Friday, December 09, 2011


A general semanticist is someone who, upon encountering a person with a beard, would say it was probably a man, but would hold open the possibility that it might be a bearded lady.  - Richard P. Marsh

The subject of General Semantics (and Count Alfred Korzybski) came up quite often when studying with RAW, even if only indirectly (as in discussions of E-Prime, for instance, or Non-Aristotelean Logic).

GS aims to improve one's ability to evaluate the world and one's place in it.

The younger generation(s) appear to know little of GS, but it had a period of great influence on people like William Burroughs (born 1914) who actually went and studied with Korzybski in 1939. 
Details of that amazing sounding set of lectures, here.

I guess RAW learned about GS later, perhaps via Burroughs, and A.E.Van Vogt, etc - or through the founders of NLP - Bandler and Grinder (say). Or maybe Bucky Fuller, Alan Watts or Gregory Bateson.

Bob himself gave a lecture at the Institute of General Semantics - here in PDF format.

More recently, Graham Rae gave this interesting presentation:


He posted the text of the talk on this forum at Reality Studio.

This OM post has appeared now in response to our hearing about  a huge biography of Korzybski written by Bruce Kodish which sounds fascinating (to me).

Kodish has a blog related to this material here.

And here, on the relationship to Burroughs.

For those who do not know anything about the subject, this brief summary by Piero Scaruffi might give you a glimpse, although whether such a brief description may confuse more than enlighten, who can say?


• Animals: hunters and gatherers = bind to territory, i.e."space-binders"
• Humans: agriculture = bind to a memory of the past and prediction of the future, i.e. "time-binders"
• Time-binding is enabled by a nervous system that is capable of constructing and manipulating symbols
• Time-binding allows to transmit knowledge to succeeding generations
• The rate of growth of human knowledge is exponential  (aka the Jumping Jesus Phenomenon)
• Language allows time-binders to categorize/generalize experiences and communicate them to others
• General Semantics to remedy the limits of language:
• We have fewer words and concepts than experiences: we "confuse" similar situations
• We must evaluate a situation less by intension (its category) and more by extension (its unique features)
• We must avoid categorization/generalization and spot the unique characteristics of a situation

This link goes to the Institute of General Semantics, relating to the new biography.

New York Society of General Semantics - about Korzybski by Susan and Bruce Kodish

Random Research

fUSION aNOMALY on Korzysbski

fUSION aNOMALY on Burroughs

Steven Lewis - brief bio of Korzybski

Steven Lewis on General Semantics

Donald Fagen mentions GS, RAW, Van Vogt and Burroughs

Language, a virus?    By Florian Cramer

The Road to Interzone: Reading William S. Burroughs Reading    by Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens - The Road to Interzone Interview        by Paul Hawkins


michael said...

Outstanding in every way. Stand-out stuff. "Stand" as a metaphor for our orientation in space-time when we stand on the "ground" at a roughly 90 degree angle from the center of gravity...Uh...everyone stands, but this post stands "outside" of all those standers, so as to be more visible. Or that seems my story right now...

>I guess RAW learned about GS later, perhaps via Burroughs, and A.E.Van Vogt, etc - or through the founders of NLP - Bandler and Grinder (say). Or maybe Bucky Fuller, Alan Watts or Gregory Bateson.<

See CT2, 151-158 or 167-175 in the revised ed:"The Problem of 'Reality'":

"One day when I was still in Brooklyn Tech I was browsing in the public library when I found a book with the title _Science and Sanity_ by somebody called Alfred Korzybski..."

He read it all in one weekend. Others seem to not have believed him when he said this.

Later in the essay, op cit:

"I perhaps have seen Korzybski in a different light than many other commentators because I re-read him several times while on marijuana. On grass, it seems quite easy to understand that allegedly 'raw' perception contains as much inference and organization-or-orchestration as our obviously brain-generated mathematical formalisms or religious dogma." - p.173, rev. ed.

Bogus Magus said...

Thanks Michael, for the reference, that clarifies my mind. I felt sure someone would know.

I haved ordered the biography, because I have always looked at S&S as a core text for the studies we did with Bob, and hope that a more detailed picture of the period may emerge.

I had read S&S (fortunately) some years before, when unemployed and with a lot of time on my hands (I used to go hang out in the beautiful circular Reading Room at The British Library). I can't pretend to consider it an easy text, but found it very evocative and rewarding (like, say, Finnegans Wake) - more so than simplified explanations can provide.
I only wish I could sum it up and pass it on.

fuzzbuddy said...

One of the bands from the long list to play Woodstock Europa in The Illuminatus! Trilogy..."The Players of Null-A"

Bruce Kodish said...

Thanks for the links to my work. You did an excellent job of introducting/summarizing GS in a short space.

Bruce Kodish said...


Bogus Magus said...

Thanks, Bruce - I really enjoyed the Korzybski biography, which put the whole subject in context, and humanized him, his work and his life.


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