Levels of Knowing and Existence

book by Harry L. Weinberg

Levels of Knowing and Existence: Studies in General Semantics (Harper and Row 1959) is a textbook written by Professor Harry L. Weinberg that provides a broad overview of General Semantics in language accessible to the layman.

  • When our maps do not fit the territory, when we act as if our inferences are factual knowledge, we prepare ourselves for a world that isn’t there. If this happens often enough, the inevitable result is frustration and an ever-increasing tendency to warp the territory to fit our maps. We see what we want to see, and the more we see it, the more likely we are to reinforce this distorted perception, in the familiar circular and spiral feedback pattern.
    • p. 29
  • Any form of thought, activity, custom, type of government, or theory is good to the degree that it fosters the development of effective time-binders; conversely, it is bad to the degree that it does not. This value judgment applies to any culture anywhere. Because the nervous system of all men are essentially the same, any custom which warps the functioning of the nervous system is bad, even if it is accepted by that society, for in the long run it will lead to its destruction.
    • p. 158
  • Inherent, then, in our concept of the effective time-binder is an attitude, an ethical judgment, a moral precept as strong as any of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not knowingly warp the functioning of any nervous system.” Or stated positively, “So act as to make thyself a better time-binder; so act as to enable others to use their time-binding capacities more effectively.
    • p. 159
  • When we try to imagine ourselves dead, we can only do so in terms of being alive. We imagine ourselves being somewhere, feeling something, and these feelings and sensings are inevitably those we experience when alive. Obviously, when the nervous system decomposes, any possible feeling and sensing would have to be radically different from that which occurs in the living state, and this is absolutely unimaginable.
    • p. 199
  • Although the law of gravity may not give us a precise answer as to where exactly a given bullet will hit the earth (it will be influenced by wind, temperature, condition of gun, weight of power, etc.) it does tell us where an ideal bullet would hit under ideal conditions. By controlling conditions to approach these ideals, we can often get remarkably accurate answers. The law of gravity is a higher-order abstraction and like all higher order abstractions, it is static. Based on highly accurate observations, it is a summary and idealization (generalization) of certain invariances in relationships among objects we can discern by ignoring or controlling certain individual differences, such as wind velocity, pressure, etc.
  • p. 205
  • And so we come to the end of our journey. We have spoken of many and diverse things. But through all their differences ran one unifying thread, one invariant under transformation, the structure of the language used to describe and define them. Now our portion of the tapestry is woven. I hope the design is clear, the pattern appealing, and I hope this weaving is not the end.
    • Closing words, p. 265

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