Organism-as-a-whole-in-its-environment VS Organism-in-its-environment-as-a-whole

I would look at the difference in the following way. The "as-a-whole" qualifier applies to different focus figures.

"Organism-in-its-environment-as-a-whole" would remind us not to try to elementalistically split the organism from its environments. We never exist independently of our environments or contexts - a very "general-semantics" idea. - but not the original one.  It is my alteration of the phrase.

"Organism-as-a-whole-in-its-environment" would remind us not to try to elementalistically split aspects of the organism - such as in body-mind vs Cartesion dualism. This is the original general semantics notion.


The non-Aristotelian system grew out of the new evaluation in 1921 of human beings as a time-binding class of life (18). This evaluation is based on a functional rather than zo÷logical or mythological approach and considers "man" as "an organism-as-a-whole-in-an-environment." Here the reactions of humans are not split verbally and elementalistically into separate "body," "mind," "emotions," "intellect," or different "senses," etc., by themselves, which affects the problems of "perception" when considered from a non-elementalistic point of view. With a time-binding consciousness, our criteria of values, and so behavior, are based on the study of human potentialities, not on statistical averages on the level of homo homini lupus drawn from primitive and/or un-sane evaluational reactions which are on record (23).[. KORZYBSKI, A. What I believe. In Manhood of humanity (2d ed.) by the same author. Lakeville, Conn. Institute of General Semantics, 1950]

Quoting Korzybski (1946)

"From an engineering point of view, in the sense that theories should be WORKABLE and TEACHABLE, giving SIMPLE TECHNIQUES, a GENERAL theory of non-elementalistic EVALUATION, called GENERAL SEMANTICS was formulated by Alfred Korzybski in 1933.... Today, the simple 'organism-as-a-whole' principle is antiquated, since we deal actually only with an organism-as-a-whole-IN-AN-ENVIRONMENT, and on human levels, this must include the neuro-semantic (evaluational) and neuro-linguistic environments ...." (Collected Writings, p575)

 Korzybski's response to "organism-as-a-whole" was to tack on "in-an-environment".  A later general semanticist added "at-a-particular-time-and-place".

Another "definition" given at drive yourself sane is

Organism-as-a-Whole-in-Environments - the non-elementalistic notion that an individual functions as a 'totality' within a given environment; sensing-thinking-feeling- moving-doing-environment form an inseparable whole.

At we have


Broaden awareness of what is going on, 'inside' and 'out'

Cope with uncertainty

My focus.

In the context of co-evolution theory, it immediately became apparent to me that we cannot treat the organism independently of its environments, and I began to use the phrase-word "organism-in-its-environment-as-a-whole". In modern ecology theory the organism and its environment "co-evolves", with each adapting to the other.  Multiple organisms all inter-evolve in a complex co-evolutionary process with each organism having all the others as part of its environment.  General semanticists, in my experience, tend sometimes strongly to neglect the context. (See also some of the excesses illustrated in What is General Semantics?)

A particularly striking example is the general semanticist who exhibits no sensitivity to the sensibilities of others when it comes to using words with culturally laden values.  This insensitive general semanticist asserts that "the word is not the thing", so he (or she) feels free to use all manner of otherwise offensive words.  In doing so he or she has tried to elementalistically split himself from his environments.  He is neglecting the fact that we exist in semantic environments - where words induce culturally associated meanings and reactions based on the individual listener's experiences.  When confronted, the insensitive general semanticist dismisses the complaint by asserting, "The word is not the thing.". "The word is not the thing." has become, in my experience, an example phrase that justifies "bad behavior" by general semanticists in a manner analogous to "survival of the fittest" justifying "bad behavior" under the rubric of social Darwinism.

So, in order to emphasize our interdependencies in the contexts of our semantic environments, I have taken to using the phrase "organism-in-its-environment-as-a-whole".  Most listeners don't even recognize that I have used a phrase that differs from the historical general semantics one, however, an exposure is provided that may subconsciously permit greater understanding later.  Mostly, my focus has been in this area of general semanticists interacting with their environments. This view evolved very quickly after I had examined the preceding view.  See Think-Feel and Know-Act for my early exposition of the earlier phrase-word. (Note that neither phrase-word is mentioned in that article, although it is explicitly about keeping the various aspects of evaluating together.)

Annotated bibliography of general semantics papers
General Semantics and Related Topics

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