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 Post subject: Alfred Korzybsky. Science and Sanity
PostPosted: Tue Jan 07, 2014 8:30 pm 
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Joined: Sun Sep 25, 2011 3:53 pm
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I want to make clear that words are not the things spoken about, and that there is no such thing as an object in absolute isolation.We must realize that structure, and structure alone is the only link between languages and the empirical world.

We read unconsciously into the world the structure of language we use.

We shall always be ruled by those who rule symbols.

General semantics is not any philosophy or psychology or logic, in the ordinary sense. It is a new extensional discipline which explains and trains us how to use our nervous system most efficiently.

In the evolution of the human race and language there was a natural order of evaluation established; namely, the life facts came first and labels (words) next in importance. Today, from childhood up, we inculcate words and language first, and the facts they represent come next in value, another pathologically reversed order, by which we are unconsciously being trained to identify words with facts. The averege child is born extensional and then his evaluations ae distorted as the result of intensional training by parents, teachers etc. who are unaware of the heavy neurological consequences.

Intension vs.extension

For instance we may verbally define man as a featherless biped, rational animal and what not, which really makes no difference, because no listing of properties could possibly cover all the characteristics of Smith 1, Smith 2 etc. and their inter-relations.

By extension man is defined by exhibiting a class of individuals made up of Smith 1, Smith 2 etc.
On the surface this difference may appear unimportant; not so in living life applications. The deeper problems of neurological mechanisms enter here. If we orient ourselves predominantly by intension or verbal definitions, our orientations depend mostly on the cortical region. If we orient ourselves by extension or fact (the natural order of evaluation) involves thalamic factors, introducing automatically cortically delayed reactions. In other words, orientations by intension tend to train our nervous system in the split between the functions of the cortical and thalamic regions; orientations by extension involve the integration of cortico-thalamic functions.

Orientations by extension induce an automatic delay of reactions, which automatically stimulates the cortical region and regulates and protect the reactions of the usually over-stimulated thalamic region.

Nearly all of us, even now, copy animals in our nervous responses, which copying leads to the general state of un-sanity reflected in our private and public lives, institutions and systems.
The old dictum that we are animals leaves us hopeless, but if we merely copy animals in our nervous responses, we can stop it provided we can discover a physiological difference in these reactions.

Any affect only gains meaning when it is conscious; or, in other words, when as actual set of relations is present. In an ideally balanced and efficient human nervous system, the ‘emotions’ would be translated into ‘ideas’, and ‘ideas’ into ‘emotions’ with equal facility. The semantic reactions of a given individual would be under full control and capable of being educated, influenced, transformed quickly and efficiently.

Multiordinal terms : terms devoid of meaning outside of a context; they have different meanings, depending on the order of abstraction.
Semantic reaction : psycho-logical responses to words and other stimuli in connection with their meanings
Structure: configuration of relations

In Manhood of Humanity I defined man functionally as a time-binder, a definition based on the observation that the human class of life differs from animals in the fact that, in the rough, each generation of humans can, at least potentially, start where the former generation left off.

The only possible content of knowledge is structural, a fact which is the semantic factor responsible for ‘cultures’ and ‘periods’ and everything else in human development. The issues we deal with, whenever human psycho-logical reactions are involved, are circular, as distinguished from animal reactions. Human structures, in language or in stone, reflect the psycho-logical status, feelings, intuitions, structural metaphysics and other semantic responses of their makers and periods; and, vice versa, once these structural strivings and tendencies are formulated as such, they help to quicken and transform one period into the next one.

The only content of knowledge : the world’s structure.

The human capacity for expanding indefinitely the orders of abstractions bring about the peculiar stratification of ‘human knowledge’.

We must work out a theory of evaluation which is based on the optimum electro-colloidal action and reaction of the nervous system.

How chemical conditions affect the activities of the organism-as-a-whole can be well illustrated by the following example. In a jellyfish, we can increase or decrease the locomotor activities by simply changing the chemical constitution of the water. If we increase the number of Na ions in the sea water, the rhythmical contractions increase and the animal becomes restless. If we increase the number of Ca ions, the contractions decrease. In a similar way, we can change the orientation toward light in a number of marine animals by changing the constitution of the medium. The larvae of Polygordius, which usually go away from light into dark corners, can be compelled to go toward light by two methods: either by lowering the temperature of the sea-water, or else by increasing the concentration of the salts in the sea-water. This behavior can be reversed by raising the temperature or lowering the concentration of the salts.

Psychogalvanic experiments show clearly that every ‘emotion’ or ‘thought’ is always connected with some electrical currents, and that electricity seems fundamental for colloidal behavior, and, therefore, for physical symptoms and the behavior of the organism.
In the colloidal process we find the bridge between the ‘physical’ and the ‘mental’, and the mutual link seems mainly electricity.

