General semantics

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General semantics is a non-Aristotelian educational discipline created by Alfred Korzybski (1879–1950) during the years 1919 to 1933. General semantics is distinct from semantics (a sub-field of linguistics), a different subject. The name technically refers to the study of what Korzybski called "semantic reactions", or reactions of the whole human organism within the environment to some event — any event, not just perceiving a human-made symbol — with respect to the meaning of that event. However, people most commonly use the name to mean the particular system of semantic reactions that Korzybski called the most useful for human survival, that is to say delayed reactions as opposed to "signal reactions" (immediate, unthinking ones).



Advocates of general semantics view it as a form of mental hygiene that enables practitioners to avoid ideational traps built into natural language and "common sense" assumptions, thereby enabling practitioners to think more clearly and effectively. General semantics thus shares some concerns with psychology but some do not consider it specifically as a therapeutic system, evaluating it as more focused on enhancing the abilities of normal individuals than curing pathology.

Korzybski described the central goal of general semantics as developing in its practitioners what he called a "consciousness of abstracting," or an awareness of the map/territory distinction and of how information gets deleted/distorted in the linguistic and other representations we use. Korzybski considered sporadic and intellectual understanding of these concepts insufficient, rather that humans achieve full sanity only when the consciousness of abstracting becomes constant and a matter of reflex.

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