IGS Discussion Forums: Learning GS Topics: Korzybski's general uncertainty - its time-binding origin.
Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Friday, August 22, 2008 - 12:10 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

In philosophy Korzybski's general uncertainty perspective is called "Fallibilism", a notion that has been around for quite a long time, since the days of Xenophanes who I call the first general semanticist


His epistemology, which is still influential today, held that there actually exists a truth of reality, but that humans as mortals are unable to know it. Therefore, it is possible to act only on the basis of working hypotheses - we may act as if we knew the truth, as long as we know that this is extremely unlikely. This aspect of Xenophanes was brought out again by the late Sir Karl Popper and is a basis of Critical rationalism.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Sunday, August 24, 2008 - 01:26 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Korzybski did not have to read Xenophanes directly, as Xanophanes's ideas have been discussed and quoted down through the ages by other philosophers. Charles Sanders Peirce is credited with coining the term. "The term “fallibilism” comes from the nineteenth century American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce, although the basic idea behind the term long predates him." (The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and Korzyski references and Quotes from Peirce. Moreover the world had just seen a scientific upheaval in which the long accepted laws of physics were shown to have been false. One might say that the awareness of the theory (verbal map) is not what is going on (the territory) was boosted into prominent awareness among scientists, academics, and the intelligencia, right after the turn of the century - around Einstein's time.

Korzybski's quote "which introduces a fundamental and entirely 'general Non-Aristotelian principle of uncertainty'." is not a new idea; it's fallibilism applied to the second level of abstraction - between object and word if Korzybski's use of the word 'object' is as I use it, to stick to the object level of the structural differential. And, if he is using the word 'object' in the more common way, to refer to a putative "thing" in the event level, as in a "physical object", then his application is very directly "fallibilism". You want to give Korzybski credit for being the originator of the notion; he is not. Korzybski is not "introducing" the notion, as he claims in your citation; he is "recalling" the notion from the time-binding record. While Korzybski makes no direct quotes of Xenophanes, the ideas carried down through history in the time binding record, and the term was coined by C.S.Peirce, with whom Korzybski was familiar.

Do not identify the Heisenburg uncertainty - a precise modern equation from physics - with Korzybski's general uncertainty - the notion that we cannot know the event level because we only know our abstractions - our map. Heisenburg is but a single example in a specific field - the field of theoretical physics, and it take a human brain abstracting to make a judgement that it can be evaluated as a theoretical model predicting and showing the relation between two numerical measurable (quantity) quality abstractions, namely position and momentum (also time and energy). It is not an example of our maps not matching the territory, as in general uncertainty about our maps; it is a map structure - a theory statement about limits to measurements. General uncertainty is a semantic notion that says we cannot know whether our symbolic maps are "true"; we forever have various degrees of uncertainty, depending inversely on the degree of corroboration of the maps in question. Heisenburg's uncertainty principle, however "IS" a theoretical map that describes and predicts limits to measurements. Fallibilism / Korzybski's general uncertainty principle has to do with our not being certain that the Heisenburg uncertainty principle accurately reflects what is going on. We hold the Heisenburg uncertainty principle as a conditional theory, subject to eventual disconfirmation after a next big physics paradigm shift. Like Newton's equations, it likely will still be as useful as it is today when such disconfirmation occurs, but like Newton was superceded by relativity, Heisenburg's uncertainty principle may yet be superceded by a revised future physics.

Treating the heisenberg uncertainty principle, which is a theoretical map, like it represents an uncertainty between itself as a map and what is going on is to commit Gilbert Ryle's category mistake. My six year old road map continues to exhibit (growing) Korzybskian general uncertainty, as I can not always depend on it to reflect the territory. Technically my consciousness of abstracting holds an awareness of the general uncertainty between maps and territories and applies that to this map when I go to use it. Part of that map, however is a key that explains the relationship between various symbols on the map; it includes a sub-map showing the scale of the big map relative to what is going on. The "equation" of that relation, like the Heisenburg Uncertainty principle, is about relations between symbols and measured quantities, not about the uncertainty of accuracy of those symbols and what they refer to.

Korzybski's general uncertainty principle is a different kind of thing from the Heisenburg uncertainty principle. The former is about the semantics of symbols - what they may refer to particularly relations; the other is a theory about relations between symbols and predicts measurement restrictions.

That we must retain varying degrees of uncertainty - with no absolute certainty - for every formulation about what is going on - reflects the general uncertainty principle.
In this case the uncertainty is in the ontology.

That we predict and expect a limit to our ability to simultaneously measure two quantities reflects a particular theory. In this case the uncertainty is in the measurements after taking the ontology as given.

The differences is between uncertainty of an ontology versus uncertainty of measurements within a particular ontological commitment.
Hence - a category mistake to characterize one as a subset or example of the other.

