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Algemene semantiek | Gardner's kritiek

De kritiek van Martin Gardner in Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science

General Semantics, Etc.

After discussing orgonomy and dianetics, a description of any other cult in which psychiatric techniques are prominent is certain to be anticlimactic. Nevertheless, our survey would be incomplete if it did not touch upon the "general semantics" of Polish-born Count Alfred Habdank Skarbek Korzybski, and the "psycho drama" of the Rumanian-born psychiatrist, Jacob L. Moreno. Neither movement, it should be stated, approaches the absurdity of the two previously considered cults. For this reason, general semantics and psychodrama must be regarded as controversial, borderline examples, which may or may not have considerable scientific merit.
    Korzybski was born in 1879 in Warsaw. He had little formal education. During World War I, he served as a major in Russia's Polish Army, was badly wounded, and later sent to the United States as an artillery expert. He remained in the States, and for the next ten years drew on his personal fortune to write Science and Sanity, the 800-page Bible of general semantics. The book was published in 1933 by the Count's International Non-Aristotelian Library Publishing Company. It is a poorly organized, verbose, philosophically naive, repetitious mish-mash of sound ideas borrowed from abler scientists and philosophers, mixed with neologisms, confused ideas, unconscious metaphysics, and highly dubious speculations about neurology and psychiatric therapy.
    Allen Walker Read, in two scholarly articles on the history and various meanings of the word "semantics" (Trans/formation, Vol. 1, Numbers 1 and 2, 1950, 1951), disclosed that the word had not been used in the Count's original draft of Science and Sanity. Before the book was published, however, the word had been adopted by several Polish philosophers, and it was from them that Korzybski borrowed it.
    Most contemporary philosophers who use the word "semantics" restrict it to the study of the meaning of words and other symbols. In contrast, the Count used the word so broadly that it became almost meaningless. As Read points out, Korzybski considered a plant tropism, such as growing up instead of down, a "semantic reaction." In Science and Sanity he discusses a baby who vomited to get a second nursing, and writes, "Vomiting became her semantic way of controlling 'reality.' " Modern followers of the Count tend to equate "semantic" with "evaluative," defining "general semantics" as "the study and improvement of human evaluative processes."
    Korzybski never tired of knocking over "Aristotelian" habits of thought, in spite of the fact that what he called Aristotelian was a straw structure which bore almost no resemblance to the Greek philosopher's manner of thinking. Actually, the Count had consider. able respect for Aristotle (one of the many thinkers to whom his book is dedicated). But he believed that the Greek philosopher's reasoning was badly distorted by verbal habits which were bound up with the Indo-European language structure,1 especially the subject-predicate form with its emphasis on the word "is." "Isness," the Count once said, "is insanity," apparently without realizing that such concepts as "isomorphic," which he used constantly, cannot be defined without assuming the identity of mathematical structures.
    Another "Aristotelian" habit against which the Count inveighed is that of thinking in terms of a "two-valued logic" in which statements must be either true or false. No one would deny that many errors of reasoning spring from an attempt to apply an "either/or" logic to situations where it is not applicable, as all logicians from Aristotle onward have recognized. But many of the Count's followers have failed to realize that there is a sense in which the two-valued orientation is inescapable. In all the "multi-valued logics" which have been devised, a deduction within the system is still "true" or "false. To give a simple illustration, let us assume that a man owns a mechanical pencil of a