IGS Discussion Forums: Learning GS Topics: Theoretical foundations of general semantics.
Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, November 3, 2005 - 11:49 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

I have not read it. I'm very sympathetic to the following quotes:

"It is not nature which imposes [time and space] upon us, it is we who impose them upon nature because we find them convenient." – Henri Poincarè, The Value of Science (New York: Dover, 1958) p 13
"If all the parts of the universe are interchained in a certain measure, any one phenomenon will not be the effect of a single cause, but the resultant of causes infinitely numerous." – Henri Poincarè, The Value of Science (New York: Dover, 1958) p 33
"Does the harmony the human intelligence thinks it discovers in nature exist outside of this intelligence? No, beyond doubt, a reality completely independent of the mind which conceives it, sees or feels it, is an impossibility." – Henri Poincarè, The Value of Science (New York: Dover, 1958) p 14

Have you knowlege of an on-line copy?

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Saturday, November 5, 2005 - 09:23 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail


More sympathy.

We could import the sense of the general semantics distinction between the event level and the object level into your translation and note that you / he said "objective reality" rather than "event reality". Unfortunately, "object" and "reality" clash as an oxymoron because "object" (a la general semantics) is a first level abstraction away from "reality" which normally would be taken as indicating the event level.

Regarding your note, these physical observations do not "confirm"; they merely "corroborate", the theory that describes them. Corroboration is weaker than confirmation, because confirm implies truth of the kind that cannot be wrong. These exist only in mathematics and logic. Logic statements can be confirmed by proof (excepting undecidability issues); theory statements can only be "corroborated" by observations. -- At least, that's the current state of the philosophy of science.

I can see Korzybski's "structure is the sole content of knowledge" as an abstraction from "So it is this harmony that is the only objective reality... [italics mine]"

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Saturday, November 5, 2005 - 01:19 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Milton said, "For me, the event level is an abstraction---a human-instruments abstraction.

The entire structural differential is an abstraction created by Korzybski. The "event level" therein is intended to represent that which we all can abstract from. Anything we can say about the event level is the abstraction, not the event level itself. So we must remember that Milton's view differs significantly from Korzybski's interpretation. I will try to bear this in mind whenever I read "event level" in Milton's posts. He seems, to me, to "identify" the level of abstraction at which we state theories about the event level with the event level itself.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Sunday, November 6, 2005 - 09:25 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

André wrote, "Regarding verified scattering of particles, I was not meaning that they confirm any theory. I meant that verified scattering confirms the physical existence of fundamental particles, irrespective of theories.

This is not true. Verified observation statements, that a particular scattering was seen at such and such a time, merely verifies a prediction, and a prediction is an observation type statement set in the future. When time reaches the appointed hour, and the precursor actions specified by the theory are carried out, then the prediction, if observed is verified, if not observed is not verified. However, the connection between the conditional if-then theory statement and the prediction is such that IF the theory is true, THEN the prediction will be verified. But to say that IF the prediction is verified THEN the theory is TRUE is not a valid logic statement derivable from the prior conditional. We say that the theory is "corroborated" in the sense that it is "not falsified". The theory has the form that IF the particles exist THEN these obversations will result. That does not preclude another theory of the form that IF such and such is true THEN these observation will also result. We cannot conclude that the particles that one theory describes "exist" in virtue of the observation of effects predicted predicated on their existance, because the effects predicted may also be predicted predicated on other structures existing.

Verified observations do not "confirm" any of dozens of theories that predict the observations. They merely corroborate ALL the theories that make the same prediction as the conditions observed. We don't actually "see" the particles. We see effects that may or may not have come from particles. Our understanding of the observations is conditional on the theory we use to make the predictions.

Briefly, a theory consists of a set of IF ... THEN ... statements. The THEN part makes specific observation type statements. Both must be indexed by time and place for experiments. An observation statement is either an observation of or a prediction of an event depending on whether its time index is in the past or the future. If it is in the past, it is either true, false, or indeterminate. It is true or false if observation took place, or indeterminate if no one observed the event in question. The point is that many such theories can predict "the same" event. Now let's jump up a level of abstraction and talk about T1, T2, and e1, where Ti represents different theories and e1 represents an event that is predicted to occur under conditions c at time t. If at time t under conditions c event e1 is observed, then both theories T1 and T2 as well as other unknown, unformulated, theories could have been the reason or cause of the event. If e1 was observed not to happen, we can use the logical equivalence [NOT(IF A THEN B)] = [IF (NOT B) THEN (NOT A)] to conclude that both stated theories are inconsistent, in that they predict a false observation. But [IF A THEN B] is NOT equivalent to [IF B THEN A], so we can NOT conclude that the theory is true if the observation is true. That is why we use "corroborate" rather than "confirm". In your case you have misidentified the "existence of physical basic particles" as something that can be an observation; it is not. Only observation conditions are predicted by the theory that there are such particles and that they interact in certain ways. It's called the standard model of physics, and we allready know that it is not "correct" because the standard model does not explain how the strong-electro-weak forces go together with gravity. The current model perspective uses the notion of exchange particles that transform, and electro-weak-strong are united in GUT, but gravity is not.