Since fallibilism is essentially uncertanty in ontology - that our maps are not the territory - it is proper to say that Korzybski's general uncertainty is a particular expression of, a rewording of, a synonymous name for fallibilism.

Denying that because fallibilism does not mention Heisenberg is arguing with a fallacy based on a category mistake, and your argument fails.

A fallacy than one should avoid is called the expert fallacy (by me). "I can't see how" therefore "it's not possible".

I can't see how artists can make beautifule paintings that give me a sense of depth; I can not do anything like that; but I do not conclude that it can not be done. So, one should not say that IF once cannot see xxx THEN one can't benefit from xxx.

You have not established that I do not critisize myself nor that I do not accept criticism from others; to think so is a judgement, and a judgement build on a limited and inadequate map.

I would like to see some hard science research on the claim that "learning and using general semantics improves the sanity of the human race". So far it all seems to be anecdotal supposition taken by the proponents as "obvious" to anyone who understands - just like any self-sealing system.

"Semantic blockages" and "not being conscious of abstraction" represent high-level judgements when applied by one person to another. To be scientific both must have well-defined and generally acceptable criteria and standards by which to perform tests to make such a determination. Do you know of any such tests? Do you know of any such agreemment as to what these words "mean" in a way that can reliably be transmitted to others? Have you every partaken in measuring "consciousness"? How is that different from "awareness"? Until these "sacred" terms and phrases in general semanticn can be clearly defined in a way that can reliably be transmitted to others; your criticism reduces merely to personal judgement.

When some general semanticists claim that some notion originated with Korzybski, a notion that can be found in the time-binding record prior to Korzybski, others, who are more familiar with both the time-binding record and the notion in question in it may dismiss general semantics on the grounds that it not only does not practice what it preaches - that is - to consciously time-bind and give proper credit to sources, but that it also may be concealing its sources to "puff-up" its appearance of "greatness", and the continued multiple associations of other notions in the same manner produces a "laughable" appearance of the ignorant proclaiming to have discovered what was reported a long time before.

By acting in some way as our "conscience" by applying general semanticts to itself, I reminding us that we are gnats standing on the shoulders of giants, not a giant (Korzybski) standing on gnats, as some would have us sound like.

Your ad-hominim arguments are self-serving to you. My concern is to express general semantics in sufficient extensional detail to reduce uncertainty and to get away from the platitudes, soundbites, and highly abstract sayings that are so often mouthed.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Sunday, August 24, 2008 - 09:47 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Thomas, You said nothing about how you think the principle of uncertainty should be stated or where it comes from, consequently you present no objective formulations for others to compare to what I wrote. You say by inuendo that you do not see anything in my writings that reflects - to your mind - the principle. "Labeling it "non-Aristotelian", whether by Korzybski or you, does alter its history. Your words reflect a high level judgement, but you do not back it up with any substance. You don't have to like me, but you should not be allowing that bias to enter your arguments, and the presence of such ad hominins to associate with does nothing to clarify how you came to the judgement that I don't reflect the general uncertainty principle. Is this your gut reaction to me and my posts - mixing up your rejection of style with substance?

Anybody can say or imply with inuendo "You're wrong" without any explanation. You judge but you do not engage. You could say "From my experience I do not see what your are saying." and take responsibility for not being able to follow my presentation.

A maxim of general semantics asks us to move to more extensional levels. When you provide your positive formulations as how you articulate (abstract to words) your understanding of the general uncertainty principle and where you see it coming from in the time-binding record, then readers may be able to compare and contast both our sources as well as our formulated interpretations of those sources. Who knows, with some extensional formulations we might even learn something from each other; I've done my part; I present my formulations, reasoned arguments, and some source citations. Are you prepared to do likewise? Or are you just going to sit on the sidelines and hurl unsupported judgements? Though his arguments have been flawed, Milton, at least, is willing to put some of this views into more explicit formulations. There's always the possibility that, like Milton and me, we just might not come to agreement on formulations. (Obviously we cannot measure agreement on concepts by intuition or notions, as they fall under the individual application of the general uncertainty principle.) 'Nuff said. (For now.) Try dispensing with ad hominim arguments and judgements against the person.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Monday, August 25, 2008 - 01:16 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Yes, I also said if it's applied to the first level of abstracting; the principle applies also. It is in the nature of the abstracting process - mapping - from one level to another that the map is not the territory. In any situation where the map is an inductive inference, a hunch, a supposition, an abstraction that interprets the prior level, then that general uncertainty applies. One area of abstracting where it might not apply is in strict valid deduction - deduction that uses only valid rules of inference - hence limited to symbolic level ... In that case, then, where a machine can follow the rules unerringly, there would be no uncertainty as a result of the abstracting rule; but there would still be the uncertainty that the underlying machine process might have failed to follow the rule. As I have been describing for quite some time, quoting Korzybski, the map is not the territory (the abstraction is not what it is abstracted from); the map covers not all the territory (the abstraction does not include all that it is from), and the map reflects the map makers (the abstraction has additional characteristics not from the source, but from the abstractor.

