Tuesday, April 17, 2012

From the Stray Thought Bin - 'Word Is Not Thing'

Words as words can qualify as 'things' as well. And the words about those things are not those things either. Some people, strangely, seem to have difficulty understanding that. Words seem quite slippery things, don't they? 


Ben Hauck said...

If Korzybski were alive, I'd love for him to solve this little riddle:

Say that the word


refers to itself.

Or, similarly, say that the phrase

"this phrase"

refers to itself.

Is there a difference between referent and referee?

Bruce Kodish said...

Since Mr. Korzybski alas cannot fulfill your request, I can only tell you how I would answer or give you my best guess as to how I think he would respond.

In the meantime, until I do that, please tell me how you think you would solve it.

V.A.O. said...

I have also prepared an answer. I will post it when my turn comes :)

Ben Hauck said...

I'm not subscribed to this thread so you might need to email me if you reply.

The riddle is this:

Does the example I provide contradict the premise that "the word is not the thing"?

It seems to me that



"this phrase"

both are examples of the word being the thing because they refer to themselves.

How do you respond?

V.A.O. said...

Ben, please could you use your words in a sentence?

Bruce Kodish said...

A key for me in understanding this: I remember that I need to maintain rigor in what I'm talking about and to treat a particular word in a sentence say as a thing, a particular something.

So say in the last sentence, the last word is "something". Then in the sentence previous to what you're reading now, the last word in the sentence is " "something" ". All three uses of this term {something} so far, before the one in this sentence, are different. (Those marks { } around the fourth 'something' [and now we have a fifth one, Jeez!] are intended to represent italics).

Whatever label I make referring to the first use of the term, call it something1, is not identical (in the korzybskian sense) to that actual first something1. Whatever I say about that 'referencing' something2 is not that something2. To try to keep the different references clear takes using special markings, various extensional devices, etc., (most importantly, an extensional, factual attitude) to try to keep things clear—if I want to talk sense to people. And even then, something apparently so simple starts to get confusing.

I prize clarity so I work to not waste my time getting hung up on words, Ben. But understanding every "utterance as an innovation", something new and not exactly the 'same' in all respects as any other similar utterance, requires differentiating different usages of a multiordinal term, such as 'something'.

Part of an extensional approach: one must work to treat words in a factual way, and in that sense you can say that "a word 'is' or constitutes a thing." But that is not at all, at all, the same as the GS notion of "The word is not the thing." Still the factual, extensional attitude towards words does embody in a different way the non-identity notion, expressed in the limited but familiar form "The word is not the thing". So simple yet so easy for us all to get hung-up on.

By the way, I found this not so easy to write and make sense. Making sense is not necessarily easy.

Ben Hauck said...

VAO, I don't understand why you want a sentence but here goes a sentence example:

"The phrase 'this phrase' refers to itself."

So the question is, does that phrase violate the principle that "The word is not the thing"? Because it seems to me to be an example of a word being the thing.

So, perhaps "this" and "this phrase" (where they refer to themselves) are a special exceptional case when "The word is not the thing" does not apply.

As a lesson, Korzybski's "The word is not the thing" basically teaches discrimination between labels and the things they label. But "this" and "this phrase" are labels that label themselves and there seems to me to be no discrimination between them? I mean, can you disentangle them successfully?

As for Bruce's reply, yes, you have three distinct uses of the word "something." But that's not really the same thing.

I could write "This phrase 'this phrase' refers to itself." The first instance refers to the second instance. The second instance refers to itself. So isn't this an example of the difference between word and thing approaching or even achieving zero? That is, no difference in this example between word and thing?

Now, perhaps you could argue that referencing is a process, and as a process time is invoked, so "this phrase" does not truly refer to itself, but instead to a version of itself at a different time ... and even different space when accounting for the movement of the Earth. Then again, perhaps we would say that words don't refer to themselves but people refer to things ...

(Pardon if I don't reply; email me if you want to draw my attention to your reply.)

Bruce Kodish said...

Ben you say:"The phrase 'this phrase' refers to itself."

Can you tell me what you are talking about? I truly don't know what you mean when you write this. What does your sentence say about anything?

I am not asking you this to sound clever. I'd like you and everyone reading this to seriously consider your 'riddle'. Work on it until you can come up with a useful understanding of what you are involving yourself with when you entertain this question.

