Sunday, June 7, 2009

Reflections about Reflections

Korzybski would usually wrap up the lecture part of his seminars by reciting several quotes related to self-reflexiveness, one of the central formulations of his system. Self-reflexiveness involves the notion that you can make a map of your map, talk about your talking, abstract from your abstractions, 'think' about your 'thinking', etc., ongoingly.

Korzybski presented these favorite quotes of his in the unabridged version of a paper General Semantics, Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Prevention, which he delivered at a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in Cincinnati in 1940. He wrote:
'It should be noticed that in human life self-reflexiveness has even "material" implications, which introduce serious difficulties. Professor Cassius J. Keyser expresses this very aptly: "It is obvious, once the fact is pointed out, that the character of human history, the character of human conduct, and the character of all our human institutions depend both upon what man is and in equal or greater measure upon what we humans think man is." This is profoundly true.

'Professor Arthur S. Eddington describes the same problem in these words: "And yet, in regard to the nature of things, this knowledge is only an empty shell--a form of symbols. It is knowledge of structural form, and not knowledge of content. All through the physical world runs that unknown content, which must surely be the stuff of our consciousness. Here is a hint of aspects deep within the world of physics, and yet unattainable by the methods of physics. And, moreover, we have found that where science has progressed the farthest, the mind has but regained from nature that which the mind has put into nature. We have found a strange footprint on the shores of the unknown. We have devised profound theories, one after another, to account for its origin. At last, we have succeeded in reconstructing the creature that made the foot-print. And Lo! it is our own."

'Dr. Alexis Carrel formulated the same difficulty differently, but just as aptly: "To progress again man must remake himself. And he cannot remake himself without suffering. For he is both the marble and the sculptor." '

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