Language as a mind-
Korzybski, who grew up in a house where four languages were spoken (Polish, Russian, French, German) and learned English much later, observed that the words we use influence our perceptions and conceptions of the world—e.g., even in the same language, a book may be called "realistic" by one reader and "pornographic" by another, and each will tend to perceive/conceive the book that way more and more automatically if they repeat their label ("realistic" or "pornographic") over and over. This underlies the mechanism of hypnosis, as Dr. Bandler discovered later. It also explains why you won't make much progress preaching radical equality to somebody who continually uses the word "nigger," or defending the first amendment to somebody who keeps saying "smut" (or "sexism").
But Korzybski made a more radical discovery, namely, that our perceptions/conceptions
From these starting points, Korzybski arrived at a devastating diagnosis of most of our culture's habitual linguistic structures (which he called neurolinguistic structures because they act as the software with which our nervous systems, including our brains, process data). Our worst habit, he thought, lay in the constant assumption of identity implied in most uses of the verb "is." Such sentences as "The photon is a wave," "The photon is a particle," "Beethoven is better than Mozart," "The thing I saw was a spaceship," would become, in Korzybski's system, "The photon behaved like a wave when measured with this experimental apparatus," "The photon behaved like a particle when measured with this different apparatus," "Beethoven seems better than Mozart to me," "The thing I saw seemed like a spaceship to me."
English including "is" and its cognates ("was," "be," "will be," etc.) appears as
E in the writing of some of Korzybski's students, and English without "is" and its
cognates appears as E' (pronounced E-
Attempts to write the present article in E-
Korzybski also popularized the idea that most sentences, especially the sentences
that people quarrel over or even go to war over, do not rank as propositions in the
logical sense, but belong in the category that Bertrand Russell called propositional
functions. They do not have one meaning, as a proposition in logic should have; they
have several meanings, like an algebraic function. We do not notice this because
Russell only discovered propositional functions in this century and the idea has
not had wide publicity. According to Korzybski, many of our pet ideologies belong
in the propositional function category ("This is an X," "This has too much Y in it,"
"Get away with that Z-
Propositional functions not recognized as such, or treated as propositions, Korzybski called "'noise" (usually in italics). It seems odd to think that most human anger and violence derives from noise, but this also happens in other primate societies, does it not?
Novelist William S. Burroughs, who studied general semantics with Korzybski, has developed these notions into the surrealist theme of language as an invading virus, found in most of his novels. This virus, according to Burroughs, creates our thoughts, feelings, and sense impressions. Without the virus metaphor, Korzybski would agree, and so would Dr. Richard Bandler.
Dr. Bandler, out of the study of Korzybski and the verbal structures used by Dr.
Milton Erickson (often considered the greatest hypnotist of his time), developed
See also: Book of Lies, Fuzzy Logic, George I. Gurdjieff,
References: Korzybski's system—
Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-
To Be or Not: An E-