Elementalism

Copyright year by Ralph E Kenyon Jr

"... what I call "elementalism," or splitting verbally what cannot be split empirically, such as the term mind by itself and the terms body, space, time, etc., by themselves ."  (The Role of Language in the Perceptual Process, Alfred Korzybski (1950) in CW, p. 702

"For instance, elementalism results from identification, confusion of orders of abstraction, projection, objectification, etc ., etc .," (M. Kendig, Introduction, 2nd Congress, 1943, p. xvii.

 Various individuals have paraphrased this as "verbally splitting what can not actually be split", "verbally splitting what can not be split in reality".

All human language and symbolism, as understood by any person, maps "what is going on" (WIGO). In spite of the picture of the object level and the parabola, we have no direct access to WIGO. so we can not validly say what is or is not capable of being "split" in WIGO. The general semantics principle labeled 'elementalism' can only be described with words, which represent and projects interpretations on WIGO - in short, they are part of our map, not the territory. Whatever we say it is, that is not "it", but only a human hypothetical supposition - a model element, subject to disconfirmation or corroboration only in terms other verbal abstractions from other's interpretations. Every time we say the term 'X' is an "elementalism" because X and Y cannot be split "in reality", we are presuming to *know* the nature of WIGO with respect to X and Y. But each of the words 'X' and 'Y' are themselves maps in our language that is not WIGO. The defining of 'elementalism' in any way that makes reference presumably to what is going on violates the first principle of mapping, and is one of the definitions that make the un-updated system of general semantics inconsistent.

If we return to Korzybski's precise wording, "cannot be split empirically", we have another problem.  We can observe what has not been shown empirically, and we can observe what has been shown empirically, but we can not observe what "cannot" be split empirically; we can only observe what "has not yet" been split.  To claim that something, anything, can not be done, is just as flawed a future claim as any allness claim. The definition by Korzybski himself states the definition of 'elementalism' in an allness claim in spite of its empirical basis.  The best we can say is that we have not yet figured out how to empirically split our candidate terms.

As far as 'time' and 'space' goes, we have empirically measured each one independently of the other for literally thousands of years.  It was only when Einstein looked at the form of laws of physics while holding the speed of light constant - consistent with empirical discovery -  that the consequence of this discover required that space and time be mutually interdependent and contextually variable, and that with astronauts in orbit the clocks run slower (illustration).  With radio communications we can measure the time passed in space and the time passed on earth and empirically measure the difference.

In keeping with the above, however, 'space', 'time', and 'space-time' are all abstractions made by human beings into verbal levels.  Each one is just as much a high level abstraction and useful in human discourse as the others, but none of them depicts "what is going on"; not one of them can be known as "the way the world is". Each is an abstraction, be it the word itself, the semantic reaction (unique to each of us) or the symbolic "meme", which itself can only be described in words and correlations.  Every "word", every "meme", every "semantic reaction" such that a human being can "recognize" it depends on that human beings prior experience and the neurological process of abstracting into circuits that abstract the similarity of new experience and past experience, is show in the neurological basis of identity.

Korzybski gives the terms 'space' and 'time' as the paradigm case example for what he terms "an elementalism", but we have empirically split those term for literally thousands of years prior to Einstein, so they do not meet his own definition. Einstein gave us popular acceptance of a relatively new perspective space-time, that had, in truth, been in use for hundreds of years, at least since Descartes, in the rare math and physics circles.  The change that Einstein gave us made made both space and time variable instead of fixed, and showed that they were noticeably (measurably) mutually interrelated at high velocities, something that was an observed anomaly (Mercury's precession) unaccounted for by Newtonian physics.

Later Korzybski adds four more terms.

"... the elementalism of 'body' and `mind', 'intellect' and 'emotions'., ..." S&S p. 542.

These four terms represent abstractions for which there are a great many valid uses.  The additional abstractions 'body-mind' and 'intellect-emotions'  can not replace the vast majority of the uses of the four terms which he thus labels "elementalisms". It is very easy to empirically separate the uses of these four terms which can not be replaced with the new hyphenated terms. We already have had for half a century the term 'psychosomatic' in medical fields which describes a class of events involving the joint action of "mind" and "body" as mind-body events.

