IGS Discussion Forums: Learning GS Topics: Elementalism - a necessary evil?
Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Monday, May 7, 2007 - 07:24 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

In my view we could not have ever developed our current model of the universers if we had not abstracted the notions of space and time (and mass) as separate dimensions, and applied all the multi-dimensional math to them that results in theoretical physics. "Space" is an abstraction from the mass-space-time continnum, as are "time" and "mass". We cannot have "mass" "existing" without a space-time coordinate, and we have no way of measuring any space-time event without mass(mass/energy) either. The choice to call 'space' and 'time' "elementalisms" without bothering to worry about 'mass' shows a naive understanding of our current model of physics.

What Korzybski labeled as elementalisms are nothing more than abstractions, and most of them are highly useful and necessary for understanding the world around us. As far as "body-mind" is concerned, these abstractions are also commonly useful. It seems to me that neither of the notions of both relativity and psyschosomatic illnesses were in the awarenes of the common person in Korzybski's time. Now both are common knowledge, even if the ability to explain them leaves a lot to be desired.

In philosophy there is a notion in which a more abstract level is understood in terms of a less abstract model. It is call "reductionism" and has been been around and argued for centuries. It's the idea that something is "nothing but" something else, and one particular reduction common around Korzybski's time was the dictum from then science that Man was "nothing but" an animal. Social Darwinism was still in vogue, and "Science" was not yet sophisticated enough to leave religion alone, so people's beliefs were threatened.

General semantics with the three-way classification of life (relabeled as dimensions) promised to make Man something more than animals and suggest that we had a "scientifically based" ethic that distinguished us from animals. This, in effect, provided competition for other religions as well as lifted "science" above the purly reductionist view of man.

Unfortunately, the notion of "elementalism" is anti-abstraction as well as reductionistic. It it anti-abstraction because the mistique that has grown up around it is that we should not do it. It is reductionistic because it takes us from the level of abstraction where distinctions are made among parts or aspects of our perceptions back down to the level at which these distinguishing are inhibited. We go from the ability to talk about the body and its structure in anatomy, medicine, etc., and the ability to talk about cognitive processes, to being restricted to talking about whole persons. That is a form of reductionism, which, when coupled with the "don't be elementalistic" attitude is "anti-intellectual" (anti-academic) [- and we all know, or should know of Korzybski's hostility and resentment toward academia].

So, in the new "official" dictionary of general semantics, I would offer "elementalism" as a depreciated term for certain specific abstractions.

"Depreciated" means still in use, but no longer officially supported. Don't use it in new "official" documents.

Posted in two threads intentionally. (*)

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Monday, May 7, 2007 - 01:59 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

The alleged elementalism is splitting body and mind by usind the terms singly, and the correction advocated is body-mind. I always explain "mind" as "what the brain does" using the analogy that "mind" is to brain as digestion is to stomach. My definition in this manner is without the spiritual hocus-pocus, and it is devoid of Cartesian dualism. It fits the modern computer metaphor distinguishing sofware and hardware. Software won't run without the hardware, and hardware without the software does not do anything.

If "mind" is defined in this up-to-date modern metaphor, does it still constitute an "elementalim"? Is "software" an elementalism too?

The vast majority of people on this earth still follow one or the other religions with a dualist perspective that presumes that the software can run without the hardware; that we can "live" after death; that there is some "spirit" that escapes from the body at death. And that is a belief that is not scientific. It should be outside the realm of general semantics, but general semantics won't leave it alone.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Monday, May 7, 2007 - 11:41 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

If general semantics has as one of its agenda items convincing people that dualism is wrong, contrary to dualistic religions, instead of simply stating that we have no physical evidence to support the claims. If we argue that such claims are untestable, and therefore should not be believed, that such things should not be presumed to exist,then general semantics is, in effect, prostelitizing the belief that there is no such dualism.

These are two distinct perspectives.

We have no evidence of "mental substance" distinct from the body, and therefore do not know; until there is evidence either way, we can only say we have no evidence of such existence. The position of science is that we do not know.

There is no such thing as "mental substance" distinct from the body.

The former represents an epistemological perspective. (knowledge).
The later represents a metaphysical perspective. (existence).

