Saturday, February 5, 2011

The map is not the territory.

Alfred Habdank Skarbek Korzybski (1879 –1950) was a Polish-American philosopher and scientist. He is remembered most for developing the theory of general semantics.
General semantics is an educational discipline created by Korzybski.
Its basic assumption is that “language ‘enslaves’ us by conditioning our brains to perceive a false reality”.

Korzybski’s central goal was to attain an awareness of the map/territory distinction and of how information gets deleted/distorted in the linguistic and other representations used.

The map–territory relation describes the relationship between an object and a representation of that object, as in the relation between a geographical territory and a map of it. Korzybski remarked that "the map is not the territory" encapsulating his view that an abstraction derived from something, or a reaction to it, is not the thing itself. For example, the pain from a stone falling on one's foot is not the actual stone, it's one's perception of the stone; one's opinion of a politician, favorable or unfavorable, is not that person; and so on. The pain in one's foot does not convey the internal structure of the stone, you don't know everything that is going on in the life of a politician, etc. — and thus may limit an individual's understanding and cognitive abilities unless the two are distinguished. Korzybski held that many people do confuse maps with territories—that is, confuse models of reality with reality itself—in this sense.

He thought that certain uses of the verb "to be", called the "is of identity" and the "is of predication", were faulty in structure, e.g., a statement such as, "Elizabeth is a fool" (said of a person named "Elizabeth" who has done something that we regard as foolish).

E-Prime (short for English-Prime, developed by one of his students D. David Bourland, Jr. 15 years after his death, forms a subset of the English language in which the verb to be does not appear in any of its forms. Prime therefore does not use the words "be", "is", "am", "are", "was", "were", "been" and "being" (nor archaic such as "art", "wast", or "wert"). Neither does it use their contractions: "'s", "'m", and "'re". For example, the sentence "the movie was good" would correspond to the E-Prime sentence "I liked the movie", thereby distinguishing opinion from fact).

Korzybski's work maintained that human beings are limited in what they know by (1) the structure of their nervous systems, and (2) the structure of their languages. His system included modifying the way we consider the world, e.g., with an attitude of "I don't know; let's see," to better discover or reflect its realities as revealed by modern science. One of these techniques involved becoming inwardly and outwardly quiet.

Korzybski's work influenced Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, and Neuro-linguistic programming (especially the Meta model, Korzybski's critique of cause-effect thinking, and ideas behind human modeling for performance).

"There are two ways to slide easily through life:
to believe everything or to doubt everything;
both ways save us from thinking."

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