Sunday, February 24, 2008

Self-Reflexiveness Gone Wild

Dr. Kenneth G. Johnson, taught at Institute of General Semantics (IGS) summer seminar-workshops for many years. For various and sundry reasons, these courses are no longer given—a shame. But I attended many of them beginning in 1979, first as a participant, then as staff member. I cherish the memories of the time I spent with Ken in classes and just schmoozing.

Beside his masterful and entertaining lecture-presentations, he also 'led', or rather facilitated, the group process sessions (based on the National Training Laboratory T-Groups) that the IGS had made a part of its training process for developing an extensional (fact-directed), non-aristotelian orientation. The VERY open-ended group discussions encouraged self-reflexiveness (thinking about thinking, speaking about speaking, reacting to reactions, etc.) in participants with sometimes amusing, sometimes puzzlingresults. Ken observed what people said and said very little himself. Over the years he collected a number of priceless self-reflexive comments which he heard in the course of these sessions and elsewhere. (He may also have created a few himself, to represent some attitudes he had noted in observing what people say and do.) Now enjoy some of Ken Johnson's 'brain pretzels':

"I'll be happy to be the leader—as soon as I figure out where we're going."

"If I'm going to fail, at least I want to know what I'm failing at."

"Let's all spend our time observing what happens in this group."

(After a pause) "I love the silence. I just enjoy sitting her whether anyone is talking or not. Don't you?"

"I figure that if I don't do it I'll never know what would have happened if I had done it."

"You are being critical!"

"Now that I know myself better, I don't know who I am."

"All I have to say is I have nothing to say."

"I don't mind hurting. At least then I know I am alive."

"I don't know if I'm courageous or scared to chicken-out."

"If you look at it objectively, I'm certain you'll agree with me."

"This is all very exciting, but I'm bored"

"I don't want your attention and to prove it, I'm going to leave the room."

"I'm willing to reveal myself but I have nothing worth hiding."

"If you don't know, how do you know that I don't know?"

"I hate people with strong likes and dislikes."

"Of course I trust you. But you might tell someone I don't trust."

"Even wasting time isn't a waste of time."

"I'm not afraid to express my feelings. It just scares the hell out of me."

"As soon as I find myself I'll reveal who I am."

"One good thing about this D group: If we don't know where we're going we can't get lost."

"I feel much better now that I'm uncomfortable."

"I'd like to learn by doing without doing anything."

"I resent all the hostility in this group."

"I wouldn't be so paranoid if people weren't always talking about me."

"One thing I know for sure is that we can't be certain about anything."

(Hands folded tightly accross chest) "I have this outgoing feeling toward people."

"Have you noticed—we're more in the here-now today than we were yesterday?"

"Who gave you permission to give me permission?"

"I feel terrible when I feel something and I feel I shouldn't feel that way."

"I find this tension very relaxing."

"I don't know where we're going but we're making a lot of progress."

"I have nothing to hide but I don't want everyone to know my secrets."

"What am I feeling? I'll have to think about that."

"Try to be spontaneous."

"If Korzybski were alive today, he'd be turning over in his grave."

"I'm still searching for myself. Have you seen me?"

"I'm learning a lot about people—especially me."

"My major problem is that I am too critical of myself."

"I don't care what people think—but it bothers me when they don't agree with me."

"Let's take a vote to see if we want to take a vote."

"I'm not too sure about my facts but I have no doubts about my conclusions."

"I am not upset." (Tearing hair)

"Dammit. I am going to punch out the next bastard who calls me hostile!"

"Our whole purpose here may be to find a purpose."

"Stop yelling at me. Tell me how you feel."

"I don't know what the score is. I don't know what game we're playing."

"I feel depressed because I just can't express my feelings."

"We don't have to tell anyone that our sessions are confidential."

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Fable of the Amoeba

In 1933, Korzybski was preparing to publish his book Science and Sanity. As the epigraph for the book he chose the fable of the Amoeba from Appendix E of Ogden’s and Richard’s The Meaning of Meaning. The quotation had Ogden’s characteristic literary flair (even flamboyance) and playfulness.

In its favor as the epigraph for the book, the fable caught some of the concerns that Korzybski shared with Ogden, Lady Welby (who had first written about “linguistic conscience”) and others in the field of ‘semantics’. However, the quote did not bring out what distinguished Korzybski work, 'general semantics' from these others.

Some years later, many people’s confusion between ‘general semantics’ and ‘semantics' became quite apparent. Korzybski got interested in distinguishing between the two fields as sharply as possible. It didn’t help this to feature Ogden’s fable so prominently in his book. This probably explains why he dropped it in the 1941 Second Edition of Science and Sanity, replacing it with a long quote, “A Voyage to Laputa,” from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. This remained as the book’s epigraph in all subsequent editions.

For those who haven't seen it, I include here the fable of the amoeba from The Meaning of Meaning:
Realize thyself, Amœba dear,” said Will: and Amœba realized herself, and there was no Small Change but many Checks on the Bank wherein the wild Time grew and grew and grew. And in the latter days Homo appeared. How, he knew not; and Homo called the change Progress, and the How he called God. . . . for speech was ever a Comforter. And when Homo came to study the parts of speech, he wove himself a noose of Words. And he hearkened to himself, and bowed his head and made abstractions, hypostatizing and glorifying. Thus arose Church and State and Strife upon the Earth; for oftentimes Homo caused Hominem to die for Abstractions hypostatized and glorified: and the children did after the manner of their fathers, for so they had been taught. And last of all Homo began to eat his words.

Now, after much time, there appeared Reason, which said, “Wherefore hast thou done this thing?”
And Homo said “Speech bewrayèd me.”

To whom Reason “Go to now and seek the Doctrine of Symbolism which showeth that the bee buzzeth not in the Head but in the Bonnet.”

But Homo hearkened not, and his sin was the greater in that he was proud and obstinate withal. For as Philosopher and Economist he said—“We will tend to give the matter our careful consideration.” And as Returning Warrior, he asked: “What, grannie, didst thou say in the Great Wars?” And as Plain Man he continued to splash solemnly in the Vocabulary of Ambiguity—and all the while the Noose was tightening and Homo began to grow inarticulate.

Then had Reason compassion on him, and gave him the Linguistic Conscience, and spake again softly: “Go to now, be a Man, Homo! Cast away the Noose of Words which thou has woven, that it strangle thee not. Behold! The Doctrine of Symbolism, which illumineth all things. What are the Laws of Science? Are they not thine own Conceptual Shorthand?
And Man Blushed.

And Reason asked again, “What is Number? Is it not a class of classes: and are not classes themselves thine own convenient Fictions? Consider the Mountain Top—it Hums not neither does it Spin. Cease then to listen for the noise of the humming. Weary not thyself in unravelling the web that never hath been spun.”
And Man replied “Quite.”

Then sang Reason and Man the Hymn 1923, “Glory to Man in the Highest for Man is the Master of Words”—nineteen hundred and twenty-three.
And the sound of the Hymn ringeth yet in our ear.

Thus the Realization of Amœba ended in the Realization of an Error.

“God laughed when he made the Sahara,” says an old African proverb—but Man may yet discover the uses of Dust.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Johnson's Corollary of Murphy's Law

Kenneth G. Johnson was also the originator of what I call Johnson's Corollary of Murphy's Law:
"To communicate is to be misunderstood!"