Every abstraction has some degree of general uncertainty in that it differs from that from whence it was abstracted - except possibly an identity function, which we would probably not call abstraction.

"Intellectual arrogance" sounds like a personal judgement to me, one with no substance or technical presentation to deal with in such a pronouncement.

Nora wrote As I see it, one could say that Heisenberg's principle reveals the unreliability of our MAP of the way the world works:

Heisenberg starts with the presumption that our map represents characteristics of what is going on, namely an abstraction named a particle, and a process known as measuring. ASSUMING this map is "correct", it predicts limits to measurements. It does not question if the abstraction to a particle, or an abstraction to the measurement might not be the way to characterize what is going. You and I, with consciousness of abstraction, AND some commitment to the three mapping principles, recognize that the formulation the uncertainty principle may be disconfirmed in the future some time. That is entirely different from the content of the Heisenburg uncertainty principle itself, which states that the product of the uncertainty in the simultaneous measurement of the position of a particle and the uncertainty of the momentum of that same particle must be greater than half Plank's constant divided by two PI. formula.

If you abstract this principle by getting rid of the formula, you still have the specification of a relation involving an ontological commitment to particles, position, and momentum. It does not question the ontological commitment to these particles and measurements. If you further abstract to suggest that one may question the principle itself, that is essentially no different from questioning the entire map. Uncertainty in whether or not the Heisenberg uncertainty principle applies as a map is very different from the uncertainty in the measurments of particles assumed by the Heisenburg uncertainty principle. I hope I have said this sufficiently differently for you to see the distinction between the uncertainty of the map and a particular uncertainty within the map.

We are uncertain of our entire model of the universe (and all parts of it).
Our model of the universe include the formula for a specific uncertainty of measurements.

To put these two together in a way that represents their levels of abstraction yields something like.

We are uncertain that the theory that there is a specific measurement limit to uncertainty between two characteristic of particles applies to what is going on.

Note that these uncertainties differ by a level of abstraction, hence they cannot be "identified" as of the same type.

The outer uncertainty only shows itself when predictions begin to fail, resulting in disconfirming the content which contains the inner uncertainty as a special model.

for example, previous physics offered a mental model that allows us to believe we could "calculate" BOTH the location AND velocity of a particle, but Heisenberg showed that this model deludes us. He pointed out, in my opinion, that our previous models included the illusory independence of "quantities" such as "velocity regardless of location" and "location regardless of velocity". This represents the paradigm shift that include a change of a model. The replacement paradigm get corroborated because it was designed to explain the observations that resulted in disconfirming the replaced paradigm.


Indeterminacy in measurement was not an innovation of quantum mechanics, since it had been established early on by experimentalists that errors in measurement may lead to indeterminate outcomes. However, by the later half of the eighteenth century, measurement errors were well understood and it was known that they could either be reduced by better equipment or accounted for by statistical error models. In quantum mechanics, however, indeterminacy is of a much more fundamental nature, having nothing to do with errors or disturbance.

In other words, the indeterminancy of Heisenburg measurements has nothing to do with the error or "uncertainty" of the model itself.

I see Heisenberg as talking just as much about *semantics* as *physics*--he revealed the limits of what we can *say* about a particle, not just whether we can have confidence in our measurements

Heisenburg's theory only has "derived" semantics because we relate the names of the characteristics to be measured with the procedures for measurement. The theory itself is the reflection of a property of the mathematics being applied to the physical quantities. In the mathematics the equation that becomes Heisenberg's uncertainty principle is established not by the relation to the events in what is going on (semantics); it is established as a consequence of the structure of the mathematics independently of to what that mathematics is applied. As such it falls to the level of syntax and logic, not yet semantics. But when you go out and "connect" by abstracting objects derived from what is going on to the labels in the mathematics, then you get applied mathematic, and the inequality becomes labeled as Heisenberg's uncertainty principle.

Confidence in our measurements is not the issue; it never was. Proper scientific measurements "always" specify an error tolerance, usually equal to the smallest division on the instrument in use.

