Australian General Semantics Society Inc.


Saturday 26th August 2023  10am-1pm Sydney time  (by Zoom)

 "This General Semantics - What's it all about ... ?"

Presenter: Mr David Hewson

David Hewson is an experienced student and practitioner of  general semantics, having attended a number of educational programmes in the United States, and led numerous seminars etc. with AGS in Australia.

Today David joined us to share his experiences and insights in the formulations of general semantics (GS), and its applications in our everyday lives.

  1) GS goals and background.
  2) What are words? Words are not objects, feelings or events. But structure we can perceive.
  3) Language habits.  Humans are active, words are not.

  4) GS postulates / formulations.
  5) Propositional function, i.e. we find words ambiguous.
  6) Non all-ness.
  7) Abstracting.
  8) Fact-inference confusion.
  9) Projection.
10) Identification
11) Either / Or distortion.
12) What are Good Questions?

(Taken from the IGS book “Words and what they do to you.” By C Minteer)

Today's seminar "Introduction to GS 2023"

1) GS goals and background

a. Irving Lee asked Korzybski "Alfred, what are you trying to do, in a nutshell?" Korzybski answered " Irving, we are trying to produce a new sort of man..."

b. "Manhood of Humanity" book quote: “It is the aim of this little book to point the way to a new science...of directing the energies and capacities of human beings to the advancement of the human weal”.

c. To solve this problem Korzybski, (like Einstein who wanted to spend 95% of the time defining the problem) wanted to get a good definition of the problem. And Korzybski thought that the definitions of “humans”, of his day, were not correct. Korzybski defined humans by our ability to pass on information and build on that information, e.g. the rapid rise of computing power.

d. Korzybski claimed to have developed a practical methodology that could help one understand and ameliorate some of "the quarrels between two lovers, mathematicians, two nations, two economic systems, etc."

e. Korzybski disagreed with the statement that "...every human problem can be solved by general semantics", i.e. it’s not a panacea.

f. GS fits in a non-Aristotelian philosophy. It is not anti Aristotelian.

   i. "Manhood" p xlvii “... non-Aristotelian, as it includes,
       yet goes beyond and brings up to date, the aims and formulations of Aristotle.”

   ii. We provided the analogies of Non-Euclidean to Euclidean geometries and Einstein
        to Newtonian physics to compare non-Aristotelian to Aristotelian.

   iii. So while GS replaces Aristotle’s A=A with At1 ≠ At2 where t1 ≠ t2,
        we also have At1 => At2 as t1=> t2.

   iv. So GS asks, does the difference make a difference to the situation?
       That is, does it matter? If it doesn’t, then the approximate map is useful.

g. "Practical wisdom had to be applied-not just talked about." If you just talk about it, expect little benefit. You have to use GS “tools” and use them appropriately.

2) What are words?

Words are not objects, feelings or events. But structure we can perceive, e.g. structured: ink on paper, light from a computer screen or TV, neon sign, sound waves or touch with braille, etc.

We then looked at how words can both describe and proscribe. Problems with reification, of words, i.e. treating abstracts as concrete entities. Also how we can have multiple levels of abstraction, of the same events, e.g. in humans the biological and psychological levels of description. We also looked at the many ways we can find similarities and differences.

3) Language habits.

a. Humans are active, words are not. Lee’s book title: “Language habits in human affairs”, emphasises that.

b. We discussed signal / symbol reactions and why it’s a good idea to delay your reaction when hearing words. Remember that you evaluate your interpretation of the words.

4) GS postulates.

a. 'Maps' are not the territory they represent. The word is not the thing. Hence changing one will not necessarily affect the other, e.g. So dating is useful when the word is static and the thing changes.

b. 'Maps' are not ALL the territory they represent. The word does not say ALL about the thing. Hence uncertainty about territory.

c. 'Maps' can be made of 'maps' (i.e. self-reflexiveness and the theory of logical types). Words can be used to talk about other words.

5) Propositional functions, describe our use of ambiguous words.

We find words to be ambiguous.

6) Non all-ness.

This relates to which GS assumption (Map is not all the Territory) and the formulation of generalised uncertainty. We abstract, so hence we do not know all. Extensional device used to remind us of this is “Etc”. We also covered 'Map' non-identity and Territory non-identity using indexes and dating to show how things get left out.

7) Abstracting. Characteristics of the abstracting process:

a. Abstracting relates to information hiding or simplification.

b. Abstracting in an intensional property and not an extensional one. But one can reduce the generality of an extensional list.

c. Abstracting is relative and not absolute.

d. Abstracting is a process and not a state.

e. Abstracting not only leaves things out but may add things in to make an abstract simpler, e.g. a linear regression line through a set of data.

8) Fact-inference confusions.

We covered “Twinkle - twinkle little star.” And how the twinkle is not necessarily in the star but due to the turbulent Earth’s atmosphere that the light travels through. We covered a few fact-inference exercises. This included some where you need to realise that there are other factors involved.

9) Projection:

Thinking that what one evaluates is out there. Solve by using “to me”. Example: “That dinner was excellent”, says more about the person than the meal.

10) Identification:

Treating all things with the same label as identical. Solved with indexing. Similarly evaluate people’s behaviour and not the person. Sayings like “bad boy”, “wicked girl”, use a part to represent the whole and identify.

11) Either / Or distortion.

We did an exercise to differentiate continuous versus two valued variables, e.g. day-night (continuous), light switch on/off (two valued).

12) Good questions.

A good question, specifies what procedures to use to reliably find fact based answers. So questions need to be operational, not contradictory, precise and useful. Comparing high level abstracts can lead one into trouble. Or using terms with no reference, e.g. “How many fairies can you fit on the back of a unicorn?”

*** And today's seminar was followed by the AGS Annual General Meeting ***



Next meeting:  Saturday 14th October 2023   10am - 1pm (Sydney time)  by Zoom

For another edifying presentation and discussion ... *** Watch this space ***


This "summary" is a collection of notes provided by the presenter and/or derived from our discussion by a number of means.  It is by no means a scolarly dissertation on the subject(s) as presented.  It does not purport to be the "policy of AGS".

Comment and criticism (constructive and otherwise) is welcome.

If anyone has been misquoted, copyrights infringed or confidences betrayed, please
contact us.


Australian General Semantics Society

Updated by Robert James
26th August 2023