Advanced National Workshop in General Semantics

28-30 January 2013

An Advanced National Workshop in General Semantics was organized by the Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Sciences from the 28th to the 30th of January 2013 at Baroda . The Workshop began on a sad note as Balvant Parekh, industrialist and Chief Patron of the Centre, had  passed away on the 25th of January 2013.A minute’s silence was observed for the departed soul. Prof Prafulla Kar, Director of the Centre, in his inaugural address, said that it was Balvant Parekh who introduced General Semantics in India and so great was his generosity and love for General Semantics that he established this Centre. We were moved to hear that one of the last things that he did was to have General Semantics read out to him by one of the members of his family.

Bruce.I.Kodish

Bruce.I.Kodish, independent researcher and scholar from Pasadena , California , and author of Korzybski: A Biography, in his keynote address, stressed that the  Workshop would be an experiential and  participative one so that the participants  could practise  General Semantics on their own. While pointing out that for Alfred Korzybski, General Semantics was a general theory of evaluation, he said that it is a study of how we operate and how we look at the world and is a discipline to become an advanced thinker. While giving a brief biographical sketch of Korzybski, he said that Korzybski was trained as a chemical engineer and had suffered as a soldier in the battlefront and had said that he could not have done his work if he did not know English. Korzybski had learnt the field of Calculus from his father and the mathematical way of thinking. He had questions on what makes humans differ from animals and said that it was time binding, our potential to stand on the shoulders of others.In 1921, Korzybski wrote Manhood of Humanity, and time binding was the basis of this book. Bruce I. Kodish said there is an undertone in the language of the word “Semantics” in General Semantics and our automacity may lead to our habitual use of language and hence it is important to use quotes. He said that when Korzybski talks about General Semantics, he is not talking about words, but human evaluation whereas Hayakawa made General Semantics an expanded linguistic discipline. He remarked that everyone has a different nervous system and so it would be a different Workshop for everyone. Whatever one experiences, one experiences the way one is, not the way things are. What one sees is not what is going on. To demonstrate this, he showed a piece of silk cloth which seemed to disappear in his hand. Everything we perceive we abstract is a function not only of what is going on, but of us as observers. He quoted Anais Nin who said “We see things not as they are but as we are”. He suggested that that one must read Korzybski’s magnum opus Science and Sanity and remarked that he had a mission to inspire people to continue the Korzybskian line of teaching and thus practice Gujarati wisdom which says that if you found something useful, share it.

Bini B.S, Academic Fellow of the Balvant Parekh Centre, proposed the vote of thanks and said that the purpose of the Workshop was to identify participants who will contribute to the Centre by reading and teaching General Semantics and that she looked forward to many collaborative events.

Devkumar Trivedi

In the next session, Devkumar Trivedi, recalling his fifty- year relationship with Balvant Parekh, paid tribute to him and said that he lived General Semantics more than he talked about it and that like Korzybski, he had fuelled a torch and raised it high and was at peace with himself. Trivedi, in his lecture on “Paradigms and Parameters”, said that workshops may be enclavised or may be open house. They are not just for one category of people, namely academicians, but for engineers, housewives, etc so that a new way of looking at things emerges because by shifting the perspective, what is hidden may become visible. He also spoke about the parameters to be considered while organizing workshops such as the academic aspect, the administrative aspect, execution, function and management. He pointed out that it was because of Professor Prafulla Kar’s extensive academic network that workshops could be organized in this Centre.

Pravesh Golay

Pravesh Golay Jung in his presentation on “General Semantics as a Virtue Epistemology” remarked that very few thinkers have thought about the definition of man as a time binder as written in Manhood of Humanity. He said that Science and Sanity was a rich minefield which opens itself at various points for one to enter. He spoke about whether General Semantics bridges the gap between a knower and a doer and about how we deal with General Semantics in the context of revolutions.

Deepa Mishra

Deepa Mishra in her presentation on “Locating Korzybski in the Utopian Tradition” said that Utopia is not an idea that can be realized only in the future but can be realized even in the present. She discussed why this Utopia, this quest for perfection, was not achievable so far.

Dilip Barad made a PowerPoint presentation on the topic “What we do with Language/Technology, and what it/they do/es with us” He spoke about Neil Postman’s book Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. He remarked that how a question is posed to us is never devoid of neutrality. For example, two priests ask the Pope, “Is it permissible to smoke while praying” and the answer is “No”, but to the question “Is it permissible to pray while smoking” , the answer is “ Yes”.He said that what one sees on television is an edited perspective and one should be conscious of it.

In the next session, Bruce.I.Kodish conducted experiments in nonverbal awareness. He asked the participants to listen to sounds, allow the sounds to come to them, and not put words or labels on them. He pointed out that animals live in the process world and they do not talk in the sense of human language and that the silent, unspeakable level can be noisy. Each one’s list of what they heard will be different. The world is not just black and white, but there are shades of grey and what about the other colours? He asked the participants to notice in their awareness how many shades of green there are.

In the Round Table Discussion, Prof Prafulla Kar said   that the Centre organizes one annual National Workshop in General Semantics for which a resource person from the United States is invited. Certificate Courses in General Semantics are conducted for school teachers and college students. Balvant Parekh’s vision was to spread General Semantics among not just students and teachers but police, managers, housewives etc. There was a discussion on how to organize these activities at the Regional level. It was suggested that a survey be made to find out whether the Courses in General Semantics have any effect on the behaviour of participants and enter into their nervous system and whether they become better human beings.  Bruce I. Kodish said that it would take a while before one internalizes General Semantics since it is not a verbal thing. There was a suggestion to include General Semantics in the curriculum for the Master’s Course in English.