type which comes in only three colors-red, blue, and green: If we are told that his pencil is neither blue nor green, we then conclude that it is red. This would be a "true" deduction within a three-valued system.2 It would be "false" to deduce that the pencil was blue, since this would contradict one of the premises. No one has yet succeeded in creating a logic in which the two-valued orientation of true and false could be dispensed with, though of course the dichotomy can be given other names. There is no reason to be ashamed of this fact, and once it is understood, a great deal of general semantic tilting at two-valued logic is seen to be a tilting at a harmless windmill.
    One finds in Science and Sanity almost no recognition of the fact that the battle against bad linguistic habits of thought had been waged for centuries by philosophers of many schools. The book makes no mention, for example, of John Dewey (except in bibliographies added to later editions), although few modern philosophers fought harder or longer against most of what the Count calls "Aristotelian." In fact, the book casts sly aspersions on almost every contemporary major philosopher except Bertrand Russell.
    Korzybski's strong ego drives were obvious to anyone who knew him or read his works carefully. He believed himself one of the world's greatest living thinkers, and regarded Science and Sanity as the third book of an immortal trilogy. The first two were Aristotle's Organon and Bacon's Novum Organum. Like Hubbard, he was convinced that his therapy-would benefit almost every type of neurotic, and was capable of raising the intelligence of most individuals to the level of a genius like himself. He thought that all professions, from law to dentistry, should be placed on a general semantic basis, and that only the spread of his ideas could save the world from destruction. In the preface to the second edition of Science and Sanity, he appealed to readers to urge their respective governments to put into, practice the principles of general semantics, and in the text proper (unchanged in all editions) expressed his belief that ultimately his society would become part of the League of Nations.
    The Count's institute of General Semantics, near the University of Chicago, was established in 1938 with funds provided by a wealthy Chicago manufacturer of bathroom equipment, Cornelius Crane. Its street number, formerly 1232, was changed to 1234 so that when it \Vas followed by "East Fifty-Sixth Street" there would be six numbers in serial order. The Count-a stocky, bald, deep-voiced man who always wore Army-type khaki pants and shirt-conducted his classes in a manner similar to Kay Kyser's TV program. Throughout a lecture, he would pause at dramatic moments and his students would shout in unison, "No!" or "Yes!" or some general semantic term like "Et cetera!" (meaning there are an infinite number of other factors which need not be specified.) Frequently he would remark in his thick Polish accent, "I speak facts," or "Bah - I speak baby stuff." He enjoyed immensely his role of orator and cult leader. So likewise, did his students. In many ways the spread of general semantics resembled the Count's description, on page 800 of Science and Sanity, of "paranoiac-like semantic epidemics" in which followers fall under the spell of a dynamic leader.
    According to the Count, people are "unsane" when their mental maps of reality are slightly out of correspondence with the real world. If the inner world is too much askew, they become "insane." A principal cause of all this is the Aristotelian mental orientation, which distorts reality. It assumes, for example, that an object is either a chair or not a chair, when clearly there are all kinds of objects which mayor may not be called chairs depending on how you define "chair." But a precise definition is impossible. "Chair" is simply a word we apply to a group of things more or less alike, but which fade off in all directions, along continuums, into other objects which are not called chairs. As H.G. Wells expressed it, in his delightful essay on metaphysics in First and Last Things:
 