I think that their physical existence does not depend on any theory. We don't "know" that they exist. We only know that something produces the effects we do observe. What causes those effects is the subject of theory. The current theory is that there exist particles. Alternative theories exist.

Theories can be built to try to explain them, but these theories cannot possibly be more fundamental than the confirmed experimental results themselves. The theories are built to explain the observations; one such theory is the existence of particles. Be careful interpreting the details of the physical results. Anything you say about anything that is not a pure description of observations becomes a theory. We don't "see" a particle track. We see a string of small white fluffy puffs that quickly forms in a sequential manner, and then drifts away, spreading and disipating, like the cloud like stuff we sometimes see forming behind a plane in the sky. The fact that we call them "contrails" is already a "theory" statement, because "contrail" is short for "condensate trail", and it is the theory that the hot jet exhaust, containing water vapor or steam, is condensing to form a cloud like appearance. Has anyone actually gone up there and collected this stuff, analyzed it, and determined that it looks like the stuff in our local stream? So a single observation word, such as "contrail" may itself entail a complex theory. The vast majority of physical theory with respect to putative basic particles has been through the examination of photographs of "contrails" in cloud chambers, similar "trails" in photographic emulsions, and various kinds of detectors placed at angles to the target of a collider. Graphing the results shows "peaks" in the data. After much agonizing, the theorists make a decision to attribute the peak to a hypothesized particle with certain correlational properties, mass, velocity, etc.

We simply do not "observe" any "basic particles", and the evidence of their "existence" is strictly corroborational.

My view is that these physical observations and all the processes that unfailingly work on account of their reality have systematically proved to be true, just as securely as logic or mathematical truths. The observation statement have been "observed" to be true, subject to the common understanding of the words in the description. The theories that predict the observation statements are merely corroborated.

You seem to be "reifying" that which is theorized to exist as the (a) cause of the effects that are observed. Particles are not "proved" to exist. Their "existence" is theorized, and the observation statements corroborate the existence. A mineature contrail in a cloud chamber is observed; This can be described as "the track of a charged particle". It can also be described as the path of a mineaturized jet liner. With a little creativity, you can probably think up other tenable and untenable explanations or "theories" that predict the presence of contrail formation in cloud chambers. It is the mistake of identification that confuses the contrail with the theorized cause as a charged particle. The contrail is confirmed to exist when it is observed, but something not observed that is hypothesized to cause what is observed does not get "proven" to exist, because other causes might exist that have the same effect.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Sunday, November 6, 2005 - 10:45 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Milton wrote Ralph...Am I to understand, are you saying you can see directly, you can experience directly--without any instruments--the happenings we have registered with microscopes, electron microscopes, and other scientific instruments, the happenings, the whatever we have labelled "electrons, atoms, neutrinos, etc.?
Milton, you have it exactly backwards. I have been saying continually that we have no direct access to the event level. We can only experience our object level abstractions - responses to the event level. But we can use the term "event level" as a pointer to that "whatever it may be" that we infer "causes" our responses.

I use two primary phrases, "event level" and "what is going on". When I use either of these phrases, make no mistake; I do NOT presume that any structures I (or science) may hypothesize exists apart from my responses to, my abstractions from, the event level. "Electrons" are a way of organizing my perceptions. You may think that electrons "actually exist" "out there" in the "event level", but I do not. The "electron" is my hypothetical construct; a structure my brain "projects". My brain also projects its picture of my hand.

I basically "accept" that my abstractions are a response to a "zero level" of abstraction, but I do not accept that, for each or any particular "object" that I experience there exists a corresponding structure in the event level. I do believe I have a pretty good model, and it has strong predictive power. It predicts what I will experience next very well with regard to my "physical" life. When my perception of my hand approaches the perception of a ball, I am not surprised when I suddenly experince a feel of a ball that was predicted based on past experience. Can I know that my model is "correct"? No! Can I believe my model is very good? Yes! I do not "identify" my perceptual response with a hypothesized "thing" as the zero level of abstraction that my "object" is an abstraction from. Remember, the map (my object) is not the territory (the putative "thing").

