This is an interesting obituary from March 1, 1950 which is accessible from the website for The Institute of General Semantics: [ http://www.generalsemantics.org/the-general-semantics-learning-center/alfred-korzybski/ ].

From the obituary:

“The scientist contended that because of Aristotelian thinking habits, which he thought outmoded, men did not properly evaluate the world they talked about and that, in consequence, words had lost their accuracy as expressions of ideas, if ever they had such accuracy.  He explained that life was composed of non-verbal facts, each differing from another and each forever changing.  Too often, he contended, men got the steps of their thought-speech processes confused, so that they spoke before observing and then reacted to their own remarks as if they were fact itself.  As Mr. Korzybski explained it, general semantics had to do with living, thinking, speaking and the whole realm of human experience.”

It’s interesting to consider the nature of language and how thoughts and ideas can be misinterpreted through one’s choice of words in writing or speaking and by not considering non-verbal information as well.  In becoming what we are, use of language is, more often than not, the greatest indicator of who we are.  –SB

New York Times Obituary

A.H. KORZYBSKI, 70, SCIENTIST, IS DEAD

Founder of General Semantics Institute Saw Ideas Put to Use in Many Fields

SHARON, Conn., March 1 (AP) – Alfred Habdank Korzybski, scientist and author, an early authority on general semantics, died early today at Sharon Hospital at the age of 70.  Death was due to a coronary thrombosis, with which he was stricken at his home in near-by Salisbury shortly after midnight.

Surviving is his widow, Mira Edgerly Korzybski of Chicago, a portrait painter, whom he married in 1919.

A pioneer in semantics, Mr. Korzybski founded a new school of psychological-philosophical semantics which he named general semantics.  He had hundreds of followers throughout the world and was consulted by many scientists and scholars.  Widely credited with having expanded semantics from its ordinary concern with only the meaning of words in a new system of understanding human behavior, Mr. Korzybski held the conviction that “in the old construction of language, you cannot talk sense.”

The scientist contended that because of Aristotelian thinking habits, which he thought outmoded, men did not properly evaluate the world they talked about and that, in consequence, words had lost their accuracy as expressions of ideas, if ever they had such accuracy.  He explained that life was composed of non-verbal facts, each differing from another and each forever changing.  Too often, he contended, men got the steps of their thought-speech processes confused, so that they spoke before observing and then reacted to their own remarks as if they were fact itself.  As Mr. Korzybski explained it, general semantics had to do with living, thinking, speaking and the whole realm of human experience.

His theory was put to practical use in the fields of public, industrial and race relations and everywhere that misunderstanding among people is due to different values and structures of words.

In explaining simply what he meant by misleading words, Mr. Korzybski said that to say a rose “is” red is a delusion because the red color was only the vibration of light waves.  In 1938 Mr. Korzybski found the Institute of General Semantics in Chicago.  In 1946 he moved the institute, of which he was president and the director, to Lakeville, Conn.

His book, Manhood of Humanity – The Science and Art of Human Engineering, which appeared in 1921, caused a stir in the intellectual world, as did his second book, Science and Sanity, An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics, 1933.

Descended from a long line of engineers, mathematicians and philosophers, Mr. Korzybski, who was born in Poland, was a Count before his American naturalization.  He attended the Warsaw Polytechnic Institute, managed his family’s estate and taught mathematics, physics, French and German in Warsaw before World War I.  During that conflict he was twice wounded and served on the Russian General Staff before being sent to this country and Canada on a military mission.

In 1918 he was a recruiting officer in the United States and Canada for a Polish-French Army, and a war lecturer for our Government.  Mr. Korzybski served, in 1920, with the Polish Commission to the League of Nations.  He had lived in New York at one time.

(tnks, tw)

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