  ... Think of armchairs and reading-chairs and dining-room chairs, and kitchen chairs, chairs that pass into benches, chairs that cross the boundary and become settees, dentist's chairs, thrones, opera stalls, seats of all sorts, those miraculous fungoid growths that cumber the floor of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition, and you will perceive what a lax bundle in fact is this simple straightforward term. In cooperation with an intelligent joiner I would undertake to defeat any definition of chair or chairishness that you gave me.

The non-Aristotelian mental attitude is, in essence, a recognition of the above elementary fact. There is no such thing as pure "chairishness." There are only chair 1, chair 2, chair 3, et cetera! This assigning of numbers is a process Korzybski called "indexing." In similar fashion, the same chair changes constantly in time. Because of weathering, use, and so forth, it is not the same chair from one moment to the next. We recognize this by the process of "dating." We speak of chair 1952, chair 1953, et cetera! The Count was convinced that the unsane, and many insane, could be helped back to sanity by teaching them to think in these and similar non-Aristotelian ways. For example, a neurotic may hate all mothers. The reason may be that a childhood situation caused him to hate his own mother. Not having broken free of Aristotelian habits, he thinks all mothers are alike because they are all called by the same word. But the word, as Korzybski was fond of repeating, is not the thing. When a man learns to index mothers - that is, call them mother 1, mother 2, mother 3, et cetera - he then perceives that other mothers are not identical with his own mother. In addition, even his mother is not the same mother she was when he was a child. Instead there are mother 1910, mother 1911, mother 1912, et cetera. Understanding all this, the neurotic's hatred for mothers is supposed to diminish greatly.
    Of course there is more to the non-Aristotelian orientation than just indexing and dating. To understand levels of abstraction, for example, the Count invented a pedagogical device called the "structural differential." It is a series of small plates with holes punched in them, connected in various ways by strings and pegs. The "Semantic Rosary," as it was called by Time magazine, is impressive to anyone encountering epistemology for the first time.
    Obviously there is nothing "unsane" about the various general semantic devices for teaching good thinking habits. In psychiatry, they may even be useful to doctors of any school when they try to communicate with, or instruct, a patient. But Korzybski and his followers magnified their therapeutic value out of all sane proportions. At conventions, general semanticists have testified to semantic cures of alcoholism, homosexuality, kleptomania, bad reading habits, stuttering, migraine, nymphomania, impotence, and innumerable varieties of other neurotic and psychosomatic ailments. At one conference a dentist reported that teaching general semantics to his patients had given them more emotional stability, which lessened the amount of acid in their mouths. As a consequence, fillings stayed in their teeth longer.
    Korzybski's explanation of why non-Aristotelian thinking has therapeutic body effects, was bound up with a theory now discarded by his followers as neurologically unsound. It concerned the cortex and the thalamus. The cortex was supposed to function when rational thought was taking place, and the thalamus when emotional reflexes were involved. Before acting under the impulse of an emotional response, Korzybski recommended a "semantic pause," a kind of counting-to-ten which gave the cortex time to arrive at an integrated, sane decision. For a person who developed these habits of self-control there was a "neuro-semantic relaxation" of his nervous system, resulting in normal blood pressure, and improved body health.
    It is interesting to note in this connection that a special muscular relaxation technique also was developed by the Count after he observed how often he could ease a student's worried tenseness by such gestures as a friendly grasp of the student's arm. The technique involves gripping various muscles of one's body and shaking them in ways prescribed in The Technique of Semantic Relaxation, by Charlotte Schuchardt, issued by the Institute of General Semantics in 1943.
    Modern works of scientific philosophy and psychiatry contain almost no references to the Count's theories. In Russell's technical books, for instance, which deal with topics about which Korzybski considered himself a great authority, you will not find even a passing mention of the Count. This is not because of stubborn prejudice and orthodoxy. The simple reason is that Korzybski made no contributions of significance to any of the fields about which he wrote with such seeming erudition.3 Most of the Count's followers admit this, but insist that the value of his work lies in the fact that it was the first great synthesis of modern scientific philosophy and psychiatry.
    But is it? Few philosophers or professional psychiatrists think so. On matters relating to logic, mathematics, science, and epistemology, Science and Sanity is far less successful as a synthesis than scores of modern works. It is more like a haphazard collection of notions drawn from various sources accessible to the Count at the time, and bound together in one volume. Many of the Count's ideas give a false illusion of freshness merely because he invented new terms for them. For example, his earlier book, The Manhood of Humanity, 1921, describes plants as "energy binders," animals as "space binders," and men as "time binders."4 When this is translated, it means that plants use energy in growing; animals, unlike plants, are able to move about spatially to meet their needs; and man makes progress in time by building on past experience. All of which would have been regarded by Aristotle as a set of platitudes.
    It is true that Korzybski made a valiant attempt to integrate a philosophy of science with neurology and psychiatry. It is precisely here, however, that his work moves into the realm of cultism and pseudo-science. Teaching a patient general semantics simply does not have, in the opinion of the majority of psychiatrists, the therapeutic value which followers of the Count think it has. Where the Count was sound, he was unoriginal. And where he was original, there are good reasons for thinking him "unsane."
