Section B. Multiordinal terms. (433-442)

In the examples given in Section A, we used words such as 'proposition', which were applied to all higher order abstractions. We have already seen that such terms may have different uses or meanings if applied to different orders of abstractions. Thus originates what I call the multiordinality of terms. The words 'yes', 'no', 'true', 'false', 'function', 'property', 'relation', 'number', 'difference', 'name', 'definition', 'abstraction', 'proposition', 'fact', 'reality', 'structure', 'characteristic', 'problem', 'to know', 'to think', 'to speak', 'to hate', 'to love', 'to doubt', 'cause', 'effect', 'meaning', 'evaluation', and an endless array of the most important terms we have, must be considered as multiordinal terms. There is a most important semantic characteristic of these m.o terms; namely, that they are ambiguous, or ∞-valued, in general, and that each has a definite meaning, or one value, only and exclusively in a given context, when the order of abstraction can be definitely indicated.

These issues appear extremely simple and general, a part and parcel of the structure of 'human knowledge' and of our language. We cannot avoid these semantic issues, and, therefore, the only way left is to face them' explicitly. The test for the multiordinality of a term is simple. Let "Us make any statement and see if a given term applies to it ('true', 'false', 'yes', 'no', 'fact', 'reality', 'to think', 'to love',.). If it does, let us deliberately make another statement about the former statement and test if the given term may be used again. If so, it is a safe assertion that this term should be considered as m.o. Anyone can test such a m.o term by himself without any difficulty. The main point about all such m.o terms is that, in general, they are ambiguous, and that all arguments about them, 'in general', lead only to identification of orders of abstractions and semantic disturbances, and nowhere else. Multiordinal terms have only definite meanings on a given level and in a given context. Before we can argue about them, we must fix their orders, whereupon the issues become simple and lead to agreement. As to 'orders of abstraction', we have no possibility of ascertaining the 'absolute' order of an abstraction; besides, we never need it. In human semantic difficulties, in science, as well as in private life, usually no more than three, perhaps even two, neighbouring levels require consideration. When it comes to a serious discussion of some problem, errors, ambiguity, confusion, and disagreement follow from confusing or identifying the neighbouring levels. In practice, it becomes extremely simple to settle these three (or two) levels and to keep them separated, provided we are conscious of abstracting, but not otherwise.

For a theory of sanity, these issues seem important and structurally essential. In identifications, delusions, illusions, and hallucinations, we have found a confusion between the orders of abstractions or a false evaluation expressed as a reversal of the natural order.

One of the symptoms of this confusion manifests itself as 'false beliefs', which again imply comparison of statements about 'facts' and 'reality', and involve such terms as 'yes', 'no', 'true', 'false',. As all these terms are multiordinal, and, therefore, ambiguous, 'general' 'philosophical' rigmaroles should be avoided. With the consciousness of abstracting, and, therefore, with a feel for this peculiar stratification of 'human knowledge', all semantic problems involved can be settled simply.

The avoidance of m.o terms is impossible and undesirable. Systematic ambiguity of the most important terms follows systematic analogy. They appear as a direct result and condition of our powers of abstracting in different orders, and allow us to apply one chain of ∞-valued reasoning to an endless array of different one-valued facts, all of which are different and become manageable only through our abstracting powers.

For further details about the theory of types, the reader is referred to the literature on the subject and Supplement II4; here I shall give only a few examples of the complexities and difficulties inherent in language, and show how simply they become solved by the aid of [non-A] general semantics and the resulting 'consciousness of abstracting'.

As an example, I quote Russell's analysis of the 'simple' statement 'I am lying', as given in the Principia. 'The oldest contradiction of the kind in question is the Epimenides. Epimenides the Cretan said that all Cretans were liars, and all other statements made by Cretans were certainly lies. Was this a lie? The simplest form of this contradiction is afforded by the man who says "I am lying" ; if he is lying, he is speaking the truth, and vice versa. . . .

