National Workshop, “General Semantics as a Human Science,” 5-8 October, 2014, Department of English, HNB Garhwal University, Srinagar, Uttarakhand
Audience at Inauguration
Balvant Parekh Centre organized a four days long National Workshop on “General Semantics as a Human Science” during 5-8 October, 2014 and about 50 participants from across disciplines attended the workshop. Being the host department there was a mixed atmosphere of academic festivity as well as curiosity among the students about this event since this workshop was the first of its kind in the Department of English, HNB Garhwal University since its inception.
This academic event had connected the past, present and future of the English Department and synchronized them in a peculiar way. For the alumni, it was something that took them back in time and made them want to reconnect; for the present students, it gave an opportunity to garner as much from the department as they could and to take forward its true spirit of continuous learning. But for all the participants this workshop reinstated their associations with the department in a truly unique way.
Easy though it seemed at the start, the Workshop was an exercise that demanded almost an academic churning. With a lot of zeal and enthusiasm the workshop started on the 5th of October at 10:30 A.M. The participants from remote areas of Garhwal Himalayas such as Gopeshwar, Uttarkashi, Tehri and Rudraprayag started arriving at the venue. They had received their reading material in advance. In his address during the inaugural session, the local convener of the workshop Prof. D. R. Purohit, Head, Department of English welcomed the faculty and participants. He spoke about the emphasis of the workshop on something which is fast disappearing in the age of SMS and instant communication i.e. the art and skill of direct human communication and interaction. This was followed by a formal welcome address from Prof. Prafulla C. Kar, Director of the Centre. He introduced the theme of the workshop and spoke on the vision of Mr. Balvant Parekh in setting up the Centre. Being an exemplary scholar and human being, Balvantbhai influenced thousands of people by giving importance to honesty, sharing, and sincerity in work. Prof. Kar concluded the address with a hope that the workshop would be able to pave a path for future research and build up close links with the students and faculty of the university located in a relatively remote area of the country.
J.P Dimri, D.R. Purohit
In the keynote address, Prof. J. P. Dimri, former Professor of Russian, the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad pointed out the significance of plurality and contextual specificity of meaning(s) in Paninian Grammatical Tradition with examples from Sanskrit Poetics and Russian Literature. He elucidated the richness and aesthetics of Sanskrit language that demands a variegated semantic sensibility and creativity. He made his presentation very interesting by recollecting diverse flavours of language and everyday experiences of his childhood spent in Garhwal Himalayas. The chair of the session, Prof. D. S. Negi, Head, Dept. of Mathematics vibrantly ignited the young minds with his inspiring words. The inaugural session ended with the formal vote of thanks proposed by Dr. Bini B.S., Academic Fellow of the Centre.
Address by J.P. Dimri
The format of each session of the workshop included lectures by the experts, interactive panel discussions with the faculty and presentations by participants. The workshop revolved around and was motivated by Korzybski’s two seminal works, Manhood of Humanity (1921) and Science and Sanity (1933). Prof. Kar introduced these two texts to the participants. He spoke about “Thalamo- Cortical Integration”- and brought to the forefront the concepts of ‘pause’, ‘delay’, ‘a second look’ or ‘meditation at the silent object level’- the key methods in General Semantics. In order to improve the human situation, one should recognize how the outmoded ways of thinking-feeling-believing makes our situation worse. One should develop the habit of questioning and inquiry. Korzybski appreciated the methods of science and mathematics as models for clear thinking toward human welfare and advancement. Prof. Kar urged for a careful reading of Korzybski to understand the human condition and ways to improve it. The day ended with the distribution of topics for presentation. The participants were divided into eight groups, each consisting of five students. Each group was assigned a main topic and the members were to collectively divide the subtopics among them. This was deliberately done to inculcate the feeling of team spirit, and the art of sharing and bonding among the participants.
