Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Airport Security And Other Predictably Irrational Things

Dan Ariely studies human evaluative behavior-decisionmaking. Basically, that's what Korzybski focused on as well.

Ariely calls what he does 'behavioral economics'. You can understand the core of Korzybski's work—called 'general semantics'— a lot better by seeing its closeness to behavioral economics, for example, than by viewing it as some kind of 'philosophy' of 'language'. If you do the latter, you probably put a terribly unfortunate limit on your ability to perceive the scope of Korzybski's work.

But one of the many ways that people get misled (alot of what Ariely studies) is by how they interpret words, in their own 'habitual' fashion which may not have much to do with the writer's/speaker's (in this case Korzybski's) intentions. Thus, when many people see or hear the word 'semantics' in 'general semantics', they interpret this as having to do with the 'meanings' of words and/or language. Korzybski emphasized (more and more frequently as time went on) that 'general semantics' referred to a general theory of evaluation. 'Semantic' reactions, 'semantic' environments, 'semantic' factors, as he said many times, equated with evaluation, evaluational reactions, evaluational environments, and evaluational factors. Evaluation as he discussed it covered 'thinking' and 'feeling', on verbal and non-verbal levels. His study in evaluation, human values, human behavior extended beyond concerns about 'language', although surely the study of 'language structure' and language-related behavior had an important role to play in his work.

If any of you students of 'general semantics' out there find this confusing—Good! The following Youtube video is for you. Ariely's amusing behavioral economics piece on optical 'illusions', human perception, decision-making, mis-evaluation could serve just as well as an excellent GS teaching-demonstration.

Now if you wondered when I would ever get to the topic of airport security—here it is. Ariely shows how some of the people of the T.S.A. (the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration) at our airports are working to keep us 'safe' when we fly. I feel so relieved. Enjoy!

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