If different macrospopic, microscopic and submicroscopic lesions of the nervous system result in quite definite psycho-logical symptoms, which on the semantic levels appear as a lack of evaluation of relations, then, vice versa, the use of linguistic systems, which systematically train the immature nervous system of the child and of the grown-ups in delusional evaluation, must result in at least colloidal disturbances of the nervous system.

If we speak in neurological terms, we may say that the present nervous structure is such that the entering nerve currents have a natural direction, established by survival; namely, they traverse the brain stem and the thalamus first, the subcortical layers next, then the cerebral cortex, and return, transformed, by various paths.
Experience and experiments show that the natural order was ‘sensation’ first, ‘idea’ next; the sensation being an abstraction of some order, and the idea already an abstraction from an abstraction or an abstraction of a higher order.
Experience shows again that among humans, this order in manifestations is sometimes reversed; namely that some individuals have ‘idea’ first; some vestiges of memories and ‘sensations’ next, without any external reason for the ‘sensations’. Such individuals are considered ‘mentally ill’. They ‘see’ where there is nothing to see; they ‘hear’ where there is nothing to hear; they have pains when there is no reason to have pains and so on. This reversal of order, but in a mild degree, is extremely common at present among all of us and underlies mainly all human misfortunes and un-sanity.
This reversal of order in its mild form is involved in identification or the confusion of orders of abstractions; namely, when we act as if an ‘idea’ were an ‘experience’ of our senses. This implies nervous disturbances, since we violate the natural order of the activities of the nervous system. The mechanism of projection is also connected with this reversal of order. This reversal transforms the external world into a quite different and fictitious entity.
That the reversal of order in the manifestations of the functioning of the nervous system must be extremely harmful, becomes evident when we consider that in such a case the upper layers of our nervous system (the cortex) not only do not protect us from over-stimulation originating in the external world and inside us, but actually contribute to the over-stimulation by producing fanciful, yet very real, irritants. Experiments on some patients have shown how they benefit physically when their internal energy is liberated from fighting phantoms and so can be redirected to fight colloidal disturbances.

When a “quality’ is treated physiologically as a reaction of an organism to a stimulus, it also becomes a relation.

The non-identity principle : to properly distinguish the orders of abstractions.

The cortex receives its material as elaborated by the thalamus. The abstractions of the cortex are abstractions from abstractions and so ought to be called abstractions of higher order. In neurology, similarly, the neurons first excited are called of ‘first order’; and the succeeding members of the series are called neurons of the ‘second order’. Such terminology is structurally similar to the inherent structure and function of the nervous system. The receptors are in direct contact with the outside world and convey their excitation and nerve currents to the lower nerve centers, where these impulses are further elaborated and then abstracted by the higher centers.
Those individuals who overwork their thalamus and use their cortex too little are ‘emotional’ and stupid. This statement is not exaggerated, because there are experimental data to show how through a psycho-neural training the semantic reactions, in some cases, can be re-educated, and that with the elimination of the semantic disturbances there is a marked development of poise, balance and a proportional increase of critical judgement, and so ‘intelligence’.
When these shifting, dynamic, affective, thalamic-region, lower order abstractions are abstracted again by the higher centers, these new abstractions are further removed from the outside world and cease to be shifting; they become relatively static and thus more reliable. Such higher order abstractions represent a perfected kind of memory, which can be recalled exactly in the form as it was originally produced. For instance, the circle, defined as the locus of points in a plane at equal distance from a given point called the center, remains permanent as long as we wish to use this definition. We can, therefore, recall it perfectly, analyse it etc., without losing the definiteness and the stability of this memory. Thus, critical analysis, and therefore, progress, becomes possible. Compare this perfected memory, which may last indefinitely unchanged, with memories of ‘emotions’ which, whether dim or clear, are always distorted. We see that the first are reliable, that the others are not.

It seems that the so-called ‘ethics’, in general, ‘sanity’, which underlie desirable human characteristics have a definite physiological mechanism, automatically involving on psycho-logical levels these desirable semantic attitudes. It appears that some of the psycho-logical problems enormously complex and difficult to reach are solved, not by preaching, but by most simple and elementary physiological training, a fact which has been verifid empirically.
Pavlov shows, in an unusually impressive variety and numbers of experiments, how ‘order’ and ‘delay’ are intimately related with most fundamental processes in the higher nervous centers, and how, by the changes or interplays of them, we can produce or eliminate pathological states of the nervous system.

Usually, one extremely fundamental semantic fact is disregarded; namely, that what on the psycho-logical level is objective and in language descriptive to one person (e.g. ‘my toothache’), is inferential to the other person, and vice versa. The lack of consciousness of abstracting introduces an identification of orders of abstractions; namely, the confusion of descriptions with inferences’ and vice versa.