V.A.O. said...

Ben, you have not used 'this phrase' in a sentence, but, instead, you have used ' 'this phrase' '. The two are different. So, you have not provided an example of using 'this phrase' in a sentence :)

V.A.O. said...

Obviously, my suspicion is that there isn't an example that verifies your theory.

Beeeeeeeeeen said...

I'm not sure why you guys don't get what I'm saying because I think I was clear at the outset, but let me try again.

Korzybski taught that "The word is not the thing." This lesson aimed at distinguishing between word (representing a mental "concept") was not the same thing as the thing to which it referred, but something significantly and importantly different.

However, say that you have this collection of two words:

"the phrase"

and say that it refers to itself

That is, it doesn't point to some other phrase; it points to itself and all 9 of its letters and its space.

Is that an example of "The word IS the thing"? Because in this example, the words are pointing to themselves.

To put it in the map-territory analogy, say that you had a blank piece of paper. And say that you call this blank piece of paper "a map," and you say that this paper is a map of itself. That is, it's a map of a blank piece of paper. Is that not an example of "The map IS the territory"?

Again, I may forget about this thread unless I get an email knowing about a reply. I've been lucky to remember to check back on my own. :)


Beeeeeeeeeen said...

Sorry, in my above post I think I wrote:

"the phrase"

but I meant to write:

"this phrase"

I apologize for any confusion that may cause.

Bruce Kodish said...

This phrase

Bruce Kodish said...

How do you make sense of the prior 'Comment'?, "This phrase"? What was I referring to when I wrote it? How do you know?

Reflect long on the above questions.

Don't burst into speech or in writing a response; reflect long.

Beeeeeeeeeen said...

I can't know for certain unless perhaps you define the term.

In my discussion, I'm defining the term. I'm saying that "this phrase" points to itself. That's an extensional definition.

Your response doesn't seem like a response to the position I'm presenting. Perhaps teach me why you write "This phrase" in your Comment and the lesson you glean from its posting.

Beeeeeeeeeen said...

Any more discussion on this thread? Both VAO and Bruce, you seemed to have answers but didn't present them. I'm really curious to hear them!

Bruce Kodish said...

Dear Ben,
I can't speak for V.A.O, but for myself I think I've exhausted what I want to dialogue in writing about this here.

I think both you and I can agree that the other is missing our point.

Perhaps it would be best for both of us to reflect on the issue some more and to talk about it more the next time we meet in person if it still seems pressing.

Ben said...

Well, let's try again, and if you're not interested to comment, feel free not to.

Let's say I have a prepositional phrase:

1. "in Bruce's book"

And let's say I want to talk about that prepositional phrase. I might say something like:

2. "That phrase has 12 letters."

In the above sentence, "That phrase" refers to the prepositional phrase.

So, I've clarified for you what "That phrase" refers to. It refers to something outside the sentence; "That phrase" in 2. refers to 1.

Now, let's change "That phrase" to "This phrase" and see what happens:

3. "This phrase has 12 letters."

Now, let me say that "This phrase" refers to the prepositional phrase in 1.

So now I've shown how "That phrase" and "This phrase" can refer to phrases *outside* the phrase, I can perhaps more easily show you that those same terms can refer to phrases *inside* the phrase. Better put, they can refer to *themselves*.

Take this phrase:

4. "this phrase"

and say that it refers to itself rather than the prepositional phrase in 1.

If it is referring to itself, is this an example of the word being the thing? Is this an example of "the map being the territory"?

It seems me that Yes, these are examples that contradict the korzybskian "impossibility." That is, the word is identical in all respects to the thing it represents.


Bruce Kodish said...

Ben, I think you've gotten pulled into a tautological quicksand. Although I do think that a phrase can be stated that refers to itself (I wrote at least one such phrase in a previous answer in this line of comments), that still doesn't refute the korzybskian premise of non-identity. But your test phrase "this phrase" is not even such a self-referring phrase. Rather as you have done, you needed to make another statement to say that "this phrase" refers to itself. It is only 'self-referring' by your fiat.

Right there, your conclusion under item #4, crashes in confusion and contradiction. I've thrown you a few ropes to try to pull you out but you seem to insist on not even trying to grasp them. You have not refuted the korzybskian non-aristotelian premise of non-identity. Sorry.

