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Alfred Korzybski

Alfred Habdank Skarbek Korzybski (Warschau, Polen, July 3, 1879 -  Lakeville VS, March 1, 1950)

Alfred Korzybski was a Polish-American linguist and founder of the discipline of general semantics.

alfred korzybskiKorzybski (pronunciation kazjibski) was born the son of a wealthy family who for generations consisted of mathematicians, scientists and engineers. He grew up near Warsaw. As a child he spoke four languages, Polish, Russian, German and French. During the First World War he moved to the United States. Here he learned English, the language in which most of his work was published.

Korzybski has generated a philosophical direction, which he calls General Semantics (GS). The main principles are described in the book Science and Sanity. The most famous quote from this book is The map is not the territory. This statement relates to the NLP Communicationmodel and can also be found in the the NLP presuppositions.

Korzybski claims that man lives in two worlds: the world of speech and symbols and in the real world. He indicated that the human mind is only able to respond to the map and (in extreme cases) completely forgets the present area.

By looking at an object such as a chair, it is really not the chair in our head, but electrical and chemical processes translating this in our brains. We are therefore unable to store the same exact reality.

The essence of Korzybski is the claim that people are limited in what they know, by the structure of the nervous system and the structure of the language. People can not experience the world directly, but only by abstractions, or abstractions of reality:

  • Non-verbal impressions of the nervous system
  • Verbal indicators expressed and extracted from language

According to Korzybski, much of the human suffering is caused by the fact that we confuse the real reality with the inner produced non verbal impressions and verbal indicators. Sometimes our perceptions and our language deceive us in our relationship in dealing with the facts.

In our understanding of what is happening we sometimes lack a comparable structure of what is really going on. He emphasized the abstraction of sensation, through techniques from mathematics and science. He called this awareness - the purpose of his system - awareness of abstraction. The system contained the way of changing how we approach the world. It is better to discover the reality e.g. with the attitude "I do not know, let's look at it", such as the modern science does. One of these techniques was internal and external silence: an experience he called silence of the objective levels.

In an anecdote Korzybski gave a lesson one day to a group of students which he interrupted to pick up a cookie wrapped in white paper. He asked the students in the front row if they wanted one too. The students took one and then Korzybski asked them if they liked it. When they confirmed this, he showed the original wrapping which read "dog treats" . The students were shocked and two of them spat it out again. Korzybski turned to the class and said: "Here I have shown you that the taste is not only determined by direct observation in the mouth, but also by our translation of reality".

Watch his video or read more about it on the website of General Semantics.


Books Alfred Korzybski.

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