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Alfred Korzybski

Alfred Korzybski (1879-1950), born in Warsaw, Poland, came from a family which had worked as mathematicians, scientists, and engineers for generations, and himself trained as an engineer.

During the First World War he served as an intelligence officer in the Russian Army. Following the war he co-operated with the American and Canadian militaries. After the publication of his first book, Manhood of Humanity in 1921, he decided to remain in the United States and further develop his ideas. His work culminated in the founding of General Semantics, the basic ideas of which are outlined in Science and Sanity which was published in 1933. In 1938 he founded the Institute of General Semantics , which he directed until his death in 1950.

In simplified form, the essence of his work was the claim that the structure of language distorts our perception of reality, a failing that could be remedied by insight into that process and also by the creation of language that is structured in the same way reality is.

Ironically, The map is not the territory appears as the most quoted sentence of Korzybski, an unfortunate coincidence as he also wrote in many places in his work that the use of the verb "to be" was misleading (except when used as a grammatical auxiliary verb) and led to erroneous identifications that could be considered in operational terms as either true or false, depending on what was abstracted, and led to irrelevant controversies. Examples : "Man is an animal"; "man is not an animal"; "light is a wave"; "light is a particle". Korzybski insisted on using "has a" (characteristic) instead of "is a" or "is not a". Bertrand Russell defended an arguably similar point of view at the same time and Louis de Broglie's mécanique ondulatoire already respected this idea when published in 1924 - a discovery leading shortly to the electronic microscope . So his use of the verb he blames so much is rather to be considered as shorthand.

Korzybski's ideas influence Neuro-linguistic programming (especially the metamodel) and Gestalt Therapy.

Dr. David Bourland , a student of Korzybski's, defined and promoted E-Prime: the use of the English language without any form of the verb "to be".

Further Reading

  • Manhood of Humanity, Alfred Korzybski, forward by Edward Kasner, notes by M. Kendig, Institute of General Semantics, 1950, hardcover, 2nd edition, 391 pages, ISBN 093729800X
  • Science and Sanity An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics, Alfred Korzybski, Preface by Robert P. Pula, Institute of General Semantics, 1994, hardcover, 5th edition, ISBN 0937298018

External links

  • [1] Institute of General Semantics
  • [2] "Alfred Korzybski and Gestalt Therapy"

Last updated: 12-15-2004 11:35:19