Report on Second National Workshop
General Semantics: Reflections on an Enlightened Living
Venue: Senate Hall, Central College, Bangalore University
15-17 February, 2010
The Second National Workshop organized by Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and other Human Sciences and Bangalore University was held in Central College, Bangalore during 15-17 February, 2010. The Theme of the Workshop was “General Semantics: Aspirations for an Enlightened Living”. The Workshop Sessions were conducted and public lectures delivered by Pravesh Jung Golay, IIT Bombay, Devkumar Trivedi, Prafulla C. Kar and Bini B.S. The participants also made presentations, exploring various possibilities of General Semantics.
The workshop began at 10.30 am with an inaugural ceremony chaired by Dr. Vimala Rao. Dr. Geetha Bhasker, the local coordinator and the Head, Department of English, Bangalore University delivered the welcome address in which he briefly introduced the faculty of the workshop and drew attention to the significance of the Workshop. Professor Kar gave a scholarly introduction to General Semantics and discussed its inter-disciplinary nature. He talked about various activities and academic vision of the Forum on Contemporary Theory and Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Sciences. In her inaugural address, Dr. Vimala Rao traced the relationship between science and our day to day existence. She expressed her concern over withering human values and human beings’ increasing dependence on technology. Professor Ramaswami, the Guest of Honour delivered an erudite lecture on Semantics, titled “Vagartha: Word and Meaning”.
Pravesh J. Golay
Dr. Pravesh Jung Golay delivered three lectures titled “Contextualizing General Semantics and its Proposed Philosophy”, “General Semantics and its Philosophical Opponent” and “What General Semantics Intends to Do” respectively and he contextualized General Semantics in the history of ideas, explained its philosophical moorings and influences and also explored the implied uses of General Semantics as a way of life. In the first lecture, Pravesh discussed General Semantics in the context of Technocracy Movement and alluded to the fact that Technocrats believed that politicians and businessmen could not manage a complex, rapidly advancing industrial society. He explained that Korzybski’s proposition in his first work, “Manhood of Humanity” about replacing politicians with scientists and engineers who had the technical expertise to manage the economy. Elucidating the idea of social engineering, Pravesh explained how Korzybski saw it as a remedy to social ills in a war torn world. Pravesh’s second lecture explained the philosophical bases of General Semantics and threw light on the non-Aristotelian and non-Euclidean leanings of General Semantics. Pravesh argued that though General Semantics 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.” General Semantics is a hybrid discipline that has drawn insights from such fields as linguistics, neuroscience, philosophy and epistemology, psychology, literature, media studies etc. “What General Semantics Intends to Do” tried to analyze the implications of General Semantics as a way of life and the means by which it tries to remedy the problems in an individual’s life and grave crises of humanity. Pravesh explained the emergence of the human sciences as a revisionary field of critical inquiry. In his opinion, this phenomenon 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.
Prafulla C. Kar
Professor Kar’s lecture, General Semantics as a Human Science justified why General Semantics can rightly be called a human science. He emphasized that the 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.
Professor Kar observed that the scientific community should be aware 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.” 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 and the like. 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.” He opined that like Korzybski, Balvantbhai too has a grand social vision and the establishment of this Centre is only a modest testimony to that vision.
Devkumar Trivedi’s public lectures titled “The Raised” and “The Risen” explored two states of human consciousness and achievement. In the first lecture, he traced the workings of human mind and intellect. Elucidating the idea, ‘Know Thyself’, Mr. Trivedi traced analyzed the structure of human brain and its functions. Once a human being understands its capabilities and limitations in his personal and professional lives, it would be easy to find remedies for problems. He opined that rising up to the task of self-analysis and self-critique is significant. Sharing many experiences in his career as a bureaucrat, Mr. Trivedi could substantiate his successful approach to solving problems through patient analysis and ethical considerations. He also pointed out the dangers of ‘impulsive decisions’. The second lecture, “The Risen” presented a plethora of remedies suggested by various thinkers like Korzybski and his intellectual heirs. He recapitulated the methods suggested in Science and Sanity, Drive Yourself Sane and other significant works on General Semantics. He analyzed the uses of these principles in better understanding, crisis management, and achieving happiness and contentment the light of his personal and professional experiences.
Bini B.S. delivered a lecture on the topic “Aspirations on an Enlightened Living: Towards a General Semantics Perspective” in which she attempted to place general semantics in the framework of the enlightenment philosophy. Analyzing the indebtedness of the principles of General Semanics to Buddhism and to thinkers like Descartes, Locke, Hume, Rousseau, Kant and the like, she contemplated on the possible views on enlightenment in the fluid discipline of General Semantics and threw light on the post-structural critique of General Semantics. Bini explained the nuances of time-binding and “Map is not the territory” in the context of Media and complex power equations in the contemporary society. She also delineated the techniques explained by Korzybski to facilitate human understanding and prevent misevaluation. Bini concluded that rather than its theoretical possibilities, Korzybski was concerned about the practical implications of General Semantics.
The response of participants was encouraging and enthusiastic. In all the sessions, there were active discussions and deliberations. Participants presented papers on a variety of topics. The volunteers’ contributions were remarkable. In the Open Session, wish for more events based on General Semantics and allied areas was expressed. Participants also suggested that ‘activity-based sessions’ could have been included.
The Workshop opened the avenues for a better understanding of General Semantics as a discipline and a practice that can perhaps change one’s vision and way of life.
A Section of the Audience Volunteers
Central College, Venue