Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Sciences was set up in Baroda in 2009 with the generous support provided by Shri Balvant Parekh, the Chairman, Pidilite Industries, Mumbai and his family. Its aims and objectives are to promote the study of general semantics and other human sciences in India. The Centre is registered as a charitable trust under the provisions of Bombay Public Trusts Act of 1950 and administered by a Board of Trust with members from diverse background and experience. It houses a library and reading room, a conference hall, a seminar room, and an administrative office. It shares these facilities with the Centre for Contemporary Theory, which is also involved in academic activities of inter-disciplinary nature. Both Centres work together in close proximity and cooperation and complement each other through their programs.
Why General Semantics?
An avid reader of works pertaining to general semantics and other related areas, Shri Balvant Parekh feels that by establishing such a Centre he will be able to facilitate a process for spreading the awareness of the benefits of general semantics among the people in India, which, he hopes, will lessen their social and personal anxieties and stress and enable them to achieve harmony in relationship. He himself has benefited a lot from the insights drawn from his reading this subject, and therefore wants to share such benefits among others. His social vision and philosophy are based upon this ethics of sharing.
As general semantics has not yet entered the field of study in India, it is appropriate that a brief conceptual outline indicating its features be presented here, which will justify the rationale for establishing a Centre dedicated primarily to it. Although it is not a philosophical system in the strict sense of the term, it takes issue with Aristotle’s syllogistic logic of correspondence, and makes a case for a non-Aristotelian semantic cartography which implies that the word is not the thing, and a “map is not the territory.” This deconstructive method to overcome an ancient wisdom paves the way for a pragmatic approach toward social understanding based upon the principle that in a symbolic system of communication multiple avenues are open for human beings to connect with the world. As a “time-binder,” a phrase that encapsulates man’s innate ability to connect with time and space in order to “abstract” from experience and memory the best possible insight for dealing with the world, man is endowed with the gift of reflective thinking that helps him evaluate his response to a situation in a constructive manner, which will foster harmony and reduce discord and misunderstanding. This was basically Alfred Korzybski’s philosophical position, which defines communication as an “evaluation of one’s neuro-semantic response to the world.” Korzybski, the Polish mathematician and engineer, who was an artillery officer in the First World War, developed this hybrid discipline of “general semantics” by drawing insights from such fields as linguistics, neuroscience, philosophy and epistemology, psychology, literature, media studies etc.
His mathematical training made Korzybski realize that without the use of scientific method human beings could not succeed in alleviating their social and psychological problems. He was surprised to find that unlike scientists, who had utilized their knowledge and method of inquiry to achieve so much in terms of success in finding cures for illness, social scientists had done very little in this respect. The fault, according to him, lies with the discipline of social science itself, which does not utilize scientific methodology for solving human problems, but instead wastes its resources in only diagnosing the grim nature of reality and does not try to move forward from such a diagnosis to arrive at solutions. In order to remedy such a lapse Korzybski fabricated a method for restoring sanity and health to human kind. This method consisted of adopting appropriate linguistic behavior and reaction to an event. His emphasis on such simple devices as reflection, delayed reaction, indexing and dating, care in the use of language is meant to achieve positive results in communication process and may result in achieving social harmony. He defines the concept of “general semantics” not as a theoretical construct, but a performative act that does more than it says. He sums up this method in Science and Sanity (1933): “I give no panaceas, but experiences show that when the methods of general semantics are applied, the results are generally beneficial…If they are not applied but merely talked about, no result can be expected.”
Why Human Sciences?
This optimistic note germane to the philosophy and method of general semantics serves as a pointer to its future development within the broad range of concerns of the discipline of the human sciences. The primary concern of the human sciences is to open up the possibility for man to come to terms with his world and to live without much anxiety and tension and achieve the fullness of being through application of scientific method of understanding of what Martin Heidegger calls “being-in-the world.” It is clear from this “mapping” of the “territory” that encompasses more that it promised initially that general semantics and the human sciences are epistemically related, reinforcing each other in a productive way; hence the justification for conflating general semantics with the human sciences.
The emergence of the human sciences as a revisionary field of critical inquiry has to be understood as a consequence of the urgency of the need to re-direct the attention of both social scientists and humanists toward goals of producing knowledge and methodologies to tackle social and human problems through corrective measures. It also makes helpful interventions in science studies as a disciplinary formation with a view to impressing upon the scientific community that mere empirical approach to problems is not adequate. The insights of traditional disciplines like literature and philosophy need to be invoked by both natural and social scientists for providing a conceptual support to their research findings. Instead of dealing with the world as an abstract entity the human scientists focus on the concrete particulars, on “hermeneutics of everyday life.” So the shift in their thinking from addressing “body-politic” in generic terms to a focus on the “body” as a concrete object in need of healing has certainly heralded a new orientation in social and human sciences that deserves to be studied and appropriated as a new thinking opening out to have a significant impact upon the world in this century. Korzybski’s prophetic words from Science and Sanity, like Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” aptly capture the mood of the new human sciences: “The task ahead is gigantic if we are to avoid more personal, national, and even international tragedies based on unpredictability, insecurity, fears, anxieties etc…. Only when we face these facts fearlessly and intelligently may we save for future civilizations whatever there is left to save, and build from the ruins of a dying epoch a new and saner society.”
Like Korzybski, Balvantbhai too has a grand social vision. The establishment of this Centre is only a modest testimony to that vision.
Academic Programs and Publications
The Centre organizes several academic programs throughout the year in Baroda and across the country, which include an annual Balvant Parekh distinguished lecture, workshops and seminars in general semantics and related topics, certificate courses in collaboration with other educational institutions, programs for corporate professionals, and occasional lecture programs at the Centre. It publishes a Newsletter twice a year, and wants to bring out a Journal dedicated to general semantics and other human sciences.
The Centre has a library with books and journals meant for the use of both serious academics interested in research and common readers. The library has two sections: general and specialized. Books from the general section could be borrowed by the members; books from the specialized section are meant to be used in the library only. The library is kept open from 10.00 am to 8.00 pm, Monday through Saturday.
Membership to the Centre
Various categories of membership are available for using the facilities of the Centre: life-membership; annual membership; and student membership. The details of the membership fee and rules for borrowing books from the library are available on the Centre’s website.
Board of Trust
The Centre is administered by a Board of Trust consisting of the following persons.
Narendrakumar Kalyanji Parekh, Chairman
Prafulla Chandra Kar, Managing Trustee
Kalpana Apurva Parekh, Member
Sitanshu Yashaschandra Mehta, Member
Devkumar Trivedi, Member
Chandrakant Topiwala, Member
Madhukar Balvantray Parekh, Member
Ajay Balvantray Parekh, Member
C-302 Siddhivinayak Complex
Behind Vadodara Railway Station
Baroda 390 007
Tel: (0265) 2320870