'When a man says "I am lying", we may interpret his statement as: "There is a proposition which I am affirming and which is false." That is to say, he is asserting the truth of some value of the function "I assert p, and p is false." But we saw that the word "false" is ambiguous, and that, in order to make it unambiguous, we must specify the order of falsehood, or, what comes to the same thing, the order of the proposition to which falsehood is ascribed. We saw also that, if p is a "proposition of the nth order, a proposition in which p occurs as an apparent variable is not of the nth order, but of a higher order. Hence the kind of truth or falsehood which can belong to the statement "there is a proposition p which lam affirming and which has falsehood of the nth order" is truth or falsehood of a higher order than the nth. Hence the statement of Epimenides does not fall within its own scope, and therefore no contradiction emerges. .

'If we regard the statement "I am lying" as a compact way of simultaneously making all the following statements: "I am asserting a false proposition of the first order," "I am asserting a false proposition of the second order," and so on, we find the following curious state of things: As no proposition of the first order is being asserted, the statement "I am asserting a false proposition of the first order" is false. This statement is of the second order, hence the statement "I am making a false statement of the second order" is true. This is a statement of the third order, and is the only statement of the third order which is being made. Hence the statement "I am making a false statement of the third order" is false. Thus we see that the statement "I am making a false statement of order 2n + I" is false, while the statement "I am making a false statement of order 2n" is true. But in this state of things there is no contradiction.'5

Clearly, if we should apply the language of orders of abstractions to the above case, a similar outcome is reached more generally and more simply. If we should confuse the orders of abstractions, we might naturally have an endless argument at hand. This example shows how a confusion of orders of abstractions might lead to insoluble verbal problems, and how semantically important it is that we should not identify, and that we should be conscious of abstracting, with the resulting instinctive feeling for this peculiar structural stratification of 'human knowledge'. We should notice that with the confusion of orders of abstractions, and by the use of m.o terms, without realizing their -valued character, we may always construct an endless array of such verbal arguments to befog the issues, but that as soon as we assign a definite order to the m.o terms, and so settle a specific single meaning in a given context for the many meanings any m.o term may have, the difficulties vanish.

As the above analysis applies to all m.o terms, and these terms happen to be most important in our lives, there is no use in trying to avoid these terms and the consequences of using them. Quite the contrary; often it is structurally necessary to build a m.o term--for. instance, 'abstracting'--we must take for granted that it has many meanings, and indicate these meanings by assigning to the term the definite order of abstraction. Thus, such a term as 'abstracting' or 'characteristic'., might be confusing and troublesome; but 'abstracting in different orders'., is not, as in a given context we may always assign the definite, order and single meaning to the term. .

It has been repeatedly said that a m..o term has, by structural necessity, many meanings. No matter how we define it, its definition is again based on other m.o terms. If we try to give a general 'meaning' to a m.o term, which it cannot have, further and deeper analysis would disclose the multiordinality of the terms by which it is defined, restoring once more its multiordinality. As there is no possibility of avoiding  the above structural issue, it is more correct and also more expedient to recognize at once the fundamental multiordinality of a term. If we do so, we shall not get confused as to the meaning of such a term in a given context, because, in principle, in a context its meaning is single and fixed by that context.

The semantic benefits of such a recognition of multiordinality are, in the main, sevenfold: (1) we gain an enormous economy of 'time' and effort, as we stop 'the hunting of the snark', usually called 'philosophy', or for a one-valued general definition of a m.o term, which would not" be formulated in other m.o terms; (2) we acquire great versatility in expression, as our most important vocabulary consists of m.o terms, which can be extended indefinitely by assigning many different orders and, therefore, meanings; (3) we recognize that a definition of a m.o term must, by necessity, represent not a. proposition but a propositional function involving variables; (4) we do not need to bother much about formal definitions of a m.o term outside of mathematics, 'but may use the term freely, realizing that its unique, in principle, meaning in a given context is structurally indicated by the context; (5) under such structural conditions, the freedom of the writer or speaker becomes very much accentuated; his vocabulary consists potentially of infinite numbers of words, and psycho-logical, semantic blockages are eliminated; (6) he knows that a reader who understands that ∞-valued mechanism will never be confused as to the meaning intended; and (7) the whole linguistic process becomes extremely flexible, yet it preserves its essential extensional one-valued character, in a given case.

