Australian General Semantics Society Inc.




Seminar Summary - 25th May 2014


"General Semantics: An Approach to Effective Language Behaviour"

A report by Robert James of his experience of this course

at an AGS seminar at Club Fivedock, Sydney.

Robert reported that it was his pleasure and privilege to participate in this course this year:
   * to work through a great deal of GS reference material in a disciplined manner,
   * to "get to know" the presenters and students to a degree, and
   * to encounter the MOOC (Massive Open On-line Course) environment for real!

The course was developed and presented on the Canvas Network by Steve Stockdale, Mary Lahman, and Greg Thompson. It is reproduced under terms of the Creative Commons Share Alike License as published on Canvas Network from 13 January – 24 February 2014.

We surveyed the course material very briefly.  Much of it was familiar to those of us who have lived with the discipline for decades, but there was much that was unfamiliar, and many video presentations that we had not encountered.  The exams, discussion questions and case studies were often more challenging than we would expect, illustrating (again) how coming into "familiar material" from a new direction or viewpoint can be quite a new experience!

It was great to see and hear some of the great GS presenters from the past and to discuss the many "Questions to ponder" that are presented.  We completed the "Point of View Survey" individually, and considered how the course material, and GS study generally, could moderate or develop our "points of view".  It was surprising how much diversity there was in the POVs in our group.

Robert reported that the "Optional Readings", Bibliographies and linked references were certainly too much to digest properly in the time, but remain as an accessible and valuable reference resource.  The numerous exercises extended far beyond the style of "learn this material", and challenged the students to apply the principles and strategies to make real improvements in their own lives. 

It’s worth noting that completing each of the six modules required at least 2-3 hours per week of reading, watching, and participating in online discussions and assignments. So those who completed all six modules made a significant investment of time in the subject.

Robert particularly emphasised how impressed he was by the:
   * depth and scope of the material presented in this course,
   * value of having all this material brought together for reference purposes,
   * professionalism of the presentation in an on-line format,
   * sincerity and level of engagement of the students from so many diverse backgrounds,
   * enormous amount of hard work, patience and goodwill of our presenters and assistants, and
   * value and potential of the MOOC medium of education (in this case via the Canvas process).

He expressed gratitude for the opportunity to experience this process of personal and professional development, and to share the experience with his AGS friends today.

The course materials, except for student discussions and contributions, are available to read and watch online or download.  You can access these either from the Canvas Network course itself (which is open to the public and doesn't require login) or on Steve Stockdale's website, The entire course is also available to download as a 30mb PDF from: .

Course Description

The course provides an introduction to General Semantics—the study of how we transform our life experiences into language and thought. Students learn how language habits and behaviors, how they think about and share experiences, are what make them uniquely human. In other words, students discover the critical, but sometimes subtle, distinctions between what happens in their lives and how they talk about what happens.

The course includes readings from a wide array of disciplines, such as communication studies, neuroscience, and cultural anthropology, in addition to visual and auditory demonstrations, music and social media, and collaborative interactions with fellow learners. These types of learning experiences allow students to not only learn about more effective language behaviors, but also practice those new behaviors in order to communicate more effectively and appropriately in interpersonal and organizational contexts.

Course Modules

Learning Objectives

Participants learnt:

  • how language and thought shape, and are shaped by, our experiences;
  • the critical, but sometimes subtle, distinctions between what happens in our lives vs. how we talk about what happens;
  • the importance of distinguishing facts from inferences and opinions;
  • how to spot attempts to use language in manipulative ways;
  • the limitations and potential pitfalls of some language habits;
  • how to analyze unexamined assumptions and premises that contribute to many of our interpersonal and organizational communication difficulties;
  • and how to use simple, straightforward methodologies to more effectively and appropriately think, communicate, and behave as 21st century citizens of the world.

Course Organisation

This six-week course is organised into weekly Modules that opened and were available each Monday morning. Once opened, each Module remained available throughout the duration of the course.

To be clear, this course does not provide grades (A, B, etc.) or academic credit. The points simply provide a marker of progress and, we hope, some modest incentive or motivation to complete the assignments.

Remember - you can work through the course materials, or access them for reference, either:

  * from the Canvas Network course itself (open to the public), or
  * on Steve Stockdale's website,  or
  * to download as a 30mb PDF from: .
     (You cannot play the videos from the PDF file.)

Next Meeting:

Sunday 15 June 2014
Causality and Alternative Hypotheses"
We will look at causal theories and how people miss out on considering alternate hypotheses. This relates to how we make errors, abstracting and the GS uncertainty principle.
Our aim here is to improve our mapping of causal processes.
Led by Prof. Gabriel Donleavy

WritingThis is a "living document", subject to ongoing evolution as recollections re-emerge from our memories of the event, and are re-evaluated in light of ongoing experience and reflection.  It will never be "the full truth and nothing but the truth", or "a map that expresses everyone's notion of the territory"!


Disclaimer: This "summary" is a collection of notes derived from our discussion by a number of means.  It is by no means a scholarly dissertation on the subject as presented.  It does not purport to be the "policy of AGS".  Comment and criticism (constructive or otherwise) is welcome.  If anyone has been misquoted, copyrights infringed or confidences betrayed, please Contact us.


(Updated by RJ 26/05/2014)

For details of our discussion meetings and seminars, locations and membership, Contact AGS
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