Occam's Razor says that we should not include more postulates than necessary.

Axiom theory, however, can be interpreted that if a hypothetical new postulate is independent of the other postulates in the system, that is, if it can neither be proved nor disproved from the other postulates in the system, then it may be added to the system to extend it to a larger system without creating an inconsistency; moreover, it can be assumed in either the positive or the negative form.

This is exactly what happened when the fifth postulate in Geometry was finally shown to be independent of the other four. This allowed the creation of distinctly different types of non-Euclidean geometries. We now have geometries with positive curvature and geometries with negative curvature in addition to the original Euclidean geometry with zero curvature. These all depend on how the fifth postulate is stated. But you cannot have two types of curvature in the same system.

Non-Euclidean geometries along with non-Newtonian physics are often used as analogies to characterize general semantics as non-Aristotelian reasoning to be contrasted with Aristotelian reasoning.

Such an analogy is naive, because Newtonian physics is technically incorrect, though it is a practical first approximation. It does not, however, depend on the choice of an independent axiom, and it does not yield separate consistent physics, like the separate consistent geometries.

We can however, apply the axiomatic approach to science and religion. Religion postulates the existence of something that has not, and apparently cannot be measured or tested, because we have no way for non-physical substance to interact with physical substance. This make the presumed existence, or presumed denial, of non-physical substance (what "minds" are alleged to be made of) independent of whatever other axioms our physical universe is explained by. It follows that both systems; the system with the affirmation of dual substanace and the system with the denial of dual substance each independently consistent, though incompatible.

The philosophy of science knows this, and (modern) science neither affirms nor denies the dualism hypothesis; science, in effect, says, if it isn't testable, it's not a subject for science. Devise a test and then we will look at the question.

General semantics can be interpreted as taking a position that there is no dual substance, or it can be interpreted as being silent on the question. It can take the position of Occam's Razor, or it can take the position of Axiom theory. Occam's Razor is consistent with Atheism, but axiom theory is consistent with agnosticism.

In reality Occahm's razor assumes that the system is complete on the basis of the existing postulates, so anther one is either redundant or unnessary. Axiom theory, on the other hand, recognizes the perspective that any system built on a finite number of axioms is incomplete, and that additional axioms may be added to extend the system.

Occam's razor is limited to a set of postulates that equally explain a given set of facts. It makes no provision for explaining additional "facts", whereas axiom theory does. As such, Occam's Razor applies to a single level of abstraction whereas axiom theory adds levels of abstraction. One might argue that GGödel's incompleteness theorems limit the application of Occam's razor.

If general general semantics is understood as denying dualism, it is taking a value position vis-a-vis religion, and in doing so, it become a religion, namely a variety of atheism, along with Maddlyn Murray O'Hair - the militant Atheist who succeeded in getting prayer banned from public schools.

You have your choice. You can ignore religion as not a topic for general semantics to discuss. Always ask what a person means by using the term 'mind', and then proceed to conduct an intelligent discussion, or to proceed to disengage from the topic not in the realm of general semantics.

But to label every use of "mind" as an elementalsm and deny that the kind of "mind" that dualists believe in can exist (their unprovable postulate that extends the system beyond science) is to take an anti-religion value stance and turn general semantics into its own belief system that is hostile to most religions.

So which is it? Do you see general semantics as a refuge for atheists? Do you see general semantics as agnostic with respect to dualism? Are you a user of general semantics who does add the dualism postulate?

I know which one I am, but I spent a significant part of my life defending your right to have it either way, so it's not my right to say which you must choose.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Tuesday, May 8, 2007 - 10:16 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail


That was my naive assumption when I first became acquainted with general semantics, and one that I held for a long time. It took a long time for my previous post perspective to gel into explicit formulations. There's a whole world of potential general semantics students out there who will dismiss general semantics out of hand if we tell them they have to give up their cherished beliefs that they have lived their lifetime with. The perspective that science and general semantics is "agnostic" with respect to gods and afterlives, because we don't deal with non-testable postulates and that an untestable axiom can be added to a system without introducing inconsistency, would go a long way towards facilitating the acceptance and spread of general semantics.