In a certain sense, such a use of m.o terms is to be found in poetry, and it is well known that many scientists, particularly the creative ones, like poetry. Moreover, poetry often conveys in a few sentences more of lasting values than a whole volume of scientific analysis. The free use of m.o terms without the bother of a structurally-impossible formalism outside of mathematics accomplishes this, provided we are conscious of abstracting " otherwise only confusion results.

It should be understood that I have no intention of condemning formalism. Formalism of the most rigorous character is an extremely important and valuable discipline (mathematics at present); but formalism, as such, in experimental science and life appears often as a handicap and not as a benefit, because, in empirical science and life, we are engaged in exploring and discovering the unknown structure of the world as a means for structural adjustment. The formal elaboration of some language is only the consistent elaboration of its structure, which must be accomplished independently if we are to have means to compare verbal with empirical structures. From a [non-A] point of view, both issues are equally important in the search for structure.

Under such structural empirical conditions the m.o terms acquire great semantic importance, and perhaps, without them, language, mathematics, and science would be impossible. As soon as we understand this, we are forced to realize the profound structural and semantic difference between the [non-A] and A systems. What in the old days were considered propositions, become propositional functions, and most of our doctrines become the doctrinal functions of Keyser, or system-functions, allowing multiple interpretations.

Terms belong to verbal levels and their meanings must be given by definitions, these definitions depending on undefined terms, which consist always, as far as my knowledge goes, of m.o terms. Perhaps it is necessary for them to have this character, to be useful at all. When these structural empirical conditions are taken into account, we must conclude that the postulational method which gives the structure of a given doctrine lies at the foundation of all human linguistic performances, in daily life as well as in mathematics and science. The study of these problems throws a most important light on all mysteries of language, and un the proper use of this most important human neurological and semantic function, without which sanity is impossible.

From a structural point of view, postulates or definitions or assumptions must be considered as those relational or multi-dimensional order structural assumptions which establish, conjointly with the undefined terms, the structure of a given language. Obviously, to find the structure of a language we must work out the given language to a system of postulates and find the minimum of its (never unique) undefined terms. This done, we should have the structure of such a system fully disclosed; and, with the structure of the language thoroughly known, we should have a most valuable tool for investigating empirical structure by predicting verbally, and then verifying empirically.

To pacify the non-specialist, let me say at once that this work is very tedious and difficult, although a crying need; nevertheless, it may be accomplished by a single individual. Because of the character of the problem, however, when this work is done, the semantic results have always proved thus far-and probably will continue so-quite simple and comprehensible to the common sense, even of a child.

One very important point should be noted. Since language was first used by the human race, the structural and related semantic conditions disclosed by the present analysis have not been changed, as they are inherent in the structure of 'human knowledge' and language. Historically, we were always most interested in the immediacy of our daily lives. We began with grunts symbolizing this immediacy, and we never realize, even now, that these historically first grunts were the most complex and difficult of them all. Besides these grunts, we have also developed others, which we call mathematics, dealing with, and elaborating, a language of numbers, or (as I define it semantically) a language of two symmetrical and infinitely many asymmetrical unique, specific relations for exploring the structure of the world, which is, at present, the most effective and the simplest language yet formed. Only in 1933, after many hundreds of thousands of years, have the last mentioned grunts become sufficiently elaborate to give us a sidelight on structure. We must revise the whole linguistic procedure and structure, and gain the means by which to disclose the structure of 'human knowledge'. Such semantic means will provide for the proper handling of our neurological structure, which, in turn, is the foundation for the structurally proper use of the human nervous system, and will lead to human nervous adjustment, appropriate s.r, and, therefore, to sanity.

Human beings are quite accustomed to the fact that words have different meanings, and by making use of this fact have produced some rather detrimental speculations, but, to the best of my knowledge, the structural discovery of the multiordinality of terms and of the psychophysiological importance of the treatment of orders of abstractions resulting from the rejection of the 'is' of identity-as formulated in the present system-is novel. In this mechanism of multiordinality, we shall find an unusually important structural problem of human psychologics, responsible for a great many fundamental, desirable, undesirable, and even morbid, human characteristics. The full mastery of this mechanism is only possible when it is formulated, and leads automatically to a possibility of a complete psychophysiological adjustment. This adjustment often reverses the psycho-logical process prevailing at a given date; and this is the foundation, among others, of what we call 'culture' and 'sublimation' in psychiatry.

