Australian General Semantics Society Inc.


Saturday 27th November 2021
10am Sydney time 

"100th Anniversary of Alfred Korzybski's First Major Work:
'Manhood of Humanity"

      Well, has Humanity grown-up in the following 100 years -
      Do we see any infantile behaviour in our personal, family, community, national or global life?
      What can general semantics contribute to our maturing process ... "

      Led by David Hewson and Robert James.

A review this extraordinary work and celebration its 100th Anniversary!

Formulations considered today day:
 * projection,
 * identification,
 * correct symbolism to fact,
 * viewpoint / “to me”,
 * agreeing to disagree agreeably,
 * alternative hypotheses,
 * abstraction processes
      * over generalising,
      * either/or distortion and filtering, etc.

Format of the day:

Part 1:
10:00 am – 10:15 am logging onto Zoom and general catch up
   10:15 am – 11:15 am Robert presents his overview of “Manhood of Humanity”,

Part 2:
   11:15 am – 12:15 pm David presented his view of “Manhood of Humanity”,
         and focussed on Timebinding
   12:15 pm 12:30 short break for drink, food etc.
   12:30 pm – 1pm general discussion and wrap up

(All times are local Sydney times).

Led by David Hewson and Robert James.

Part 1: (Robert):

Robert's overview of "Manhood of Humanity": (PowerPoint presentation).

Part 2: (David):

Book aim and attitude

P.1 Aim of book “It is the aim of this … book to point the way to …the science and art of Human Engineering. …the science and art of directing the energies and capacities of human beings to the advancement of human weal.” (“Weal” = healthy / prosperous / well being)

P.79 Aim of book is to have ideas match the facts.

P.11 Personal to impersonal meanings. “Human Engineering will recue us from the tangle of private opinions and enable us to deal with all problems of life and human society upon a scientific basis.” i.e. with public knowledge.

Personal versus impersonal knowledge (public knowledge), examples:

Impersonal: Jewish physicist, Christian physicist, Muslim physicist, Hindu physicist, Buddhist physicist and a Tao physicist, have a contentious issue of whether heavier cannon balls get to the ground before lighter ones. They check it out by dropping a 10 kg ball and a 5 kg ball off the Tower of Pisa (like Galileo). And they all see that both hit the ground about the same time. All agree.

Standing on the surface of the Moon in 1971, David Scott famously repeated Galileo's experiment by dropping a feather and a hammer from each hand at the same time. In the absence of an atmosphere, the two objects fell and hit the Moon's surface at the same time.

Personal / private: Jewish theologian, Christian theologian, Muslim theologian, Hindu theologian, Buddhist theologian and a Tao theologian, argue about how many Gods there are. And their evaluations are: none, one, three in one or many. Lots of disagreement.

Two people arguing “One is right” and the other says “No, three is right”, we can see as an example of the GS formulation of projection.

Fallible humans

“The map is not all of the territory” means we cannot be absolutely certain because some of the missing information may prove our theories wrong, hence we are all fallible. First we looked at Korzybski.

P.130 AK fallible: “What we look for in the worker is his control of his muscles; mechanical work is or can be replaced almost entirely by machinery. What we will never be able to replace by machinery is a man…” This statement is 20+ years before computers. Computers today replace or enhance the workers control and cognitive functions. Artificial intelligence expert systems can learn and pass that information onto the next user.

P.186 AK error: “animal life … marked by their autonomous power to move about in space, to abandon one place and occupy another…not applicable to plants”. A TV program showed, in time lapse photography, how a plant went from being rooted in the ground a metre from a tree to being rooted up tree, in a nook in a branch. How did it get there? It grew there and then sucked the nutrient out of the old roots etc, which then dried up and blew away.

Korzybski noted that some groups in society are getting some things wrong.

P.30-31 “Humanity, in its cradle, did not have science; it had only the faculties of observation and speculation… Theology and philosophy flourished; their speculations were often very clever, but all their primitive notions about facts …. were almost all wrong.”

Here’s some examples of faulty speculations of philosophers and theologians:

Theology: “The Earth is flat with Heaven above and Hell below.” (pre 14th century) And from the same religion. “Our religious leader is infallible.” From Hindu mythology: “The flat Earth sits on the backs of 4 huge elephants that stand on the back of an enormous tortoise.” So they have overgeneralised on parallel gravity. (These examples are not in the book.)

Philosophy: Aristotle thought things only kept moving if you keep pushing them. Aristotle abstracted out friction and hence thought that things only keep going when pushed. Physics labs have air tracks to reduce friction to near zero and hence the cars on the track go from one end to the other on a single push with no significant reduction in speed.

