Science and the loony bin

Everybody knows that you can’t sit on the word chair, that you can’t eat the word bread and that there's no such thing as a 33 or a 2009. Words and numbers are abstractions. If you try to drive around town in the word car you are making an abstraction error. If you persist you are on your way to the RUBBER ROOM.

But even for 'normal' people there’s a catch: everyday language and common sense comes with lots of little abstraction errors, giving way to unclear thinking and even ALIENATION FROM REALITY.

Or at least that’s what the Polish/American engineer Alfred Korzybski (1879–1950) thought. Mr. Korzybski was the founder of a discipline of linguistics/psychology called General Semantics. Basically he wanted to promote some sort of mental hygiene. Korzybski was shocked by the atrocities of World War I and decided to try to do something positive for human communication. General Semantics was his effort to help people think more clearly, to be aware of prejudice, propaganda, tricks used by politicians, the advertising industry and so on. He wanted people to ‘come to their senses’ and he loved putting words in quotes, actually he invented this.

Korzybski's basic assumptions were quite unique. He contrasted the way scientists think and the way psychiatric patients think, because he felt that scientists use their brain in the most sensible way. Although Korzybski’s theory completely ignored the glorious achievements of mad scientists, his practical results were impressive. General Semantics is good for you!

Unfortunately Korzybski’s dry and highly abstract writing style is totally impenetrable so he’s not very well known today. His official followers are also acting a little funny sometimes, almost like a CULT, but that doesn’t lessen Korzybski’s achievement.