Let me recall that one of the most fundamental functional differences between animal and man consists in the fact that no matter in how many orders the animal may abstract, its abstractions stop on some level beyond which the animal cannot proceed. Not so with man. Structurally and potentially, man can abstract in indefinitely many orders, and no one can say legitimately that he has reached the 'final' order of abstractions beyond which no one can go. In the older days, when this semantic mechanism was not made structurally obvious, the majority of us copied animals, and stopped abstracting on some level, as if this were the 'final' level. In our semantic training in language and the 'is' of identity given to us by our parents or teachers or in school, the multiordinality of terms was never suspected, and, although the human physiological mechanism was operating all the while, we used it on the conscious level in the animalistic way, which means ceasing to abstract at some .level. Instead of being told of the mechanism, and of being trained consciously in the fluid and dynamic s.r of passing to higher and higher abstractions as normal, for Smith, we preserved a sub-normal, animalistic semantic blockage, and 'emotionally' stopped abstracting on some level.

Thus, for instance, if, as a result of life, we come to a psychological state of hate or doubt, and stop at that level, then, as we know from experience, the lives of the given individual and of those close to him are not so happy. But a hate or doubt of a higher order reverses or annuls the first order semantic effect. Thus, hate of hate, or doubt of doubt-a second order effect-has reversed or annulled the first order effect, which was detrimental to all concerned because it remained a structurally-stopped or an animalistic first order effect.

The whole subject of our human capacity for higher abstracting without discernible limits appears extremely broad, novel, and unanalysed. It will take many years and volumes to work it out; so, of necessity, the examples given below will be only suggestive and will serve to illustrate roughly the enormous power of the [non-A] methods and structure, aiming to make them workable as an educational, powerful, semantic device.

Let us take some terms which may be considered as of a positive character and represent the structure of 'culture', science, and what is known in psychiatry as 'sublimation'; such as curiosity, attention, analysis, reasoning, choice, consideration, knowing, evaluation,. The first order effects are well known, and we do not need to analyse them. But if we transform them into second order effects, we then have curiosity of curiosity, attention of attention, analysis of analysis, reasoning about reasoning (which represents science, psycho-logics, epistemology.,); choice of choice (which represents freedom, lack of psycho-logical blockages, and shows, also, the semantic mechanism of"" eliminating those blocks); consideration of consideration gives an important cultural achievement; knowing of knowing involves abstracting and structure, becomes 'consciousness', at least in its limited aspect, taken as consciousness of abstracting; evaluation of evaluation becomes a theory of sanity,.

Another group represents morbid semantic reactions. Thus the first order worry, nervousness, fear, pity., may be quite legitimate and comparatively harmless. But when these are of a higher order and identified with the first order as in worry about worry, fear of fear., they become morbid. Pity of pity is dangerously near to self-pity. Second order effects, such as belief in belief, makes fanaticism. To know that we know, to have conviction of conviction, ignorance of ignorance., shows the mechanism of dogmatism; while such effects as free will of free will, or cause of cause., often become delusions and illusions.

A third group is represented by such first order effects as inhibition, hate, doubt, contempt, disgust, anger, and similar semantic states; the second order reverses and annuls the first order effects. Thus an inhibition of an inhibition becomes a positive excitation or release (see Part VI) ; hate of hate is close to 'love' ; doubt of doubt becomes scientific criticism and imparts the scientific tendency; the others obviously reverse or annul the first order undesirable s.r.

In this connection the pernicious effect of identification' becomes quite obvious. In the first and third cases beneficial effects were prevented, because identification of orders of abstractions, as a semantic state, produced a semantic blockage which did not allow us to pass to higher order abstractions; in the second case, it actually produced morbid manifestations.

