Tuesday, June 16, 2009

General Semantics-A Theory of Metacognition

In an article entitled Bridging the Research-Practice Divide: Using General-Semantics in Physical Therapy Practice I wrote the following which I still think applies. I shamelessly quote myself:
General-semantics constitutes a theory of metacognition, a working theory of how humans construct their perceptions, beliefs, theories, etc. Metacognition, thinking about thinking, has traditionally been considered part of the branch of philosophy called epistemology, the theory of knowledge.

Over the years many philosophers such as Plato and Descartes have speculated and theorized about how we know what we know. These theorists lacked much empirical knowledge of the human nervous system, psychology and other relevant areas of knowledge such as how scientists and mathematicians actually behave in order to gain knowledge. As a result their views were often riddled with untenable assumptions such as that of a `mind' separate from a `body'. Among other things, what distinguished Korzybski from these theorists was his effort to bring to bear studies in neuroscience, behavioral/social science, natural science, mathematics, linguistics and other fields to develop a scientific and thus up-to-date and open-ended, applied epistemology.


Anonymous said...

One day, Korzybski was giving a lecture to a group of students, and he suddenly interrupted the lesson in order to retrieve a packet of biscuits, wrapped in white paper, from his briefcase. He muttered that he just had to eat something, and he asked the students on the seats in the front row, if they would also like a biscuit. A few students took a biscuit. "Nice biscuit, don't you think," said Korzybski, while he took a second one. The students were chewing vigorously. Then he tore the white paper from the biscuits, in order to reveal the original packaging. On it was a big picture of a dog's head and the words "Dog Cookies." The students looked at the package, and were shocked. Two of them wanted to throw up, put their hands in front of their mouths, and ran out of the lecture hall to the toilet. "You see, ladies and gentlemen," Korzybski remarked, "I have just demonstrated that people don't just eat food, but also words, and that the taste of the former is often outdone by the taste of the latter." Apparently his prank aimed to illustrate how some human suffering originates from the confusion or conflation of linguistic representations of reality and reality itself

Bruce Kodish said...

Anonymous has related a story found on the internet. I saw it on Wikipedia among other places. The account provided no reference for the story. However, as his biographer I have not found any documented reference for the story although I've looked. For that reason, I would not use it in my biography.

It does sound like something that Korzybski might have done in one of his classes. He certainly did do things like what he is supposed to have done in this story. However, I don't want the existence of the story on my blog to indicate that I necessarily endorse its factuality.

The story sounds true to Korzybski but remains apocryphal.