I have just reviewed the collected works CD. On page 107 of Science and Sanity Korzybski interprets the Heisenberg uncertainty principle as providing corroboration of his notion of "non-elementalism" in the sense of not verbally splitting the "observer" and the "observed", because any attempt to measure one quantity "disturbs" another quantity. He then proceeds to generalize this relationship to non-physical and unmeasurable "characteristics". (Another discussion)

Korzybski wrote: I accept the absolute individuality of events on the un-speakable objective levels, which necessitates the conclusion that all statements about them are only probable in various degrees, introducing a general principle of uncertainty in all statements. S&S p. 93.

In that paragraph Korzybski introduces his "general principle of uncertainty" as applying to all statements about any events as being only probable in varying degrees.

Korzybski also wrote: As on the objective, un-speakable levels, we deal exclusively with absolute individuals and individual situations, in the sense that they are not identical, all statements which, by necessity, represent higher order abstractions must only represent probable statements. Thus, we are led to oo-valued semantics of probability, which introduces an inherent and general principle of uncertainty. S&S P, 405

He repeats that "definition" in slightly different words, but his "meaning" is clear. It applies to the relationship between what is going and our statement about what is going on as being uncertain as a general principle.

Korzybski wrote The present [system] was formulated ... free from identification. This led to the formulation of fundamental general principles which underlie all human `knowledge', such as non-identity, requiring the recognition of structure as the only possible content of `knowledge' and so leading to the formulation of `similarity of structure'; non-elementalism as a general principle; the general principle of uncertainty; oo-valued general semantics,. It is naturally very reassuring to find that the newest most important achievements of science have followed these principles unconsciously and have
applied them before they were explicitly formulated.
S&S pp 540-1. Here he gives credit to the notions being in existence prior to his formulating them explicitly.

By free from identification he is referring to the characteristics at one level never being identical to characteristics abstracted from an another level, and he refers back to the general principle of uncertainty he previously "defined".

In August of 1941, on Page 193 of Papers from the Second American conference on General Semantics, Wendell Johnson wrote "The uncertainty principle which expresses the effect of the observer on what he observes can be extended to include the effect of the speaker on what he names.

This is not a reference to "the map is not the territory"; it is a reference to "the map reflects the map maker". It refers back to Heisenberg's specific model of interaction.

Keyser wrote: (1) The author's unqualified denial of identity seems to show that his own principle of non-identity is regarded by him as an indubitable fact and not as just a convenient postulate to be employed merely as a hypothetical implier. One wonders how such indubitability may have been ascertained by him and whether it seems to him to rime well with another principle of his -- 'The general principle of uncertainty in all statements'. (p, 93) in General Semantics Bulletion, Numbers 26 & 27, 1960, P 106.

Here Keyser points out that Korzybski presents non-identity "absolutely" "unqualified denial" and, to Keyser, that seems incompatible with the general principle of uncertainty. (Topic for another discussion), but it corroborates that Korzybski's "general principle of uncertainty" refers to the A and B of general semantics while the "generalized uncertainty principle" refers to the C of general semantics (reflects the map maker [by interference]). [Note my research found a number of cites that identifed the "generalized uncertainty principle as a subsequent development in quantum physics predicting that any simultaneous measurement of two characteristics will "interfere" with each other, and is interpreted as "the observer interferes with the observed".

Now that I have found this reference to "generalized uncertainty principle" in the world of physics (and more) as referring to the fact that observation interferes with the observed, I will differentiate that from "general principle of uncertainty" which is clearly the formulation Korzybski used to indicate the probability that anything we say about what is going on may be false. No matter how strongly corroborated a model is, it remains subject to future disconfirmation, and hence is uncertain. Korzybski even refers to the "restricted" uncertainty principle when he is talking about Heisenberg's equation. (S&S p 107 & 310)

Vilmart, there is a subtle difference between skepticism and fallibilism. Fallibilism suggest that there are truths, but we cannot know that we know them. Our supposed knowledge is probably wrong. Skeptics vary considerably, but tend towards not knowing and emphasize suspending judgement. (Sounds to me like "Your theories are probably wrong" versus "you can't know, so you should stop trying." - and I'm not going to research it further at this late hour.)

Thank you.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Monday, August 25, 2008 - 11:06 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Hi Ben, I can disagree without being "disagreeable". What do you find "disagreeable" about my use of the word 'origin'? My use is pretty well consistent with this post.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Monday, August 25, 2008 - 12:36 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Sorry Vilmart, I sometimes have more than one post window open, and it was late at night, with my wife hollering for me to come to bed. The post was meant as a comment on Steve's post.