But making general semantics an "atheist" discipline severely restricts our target audience. It's like preaching to the choir. None of the heathens will have a chance of being converted.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Tuesday, May 8, 2007 - 07:10 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail


Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, May 10, 2007 - 12:59 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

I doubt the primitives considered their gods metaphhorical. Oops ... On second thought, that seems to apply to most of the population of Earth today.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, May 10, 2007 - 01:05 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

But seriously folks...
In order to be aware of metaphor we must have consciousness of abstracting and be aware that our language is not what it represents. There is clear evidence that even as late as a mere 2500 years ago this awareness was not a general part of society as evidenced by the philosophical record. 2500 years ago to speak a word meant that what it referred to existed. Not long ago.

Primitives who talked about gods held them to exist in reality, so it was not confusing metaphor with reality that lead to violence. Violence was already present, and the inability to recognize metaphor was the order of the day prior to consciousness of abstraction.

See Julian Jaynes for the origin of consciousness.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, May 10, 2007 - 07:53 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

If we are to judge whether or not religion provides any benefit under any circumstances for any individuals, what criteria or standards are we to use? Can there be any agreement on what criteria to use? Since the religious experience is highly personal, would not each participant not be the one to provide the standard of judgement?

Try this as a standard: "Works for me." where "me" refers to the person who claims a benefit.
If we discount what another person says is of value to them, do we not, in effect, discount that person?

What do "time-binding" ethics say about this?

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Friday, May 11, 2007 - 07:22 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Let me take the question to an even more abstract level and add an example.

Can something presumed to be real by the imaginer but believed to be imaginary by others be beneficial to the imaginer, you know, like a placebo?

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Friday, May 11, 2007 - 05:13 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

The placebo effect is thoroughly documented by mountains of evidence. A recent study, however, questions its effacy. See the Wikipedia article. Of particular note is "These studies tested medicine, placebo, and no treatment (that is, they merely monitored the patient). ... However, these researchers found that those not given any treatment were cured at about the same rate as the placebo groups, and that this was statistically significant. Of note is a fact from management that has not been crossreferenced. The Hawthorn studies showed that workers increased their productivity throughout a study testing working conditions, even when conditions were returned to the exact same starting situation. Example. Increase the lighting, decrease the lighting, return the lighting to the original setting. Productivity went up at each step and finished higher than when started. Another example is the well known effect that post-test scores are higher than pre-test scores in the control group that does not get any training between tests.

In short, "monitoring" the patient has nearly the same effect as an applied placebo substance. The conclusion that the placebo effect was weak or nonexistent cannot be construed as a failure because the test did not compare the monitored patients to patients who were not monitored.

Observation interfers with that observed.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Saturday, May 12, 2007 - 07:09 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Yes Indeed. Expressed in the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. For the non-mathematically inclined, I have a nice macroscopic analogy here.

Consider a blind man attempting to play marbles. In order to know where the marbles are, he has to touch them with one moving finger, but the act of touching them with enough force to feel them causes them to move. He can find out where they were but not where they are going.

There is also a very readable (non-mathematical) article here that relates the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle to inteference in measurement at the quantum level.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Saturday, May 12, 2007 - 10:10 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

And the thing becomes A or it becomes not-A as a result of the process of observation.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Saturday, May 12, 2007 - 10:13 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

David asked, Would it be fair to say that what it becomes (A or not-A) is depenedent on how we compose the fragements we abstract from WIGO?

I think not quite. In the interaction of observation the wave equation collapses to one of the probable values and the others "diasappear". There are multiple interpretations as to what this means. One considers both states A and not-A to "exist" simultaneously where the act of measuring "kicks" one into reality and the other one out. Another holds out for multiple universes. It's not our abstracting and composition that has the effect. It's because energy can only come in quanta, and the interaction produces a quantum which cannot be divided, so it must go one way or the other. It's a form of "atomism" but at a much lower level than its namesake. Once that interaction takes place, and the resulting energy is observed by us (absorbed), we abstract and then possible compose it. There is apparently one (spiritual) interpretation that holds that consciousness is involved.

There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature.[1]