Alfred Korzybski quotes

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Alfred Korzybski

Birthdate: 3. July 1879
Date of death: 1. March 1950

Alfred Habdank Skarbek Korzybski was a Polish-American independent scholar who developed a field called general semantics, which he viewed as both distinct from, and more encompassing than, the field of semantics. He argued that human knowledge of the world is limited both by the human nervous system and the languages humans have developed, and thus no one can have direct access to reality, given that the most we can know is that which is filtered through the brain's responses to reality. His best known dictum is "The map is not the territory". Wikipedia

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„Any organism must be treated as-a-whole; in other words, that an organism is not an algebraic sum, a linear function of its elements, but always more than that.“

—  Alfred Korzybski

Source: Science and Sanity (1933), p. 64.
Context: Any organism must be treated as-a-whole; in other words, that an organism is not an algebraic sum, a linear function of its elements, but always more than that. It is seemingly little realized, at present, that this simple and innocent-looking statement involves a full structural revision of our language...

„Whatever you might say the object "is", well it is not.“

—  Alfred Korzybski

Source: Science and Sanity (1933), p. 35.
Context: "Say whatever you choose about the object, and whatever you might say is not it." Or, in other wordsː "Whatever you might say the object "is", well it is not." This negative statement is final, because it is negative.

„To regard human beings as tools — as instruments — for the use of other human beings is not only unscientific but it is repugnant, stupid and short sighted.“

—  Alfred Korzybski

Source: Manhood of Humanity (1921), p. 133. Chapter: Capitalistic Era.
Context: To regard human beings as tools — as instruments — for the use of other human beings is not only unscientific but it is repugnant, stupid and short sighted. Tools are made by man but have not the autonomy of their maker — they have not man's time-binding capacity for initiation, for self-direction, and self-improvement.

„From this point of view, all language can be considered as names for unspeakable entities on the objective level, be it things or feelings, or as names of relations.“

—  Alfred Korzybski

Source: Science and Sanity (1933), p. 20.
Context: The only link between the verbal and objective world is exclusively structural, necessitating the conclusion that the only content of all "knowledge" is structural. Now structure can be considered as a complex of relations, and ultimately as multi-dimensional order. From this point of view, all language can be considered as names for unspeakable entities on the objective level, be it things or feelings, or as names of relations. In fact... we find that an object represents an abstraction of a low order produced by our nervous system as the result of a sub-microscopic events acting as stimuli upon the nervous system.

„Humans can be literally poisoned by false ideas and false teachings.“

—  Alfred Korzybski

Source: Manhood of Humanity (1921), p. 71. Chapter: What is Man?
Context: Humans can be literally poisoned by false ideas and false teachings. Many people have a just horror at the thought of putting poison into tea or coffee, but seem unable to realize that, when they teach false ideas and false doctrines, they are poisoning the time-binding capacity of their fellow men and women. One has to stop and think! There is nothing mystical about the fact that ideas and words are energies which powerfully affect the physico-chemical base of our time-binding activities. Humans are thus made untrue to "human nature." … The conception of man as a mixture of animal and supernatural has for ages kept human beings under the deadly spell of the suggestion that, animal selfishness and animal greediness are their essential character, and the spell has operated to suppress their REAL HUMAN NATURE and to prevent it from expressing itself naturally and freely.

„How many a genius has perished inarticulate because unable to stand the strain of social conditions where animal standards prevail and "survival of the fittest" means, not survival of the "fittest in time-binding capacity," but survival of the strongest in ruthlessness and guile — in space-binding competition!“

—  Alfred Korzybski

Source: Manhood of Humanity (1921), p. 136. Chapter: Capitalistic Era.
Context: Such as contribute most to human progress and human enlightenment — men like Gutenberg, Copernicus, Newton, Leibnitz, Watts, Franklin, Mendeleieff, Pasteur, Sklodowska-Curie, Edison, Steinmetz, Loeb, Dewey, Keyser, Whitehead, Russell, Poincaré, William Benjamin Smith, Gibbs, Einstein, and many others — consume no more bread than the simplest of their fellow mortals. Indeed such men are often in want. How many a genius has perished inarticulate because unable to stand the strain of social conditions where animal standards prevail and "survival of the fittest" means, not survival of the "fittest in time-binding capacity," but survival of the strongest in ruthlessness and guile — in space-binding competition!

„Man's achievements rest upon the use of symbols“

—  Alfred Korzybski

Source: Science and Sanity (1933), p. 76.
Context: Man's achievements rest upon the use of symbols.... we must consider ourselves as a symbolic, semantic class of life, and those who rule the symbols, rule us.

„The only link between the verbal and objective world is exclusively structural, necessitating the conclusion that the only content of all "knowledge" is structural.“

—  Alfred Korzybski

Source: Science and Sanity (1933), p. 20.
Context: The only link between the verbal and objective world is exclusively structural, necessitating the conclusion that the only content of all "knowledge" is structural. Now structure can be considered as a complex of relations, and ultimately as multi-dimensional order. From this point of view, all language can be considered as names for unspeakable entities on the objective level, be it things or feelings, or as names of relations. In fact... we find that an object represents an abstraction of a low order produced by our nervous system as the result of a sub-microscopic events acting as stimuli upon the nervous system.

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„The word is not the thing.“

—  Alfred Korzybski

Source: Science and Sanity (1933), p. 222.

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