In that regard, Steve, Korzybski brought fallibalism out of more esoteric philosophy (C.F. Peirce) and combined it with Russell's theory of types, getting the application of fallibilism at all levels represented in the structural differential. (I suspect there was no way that he was going to use the word 'fallibilism' to describe the relation between the source and target of any abstraction process, and I suspect he was excited about the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which he labeled 'restrictive'. I see the resulting "general principle of uncertainty" as arising from the "general uncertainty principle" that the observer interferes with what is observed, which Korzybski describes as "non-elementalistically putting observer and observed back together (my words)" as a natural result of combining the non-identity of abstraction combined with Russell theory of types - more practically and generally called levels of abstraction. If you put this togther with Korzybski's notion of multi-ordinal, then the "general principle of uncertainty" becomes a multi-ordinal expression (rather than a term) which means the same type of action at each level of abstraction, though different specifically at each level.

Levels of abstraction has its origin in Russell's theory of types.
Non-Identity goes all the way back to Heracleitus.
The general principle of uncertainty (Korzybski's name for the multi-ordinal version) goes back through Peirces fallabilism to Xenophanes, but in those earlier incarnatons only applied via a one-level approach. It is scientifically supported by the "principle of general uncertainty" (the observer interferes with the observed) the generalized version of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.

I agree with you that the "generalized principle of uncertainty" applies to all levels of abstraction. What I wrote in my post was dealing specifically with the useage of the word 'object' which largely applies in two different ways to both the event level and the object level. That I wanted to be clear on.

When we abstract from one verbal level to another something much more that a single level of abstraction is going on. See "Neural abstraction to verbal levels process" in Consciousness of Abstraction.

Yes, I described it as his attempt to synthesize "all" (scientific) knowledge and philosophy into a coherent whole, and his reaction to the war droving him in the direction of trying to use the description of man being differnt from animals as an ethical system prescribe some aspects of behavior. Our entire culture rests on our cooperation in the use of symbols to time-bind and to build societies. Animals compete with each other for their survival. See my The General Semantic 'Ethic' of Cooperation. People tend to forget that, because of time-binding, we are so much "better" at competing than the animals ever were.

Why can't we all agree? Well, if we all agreed, what would be the incentive to try to improve? Would we stagnate with the status quo? Perhaps the only proufound thing I ever said was this.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Monday, August 25, 2008 - 09:51 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Well, Ben, I quoted others who place the "origin" of fallibilism with Xenophanes. Korzybski differs in that he is applying "the general principle of uncertainty, as he calls it, with the same name to multiple levels of abstracting with respect to the structural differential.

I have read every context in which the word "uncertainty" is used by Korzybski in the Collected Works CD. I have also read translations of Xenophanes and compared them with Korzybski's use of uncertainty in multiple contexts.

When I first read Xenaphanes, I instantly saw that the basic concept he was getting at was the same as Korzybski was saying. Remember, that I did not start with philosophy; I started with general semantics in 1973, and I was active in correspondence, going to seminars, and discussions for a full decade before I started work on my philosophy degree. Moreover, I went into philosophy precisely because Korzybski quoted so many philosophers. My reason for doing so was to get more of the relations between what Korzybski said and those whom he quoted. I "fought" with professors over the general semantics interpretation and what they were teaching. Some agreed; some did not. Before I got involved with general semantics, however, I was trained in the theory of nuclear power as well as the practical application of it in the Navy; I was also the top math kid all through college, and when I first encountered Korzybski's bio, I immediately felt a kinship as we both experienced engineering, mathematics, and military service. During the following ten years, my exposure to general semantic was only through the institute, its seminars, the bulletin, Etc., and the NYSGS. Xenophanes did not come into my awareness until after I began studying the sources which Korzybski cites. My specialty became epistemology and metaphysics, logic, and the philosophy of science - All the things covered in Science and Sanity. During the next ten years I related philosophy, mathematics, logic, and science to general semantics. It was during this period that I learned of the origins of most of the general semantics principles, speculations, claims, etc. As I said before, I was instantly struck that Xenophanes and other ancient Greek philosophers expoused on all the main ideas and principles of general semantics. It was also becoming apparent that a significant percentage of the current crop of general semantics showed little knowledge or interst in these connections, and it was also become apparent that many proponents were claiming that Korzybski was the originator of unique new ideas - a certain naivety I initially shared. But Korzybki's quotes of many of the sources headed every chapter, so the evidence that he was un-original was there for all to see. I was embarrassed often enough by my lack of experience with the source material.

The more I came to appreciate time-binding, the more natural citing sources, giving credit to the originators became. The more I came to appreciate the distinction between semantic reactions and formulations, the more I began to see relations and connections obscured by an overly rigid and limited vocabulary. (Sound paradoxical coming from me? The relation between formulations and semantic reactions is many to many. Limited vocabulary and rigidity reduces many-to-many to few-to-few.) I also began to see more and more what I can best describe as degenerating deviations. "Be consicous of assumptions, and be prepared to for them to be wrong" degenerated to "assumptions are bad, and we should not make them". "Use only valid logic" degenerated to "don't use two valued logic". And more. Typically these viewpoints are an early learning stage in consciousness of abstracting. Novices first think assumptions are "bad" and they tend to try to catch each other in an assumption. I've see this time and time again at seminars and conferences. The more mature realize it is impossibly not to make assumptions; we just have to be ready for them to be wrong and act accordingly.