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Sunday, November 6, 2005 - 10:55 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

PS. For all of you who think that "electrons" "really exist" apart from observers, your position is a commonly accepted one that is called "realism" in various forms - including "direct realism", "scientific realishm", and "naive realism". But general semantics is not a variety of realism. The map is not the territory. We can know the map by direct experience, but we cannot know the territory. We can experience the map, but we cannot experience the territory. Our reactions are maps. "What is going on" aka the "event level" is the territory which our perceptions are a map of. But the map ain't "it", as Bob Pula used to say. We know and experience only our maps, period. Don't tell me what's in the territory, because I don't know, and neither do you. We guess, but none of our guesses can ever be "proved correct" (even at the end of time). Some might be; some might not be; but we will never know which ones are correct, because corroboration is not confirmation.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Sunday, November 6, 2005 - 11:06 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Nora wrote I agree with Milton that our concept of "event-level" qualifies as an abstraction because it is a concept, and is not the stuff the concept tries to characterize. Acknowledging this does not imply that we don't think stuff exists, only that our experience of it and our conceptualization of "stuff-ness" both impose a "thing-ness" on it that we can only surmise applies. As soon as you become aware of something, you have reified "it" from "other".
Let me try a container-contained metaphor. You and Milton, when you talk about "event level" are talking about the "content" of the container. I am not. When I use the term 'event level' I am speaking only of the container. The container may be full of "stuff", but when we respond to that stuff, we form "objects" of representation - maps.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Sunday, November 6, 2005 - 11:16 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail


You expressed it well. Every"thing" we talk about is theory dependent, even including existence. I don't believe I'm a brain in a vat. I used to say that I'm working from a "not yet disconfirmed model", but as we know that the current standard model of physics is "wrong", I can now say that I'm working from a disconfirmed, but robust model.

Incidentally, Newtonian physics falls into this category for ordinary day-to-day engineers.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Sunday, November 6, 2005 - 11:24 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

André said Well, I "know" that they exist, otherwise, my own body could not physically exist, and I know it does, as well as my brain and neocortex, since I am thinking.

I see that you have swallowed Descartes "Cogito" hook, line, and sinker. I take it that you do not give credibility to any of the refutations that have followed.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Sunday, November 6, 2005 - 11:38 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Between the second and the third bullet on my page Sentient Sovereignty one can insert "I may not exist" as a consequential inference from the first two bullets.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Tuesday, November 8, 2005 - 12:21 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Gee Milton,

You said, "A message to Ralph. Hi Ralph...There are other time-binders with something to share. You might have forgotten this. Some of us would like this message board to survive. I predict it will not if you continue to write as if you got it and others don't. I am aware that I am making an inference and could be mistaken. (Some of my abstractions Nov. 7 05.)

Are you a moderator of this board?

And are you speaking in an official capacity?

Are you judging how you think I write? Do you think an "inference" is not a type of judging?

Survival of this board is much more likely to depend on whether or not people remain interested in general semantic than on how I write.

Nobody has to read anything I write.

I might have forgotten other time-binders? The presence of others and their sharing is why I'm here. Why are you here?

You seem to think I must have a lot of power, if you think that the manner in which you judge me to write can causally effect the survivability of this board.

The logic of that escapes me.

Your inferences are wrong, about both how I write as well as about the likelihood of the writing style of one individual affecting the survivability of this board.

Has someone on the staff told you that they will considering "killing" this board if you cannot influence my participation in the way you or they want?

By the way, When Korzybski wrote and developed general semantics, he tried to integrate "all" of the then current science and philosophy. Both have progressed in the meantime.

Are you asking me to stop sharing the developments and perspectives in these areas that I see relevant to the continued evolution of general semantics?

Are you asking me to stop participating in time-binding?

What, Milton, is the purpose of your remarks?

Are you risking prodding me into responding to every detail?

If this board can't survive the presentation of new facts and theories of neuroscience, the theories of science, and the arguments of philosophy, that does not say much for the value of general semantics, does it?

It does not look like you think very much of the other time-binders and their capabilities on this board if you think it likely that the board won't survive because of the style of one member.

You are putting me up against the entire community and suggesting that I'll "win" some nefarious project intended at destruction of this board?

If I had that kind of power, and those "evil" motives, we would not be having this conversation.

Your remarks are laughable. It gave me a good chuckle. But the fact that you were apparently serious is really saddening.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Tuesday, November 8, 2005 - 01:26 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail


It's not just what we 'say' but also how we 'say' it.

Agreed. I give close attention to this with every word I write.

One of the ways I think we can practice general semantics starts with our being keen observers of what we think, say, write, etc., and how we think, say, write, etc.

