Who was Alfred Korzybski and why should I know something about him?

Alfred Korzybski was born in Warsaw Poland on July 3, 1879 and died as a naturalized United States citizen on March 1, 1950 in Lakeville, Connecticut. Korzybski was a graduate of Warsaw University of Technology in Engineering. He came up with a system that he called General Semantics, which he explained in the 1933 book Science and Sanity.

Here is a very Korzybskian way of thinking about facts concerning his life and ideas. We could conceive of an almost infinite number of facts to compile concerning his life and his ideas. (Now this is true of anyone or anything.) Korzybski would consider that observation, an observation of what he would call the territory (note the lower case). Korzybski would have told us that we could only process a finite number of facts and the results of abstracting that finite number of facts based on some set of reason is the process of making a map. (More about maps, the Territory mapmaking and map using in another blog.) Our thinking and mapmaking process is always a reductive process. It has to be.

If you want someone else’s map of Korzybski check out the Wikipedia link.

As far as I’m concerned why you should know and remember him can be summarized in a few sentences. The following ideas and phrases I associate with him and want you to know about him.

1) The map is not the Territory. (I use the upper case to point to the infinite everything.)

2) The word is not the thing.

3) Lastly, Korzybski recognized that there exists non-Aristotelian logic and non-Aristotelian systems.

To explain the idea of non-Aristotelian logic/systems let me tell you a story. Korzybski studied and observed the history and development of certain fields of science. He observed that Newtonian physics (circa 1680+) was based upon Euclidian Geometry, i.e. a geometry of a two dimensional flat infinite plane were parallel lines never meet, and time was disconnected from space and was infinite. All these ideas were both based on Aristotelian logic. Specifically what are called the 3 laws of logic. They are the law of Identity, the law of Non-contradiction and the law of the Excluded Middle.

Next Korzybski noticed that the new physics (circa 1890+). This was the physics devised by Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrodinger, etc. Korzybski thought of this new physics as non-Newtonian. Korzybski recognized that it used a non-Euclidian geometry, i.e. a geometry of at least three dimensions, where space was curved and parallel lines could intersect. Also for this non-Newtonian physics, time had a beginning point and a theoretical endpoint with the destruction of the known universe. Time was therefore fixed and intimately connected to space.

Korzybski then reasoned and realized that they both depended on what he called non-Aristotelian logic. Modern physics describes events that violate A logic, specifically where the law of non-contradiction and the law of the excluded Middle are ‘violated’; as in the results of how a subatomic particle behaves in one context in one way but not the same way in another context/experiment. This is the essence of Heinsberg’s Uncertainty Principle and Bohr’s theory of Complementarity, (More on all of this in another blog.)

I hope I have piqued your interest on who Korzybski was. My own pragmatic orienting system relies on the points that I’ve mentioned above. More details on later blogs….so stay tuned.

Posted September 14, 2016