During my decade of philosophy study (following a decade of general semantics study and participation) during which I continued to absorb and reflect on general semantics, I used the perspective I first learned from general semantics backed up by the philosophical sources together with my knowledge of mathematic, logic, the infinite, and nucleonics to solve an age-old philosophy problem. Now the solution seem almost trivial, but no one previously "got it". I simply put diverse pieces together and a clear picture emerged which I have subesquently refined and abstracted to the point where in terms of a few common metaphors, anyone interested in the problem and with an ability to active listen can understand. It's almost "ho hum" now. (Of course, philosophers are not esteemed for solving an old problem; they are esteemed for coming up with a new one.)

My solution came from having the "right" combination of experiences.
Ben, if you cannot see that Korzybski's "general principle of uncertainty" matches the translated fragments of Xenophanes, or that Korzybski took the structure of fallibilism, which he got from C.S. Peirce, and applied it at multiple levels of abstraction, which he got from Russell's theory of types, in conjunction with non-identify of characteristics from one level of abstraction to another, which he got from Heracleitus, applying fallibilism with non-identity at Russell's levels, and gave it his own "multi-ordinal" name - "the general principle of uncertainty", then I submit that you just have not yet acquired the necessary source experiences. Until you do, your conclusions will follow from your experienced premisses, and your rules of inference. Just like the diagram on the cover of the General Semantics Bulletin for many years, you can't get here from there (until your [or my] premises change), and we will remain in disagreement.

According to evolutionary epistemology, fragments of ideas combine and recombine in the circuits of brains in the background, like fragments of DNA floating around in cells. Every once and a while, a number of these connect together and result in what we can call a new idea. Rememember that the fragments represent portions of ideas, and these are communicated through time-binding, so different people have differnt circuit activations - memories - of having heard bits and pieces of stuff. When enough different fragments are known in part or in whole by enough different people, the likelyhood that one or more people will "spontaneouly" arrive at a similar enough idea goes up in proportion to the degree of shared experience in the culture, and to the degree that enough "triggering" type representations exist. By the same structure and process, a person with enough of the "right pieces" will be able to understand and match similar ideas. Xenophanes, C.S. Peirce, William James, Popper, and Korzybski all contain enough of similar parts, even though separated in time and language. Readers with enough of the pieces can put two and two together. "Even if a man should chance to say the complete truth, he could not know that it was true" - In the ancient way of speaking, "say the Truth" was the way to indicate that a statement was satisfied by events. Phrases like "the way things were said to be" corresponded to this. Xenophanes statement, updated for grammar and paradigm shifts says that when we build a model of what is going on, we cannot know that it reflects exactly what is going on, in otherwords, what our words say is not what is, and this is non-identity. So if what we do say is tested and is strongly corroborated, we will tend to think it is less likely to be false, and this corresponds to some uncertainty in the formulation's applicaiblity.
In other words, my knowlege of the world, being an expressed map, and the map not being it, is uncertain.

You can trace Korzybki throught Kaiser, through Peirce, back to Xenophanes. And in parallel, from Popper, who was adopted by the Institute.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Tuesday, August 26, 2008 - 04:45 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Yours is a judgement - that my pursuit is less scientific and more "creative".

I'll offer this judgement, acknowledged as such. your view does not accord with the available academic record as abstracted by various philosophers and sources, which I quoted. Your perspective on this is in the direction of attributing more originality to Korzybski than the evidence I've read warrent. When I report the connection to C.S. Peirce, that is documented. Based on my experience with both general semantics and academia, I agree. Consequently, you will just have to remain, in your words "disagreeable" about it. I'm confident that, should you dig more deeply into the related and historical literature, you will eventually change your mind. But you appear to have "dug in your heels" on this one item, for now. So be it. It's your map, not mine, and not the sources I cite.

Origin of the idea, "idea" being a relatively invariant semantic reaction capable of being expressed in a varying number of formulations.

