More meaningful Korzybski

Anecdote about Korzybski

One day, Korzybski was giving a lecture to a group of students, and he suddenly interrupted the lesson in order to retrieve a packet of biscuits, wrapped in white paper, from his briefcase. He muttered that he just had to eat something, and he asked the students on the seats in the front row, if they would also like a biscuit. A few students took a biscuit. "Nice biscuit, don't you think," said Korzybski, while he took a second one. The students were chewing vigorously. Then he tore the white paper from the biscuits, in order to reveal the original packaging. On it was a big picture of a dog's head and the words "Dog Cookies." The students looked at the package, and were shocked. Two of them wanted to throw up, put their hands in front of their mouths, and ran out of the lecture hall to the toilet. "You see, ladies and gentlemen," Korzybski remarked, "I have just demonstrated that people don't just eat food, but also words, and that the taste of the former is often outdone by the taste of the latter." Apparently his prank aimed to illustrate how some human suffering originates from the confusion or conflation of linguistic representations of reality and reality itself.

More meaningful differences

This morning I was reading that something like 95% of blogs don't get updated regularly. I felt a bit of guilt but another statement in the article also rang true, that most blogs have an audience of one. I blog because I like the interface better than writing in a diary.

One blog that I think deserves a large readership is The Stretta Procedure because it takes the current topics and adds a dose of reflection. The current post takes the issue of the latest mobile and keyboard and lifts the topic to focus on why people fuss about small incremental differences:

The recent introduction of Tom Oberheim's SEM re-issue sparked a spirited debate on the sonic differences between surface mount and through hole components. I found the discussion mildly amusing - not just because of all the half-truths, flawed premises and mis-information, but due to the psychology behind the discussion itself.

We spend so much time discussing the technical differences because we CAN talk about the technical differences. We can't talk about the sound or usefulness because this is entirely subjective. Those debates pretty much go like this:

"I think the re-issue sounds just like the vintage version."
"I think your ears are full of poop."
And so on.

Technology is concrete, exacting. We can zero in on some minute aspect and obsess about it. We can claim a re-issue isn't going to be EXACTLY the same as the original because the traces are too long, or make sharp 90 degree turns or a SMT chip package was used. The existence of these differences, whether or not they actually contribute something meaningful to the sound, nonetheless exist and can be endlessly debated.

Meanwhile, this generates a lot of noise, the issue is magnified and weighs disproportionately in our minds.

At what point is a difference a meaningful one?

Stretta reminded me of something I was reading yesterday about language as a conspiracy. In Everything Is Under Control, Robert Anton Wilson discusses Count Alfred Korzybski, who:

...observed that the words we use influence our perceptions and conceptions of the world - e.g., even in the same language, a book may be called "realistic" by one reader and "pornographic" by another, and each will tend to perceive/conceive the book that way more and more automatically if they repeat their label ("realistic" or "pornographic") over and over. This underlies the mechanism of hypnosis, as Dr. Bandler discovered later. It also explains why you won't make much progress preaching radical equality to somebody who continually uses the word "nigger," or defending the first amendment to somebody who keeps saying "smut" (or "sexism"). (p.276)

The more I read about perception, the more I realise how little information we use to base many decisions upon. Recently I read a blog post (either Boingboing or Wired) which outlined audio illusions. Like, if you put on headphones and listen to a microphone as you rub your fingers in front of it and adjust the tone so that it's all treble, you'll conclude that your fingers are dry because of the sound. Likewise, if you do this while rolling off the higher frequencies, you'll think your fingers are moist.

Our brains must create realistic illusions every day!