Thus, if a dog was trained to respond to a bell, which was a signal for food, he could be trained further to link the signal to another neutral stimulus, let us say, the sound of a buzzer with the bell and the bell with food. Such a secondary acquired reaction may be called of the second order. Naturally, it is very instructive to find out if these responses could be extended to more orders. Experiments disclosed the important fact that, as far as dogs and alimentary reactions are concerned, it was impossible to go beyond the second order. However, when defense reactions were tested, it was found that it was possible to establish acquired reactions of the third order. But it was impossible to go beyond the third order, even in these cases.
In our field, where we have to formulate sharp differences between the nervous responses of ‘man’ and ‘animal’, we say that animals stop abstracting or linking of signals on some level, while humans do not.

The structure and function of the central nervous system is such that some stimulations can be concealed and become macroscopically seemingly inactive, giving no obvious manifestation or response, yet preservating their active exciting characteristics which, by proper treatment, can be released at will. In physics we have a similar phenomenon in the case of ‘frozen light’, galvanic and storage batteries and many others, although probably the sub-microscopic mechanisms are different.

Our nervous systems registers objects with its lower centers first, and each of these lower specific abstractions we call an object. Verbal labeling of an object = ‘second order abstraction’

We define the consciousness of abstracting as awareness that in our process of abstracting we have left out characteristics.

The consciousness of abstracting eliminates automatically identification and ‘confusion of the orders of abstractions’, both applying to the semantic confusion on all levels. If we are not conscious of abstracting, we are bound to identify or confuse the object with its finite number of characteristics, with the event. Confusion on these levels may misguide us into semantic situations ending in unpleasant shocks. If we acquire the consciousness of abstracting and remember that the object is not the event and that we have abstracted characteristics fewer than, and different from, those the event has, we should expect many unforeseen happenings to occur; consequently, when the unexpected happens, we are saved from painful and harmful semantic shocks.
If, through lack of consciousness of abstracting, we identify or confuse words with objects and feelings, or memories and ideas with experiences which belong to the un-speakable objective level, we identify higher order abstractions with lower. I call this objectification, because it is generally the confusion of words or verbal issues (memories, ideas etc) with objective, un-speakable levels, such as objects, or experiences or feelings. If we objectify, we forget, or do not remember that words are not the objects or the feelings themselves, that the verbal levels are always different from the objective levels. When we identify them, we disregard the inherent differences, and so proper evaluation and full adjustment become impossible.
Similar semantic difficulties arise from the confusion of higher order abstractions; for instance, the identification of inferences with descriptions.

An organism may only be called adapted to life when it not only receives stimuli but also has protective means against stimuli.
It is obvious that in the human organism the field for stimulations is vastly greater than in animals. We are subjected not only to all external stimuli but also to a large number of permanently operating internal semantic stimuli, against which we have had, as yet, very little protective psychphysiological means. Such structurally powerful stimuli are found in our doctrines, metaphysics, language, attitudes etc. These do not belong to the external objective world, and so the animals do not have them in a like degree.

One adjusts oneself by increasing the field of ‘consciousness’.

As our enquiry has shown, in practically all ‘mental’ ills, a confusion of orders of abstractions appears as a factor. When we confuse the orders of abstractions and ascribe objective reality to terms and symbols, or confuse conclusions and inferences with descriptions, a great deal of semantic suffering is produced.
Obviously, in a such a delusional world, different from the actualities, we are not prepared for actualities, and then always something unexpected or ‘frightful, may happen.
As we have seen, the general preventive psychophysiological discipline in all such cases of confusion of orders of abstractions is found in ‘consciousness of abstracting’.

In infancy the confusion of orders of abstractions must be considered as an entirely natural semantic period. Objects and ‘sense perceptions’ are the only reality the child knows and cares about; so he does not and cannot discriminate between events and objects. By necessity, he identifies unknowingly two entirely different levels. As his symbol usually means a satisfaction of his wants, naturally he identifies the symbols with the objects and events.
The more the child comes in touch with ‘reality’, the more he learns, and in a ‘normal’ child ‘the pleasure principle’, which was established as a method of adjustment on the infantile level, is slowly displaced by the ‘reality principle’, which thus becomes the semantic method of adjustment of the complete adult.

A general underlying structure of languages: they have inherent interconnection, underlying assumptions and implications, the analysis of which is seldom, if ever, carried far enough. Now these structural assumptions and implications are inside our skin when we accept a language-any language. If unraveled, they become conscious; if not, they remain unconscious.
It should be noticed (as this is very important) that the undefined terms, being undefined, are overloaded with ‘emotional values’. As the higher nervous centers cannot handle them, the lower nerve centers work upon them overtime. If we do not analyse our languages into their undefined terms and structural postulates, our strongest ‘emotional’ and semantic components, which made these languages, remain hidden and unconscious. We call this the structural unconscious.


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