You don't see what I see? Happens all the time, and not just with you and me.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Tuesday, August 26, 2008 - 08:51 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

The protocol that presumes the connection in science and philosophy, for "credit" purposes holds that if there is access to the source, then the connection is presumed and credit is given to the source. Direct citation is not required. Korzybski quotes C.S. Peirce in a number of places for different effect, consequently, by the conventional academic custom, had opportunity to have assimilated the notion from him. The burden of proof is on the claim that the connection was not there; not that the connection was there. Korzybski was familiar enough with C.S. Peirce to quote him in a number of passages, and to refer to him in others. You can find passages in the book Korzybskd references, under "The Architecture of Theories" showing that Korzybsk was exposed to the ideas, but you won't see this if you read the text myopically.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Wednesday, August 27, 2008 - 11:37 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Believe what you want. Just like any "theory" it is never "proof certain" that somebody did or did not "re-invent" the wheel, and you will find a number of discussions of cases where claims to independent discovery have been resolved by the implicit rule that I made explicit. In the case of something like Fallibilism, which was circulating in the academic community prior to Korzybski's writings, and the broad exposure to philosophy that Korzybski shows, it's a no-brainer.

You seem to exhibit two blocks.
1. You don't see the formulations as similar enough, and that means you have not abstracted them to a common structure.
2. You insist that the Korzybski was original on this subject.

I've already given you a reference that Korzybski actually quotes from. I have no intention of taking you by the hand and leading you through the connections.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, August 28, 2008 - 11:17 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Ben, Check Korzybski's list of references in S&S. I should not have to tell you this, as I already said to check Korzybki's references. This hand-holding, and I'm not going to do it any more.

As I have described, there are three principles vis-a-vis uncertainty in the area of concern.

1. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which Korzybski calls "restricted", and if you search the collected work, you will find them.
2. There is the "general principle of uncertainty", which is also called the extended Heisenburg uncertainty principle, which, loosely stated, is that the observer interferes with the observed, and which Korzybki claims supports his non-elementalism idea - to not separate observer and observed. (The map reflects the map maker.) You will find this exact title on the internet with some discussion of who made the generalization.
3. There is what Korzybsk calles "the general principle of uncertainty", and this derives directly from Peirce's falibilism - that we cannot know if what we say is "true"; it is always uncertain. This notion goes all the way back to Xenophanes. Korzybski applied this to every level of abstraction and called it "the general principle of uncertainty". It relates to "the map is not the territory". Must I explicitly point out that difference in the title of these later two is the order in which the words are used?
In 2 we have a subject "uncertainty" modified by a phrase 'general principle'.
In 3 we have a subject "general uncertainty" characterized as a principle.

These are two very different notions; the former applies to the observer's effect on the observed (the map reflects the map maker), and the later applies to the inability to know the territory (the map is not the territory). Neither is original with Korzybski. Though they are both used in his collection of principles, they are not synthesized into one abstraction, and neither is a subordinate factor in the other.

Milton, wrong again. Your comment is both the fallacy of analogy and ad hominem; it deals not one bit with the content, and you seem to have missed or ignored the "you seem" which implicitly carries "to-me-ness".

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, August 28, 2008 - 11:47 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

PS. To the best of my knowledge, I'm the first one who directly and explicitly related the formulations "general uncertainty principle" and "The Map reflects the Map Maker", but the notions involved are essentially very similar, now that I've related the formulatons, most anybody should be able to "see" the similarity of structure in the concept by intuition. Many proponents of general semantic in my experience have claimed that the third basic principle of general semantics, the "C" of the "ABC's" of general semantic is "the map is self-reflexive", and that belief has inhibited any research and acceptance of the map reflectes the map maker as the more basic notion. The vast majority of maps, used in the general sense, do not have a self-image or key, but every map reflects its maker. Some abstractor had to produce the map. The "general principle of uncertainty" or "extended Heisenberg Uncertainty principle, that the observer interferes with the observed, was in vogue when Korzybski was writing Science and Sanity.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, August 28, 2008 - 12:20 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Thomas, Good one! :-)

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, August 28, 2008 - 12:37 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail


"Worth it" entails a value jugement by the abstractor relative to his or her purposes, needs, desires, etc.. What's "worth it" to one may not be "worth it" to another.

As I evaluate it "good" timebinding is like the chain of receipts for evidence in legal situations. If that chain is broken, then the value and credibility of the evidence is suspect. In science, if we need to re-check a principle, belief, etc., as happens when things don't quite work out the way we expect, even in the practical matter of applying our beliefs/models/theories to daily life, we need to have the chain of connections available in order to review the reasoning that lead to our failed expectation. Of course, we don't always have to do this; we can accept failure and give up on our goal. That's always an option. But with persistence, we may want that chain of connections available. "Good" (my idea) timebinding makes that chain of reference available, in principle if not explicitly. Not everyone must use it, most will simple take assertations as authoratative using reverse ad hominem (ad crumenam) to judge their accepability, but at some point doubt and a need to get a better result will direct somebody to go back down the chain of reasoning through the time-binding record looking for flaws. We make this easier by documenting the connections as we make them. (Part of what Milton calls "conscious time-binding".) If you are looking for "authoratative" answers in general semantics, well, I think you will have to decide for yourself based on your ability to think and evaluate and what your general and specific purposes and goals are. Obviously you can't count on us to present one single viewpoint. :-)

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, August 28, 2008 - 02:06 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

The Sufi say, "One cannot tell someone something they are not yet prepared to hear."
I trust that Ben, when he thinks it over in a delayed symbol response, he will, or he will not, look up Korzybski's references and read Peirce's book.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Friday, August 29, 2008 - 12:37 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

I gave you the chapter / section heading in Peirce's book that Korzybski listed in his references. (Note the times on our previous two posts; I had not seen yours.)

