Australian General Semantics Society Inc.



Saturday 25th November 2023
10am Sydney time, on line via Zoom 

"Either-or: An In-Depth Analysis"

facilitated by David Hewson

One of Korzybski’ main motivations was to avoid unnecessary wars.

“Either/Or” evaluations can lead to war,
e.g. “Either you are for us or against us.”

This seminar looked at some of the Aristotelian assumptions/premises that lead to people using an either/or evaluation method.

We also looked at other habits that may lead to a limited number of solutions.

Finally we came come up with GS methods to avoid this misevaluating.

This was conducted from the viewpoints of GS, philosophy, psychology and language use/cognitive science.

We met as usual "on Zoom",
with people from Sydney, Canberra, South Coast, Victoria, Ohio, Manhattan and Montreal -
Welcome everyone!

Following the usual catch-ups and preliminaries,
we launched into a presentation and discussion ...


This GS seminar discussed the distortions that come about by using either/or thinking, also known as binary thinking. For example:
   “Either you are for me or against me.”
   “Either you are going forward or you are going backwards.”
   “Either you are a success or a failure.”
   “Either you are part of the solution or part of the problem.”
   “There are always 2 sides to every story…”

Goals of general semantics (GS)

The value of GS is to help with the solution to your problems in life. Korzybski's only aim is to help you solve your own problems. General Semantics Seminar 1937 p 5.

General semantics deals with values and evaluation. Ibid p 6

Education's aim is to prepare the student for life Ibid p 2

A good school should train us in factors leading to a happier and saner life. Ibid p 115

Korzybski's main book is titled “Science and Sanity”.

Assumptions/background ideas needed

Map –territory relationship and limitations.

People perceive, interpret and evaluate when they abstract. Interpretations are in part dependant on expectations, e.g. when the brain expects faces to be convex, it then interprets a concave face as turning to look at you when you move your head, because all of the face is still showing.

Words don't mean. People mean.

Types of equivalence: identical (absolutely the same in all respects), equal (e.g. two 20 cent coins) and equivalent (e.g. two $5 notes).

Difference of meaning between "non", "not" and “anti”. Korzybski promotes a “non-Aristotelian” viewpoint.

Aristotle's law of identity

Interpretations of A is A that we discussed: Dating, Map-Territory, member1≡ member2, member1≡ class, meaning of A (to person1) = meaning of A(to person2).

Aristotelian category has all members with the same properties. But these are not all the properties there are, so that the members are most likely equivalent, they may be equal but not identical.

Either / Or issues

Aristotles law of Excluded middle.

A is either B or Not B

Interpretations of the law:

1) A is either B or Not B: contradictory. OK in a map, as dividing it in two is OK.

   a. Chopping a category in two on a map is OK but we may have problems chopping the territory in two, e.g. chainsaw used to cut a log into two, leaves some sawdust..

2) Confusing the contradictory of B (not B) with a contrary of B (anti B), error.

   a. Boolean algebra OK because contradictory = contrary

   b. Distortion of a dimension using just two categories. Problem with converting a grey scale to a “black and white” Boolean category, distorts it, 0-100% scale changed to pass or fail.

   c. Identifying items within “not B” or “B”. Identifying members within a category, e.g. a pass is a pass (implies that mark1 ≡ mark2).

3) Interpretation of not-B as non-B, confusion error.

4) Staying in the same dimension and failing to have not-B represent the rest of the universe rather than the rest of the same dimension as B, e.g. “Do you want to have tea or not tea?”

Limiting yourself to too few options- sometimes has nothing to do with law of Excluded middle.

This can be due to: Immediate pleasure, assumption of single right answer, time pressure, etc.

Why people do it

Reasons include:

  * Prototype theory and a radial set.

  * Language has lots of two valued words. So it’s easier to use two valued words.

  * Principle of least effort and mindless use of language

  * Information theory needs at least two categories to get any information
    and so it’s the simplest and cheapest map.

  * Profitable map


From hot to cold instead of hot or cold. And/both instead of either/or. Extra values. Degree orientation/probabilities and “up to a point” tool.

Meta level

Avoid having an either/or attitude at the meta level to the use of either/or. A set of binary choices can get a value between 0-100 in about 7 questions.


The solutions can be applied to: Political thought, e.g. right or left wing. Personal negotiating. Improving your evaluating. Etc.


Next meeting:  Saturday 27th January 2024   10am - 1pm (Sydney time)  by Zoom

Presenter: Robert James


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 November 2023