Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Time-Binding - So What? Part III

The very astute J. has pointed to something notable about Korzybski's formulation of time-binding. Time-binding, as Korzybski formulated it, is not simply descriptive or ethically neutral. As J. wrote:
Time binding seems like a description transformed into prescription (?); e.g. "Dog's often bark, therefore, dogs should bark 'better'. Where's the logic in this?
Korzybski's formulation definitely was not simply limited to a description of the unique human ability to communicate via symbolism. He very clearly defined time-binding in terms of a capacity, a potential that the human ability to communicate makes possible: the capacity to begin where another individual or generation left off and thus be able to build on previous efforts in order to make ‘progress’. Stated in terms of human potential, his formulation of time-binding implies an 'ought', a value-laden criterion, as well as an 'is', a description of what people do. Korzybski wanted people to become better time-binders.

Of course, this value-laden aspect of time-binding seems to open up a formulational 'can of worms'. Judging the relative time-binding merits of different human acts and products doesn't seem necessarily clearcut. How do we operationalize time-binding and 'progress' so we can observe and measure them? I've dealt with this question at more length in my book Dare to Inquire Despite whatever problems the formulation may pose, all (legitimately all) of Korzybski’s subsequent work, which came to be called “general semantics,” involved his efforts to investigate and explain the mechanisms of time-binding. If you are interested in understanding Korzybski's work and how it developed, that alone justifies giving attention to time-binding.

As for J's subsidiary question
Why is this transformation relevant, and what authorizes this particular description over all the other potential descriptions of 'what dominantly characterizes humans'?
I'll leave that for another post.

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