    Samuel I. Hayakawa, in many ways a saner and sounder man than the Count, is still waving the banners of general semantics in Chicago, even though he made a break with Korzybski shortly before the Count moved his headquarters to Lakeville, Connecticut, in 1946. Hayakawa continues to edit his lively little magazine, Etc., and work with the International Society of General Semantics, founded in Chicago in 1942 and not connected with the Lakeville group. His Language in Action, 1941 (revised in 1949 as Language in Thought and Action) remains the best of several popular introductions to Korzybski's views. One night in a Chicago jazz spot-Hayakawa is an authority on hot jazz-he was asked what he and the Count had disagreed about. Hayakawa paused a few moments (perhaps to permit a neurological integration of reason and emotion), then said, "Words."
    Since the Count's death in 1950, the cult seems to be diminishing in influence. An increasing number of members, including Hayakawa himself, are discovering that almost everything of value in Korzybski's pretentious work can be found better formulated in the writings of others. Then too, many of its recruits from the ranks of science fiction enthusiasts, especially in California, have deserted general semantics for the more exciting cult of dianetics.
    The case of A. E. van Vogt of Los Angeles suggests the new trend. Van Vogt is the author of many popular science-fiction novels of the superman type, including one called The World of A, the action of which involves a future society that has adopted A, or Korzybski's non-Aristotelian orientation. A few years ago, van Vogt was proposing that general semantics go underground on a cellular basis. The United States might have another great depression, he feared, and fall into the hands of the Communists, who do not care for Korzybski's views. He even toyed with the notion of a General Semantic Church, with its own sacred literature, but this idea proved abortive and nothing came of it. At the moment, van Vogt has lost his former enthusiasm for semantics and Dr. Bates' eye exercises. He is head of the California branch of the dianetics movement.
    The psychodrama movement of Jacob L. Moreno also seems to have passed the peak of its popularity, though the cult was never very large. This is a form of therapy which places the patient into impromptu dramatic scenes related to his neuroses or psychoses. It is closely allied to a technique known as "play therapy," widely used in the diagnosis and treatment of neurotic children.
    Psycho dramatic skits take place on a relatively bare circular stage with three concentric levels, the levels having various symbolic meanings. There are no scenery or curtains-only two pillars in the background, a table, and some chairs. About eighty people are accommodated in the orchestra, and there is a high balcony for patients in the audience who have delusions of grandeur. The first theater of this sort was founded by Dr. Moreno in Vienna in 1922. At present, headquarters for the Psychodrama Institute are at Beacon, N. Y., though there are similar theaters in Manhattan's Bellevue Hospital and St. Elizabeth Hospital, Washington, D. C.
    The patient may play a wide variety of roles - his father, mother, himself as a small child, Hamlet, God, and so on. If his neurotic situation involves a love triangle, an effort may be made to get the three real life participants on to the stage at one time. Their spontaneous reactions, as one can easily imagine, are often dramatic. Colored lights are sometimes used to provide mood atmosphere. Thus if a patient feels a need to portray the role of Satan, only a crimson light is cast on the stage. This gives him the feeling that he is surrounded by the lurid flames of hell, and increases the effectiveness of the therapy.
    Usually the patient takes part in the skits, with other roles acted either by other patients or by trained actors and actresses. In the jargon of psychodrama, persons taking these other roles are called "auxiliary egos." If the patient is shy or refuses to participate for some other reason, an auxiliary ego may substitute for him while the patient watches from the audience. This is known as "mirror technique. "
    The dramatic scenes are used both for diagnosis and therapy. Sometimes the patient achieves a Freudian catharsis (purging of a neurotic drive) while he is acting. At other times the catharsis comes later when the scene is being reviewed and analyzed by the therapist.
Sound and movie recordings often are made so the scene can be reviewed more accurately. Members of the audience also experience a therapeutic benefit from watching the acting, thus making possible an inexpensive kind of group therapy.
    Naturally this is far too brief an account of psychodrama to give much insight into its theory which is almost as intricate as dianetics. There are many neologisms - like tele, warming-up process, sociodrama, audience constellations, psychomusic, physiodrama, and statu nascendi - but we lack space to go into them here. Explanations for them may be found in the Psychodrama Collected Papers, printed by Beacon House in 1945.
    Of Moreno's published works, none is more baffling than The Words of the Father, issued by Beacon House in 1941. The book purports to be a new revelation from God. Moreno's preface and commentary state that all previous revelations have been only partial expressions of divine truth. This is a "final and total expression." For the first time in history, God is speaking in "first person." The words came, of course, through a human being-"an anonymous, isolated man, somewhere on the continent." His name does not appear on the title page, Moreno writes, any more than a tree would bear on its trunk the signature of the gardener. The reason is that the message, like the tree, is from God.
    With this buildup, one turns the pages with trembling fingers, in expectation of imperishable thoughts. Alas, they consist only of stale religious platitudes - brief sentences printed at the top of each page in capital letters, and surrounded by a great expanse of blank space.
God's opening statement is:

I AM GOD
THE FATHER
THE CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE

THESE ARE MY WORDS
THE WORDS OF THE FATHER

A sample of the Father's words - the entire content of page 128 - is as follows:

YOU CANNOT SERVE
TWO MASTERS
SERVE ME

    Moreno's methods, like a good part of the Reichian therapy, are I part of a recent trend toward having patients play active, dynamic roles rather than lie passively on the couch. Hundreds of new therapeutic gimmicks are making their appearance in the more eccentric Freudian fringes. Dr. Francis I. Regardie, for example, a psychotherapist in Los Angeles, is now inducing patients to vomit as part of their treatment. "Initiating a gag reflex" is his way of putting it. Here is the doctor's description of this valuable new technique, taken from his article on "Active Psychotherapy" in the Winter 1952 issue of Complex.
 
  The second of these somatic procedures is to ask the patient to regurgitate by using a tongue depressor and a kidney pan. Usually, the patient is puzzled and resists with some vigor. If a brief and simplified explanation is given, or if the therapist states unequivocally that this is no time for intellectual discussion which must wait for a later occasion, the patient as a rule will comply. My procedure is to let him gag anywhere up to a dozen times, depending on the type of response. In itself, the style of gagging is an admirable index to the magnitude of the inhibitory apparatus. Some gag with finesse, with delicacy, without noise. These are, categorically, the most difficult patients to handle. Their character armor is almost impenetrable, and their personalities rigid almost to the point of petrifaction. They require to be encouraged to regurgitate with noise, without concealment of their discomfort and disgust, and with some fullness.
Others will cough and spit, yet still remain unproductive. Still others sneer and find the whole procedure a source of cynical amusement. Yet another group will retch with hideous completeness.

When one of Dr. Regardie's patients develops hostility, he is encouraged to "ventilate it overtly in a variety of different ways. One effectual way is to permit him frankly, by direct instruction, to employ all the so-called filthy language and obscenities he has acquired in the course of living.... Some people in this situation evince an astonishing familiarity with these visceral linguistics."
    Other means of ventilating rage, used by the doctor, are to let the patient buffet a pillow, tear up a phone book, or punch one of those inflated rubber clown toys that have sandbags at the base. "... Replacement is required at the rate of two or three per month," he writes, in reference to the rubber clowns. "But the emotional discharges that occur by using these devices are altogether remarkable. In all of the dozen or more years of practicing psychotherapy I can say in all honesty and humility that I have never witnessed such awe-inspiring demonstrations."


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