Agreed. I give close attention to this with every word I write.

From our observations, we can, when appropriate, modify our language and ideas based on non-allness, non-identity, non-elementalism, etc.

Agreed. I give close attention to this with every word I write.

I also use the semantic bargain, and I express my beliefs with commitment and precision, unlike some who speak in abstract generalities.

Consider the following to be presented in the same spirit as your proposition. If some things do not grow, they are likely to die.

Time for some fun.

There are many things.
Some grow; some do not.
Of those that grow, some die anyway; some do not.
Of those that do not grow, some die; some do not.

"likelihoods" are probability functions, usually based on past observations.

The metaphor implicit in the word "die" is based on an analogy with living things.

Of living things, all species that do not reproduce by fission (in which one individual becomes two) have been observed to die one way or another, usually by being eaten, so the likelyhood of a living thing dying depends upon whether it is fissionable or not. The vast majority of fissionable entites also get eaten, or otherwise die in hazardous environmental conditions, whether it has a chance to grow or not.

When a fissionable entity divides, the original individual ceases to exist without dying; two new individuals are "born" at this time, so there is a small probability that an individual thing will not die, irrespective of whether it grows or now.

Some fissionable organisms divide without growing.
One generation may grow significantly followed by several fissions with no intermediat growth.

Cryptobiotic tardigrades have been observed to come out of suspended animation after over a hundred years, so some things who are not growing do not die.

What would it take for your proposition to be false?

Your proposition can be expressed as
There is some x such that IF x does not grow THEN the probability that x will die is greater than zero (likely to die).

E(x) :: there is some x.
-E(x) :: there is no x.
g(x) :: x grows.
- :: "not".
-g(x) :: x does not grow.
d(x) :: x will die.
p(z) :: probability of z.
p(d(x)) :: probability x will die.
p(d(x)) > 0 :: the likelyhood that x will die is greater than zero. (a very conservative interpretation)
... -> ... :: IF ... THEN ...

Your proposition becomes:


By logic,
A -> B is equivalent to -A OR B
so your proposition becomes

E(x) [g(x) OR p(d(x))>0]

What would it take for it to be false?

-{E(x) [g(x) OR p(d(x))>0]} would have to be true.

E(x) -[g(x) OR p(d(x))>0]

But -(A OR B) is equivalent to -A AND -B,
and -p(d(x))>0 is equivalent to p(d(x))=0.

so the negation of your proposition becomes

E(x) -g(x) and p(d(x))=0]

There are some things that do not grow and do not die, and we have seen that such things do exist.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Tuesday, November 8, 2005 - 03:38 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Thanks, Bob,

Regarding "technobabble". On more occasions than I care to try to enumerate, Milton has used abstract technological terms, but subsequent questions concerning how he might "flesh" these terms out with detailed structure have been, not only unanswered, but declined by Milton on a number of occasions. He has stated that he declines to provide any more explanation on too many occasions for me on this and other discussion forums.

For me, when someone uses an abstract technologically used term, I expect them to be able to bring that usage down to a lower level of abstraction by providing the supporting structure behind their use. "Mind field" is the most recent example. Kurt Lewin developed psychological field theory many years ago. Robert Ornstein published a book on the topic. Neither of these are direct analogies with electromagnetic field theory, which uses exchange particles, as the means of the field. Milton presented high level abstract technical terms in the context of electro-magnetic field theory with no details for the degree of the metaphor's mapping. He explicitly offered terms that are not related to the field theory he was citing, as the "next level" of detail, proving that his metaphor could NOT be developed with knowledge of electro-magnetism.

Perhaps I "jumped the gun", and labeled Milton's formulation, this time, without giving him the chance to back up his claim with details - a not too unreasonable inference, considering the high frequency with which he declines to provide supporting detailed structures when asked to do so.

I am prepared to recant my judgement if and when Milton can provide a detailed explanation of the metaphor for which he "name-dropped" the terms "field", "electricity", "magnetism", etc.. "Show me the beef."

The principle of general semantics that I'm relying on is extensional orientation in the sense of bringing the discussions down to less abstract levels. If the abstract formulations don't make sense, or seem inconsistent, move down a level of abstraction and lay out the structure and relations. Continue the process for as many levels of abstracting as necessary.

As I've said in other contexts, neither Milton nor I have "thin skins", and our differing perspectives go back more than 30 years.

Technically, labeling Milton's formulation "techno-babble" is not an "ad hominem" argument.

An "ad hominem" argument is to attack the person rather than the argument, my judgement (not argument) was directed at the formulation itself, not at Milton.

See this explanation.

