Comments on General Semantics

"When former Senator S. I. Hayakawa died last week at 85, the San Francisco Chronicle described him as 'one of the nation's specialists in semantics and linguistics,' and the New York Times called him 'a noted scholar.' That's probably overstating things a bit. But it was a life lived by language, and it took him on a remarkable course. He was an obscure professor of English in 1941 when he wrote a surprise best-seller called Language in Action. It was a popularization of the curious theories of the Polish-born philosopher Alfred Korzybski, who held that misunderstanding and social pathologies are the results of a uncritical acceptance of the patterns of 'Aristotelean logic' that are implicit in our speech. The book was not serious scholarship, and Korzybzki's theory of 'general semantics' has remained something of a cult."
--Geoffrey Nunberg, "Fresh Air," National Public Radio, broadcast aired on February 4, 1992.

"If [Korzybski] was not a crackpot... why was he so repetitive, verbose, pugnacious, redundant and self- congratulatory, manifesting all the symptoms of crackpot delusions?" --Anatol Rapoport, as quoted in Edward MacNeal's Mathsemantics (1994) Professor Rapoport is a former associate editor of the Review of General Semantics.

"Although there have been numerous explanations of Korzybski's ideas since the appearance of Science and Sanity there has been little development or refinement of the basic principles. General semantics1937 = general semantics1990 is a serious criticism for an approach which champions scientific progress.
... Throughout the chapter you've probably noticed the use of terms like mission, cause, and movement. These are strange words to appear in a book which catalogs objective theories of communication, yet they appropriately describe the zeal with which general semanticists enlist others in their goal to change the structure of language... In their quest to win converts for the general semantics perspective, its true believers abandon the very objectivity which they so strongly advocate."
--Em Griffin, Professor of Communications, Wheaton College, A First Look at Communication Theory (1991)

"... Alfred Korzybski's Science and Sanity, a book that started the whole 'General Semantics' religion of language, in the 1930's ... making claims about how humanity could be transformed ..."
--Professor Courtney Schlosser, Worcester State College, The Matrix of Philosophy (2001)

"In view of Korzybski's fundamental thesis, his misuse of scientific terminology is ironic, and many scholars and scientists were quick to dismiss Korzybski as a dilettante, at times a crank. This impression was reinforced by Korzybski himself. On occasions he lectured to scientists in the manner of a patronizing schoolmaster on subjects to which they had devoted many years of hard, careful work and of which he had only a smattering of knowledge."
--Anatol Rapoport, Semantics, p. 392 (1975).

"There have been many fads of an extravagant nature that have been believed by many people, often with little more justification than that it seemed a nice thing to believe in. Wilhelm Reich's Orgone Energy (or Life Energy) and his Orgone Box: Pyramidology and its pseudo-archaeological determination of the sacred Cubit and the sacred Inch; Dr. S. C. Hahnemann's Homoeopathy and his Law of Similia: Iridiagnosis, in which all physical ailments can be diagnosed by inspection of the iris of the eye; Count Alfred Korzybski's General Semantics: Naturopathy; Phrenology; these and many more, people have believed in, have accepted 'proofs' with an astonishing naivety. Most of these subjects have contained a basis of factual observation upon which a superstructure of wild assumption has been built."
--Cyril Vosper, Mind Benders (1971)

"Clearly, the methodology of transformation has fascinated Humanity since our earliest recorded history. It constituted the basis of the Egyptian theurgic arts, manifested in the mudras and asanas (hand gestures and body postures) of yoga, in the tantric applications of Tibetan Buddhism, and the rituals of early Christian sects who sought gnosis, or direct heuristic knowledge of the divine. It sparkled in the metaphor of the alchemists who searched for a universal solvent to transform the base metal of inquiry into the gold of liberation, and resonated in the allegories and poetry of the sufis who found transformation in the experience of the ordinary. It captivated Victorian Hermeticists of the Golden Dawn like Eliphas Levi, A. E. Waite, and W. W. Westcott, and provided the impetus for Blavatsky's Theosophy, Gurdjieff's 'Work,' Freud's Psychoanalysis, Steiner's Anthroposophy and Korzybski's General Semantics. And it was a fascination with the possibilities of such a methodology that led a young science fiction writer to develop Scientology's progenitor."
--Tom Joyce, "Hubbard's Ladder," Gnosis No. 12 (Summer 1989)

"Science and Sanity is filled with unsupportable assertions and not a few errors, some of them extraordinarily naive."
--Neil Postman, Conscientious Objections (1992)

"Korzybski's reach exceeded his grasp."
--Neil Postman, Conscientious Objections (1992)

"Science and Sanity is . . . . also filled with annoyingly novel punctuation and abbreviations."
--Edward MacNeal, Mathsemantics (1994)

To return to the main page click here.