Here's another rope, but I warn you— if you grab on, it could be painful: Set a timer for a minimum of two minutes. Take the actual phrase which you believe refers to itself and thus seems to prove that 'the word can be the thing it refers to' and repeat it to yourself over and over, "this phrase...this phrase...". At the end of the two minutes, what have you learned? What substance have you said about anything of any significance?

Bruce Kodish said...

Link to nice discussion of self-reference and 'circular' statements: http://www.jimloy.com/logic/self.htm#here

Beeeeeeeeeen said...

We are at a bypass. I don't think you understand me based on how you reply, and I don't think I understand you, based on my reactions to your reactions.

I should point out that words do not truly reference. It is people who reference.

Therefore, a person can use the squiggle "this phrase," say that is refers to something, and say that it refers to itself.

To me, that is an example of a word (rather a phrase) also being the thing is represents.

And thereby, it is one exception to Korzybski's confident claim about non-identity.

In following your timer example about repeating "this phrase," what you are telling me to do is to repeat different phrases. In essence, first I say "this phrase1," "this phrase2," "this phrase3," etc.

If that's what you're having me do, that is not correspondent to what I'm talking about.

More correspondent would be this:

Bruce, write down "this phrase" on a blank sheet of paper. Tell yourself that "this phrase" refers to itself.

Then tell me how the phrase is not the (same) thing.

Bruce Kodish said...

Beeeeeeeeeen said...
"We are at a bypass. I don't think you understand me based on how you reply, and I don't think I understand you, based on my reactions to your reactions."

BIK: Ben, I think I understand what you are saying quite well. You have embedded yourself in a tautology, and think you have found an actual identity in the world, a combination of words (some sort of object) that 'is identical' with itself'. I've tried here to help you see the error in that. In the korzybskian sense there is no object, there is nothing in this world, that is exactly the same in all respects with any other thing, including itself from one instant to the next. That remains the main non-aristotelian premise upon which the system of korzybskian GS rests. It seems quite clear that you don't accept this.

"I should point out that words do not truly reference. It is people who reference."

BIK: Okay.

"Therefore, a person can use the squiggle "this phrase," say that is refers to something, and say that it refers to itself."

BIK: Yes, indeed, a person can do that.

"To me, that is an example of a word (rather a phrase) also being the thing is represents."

"And thereby, it is one exception to Korzybski's confident claim about non-identity."

BIK: You don't understand what Korzybski intended by non-identity.

"In following your timer example about repeating "this phrase," what you are telling me to do is to repeat different phrases. In essence, first I say "this phrase1," "this phrase2," "this phrase3," etc."

"If that's what you're having me do, that is not correspondent to what I'm talking about."

"More correspondent would be this:"

"Bruce, write down "this phrase" on a blank sheet of paper. Tell yourself that "this phrase" refers to itself."

"Then tell me how the phrase is not the (same) thing."

BIK: You would like me to tell you 'how the phrase is not the (same) thing.' The same thing as what, Ben?
At an American Mathematical Society meeting, a jesuit professor of mathematics approached Korzybski, and said to him "You certainly will not deny that everything is identical with itself." Korzybski asked him if he ever heard of modern physics. The jesuit professor said that he taught it. Korzybski said "I certainly will deny that a submicroscopic process is ever 'identical' with itself." As Korzybski reported, the jesuit professor's face "exhibited the most bewildered and horrified attitude."

Beeeeeeeeeen said...

I suppose this is coming down to me to this point: Is reference an empirical process or is it a non-empirical process? If it's an empirical process, then time plays a factor between referee and referent. That process may be represented in, say, the amount of time it takes for the brain to conjure the referent upon hearing the referee, even if we're talking microseconds.

But if reference is a non-empirical process, it seems that time is deleted from the equation. That is, there is no difference between referent and referee, and when I say that "this phrase" refers to itself, then it does, in absolutely all respects.

Korzybski makes the distinction between words and things. It seems to me implied in his statement is an assumption: that reference is an empirical process that involves time. If we see reference as conceptual, i.e., non-empirical, issues like the one I present with "this phrase" seem like contradictions of Korzybski's confident claims that words are never the things they represent (reference).

For now,

Bruce Kodish said...

Let's accept your beginning proposition that an empirical process takes time; it has some duration.