He also thought that while things can change, you cannot have change of change. So he might say we can have velocity where distance changes but that change cannot change. However in physics we have this change of velocity, called acceleration. And on a planet we have changing acceleration, ad infinitum, etc.

Change in a humans can be at two (or more) levels.

1) Change from state to state, which is the person's behaviour, e.g. walking directly from sitting at the table to sitting on the sofa, transforms your location .

2) Change from one transformation to another transformation, i.e. a change in behaviour. For example, changing the movement above, from walking directly to the sofa, to going via the kitchen and getting a drink first, then coming back via the front door. So the route has changed.

This second type of change is a change of change.

For Aristotles works on “change” see:

Another error that Korzybski sees from early days are two faulty definitions of humans.

3) “What is a man? …One of the answers is biological - man is an animal …. the other … man is a combination or union of animal with something supernatural.” And his response to these ideas “An important part of my task will be to show that both of these answers are radically wrong.”

His solution?

Man defined as a timebinder as distinct from animals which are only space binders.


P.Xlii “A functional analysis, free from the old mythological and zoological assumptions, showed that humans, with the most highly developed nervous system, are uniquely characterized by the capacity of an individual or a generation to begin where the former left off. I call this essential capacity ‘time-binding’…”

He specifies this in more detail as an exponential increase in knowledge and wealth.

P.19 Fast in some areas e.g. technology like DNA sequencing Covid, but slow in other areas e.g. people failing to follow Covid pandemic rules like wearing a mask. (These modern examples not in the book.)

Social sciences (slow) lagging behind physical sciences (fast).
P.58 Three classes of life: chemistry-binders=plants, space-binders=animals & time-binders=humans.

P.71 Timebinding is NOT passing on false ideas. “Humans can be literally poisoned by false ideas and false teachings…. when they teach false ideas and false doctrines, they are poisoning the time-binding capacity of their fellow men and women.” So time-binding is passing on correct knowledge.

Meaning of words used in book

P.Lix Meaning of words can be different from what some people mean e.g. “spiritual”. “The author has done his utmost to use such words as convey only the meaning intended, and in the case of some words, such as “spiritual,” there has been added the word “so-called”… the word “spiritual is not scientifically defined…”

P.106 He uses the word here in defining timebinding in more detail. “…progress is made by the fact that each generation adds to the material and spiritual wealth which it inherits.” Now ordinarily one would ask him what he means but since he’s no longer alive the next best thing is to read further in the book for more context. I found:

P.114 “Wealth is of two kinds: one is material; the other is knowledge.” So by “spiritual wealth” he means “immaterial knowledge”! This understanding is further supported:

P.178 “spiritual wealth in the form of knowledge of the world or nature of man”.


P.4 He talks about two easy ways to slide through life: Acting like a True Believer (who believes everything he’s told) or Cynic(who disbelieves everything he’s told). So check things out like a scientific skeptic.

P.47 Here Korzybski gives an example, using people’s ideas about lightening, to show how a belief / assumption (i.e. P1) affects how we react (T1 / B1) e.g. if lightening is defined as “punishment of God” then when lightening hits a house, setting it on fire then people make no attempt to save the house or anything in it. But if defined as a natural phenomena then they do try to save the house and any people in it. In both cases, if caught out in the open in a lightning storm they might shelter under a tree. But if you define the lightening as a large spark then you know this is dangerous as a wet tree is reasonable conductor. Instead one lies flat on the ground till the storm has passed. So three different premises and three different consequences.

P.31-33 He talks about changing from asking “who?” to asking “how?” when specifying answers to “why things happen?”

So instead of asking if its the Greek God Zeus or Norse God Thor or Angel Gabriel who castes the lightening bolts as they ride their chariot across the clouds, one asks how lightening or thunder comes about. How?: warm moist air rises and cools creating hail. Hail bumps against each other knocking of electrons. Charged hail rises (just like high voltage van De Graff generator) and a large charge difference forms which when large enough discharges violently as lightening, super heating the air which glows and creates a shock wave that we hear as thunder.

And finally:

P.167-168 He describes three ways of behaving like a fool: Ignoring the past, idealising only the good parts of the past or denigrating only bad parts of the past. So time-bind on the good parts and fix up the bad or learn the lessons from them.

“Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes. Those who do not read history are doomed to repeat it.” G Santayana

Next meeting:

February 2022:
"A General Semantics Approach to Coping with a Pandemic"
facilitated by David Hewson.

How well can GS provide formulations that, if used,
can help us cope with unprecedented challenges?

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 Robert James
28th February 2022