On   the second day of the Workshop, Kamal Mehta, in his presentation on General Semantics, said that Korzybski’s human engineering is both an Art and a Science to make life saner, relevant and better. He said that Korzybski had provided a foundation for a science of humanity and that General Semantics was a tool to become better evaluators and to work on ourselves to behave extensionally. He gave examples of role models from Indian Epics.

The next presentation was by Bini B.S on “Conscious Time-binding and the Democratization of Education”. She said that General Semantics is applied epistemology, a system of evaluation, a set of practical instructions and that language thought and behaviour are connected. She said that education must promote creative and critical approach to knowledge called creatical thinking. She pointed out that Korzybski, who was educated at home, realized that autocratic people keep the masses illiterate because knowledge and awareness make people mighty. Education helps unlearn the language of silence and subservience and find the language of resistance. She remarked that learners must, as Neil Postman says, have an attitude to knowledge of asking the right questions. She said that learners should have a culture of enquiry and not be degenerated to garbage cans of knowledge but be transformed.

In the next session, the participants were asked to do some practical experiments to demonstrate General Semantics. They were asked to taste a piece of tasting paper and each one reported a different taste. A piece of paper with two bumps and three hollows when seen from another perspective after turning it 180 degrees seemed different with two hollows and three bumps on it. A spinning wheel which had some broken lines on it, when spinning seemed to have a shade of black colour. When two curved pieces of cardboard of the same size were placed next to each other, one seemed bigger than the other.

Geetha Bhasker, in her presentation on “General Semantics and Effective Communication”, discussed some strategies to transform oneself using the formulations of General Semantics and to empower oneself in order to communicate clearly, effectively and confidently and have a mature, broad outlook. She also discussed personal time-binding regarding how one could transform one’s inner speech to use, as Phyllis Mindell says, the language of success and shed the language of weakness.

Susheel   Kumar Sharma in his presentation on the topic “Of Ethics, Sanity and Happiness –Some Remarks in the Light of General Semantics” said that ethics, sanity and happiness cannot be manufactured. He pointed out that the developmental model which treats food, clothes and shelter as the basic needs will be different from the one that treats air, water and a piece of land as the basic needs. He said that freedom, self respect and income contribute to one’s sanity.

Gananath Dash

Gananath Dash’s presentation was on “General Semantics: A Teaching Tool”. He related General Semantics to the teaching learning situation and said that charity begins at home and that if as teachers we cannot begin with ourselves and our classrooms, we cannot impact others. He pointed out the distinction between facts and inferences and gave examples from Othello, Macbeth, ‘The Necklace’ and ‘The Last Leaf’.

E. V. Ramakrishnan

 The next presentation was on “Understanding Poetry” by E. V. Ramakrishnan. He spoke about how a metrical composition codifies reality and said that metre is not just a form, but interprets reality, creating a new reality if metre is changed. He referred to the Malayalam poet Kumaran Asan who created a rupture in the tradition of poetry and redefined Malayalam sensibility. He also read out poems by Gopal Honalgere and Langston Hughes, apart from his own poems.

In the next session, there was a screening of the film “The Inspector General” written by Nikolai Gogol which brought out effectively the misevaluations made by people and thus made General Semantics which is a theory of evaluations clear.

The third day of the Workshop began with a Round Table Discussion on approaches to teaching General Semantics. Bruce I. Kodish pointed out that Korzybski’s method was to make presentations interesting by giving examples, visualizing with diagrams, having demonstrations, getting people to interact, get up and dance, be awake and in contact with everyone,  have a vibrancy in one’s voice, make it lively  and not have typical academic high order abstractions which create boredom. He played a recording of Korzybski’s speeches and also a song “Put your lights on”. He got the participants to get up and dance in step with him to show how every activity has structure and order and that one need not be a choreographer to get people to dance.

The next presentation was by Debasis Pati on the topic “Woman as (S) human: Modifying the Map for the Territory”.He spoke about science for sanity and scientizing the humanities and about dialectics. He also spoke about applying General Semantics to the feminist area, the woman question and referred to it as a human problem.

A section of the audience

In the Valedictory Session, Prof Prafulla Kar said that this Workshop was different from other workshops in that a group of informed people who had attended previous workshops were invited to participate with the possibility of becoming resource persons for future programs of the Centre. He said that Bruce I.  Kodish was a catalyst in the process of discovering ourselves as he made us think, dance, etc and gave invaluable comments for every presentation. Prof Prafulla Kar said that his interest in Korzybski was through Balvant Parekh, the way Balvant Parekh   understood General Semantics. He remarked that Balvant Parekh was a model Korzybskian and that in ordinary life, he led a profound life. He said that this was a historic occasion, the first Workshop after Balvant Parekh and in memory of him and that we are placed at the cusp of that change and that from that point of view, we have played an important role in carrying forward the legacy of Balvant Parekh. He said that we have to transact this business and play a part in the vision that Balvant Parekh had.  

A Report by Geetha Bhasker

Associate Professor

Department of English

Bangalore University .