What is General Semantics?
“How is it that we humans have advanced so far in science,
mathematics, and technology, yet we demonstrate so much confusion, misunderstanding,
and violence in our interactions with others and within ourselves?” – Alfred
To find an answer to the question posed above, we will find some enlightenment
in the life of Alfred Korzybski, the man who founded? established? invented?
devised? General Semantics.
(Courtesy Steve Stockdale/Dallas-Fort Worth Center for General Semantics)
Alfred Korzybski was born in 1879 in a part of the Russian
Empire that is now a part of Poland. He grew up in a household in
which four languages (Polish, French, Russian, and German) were used.
As a young man, he studied engineering and mathematics; he also studied
mental illness. During World War I, he served as an officer and was
wounded. His experience in the war exposed him to both the best (the
wonderful and terrible new technologies being deployed) and worst (people
shooting at each other for reasons which, nearly a century later, have still
not been fully clarified) of human evaluating and led him to wonder why
and how humans could understand nature so well with regards to science and
technology and yet so terrible at understanding each other. This question,
and the question of how to improve human evaluating, would remain central
to his work for the rest of his life. In 1933, he published his magnum
opus, Science and Sanity (the title referring to the best and worst
of human evaluating), and in doing so introduced the world to General Semantics.
So What ‘Is’ General Semantics?