Australian General Semantics Society Inc.


Saturday 26th February 2022

10am Sydney time 

"A General Semantics Approach to Coping with a Pandemic"

Facilitated by Mr David Hewson

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

We lookëd at how general semantics (GS) formulations could have helped manage and fight the pandemic. 

First half hour of the seminar was a catch-up and then an hour of reviewing useful formulations.

Finally we related past problems to a lack of GS use and how GS could have improved our response to the pandemic.

GS Formulations for Fighting the Pandemic

The aim of this seminar was to look at how general semantics formulations
could be used to help manage the pandemic in a more effective manner.

The formulations we covered were:


Defined as learning from the past, e.g. correct information passed from one generation to the next. Or more generally, that learning from past events is useful.

So we could learn from past experiences with outbreaks like, the Spanish flu, Ebola, AIDS, MERS and SARS. From Ebola, we could have learnt that surveillance capacity was weak, with serious implications for case finding and contact tracing, and mass community testing, e.g. lack of pcr testing capacity. NSW suffered from this also with queues for pcr, 4 hours long.

Management of the Ebola outbreak was slow and so was the response to the covid outbreak. I arrived from overseas, 11 days after human to human transmission was known and there was not any testing at the Sydney airport. Not even a temperature check. And masks were not mandatory on flights, although quite a few Asians were wearing them.

With covid we failed to learn from the multiple hotel quarantine leaks and hence build purpose built, leak proof, quarantine facilities. They may cost $200 million but one week of lockdown in NSW costs $1 billion, so its very easy to pay off. You may not think we need them now, but if a new variant arrives, that the vaccines don’t cover, or a new disease arrives, we will need good quarantine straight away, to give us time to develop, test and vaccinate the population. You don’t build these facilities quickly, unless of course you learn from the Wuhan experience where they built a hospital facility in 7 days from prefabs.

Of course it takes time to plan and build those prefabs. Another goal some people had, of using hotels for quarantine, was to give them some income since tourists had been banned. One can cope with this by giving incoming passengers a RAT test at the airport and if all passengers and crew pass, then they are low risk and can go to hotel quarantine. But if anyone shows symptoms then it’s a high risk group and they should go to a high quality quarantine facility.


When we abstract we delete, distort and generalise (adding in data). We watched a video on perceptual abstracting.

Then we talked about Whorf’s example of verbal abstracting with “empty” petrol drums. People saw the “empty” drums as safe and only the full ones as dangerous. But the “empty” ones were more dangerous, in that they had petrol fumes which are explosive. So you have to watch out for language leading you astray.

Abstracting levels go from detailed to abstract:
Event/reality => object/view of reality => description => inference => theories, etc.

(Awareness of) Identification

Seeing two different abstraction levels as the same
e.g. “A is A”, A map = A territory, word =thing (“covid”=covid)

One GS solution to this is to use indexing.


Covid1 (original Alpha) is not covid4 (Delta which is more deadly). And Covid4 (Delta) is not covid5 (Omicron which is 4 times more contagious than Delta). Hence you can’t just go ahead with a populace vaccinated against Delta and take off nearly all the restrictions when Omicron arrives. The difference makes a difference.

Omicron may be a bit less fatal than Delta but its much more contagious hence numbers will make up for lack of virulence (still at least as bad as Alpha) and many more will die than during the Delta peak. With restrictions off, 700 die in NSW during Jan 2022, more than the rest of the pandemic. They should have at least kept mask wearing and some of the other rules going.

Side effects for person1 is not same as for person2. Example: the blood clot side effect with (AstraZeneca) and heart problems with (Pfizer). So person1 took AstraZeneca as a booster to avoid heart problems, and person2 took Pfizer to avoid blood clots. So you need a variety of vaccines.


Sydney = Sydney identification error.

Maps are static but the territory dynamic. Cope with this by dating statements.
So Sydney1932 is not Sydney2022

We need to delay entry of a covid variant into the country (at date1) to give time to vaccinate the population before virus actual gets into the country at date2. Hence we need a good quarantine system or ways to accurately and quickly test people as they arrive. We want people to enter the country from overseas but not the virus. People like businessmen, students, agricultural workers, backpackers and tourists, etc.

Also while things may be going well at date1, it may not at a later date2.
So we can’t just sit back and relax and say that “This is not a race”.

Map is NOT all of the territory

Hence risk due to our map not have all necessary information. Etc is a reminder.


When we abstract, we leave out information. “Etc” reminds us of the information left out. That means that there is risk, due to the unknown information. To lessen the risk we should spread our options and not just buy mainly one vaccine and a small amount of another. Instead it would have been better to buy a large amount of 3 or 4 vaccines. Then when one turns out to have bad side effects, like blood clots, we can use the other vaccines.

Also there are other consequences from the pandemic, than just disease and death from covid e.g. people are drinking more due to the stress of the pandemic. Surgery has been delayed, with possible consequences of less chance of success. People are putting of going to the doctor for other problems, which also reduces the chance of coping with their medical problems.

And then

Reminds us of the consequences of actions. We cannot take actions without getting consequences.

If the Health system and hospitals under resourced (action) then a consequence is that staff get overloaded. Then staff burn out or get sick and have to take time off, putting even more stress on the remaining staff. More resign, again putting more strain on the remaining staff.

Groceries run out if policy makers don’t think ahead about future consequences of their policies.

We had a shortage of RATS in Australia, when the Australian government ignored an Aussie company that made RATS in the early pandemic days, when we were only doing PCR testing. The Aussie company sold millions to the USA and Australia had a shortfall.


“To me” reminds us of viewpoints. What looks OK from one viewpoint can look different from another. What’s more valuable, a box of gold bars or a box full of canned food (plus can opener), and you’ve been out of work for weeks due to covid lockdowns? Now imagine you are shipwrecked on an island with a water spring but little food. Which do you prefer to have? The gold or the canned food?


Expect to misunderstand and to be misunderstood. Meaning is not in words but in how people use words.

During some of the earlier lockdowns in Sydney communication with those in the Western suburbs was not that good and resulted in little compliance and larger outbreaks.


Logical consequences arise from premises.

An article in "The Atlantic" about families in the United States who were passing around nasal swabs because of a shortage of RATs. Some family members were using one nasal swab for everybody, then running it through a RAT to see if any of them had Covid-19. The theory was that, if the test turned positive, it would be an early indicator that at least one person in the family had Covid-19. And then the consequences occurred …



We started with a snatch of a nice video on the power of deception:

Here’s a site that looks into the US pandemic team being dumped claim.

Next meeting:  "Novelty"
with the astonishing Mr Brett McDonald!

An interactive seminar where people look at the GS formulations and the problems they help solve, and try and rate which ones give the most value to solving problems of unsane evaluating.

We will consider "novelty" as seen from an experimental perspective,
a bit of history and current research,
then link it to semantic and juxta common place associations we are more familiar with -
habit, discrepancy, forgetfulness etc.

Yep PhD was around a theory that encompassed novelty reactions in neuro-psychophysiology.

   Saturday 9th April 2022 10 am - 1pm (Sydney time),
   Friday 8th April 6 pm (Montreal, Ohio time).

   On-line, by Zoom: Click here to join the meeting

  Zero, Zilch - it's free!


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 March 2022