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General Semantics

Entry updated 4 April 2017. Tagged: Theme.

A quasi-philosophical movement founded in Chicago in 1938 by Count Alfred Korzybski, whose Science and Sanity (1933) was the basic handbook of the movement. General Semantics had a surprising success, peaking in the 1940s and 1950s. It teaches that first unsanity and later insanity are caused by adherence to an Aristotelian worldview, by which is meant the use of the two-valued either-or logic which Korzybski saw as being built into Indo-European language structures. From this simple beginning – with much of which linguistic philosophers, including Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), would be unlikely to differ very profoundly – was developed a confused and confusing psychotherapeutic system which, like L Ron Hubbard's Dianetics, promised to focus the latent abilities of the mind. It may have seemed to its more naive adherents that General Semantics held out the promise of turning Man into Superman by teaching non-Aristotelian (null-A or Ā, symbolizing the negation of A fo Aristotle) habits of thought. The movement, whose critics saw it as a Pseudoscience, probably had some influence on the development of Dianetics, but its best-known repercussion in sf was the composition of two novels by A E van Vogt featuring a non-Aristotelian superman hero, Gilbert Gosseyn (often read as a pun on "go sane", an intended meaning which van Vogt has confirmed): The World of Ā (August-October 1945 Astounding; rev 1948; vt The World of Null-A 1953 dos; rev with intro 1970) and The Pawns of Null-A (October 1948-January 1949 Astounding as "The Players of Ā"; 1956; vt The Players of Null-A 1966). A late sequel was Null-A Three (1984 France [in French]; 1985). Other authors influenced by general semantics, either directly or through the persuasive interest of John W Campbell Jr, include H Beam Piper. [PN]

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