Ben, you wrote "No reference to Peirce.", then you say 4. You need to do better research than that. Page 777 of the fourth edition, bibliograph entry 402. 11 references in Science and Sanity. Four in the first congress, three in the second congress.

Neither process follows under the rules of strict logic, but those are not the rules used in deciding to whom to award credit. The rules are designed to minimize duplicate credit, and they presume that if one person had access to the other the one person learned or absorbed from the first. It takes a strong argument that the second person had no opportunity to get an idea from another for that person to be awarded duplicate credit. Look at the invention of calculus as an example. There seems to be a presumption that if it was possible for one person to get the idea from another, even when there is no evidence of citation or reference (when the second person gives no credit) the benefit of the doubt is given to the existence of the the connection. In other words, the second person is treated as having seen the source, but neglected to give explicit credit. It happens quite commonly when an idea has currency and is circulating. Korzybsk had opportunity. He even read and referred to passages in one of Peirces book that contains discussion around the idea, though he did not bother refer to the material. In the American legal system we have "innocent until proven guilty"; the reverse applies to the expression of ideas ("intellectual property"). Anything resembling another is presumed to be taken from it unless proven otherwise. We have copyright and patent laws to enforce the protection, and even if somebody does develop some idea, they do not get origin credit if the idea already exists in the time-binding record.

I stand by this.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Friday, August 29, 2008 - 12:50 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Read Peirce's book referenced by Korzybki. "Assume" that Korzybski read the whole book, not just the quotations he copied.

You really "ought" to have a copy of the collected works CD, so you can search with a tool that does not leave much out. When I was working on my dissertation, I had to read whole books word-for-word in conjunctions with commentary on the books as well as commentary on the commentary. You now have a time-binding technology advancement. Korzybski's collected writings are available for electronic search. But even if you don't, look up the Peirce book title, and get it on inter-library loan or by some other means and read it. I even gave you the chapter / section heading so you would not have to read the whole thing. It would, however, benefit you to absorb the whole, as well as one or two others of his books, as I believe Korzybski would have read more than just one book of his at the time; but he only needed to cite the ones he actually quoted from.

Before he left Chicago, how was his inteaction with academia and scientists? When he traveled to present his theories to various forums, who did he network with? What were his connections?

In medial ecology terms, he was most certainly not a disconnected medium originating ideas; he collected everything he could with tendrils like an octopus into ever nook and cranny of then current science and philosophy, as well as education and "mental" health. He had the opportunity to begin where the others before him had left off. (Including Peirce and Xenophanes.)

Korzybski thought he had the cure (for many ills) - that if we just reasoned rationally with valid arguments, and if we maintained constant awareness of fallibilism by any other name (preferrably his), we could cure most "mental" disorders, we could stop society from using un-sane methods, and we could develop an ethic using the principles that would result in, ultimately, no more wars, in short, another path to utopia. 87-75 years later it has not happened, and his way of expressing ideas is still not a major influence.

75 years later we still do not have agreement as to what "general semantics" "is", except for an extremely "fuzzy" collection of formulations variously held or not by various individuals. In fact, anytime someone even tries to answer the question in the affirmative, we create a giant uproar exclaiming, essentially, "That's NOT what it is. AND moreover no one can say what it is." That does not bode well for the semantics of the phrase "general semantics" which is supposed to be a name with a "well defined" referent.

We philosophers have it easy. We have a nice quick short answer to "What is philosophy?" We answer simply "the love of wisdom".

By the way, I did some follow-up research and discovered that the exact words used by the Institute's articles of association are "Linguistic, Epistemologic, Scientific, Research and Education". I believe I first heard "modern open applied epistimelogy" at general semantics seminars with and from Bob Pula. The above could be described as research and education vis-a-vis scientific linguistics and epestimology., where scientific entails the idea of keeping up to date with current theories. Unfortunately, it misses the human interaction aspect in these words. But from education, we get the notion of applied. We educate to teach for understanding and use. By whom?, Why, by humans, of course.

Scientific research (in language use and knowledge representation [including by humans]) results go into education which serves human understanding and use of language and knowledge.