The Semantic Man

by namespace 1 min read22nd Nov 20184 comments

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Irving Lee discusses the goals of General Semantics, one of the historical movements that underlies intellectual currents expressed here now on LessWrong.

I want to speak very briefly to you. There is one small notion that I should like to talk about rather briefly. It was in 1946, I remember almost the time of year. I had just taken off that Air Force uniform and had managed to persuade Alfred Korzybski to let me pose some questions to him. I had a number of things that bothered me. I had read that “blue peril” and there were paragraphs in it that made no sense even after the fifteenth reading, and I wanted the opportunity to confront him with these paragraphs. I wanted to say: “Now, Alfred, what did you mean when you said this?” And he very kindly agreed to submit to some such questioning, over a period of several afternoons, and I think Miss Kendig may remember some of them. And at one of these sessions, I said, “Now, Alfred, you have been thinking about this stuff for a very long time. Can you tell me, in a nutshell, what are you trying to do? What is the objective of all this reading and studying and talking and sweating that you go through day after day, year after year? What are you after?” And, you know, I never could call on him in those sessions without being forced to take notes. If I came without a pencil and paper, he invariably found a pad and pencil, and “take some notes” was the continuous refrain. Well, I have gone over those notes many times and in answer to that question, this is almost a verbatim account of what he said when I asked him, “Alfred, what are you trying to do, in a nutshell?”

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