The consciousness of abstracting, which involves, among others, the full instinctive semantic realization of non-identity and the stratification of human knowledge, and so the multiordinality of the most important terms we use, solves these weighty and complex problems because it gives us structural methods for semantic evaluation, for orientation, and for handling them. By passing to higher orders these states which involve inhibition or negative excitation become reversed. Some of them on higher levels become culturally important; and some of them become morbid. Now consciousness of abstracting in all cases gives us the semantic freedom of all levels and so helps evaluation and selection, thus removing the possibility of remaining animalistically fixed or blocked on anyone level. Here we find the mechanism of the 'change of human nature' and an assistance for persons in morbid states to revise by themselves their own afflictions by the simple realization that the symptoms are due to identifying levels which are essentially different, an unconscious jumping of a level or of otherwise confusing the orders of abstractions. Even at present all psychotherapy is unconsciously using this mechanism, although, as far as I know, it has never before been structurally formulated in a general way.

It should be added that the moment we eliminate identification and acquire (he consciousness of abstracting, as explained in the present system, we have already acquired the permanent semantic feeling of this peculiar structural stratification of human knowledge which is found in the psycho-logics of the differential and integral calculus and mathematics, similar in structure to the world around us, without any difficult mathematical technique. Psycho-logically, both mathematics and the present system appear structurally similar, not only to themselves, but also to the world and our nervous system; and at this point it departs "Very widely from the older systems.

Let me give another example of how the recognition of order of abstractions clears up semantic difficulties.

I recall vividly an argument I had with a young and very gifted mathematician. Our conversation was about the geometries of Euclid and Lobatchevski, and we were discussing the dropping and introduction of assumptions. I maintained that Lobatchevski introduced an assumption; he maintained that Lobatchevski dropped an assumption. On the surface, it might have appeared that this is a problem of 'fact' and not of preference; The famous fifth postulate of Euclid reads, 'If a straight line falling on two straight lines makes the interior angles on the same side less than two right angles, the two straight lines, if produced indefinitely, meet on that side on which are the angles less than two right angles'. We should note, in passing, that a straight line is assumed to be of 'infinite' length, which involves a definite type of structural metaphysics of 'space', common to the A and older systems. This postulate of Euclid can be expressed in one of its equivalent forms, as, for instance, 'Through a point outside a straight line one, and only one, parallel to it can be drawn'. Lobatchevski and others decided to build up a geometry without this postulate, and in this they were successful. Let us consider what Lobatchevski did. For this, we go to a deeper level-otherwise, to a higher order abstraction-where we discover that what on his level had been the dropping of an assumption becomes on our deeper level or ;higher order abstraction the introduction of an assumption; namely, the assumption that through a point outside a straight line there passes more than one parallel line.

Now such a process is structurally inherent in all human knowledge. More than this, it is a unique 'characteristic=of the structure of human knowledge. We can always do this. If we pass to higher orders of abstractions, situations seemingly 'insoluble', 'matters of fact', quite often become problems of preference. This problem is of extreme semantic importance, and of indefinitely extended consequences for all science, psychiatry, and education in particular.

The examples I have given show a most astonishing semantic situation; namely, that one question can sometimes be answered 'yes' or "no', 'true' or 'false', depending on the order of abstractions the answerer is considering. The above facts alter considerably the former supposedly sharply defined fields of 'yes' and 'no', 'true' and 'false', and, in general, of all multiordinal terms. Many problems of 'fact' on one level of abstraction become problems of 'preference' on another, thereby helping to diminish the semantic field of disagreement.

It is interesting to throw some light on the problem of 'preference'. Which statement or attitude is preferable? The one claiming that Lobatchevski dropped a postulate, or the one claiming that Lobatchevski introduced a new postulate? Both are 'facts', but on different levels, or of different orders. The dropping appears as an historical fact; the introducing as a psycho-logical fact inherent in the structure of human knowledge. The preference is fairly indicated; the psycho-logical fact is of the utmost generality (as all psycho-logical facts are) and, therefore, more useful, since it applies to all human endeavours and not merely to what a certain mathematician did under certain circumstances.


Annotated bibliography of general semantics papers
General Semantics and Related Topics

This page was updated by Ralph Kenyon on 2009/11/16 at 00:27 and has been accessed 5986 times at 47 hits per month.