The next day started with (Workshop-II) the talk of Dr. Bini B.S. on “The Time-Binding Class of Life: An Overview of Manhood of Humanity.” In this interactive session she discussed in detail that how the human beings are different from animals as they are basically conscious time-binding beings and this consciousness leads inevitably to feelings of responsibility and duty toward humanity. The human behaviour cannot be judged on the basis of statistical averages and isolated self. A panel discussion on “General Semantics as a Human Science” followed and the panelists were Prof. Kar, Prof. J. P. Dimri, Prof. D. R. Purohit and Dr. Bini B.S. It was an enriching session and diverse views of the experts were insightful on a formulation of interpretation and understanding of the meaning of General Semantics as a human science. The students actively participated by making observations and asking questions.
In an interactive session with Prof. Kar, the comments, queries and questions of the participants were quite encouraging which spoke volumes about their interest and involvement. Prof. Kar answered every question thoughtfully and sensitively. During the session Prof. Kar appreciated the thinking skills, creativity and innovative ideas of the participants. The presentation by the first group of students also proved the quality and ability of the participants of this workshop.
Mythology and Music, a Preentation on Nandadevi
The third day began with Prof. Kar’s speech on Korzybski’s essay “The Role of Language in the Perceptual Processes.” Prof. Kar explained the complex role of language in the life of human mind and society. He emphasized that language has always been an excellent medium for expressing one’s creativity. He cited examples from Korzybski’s life and works on the importance of recognizing and appreciating the differences between verbal and non-verbal levels of consciousness. The great thinker asked us to value the difference between “what is going on – what appears to be going on, and what we imagine, think, believe or say in a perceptual process of language.” The comments and observations of the participants on this particular talk were commendable. After the role and importance of language, Dr. Bini B.S. spoke on “Consciousness of Abstracting and Structural Differential.” She explained how rigidities of beliefs and dogmas can be deconstructed by being aware that nothing is absolutely and permanently true and our views are ‘abstractions’. Through practising the ‘consciousness of abstracting’ one can improve the representational accuracy of our abstractions and also be aware that total accuracy is an unattainable ideal. Her interpretation of the structural differential was enriched by contemporary examples, especially from media reportage, advertisements and representations in art. Dr. Bini’s methodology and techniques made her teaching more lively and interesting which augmented the urge of the participants to know more. She succeeded in creating a rapport between the teachers and the taught. These lectures were followed by the presentations by the participants. The presentations opened up multiple dimensions of general semantics.
The last day of the workshop began with Dr. Bini‘s lecture on “Non-Aristotelian Orientation: Internalizing Extensional Devices.” She discussed how Korzybski recommended a non-Aristotelian method that placed a great deal of significance to the conscious linguistic behaviour. Korzybski defined a human being not in terms of what one ‘is’ but what one ‘does’, a non-Aristotelian outlook. The myth of the ‘is’ of identity, which has a peculiar Aristotelian stance of absolutism needs to be critically evaluated. She explained the extensional devices such as “date,” “index,” “chain-index,” “etcetera” and “quotes and hyphens” and illustrated how these devices help in dispelling misunderstanding and confusion in communication.
The teaching session of Dr. Bini B.S. ended with fruitful comments and queries by the participants. The remaining presentations by the senior students provided an effective discussion platform for exploration and discussion of diverse issues about general semantics. The workshop concluded with an open session and a valedictory ceremony attended by all the faculty members – Prof. D. S. Kaintura, Dr. Shakuntala Kunwar, Dr. Monika Gupta, Dr. P. C. Kabthiyal and Dr. Deepak Kumar. The participants gave their encouraging feedback and remarked that Prof. P.C.Kar and Dr. Bini B.S. possessed the art of sharing their knowledge succinctly. Substantiating the ideas with nuggets of other information relevant to the period or the person thereby enriched the subject being taught. Prof. D. R. Purohit gave the closing address, while Prof. Surekha Dangwal proposed the Vote of Thanks.
The aim and objective of this workshop was to develop among the scholars the ability to explore, discover, research, and think for oneself, to acquire the power of lateral thinking, while at the same time cultivating patience, humility and balanced judgment required to respect others’ varying points of view. It is hoped that the workshop succeeded and accomplished these objectives.
Surekha Dangwal, Professor of English, HNB Garhwal University