A 'non-empirical' process then does not take time, has no duration.

Then what pray tell does a 'non-empirical' process look like?

Where does the 'conceptual' process you mention occur?

We can imagine it, of course; aren't we writing about it here?

But can any such 'non-empirical process actually be found anywhere, outside whatever our 'conceptualizing', 'imagining', 'evaluating', 'languaging', etc. processes occur in?

Where do our imagining, 'evaluating', etc., processes occur?

In the 'mind'?

Where is that located?

Ben, you have gotten to a crucial, crucial point in examining your own assumptions.

Ben said...

My use of the terms "empirical" and "non-empirical" may not be the best for communicating what I mean, but to help, I mean something like this:

empirical process = a process that exists in "reality," "actuality," "WIGO," "the non-verbal level," etc.

non-empirical process = a process that doesn't exist there but instead "in the mind" as a concept ... much like a dream or idea without an actual physical, non-verbal, empirical, etc., referent or correspondence

So, I was saying if reference (i.e., the process of referencing or referring to something) is empirical, it involves time (space-time). And if it's non-empirical (i.e., if it's an idea, a concept, etc.), it may, in being a dream, idea, concept, etc., not involve time. That is, non-empirical reference might be thought of as instantaneous.

Think of the difference like a preeinsteinian concept of the speed of light as opposed to the einsteinian concept. In one, light was thought to have infinite speed, making for instantaneous happening; in the other, light has finite speed, so happening is ordinal, sequential, etc.

Relating this to reference, a preeinsteinian conceptualization of reference would imply that when a word points to a referent, that pointing is instantaneous; i.e., immediately the referent is brought up. But in an einsteinian conceptualization of reference, when a word points to a referent, that pointing is not instantaneous and instead involves a sequence of events: 1st, the pointing, 2nd, the bringing up of the reference.

When it comes to "this phrase," if "this phrase" refers to itself, in the preeinsteinian sense the reference is instantaneous, meaning there is no difference between the phrase and that which it refers to. But in an einsteinian framework, 1st, "this phrase" points, 2nd, the referent is called up, but now the referent is ordinally younger/later than the referee, so the referent and the referee are different in terms of their age.

But if we want to get REALLY empirical, we say that words don't refer; instead, PEOPLE refer. Ergo, words don't have referents; PEOPLE have referents.

And from there, we might complain about Korzybski's premise that ideal maps are "self-reflexive," i.e., self-referencing. From an empirical point of view, we would have to say that the ideal map *isn't* self-reflexive; MAPS CAN'T REFER TO THEMSELVES. "Only" people can refer. To say that a map is self-reflexive is to make an empirically untrue statement.

Now, if we want to use the term "self-reflective" instead--which to mean seems a more appropriate term in line with what Josiah Royce was writing--that's a different story. ("Self-reflective" means something different than "self-reflexive." "Self-reflexive" tends to imply reference while "self-reflective" doesn't.) An ideal map (in the roycian vein) would reflect itself. Royce is *not* saying that the ideal map would refer to itself.

Bruce Kodish said...

You are correct, Ben, about the possibly confusing interpretation of calling a map 'self-reflexive'. But beware of picking at words. Korzybski did not understand words or maps or so-called 'mental' processes as taking place in any other realm than the world we live in which appears at the very least as a 4-dimensional space-time continuum. As Whitehead once said, "Nature is a process."

If you believe that 'mind', 'concepts', exist in some other realm than this, then you reject the basis of the entire non-Aristotelian system and korzybskian GS. Do you believe deep down that our 'minds', 'concepts', etc. exist in some realm apart from Nature? From the evidence of your discussion here, it seems that you still do.

V.A.O. said...

Sorry for my delayed reply, I’ve been busy with exams. It is the first time I write an essay of this kind, so I will post it hoping it will be interesting for you to read and an opportunity for me to receive constructive feedback on it.


Bruce Kodish said...

Hi V.A.O.,

Good job!
I like your essay and, as far as you go with your argument, I agree with you.

I did get confused reading the sentence from line 70 to 73. The double negative threw me off, but on re-reading it several times, it does make sense now.

The relevant empirical facts remain the deciding factor for me in rejecting Ben's proposal.

Looking at Ben's later responses, it begins to look like he's on the verge of rejecting it too.

I thank you both for engaging in this discussion.