Take another look at Milton's core claim, "From electrochemical activity of neurons there emerges a 'mind-field': cognitive functions -- awareness, thinking, imagining, etc. These in turn affect electrochemical activity of neurons.

Electro-chemical activity of neurons represent a "physical" level of description. "Awareness, thinking, imagining, etc.," represet an abstract level of description, a way of organizing and seeing the workings or goings on at the physical level. To say that this more abstract way of looking at what is going on "affects" electrochemical activity of neurons" is to make what Gilbert Ryle calls a "category mistake".

Neurons affect neurons. The causal relation must be at the same level of abstraction. You can, if you choose, review the philosophical literature on the body-mind problem in the context of dualism regarding the problems of how a "non-material" substance can interact with a material substance.

Milton makes that mistake, because the "process description" is not a cause that affects the process itself.

Milton wants to start with chemistry, take that up a level of abstraction to cognitive functions, as if one "caused" the other, forgetting that the other is merely a different (more abstract) way of organizing or viewing the first one, and then somehow claim that this goes back down the levels of abstraction in a cause-effect manner. This is confusing levels of abstracting.

Neurons affect neurons. In one case we look at neurons firing, arrange them into patterns, see that one neuron "inhibits" surrounding ones in a columnar like process, note that that neuron can induce the firing of other neurons in another place in the brain that activates motor neurons.

We can describe the "same process" by saying that the toad "saw" a bug, stuck out its tongue and ate it. But we do not say that this neuron firing "caused" the cognitive function of seeing a bug, and because of hunger, that caused the firing of the tongue neuron. Cognitive functions and neuron firings are different levels of description of one structure.

This works just as well if you talk about the party-goer who grabbed a sandwich from the snacks table. We have not, to my knowledge, had probes attached to neurons of humans in such circumstances, but we have had probes attached to neurons in the toad cases. (Neuron "mappings" have been done during open brain surgery on conscious patients.)

I've given you an abstract description of my objection, and I've backed it up with a structural example which comes from some actual research. I've also shown the flaw in Milton's formulation, because it represents confusing levels of abstraction - a "category mistake".

My offer to recant stands, but Milton must provide the structural details and relations involved, and he must now also show how/why his explanatory formulation overcomes the category mistake objection.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Tuesday, November 8, 2005 - 11:28 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

André wrote, "Yes, I am deeply disappointed that no one at the IGS has understood the reason why Korzybski definitely expected (with good reason) that a major revision of GS would become reality within 25 years (one generation)."

Would you care to say what you think that "good reason" "is"? (Or point to a URL where you formulate it).

Just getting rid of the two-valued Aristotelian way of thinking for ALL aspects of one's thinking is already a challenge in its own right that few completely pull through, let alone putting time-binding in complete perspective, and extending the set to the complete species.

It would seem that you might perhaps have succumbed to "anti-Aristotelianism".

"Aristotelian" logic, based on binary truth values, as updated and as developed into modern mathematics and logic is not something that Korzybski ever advocated "getting rid of", in fact quite the opposite. Korzybski has extolled the virtues of using modern scientific methods, including the mathematics and logic that they are based on in our everyday lives. He has even labeled those who fail to do so as behaving "un-sanely". Remember, that "Aristotelian" logic is included as a subset of non-Aristotelian reasoning and multi-valued logics. Non-Aristotelian reasoning and multivalued logic is an extension of traditional binary truth value based logic and mathemantics. To think of Aristotelian and non-Aristotelian as "mutually exclusive" is actually thinking in terms of a binary distinction. One does not use Aristotelian logic exclusive or non-Aristotelian logic; one uses Aristotelian logic or one uses Aristotelian logic and non-Aristotelian logic together.

Where people go wrong is confusing logic levels and semantic levels, where the categories are "fuzzy". The difficulty is with inappropriately trying to use two-valued logic to cover probabilities and under-defined terms.

Most people think that the opposite of "proven wrong" is "proven true". This works fine at logic levels, but it fails where semantics and incomplete information is the rule. That an empirical theory was not proven false by an experiement does not mean that it was proven true. This is using binary logic where the distinctions are not binary. It comes down to people not understanding the difference between "confirm" and "corroborate". Confirm and disconfirm form a binary pair. Corroborate and disconfirm do not. Logic that deals with binary pairs won't work when applied to non-binary pairs.

One should not "eliminate" binary logic; that was never Korzybski's aim. But one should make sure that one uses binary logic only at the level of logic, that, at the level of semantics, care is taken when to and when not to use binary logic. If you have probabilities or likelihoods involved, then binary logic is not up to the task. That does not mean that binary logic is totally suspect and never to be used, yet it sound like this is what you are advocating. I hope not.