Australian General Semantics Society Inc. (AGS)


Laurie's Subscription Series - 16 September 2012



Articles for the Sunday Seminar "Managing Our Lives' Transitions"
    How do we manage the transitions between phases in our lives?

1. Language Correction

  • We were not "just given" our language. It evolved over many millenia.
    For example 3,000 years ago, some writings were linguistically complex.
    Consider since then, the writings of Homer, Chaucer and Shakespeare.

  • If our language evolved then we could hardly expect it to be "perfect"!

  • We may expect that the hunters and gatherers, for instance,
    had some primitive form of language which has since evolved.

  • In the 21st Century, our language can mislead us
    if we do not know how to manage or "correct" it.

  • We could refer to this process an "language correction"

  • Language can inspire and empower us if we can influence others
    who can benefit from our "correction".

  • We exchange meanings as we move from one language environment
    to another, being careful that our changes in language fit "facts".

2. Our Brain

  • We may make the statement that our brain governs all our decisions
    and activities.

  • But what do we mean when we use the term "mind"?

  • Do we take this term "mind" as just another term for "brain"?
    Or does mind mean "intangible"?

  • "Use it or lose it" is a phrase often used.
    Does our brain necessarily decline with age?

  • When do we use our brain at its best, or at its worst?

  • When we use scientific method, are we using it at its best?

  • Or when we are using it to solve a complex problem?

  • If so, are we using it better than if we had a "mental illness",
    dementia or Alzheimers disease?

  • Sometimes we hear the sentence "It takes a good brain to go insane!"
    If this is so, does it make the retiring professional more vulnerable?

  • Brain function evaluates sensory inputs which leads to decisions.

  • How closely does "correct use of language relate to brain function.
    Can effective brain-language function protect us from dementia?
    Or can this training help a dementia sufferer to recover?
    Or if we are reasonably well adjusted,
    can training in language-fact increase our social effectiveness?

  • Application seems to be a real issue in General Semantics.

  • In GS training, have we paid sufficient attention to application?

  • Are our GS presentations largely ineffective through non-application?

3. Predictability

  • * In his Olivet Lectures, Alfred Korzybski emphasised "predictability"
    as a major GS factor or goal.

  • Korzybski writes that if the structure of our language fits the structure
    of the non-verbal world, then our predictability is increased.

  • Korzybski points out that before World War II, England and USA
    could have predicted what Hitler would do, but did not.

  • Predictions, both correct and incorrect, have famously been made
    by people of prominance.

  • Consider our abject failure to predict some monumental events, eg:

  • The demise of the USSR by failure fithin,

  • Development of the Internet,

  • The Twin Towers and Pentagon attack (called the 9/11 Attack),

  • The Global Financial Crisis (GFC).

4. Communications

Communication is important in any field of human concern. Communication can help in building a civilisation or starting a war that is it operates for positive or negative outcomes.

In communicating it is fundamental to know the differences between perception and 'reality'. Perception is only part of the 'reality'.

A complex or difficult situation requires more detailed investigation. Detailed investigation requires at least two essentials:-
* Looking 'facts squarely in the face',
* Realising that we must inevitably make assumptions.

We must make assumptions because our nervous system cannot in any one moment absorb everything going on around us. In any one moment we can register only part of what is going on. For example, you enter a room with six people, you register only part of what is going on, and therefore assume a good deal beyond what we actually perceive.

"Don't make assumptions" is a remark often heard. This is a unrealistic intention. We have to make assumptions – we have no choice because our systems can pick up only part of what is going on within and around us.

On reflection we may well find that we are making more assumptions than we had realised. To become aware of assumptions we are making at any one moment is always helpful and may be very important. The next question to ask ourselves is: How closely did these assumptions fit the ongoing "reality" within and around us? But how do we become aware of the assumptions we are making?   We can do this by reflection. For example, each morning I reflect back on the previous day's events. In doing so I inevitably become aware of assumptions I had made unconsciously. I may ask myself "What was I assuming at any one moment?"

But these are only two ways of registering our assumptions. Through experience recently or long ago you may register other methods. It seems useful to ask ourselves "What are we assuming?"

5. Self Management in Difficult Situations

This requires:

  • Reducing misunderstandings, arguments and conflict,

  • Questioning our own beliefs, attitudes and assumptions,

  • Tactfully questioning those of others, helping others to recognise their theories (assumptions)
    that they base their decisions on,

  • Tracing or becoming aware of the "hidden" assumptions
    beneath the level of awareness that we are making, thereby increasing our flexibility and skills.

  • Developing our Effective Dialogue or insightful communicative skills

With awareness of our assumptions we have some measure of control over them and we can amend or replace them. We can drop old assumptions and replace with new ones. This is an important part of our re-education.

This new approach or re-education is where we can formulate new goals and set new life directions. We are using a comparatively new general educational method of clarifying issues, problems and difficulties. This re-educational approach is designed to help us manage the inevitable difficulties in perceptions, beliefs and understandings.

We give meanings to different situations or events. This means engaging in useful dialogue to gain new insights into difficulties, complexities and challenges. We often overlook the power of effective language in addressing difficulties. This enables us to see difficulties, challenges in a new light. This method is useful in teaching and counselling.

When facing a difficult situation which requires a number of meetings over a few days it is helpful to ask ourselves clear answerable questions which will guide our observations or interpretations of what is going on.

Very often we are all faced with making a transition from one life stage to another, for example:

  • from single to married
  • change of jobs
  • promotion at work
  • retirement

We celebrate some of these with rites of passage (such as weddings), which are a form of sharing, of communication.

This refers to complex issues in work and personal life. Some of these issues may be sensitive and call for careful communication. It may mean addressing situations in depth, it may mean examining a problem from a different perspective, it may also mean changing long established habits in oneself. This may entail overcoming obstacles to reach a goal.

We must expect difficulties. This means using an advanced method of evaluation and communication that anybody of ordinary ability can learn and practise.

6. Map-Territory - A Useful Principle

Three examples:

1. The Submarine Example

This was reported in W. Tecumseh Fitch's new book "The Evolution of Language". Fairly recently, a U.S. nuclear submarine ran into an undersea "mountain". Several of the crew were injured and one was killed. However, the submarine was able to limp back to its base in Guam.

It was then discovered that submarine was operating on the basis of an out-of-date map. This map did not include the under-sea mountain, which apparently had only recently developed. There was an up-to-date map which did include the sea-mountain, but the sub did not have the new map.

2. The Titanic

The Titanic was built in Belfast and was making its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. It was believed to be unsinkable! We may say that this belief qualified as a kind of cerebral map. In iceberg waters, it struck an iceberg and sank with great loss of life.

3. Children Lost in the Bush

Queens-Scout candidate Chris James, his sister Karen and two friends were lost for eight days in the Moreton National Park. Part of the problem was the absence of a complete and accurate map of this rugged terrain. Their food supply and operational procedures were correct, the weather was mild but foggy (obscuring smoke signals).

The party was located by a ground party blowing whistles, and the lost group replied similarly, resulting in them being rescued by helicopter. May I extend my congratulations to the leadership of the hikers group and the rescue efforts.


Map-Territory is a working principle in everyday life. Unfortunately, application of this and other principles is far from easy. This, I believe, is because of a long-established and ingrained need to be recognised and re-worded or formulated.
Modified 28/09/2012
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