The hyphenated connection of two terms labeled "elementalism" can not be understood as many have said, uniting verbally what cannot "really" be split, or which cannot "in actuality" be split, or which can not empirically be split, simply because we can not directly know what is going on, by virtue of the fact that everything we do "know" or "believe" is our abstraction from our reactions to WIGO and our cultural-semantic experience, and IS NOT WIGO.

Simply put, our "map" (cumulative brain responses as remembered consciously and unconsciously) is not the territory (WIGO).
We "project" our map onto WIGO and typically act as if our map "is" the territory. Naive realism holds that what we see "is" the structure in WIGO. But we know better; we know that what we see is NOT WIGO.

Also, since it is based in empirical, we can also not know that such can not be; we can only know the we do not yet know how it could be empirically distinguished. In other words, Korzybski's definition of elemenalism as based in the empirical. That means we have observed something, or we have a theory that predicts something and we observed that prediction, or we have a theory that say that something won't happen, and we have never observed it happening. In the former we observed something. then our formulation is a fact. In the later two cases, the theory that predicts what we see is corroborated, and the theory that predicts that we don't see, and we don't see, then that theory is also corroborated. BUT, we can not say it will never happen, we can only say that we have not YET seen it happen, so we are working on the basis of a not-yet-disconfirmed theory. Korzybski's definition of elementalism has "can not be split empirically", which comes out as can not be measured independently.

The very fact that people use a word with a consistent dictionary definition means that we can measure that word usage distinctly from any other word usage, which is to say that it is empirically measurable, and that is contrary to Korzybski's definition of CAN NOT BE measured separately (split) from another word. Abstracting to verbal levels comes down to single words, and words are such that they can be remembered and recognized - they have the property of being identifiable from usage to usage, time to time, person to person, as the dictionary shows.

Because our current map does not show us how something could be does not mean we will never be able to know how we can.  This is simply part of the "territory" that is not covered by the map.  Maps that lack empirical methods to distinguish between intellect and emotions do not predict or mean that we will never be able to distinguish between them, so what Korzybski called elementalisms in 1933, are no longer elementalisms, because we now do have the capacity and the science to distinguish empirically between each of the pairs of terms he labeled empirically. 

With the Attitude Theory of Emotion,  six emotions were shown to be structurally related to body preparatory motor attitudes. This places body and emotions on a structural interactive basis.  When I combined that research with the basic abstraction process of general semantics, I got a six stage processing model that integrated abstraction and emotion. Each term has its place in the model making for sense-abstract-decide-orient-feel-act as a possible term to encompass the six stage information processing model of action.  These terms all represent aspects of human beings that can each be empirically measured indirectly.  And a great deal more sub-structures of behavior and language together with brain scans and other measurements is continuing to be done at an accelerating rate, helping to build our model of human understanding and behavior with more and more science.

Be that as it may, we still do not and can not know in any direct way what "in reality" may or may not be split, because we can not know directly any structure in WIGO. We can ONLY know our abstractions neurological and personal for each one of us, as well as symbolically in our linguistic and iconic representations,  We have only our such maps, and we "know" the map isn't "it", the map doesn't cover it all, and the maps are made by each one of us.

So Korzybski's original definition, "verbally splitting what can not empirically be split" does not apply to any of the things he said it does, and it certainly does NOT apply to what his followers have mistakenly said it does "verbally splitting what can not actually be split" or "verbally splitting what can not in reality be split".

"Elementalism" as defined by Korzybski does not apply to what he said it does, and it can not apply as distorted by his followers, and neither is consistent with mapping principles applied to WIGO, and the very definition commits the fallacy of the incomplete map (which all are), that if it is not mapped today, it can never be mapped in the future.

Elementalism is incoherent, false to fact, misunderstood, and should be dropped from "general semantics" if it can not be re-defined to remove the "can not" from the definition, because it effectively defines 'elementalism' as something that can not be measured. Such a statement entails "allness", and as well as something unscientific.  
 

 
Annotated bibliography of general semantics paperss
General Semantics and Related Topics

This page was updated by Ralph Kenyon on 2013-06-12 at 02:59 and has been accessed 3191 times at 65 hits per month.