The "C" of general semantics

There is some room for evolution and revision where the "ABC's" of general semantics is concerned.

Traditionally, the "C" of general semantics has been given as "the map is self-reflexive".

Examples of maps being self-reflexive given at general semantics seminars focused on the key that is often provided to explain symbols used on the map. Not all maps have these self-reflexive keys, in fact, most of the more general structures to which we apply the term map generally, and especially in general semantics, do not. In the cases where such keys are defined, we actually have a "meta-map" which maps some of the symbols on the map to our natural language. The choice of such symbols to be explained, as well as of the symbols on the map itself, is always determined by the map-maker. The structures used in maps without such keys are also chosen by the map maker.

The mapping system that "conveys information" from senses to brains has been "made" by the co-evolutionary process involving the organisms interacting in their (changing) environments over millennia, and it is very reflective of the maker, the process of co-evolution. But it is only with the advent of human languages and scientific modeling processes that this mapping process could even remotely be construed as self-reflexive. This neurological system has typically, over millennia, been so unaware of its own processing that we falsely believed that we could know the things in the world and the truths. Our current model describes our neuro-semantic systems as "modeling" our environment - from nonverbal through verbal levels. But, I dare say, it has not included a model of itself, except now-a-days by only the neurologically and semantically educated (and by those who practice "consciousness of abstracting").

All human constructed maps reflect the choices of the map maker, an awareness of which can come in much handier than the idea that some maps have meta-maps built in. It was my impression at general semantics seminars that evolving general semantics would move away from always "quoting the master".

Self-reflexivity is itself an inherently flawed notion, as was shown by Bertrand Russell in his counter-example to Frege's system. Russell's theory of types was an attempt to formally deal with the flaw. The notion adopted in general semantics of levels-of-abstraction shows the possibility of both recursion and circularity. Recursion can be made consistent, but circularity cannot. Combining circularity with the notion of always changing, shows than each iteration is always later, different, and hence non self-reflexive. The notion of "self" is problematic itself in that it connotes a kind of cross-temporal identity.

So, in my present state of understanding, I'm disinclined to refer back to the master's original words as best reflecting an up-to-date simplification of general semantics into some basic "ABC" principles. Imagine if we tried to explain the functioning of the nervous system, brains, and other chemistry in terms of colloids?  I think we all recognize that this part of general semantics is obsolete. Similarly, "self-reflexive" needs great qualification and can only be used with specific care and qualifications.


Annotated bibliography of general semantics papers
General Semantics and Related Topics

This page was updated by Ralph Kenyon on 2009/11/16 at 00:27 and has been accessed 949 times at 0 hits per month.