A "cultural phenomenology of doing physics". The General Semantics connection is the relation to Korzybski's original motivation of trying to identify key features of the successes of mathematics and the physical sciences that could be extended into everyday thinking and social organization.
The Art of Asking Questions by Stanley L. Payne, (1951) This book is a short handbook-style discussion of how the honest pollster should ask questions to find out what people actually think without leading them, but the same information could be used to slant a poll to get a predetermined answer. Payne notes that the effect of asking a question in different ways or in different contexts can be much larger than the effect of sampling bias, which is the error estimate usually given for a poll. E.g. (from the book) if you ask people "should government go into debt?" the majority will answer "No", but if you ask "Corporations have the right to issue bonds. Should governments also have the right to issue bonds?" the majority will answer "Yes".
Crazy talk, stupid talk: how we defeat ourselves by the way we talk and what to do about it by Neil Postman, Delacorte Press, 1976. All of Postman's books are informed by his study of General Semantics (Postman was editor of ETC. from 1976 to 1986) but this book is his most explicit and detailed commentary on the use and misuse of language as a tool for thought.
Developing sanity in human affairs edited by Susan Presby Kodish and Robert P. Holston, Greenwood Press, Westport Connecticut, copyright 1998, Hofstra University. A collection of papers on the subject of general semantics.
Drive Yourself Sane: Using the Uncommon Sense of General Semantics, Third Edition. by Bruce I. Kodish and Susan Presby Kodish. Pasadena, CA: Extensional Publishing, 2011.
General Semantics in Psychotherapy: Selected Writings on Methods Aiding Therapy, edited by Isabel Caro and Charlotte Schuchardt Read, Institute of General Semantics, 2002.
Language habits in human affairs; an introduction to General Semantics by Irving J. Lee, Harper and Brothers, 1941. Still in print from the Institute of General Semantics. On a similar level to Hayakawa.
The language of wisdom and folly; background readings in semantics edited by Irving J. Lee, Harper and Row, 1949. Was in print (ca. 2000) from the International Society of General Semantics--now merged with the Institute of General Semantics. A selection of essays and short excerpts from different authors on linguistic themes emphasized by General Semantics--without reference to Korzybski, except for an essay by him.
"Language Revision by Deletion of Absolutisms," by Allen Walker Read. Paper presented at the ninth annual meeting of the Semiotic Society of America, Bloomington, IN, 13 October 1984. Published in ETC: A Review of General Semantics. V42n1, Spring 1985, pp. 7-12.
Living With Change, Wendell Johnson, Harper Collins, 1972.
Mathsemantics: making numbers talk sense by Edward MacNeal, HarperCollins, 1994. Penguin paperback 1995. Explicit General Semantics combined with numeracy education (along the lines of John Allen Paulos's books) and simple statistical and mathematical modelling, influenced by MacNeal's work as an airline transportation consultant. Discusses the fallacy of Single Instance thinking in statistical situations.
Operational philosophy: integrating knowledge and action by Anatol Rapoport, New York: Wiley (1953, 1965).
People in Quandaries: the semantics of personal adjustment by Wendell Johnson, 1946--still in print from the Institute of General Semantics. Insightful book about the application of General Semantics to psychotherapy; was an acknowledged influence on Richard Bandler and John Grinder in their formulation of Neuro-Linguistic Programming.
Semantics by Anatol Rapoport, Crowell, 1975. Includes both general semantics along the lines of Hayakawa, Lee, and Postman and more technical (mathematical and philosophical) material. A valuable survey. Rapoport's autobiography Certainties and Doubts : A Philosophy of Life (Black Rose Books, 2000) gives some of the history of the General Semantics movement as he saw it.
Your Most Enchanted Listener by Wendell Johnson, Harper, 1956. Your most enchanted listener is yourself, of course. Similar material as in People in Quandaries but considerably briefer.
Related academic articles
Bramwell, R. D. (1981). The semantics of multiculturalism: a new element in curriculum. Canadian Journal of Education, Vol. 6, No. 2 (1981), pp. 92-101.
Clarke, R. A. (1948). General semantics in art education. The School Review, Vol. 56, No. 10 (Dec., 1948), pp. 600-605.
Chisholm, F. P. (1943). Some misconceptions about general semantics. College English, Vol. 4, No. 7 (Apr., 1943), p. 412-416.
Glicksberg, C. I. (1946) General semantics and the science of man. Scientific Monthly, Vol. 62, No. 5 (May, 1946), pp. 440-446.
Hallie, P. P. (1952). A criticism of general semantics. College English, Vol. 14, No. 1 (Oct., 1952), pp. 17-23.
Hasselris, P. (1991). From Pearl Harbor to Watergate to Kuwait: "Language in Thought and Action". The English Journal, Vol. 80, No. 2 (Feb., 1991), pp. 28-35.
Hayakawa, S. I. (1939). General semantics and propaganda. Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 3 No. 2 (Apr., 1939), pp. 197-208.
Kenyon, R. E. (1988). The Impossibility of Non-identity Languages. General Semantics Bulletin, No. 55, (1990), pp. 43-52.
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