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“It is extremely important, semantically, to notice that not all the noises., we humans make should be considered as symbols or valid words. Such empty noises., can occur not only in direct "statements", but also in "questions". Quite obviously, "questions" which employ noises., instead of words, are not significant questions. They ask nothing, and cannot be answered. They are, perhaps, best treated by "mental" pathologist as symptoms of delusions, illusions, or hallucinations. In asylums the noises., patients make are predominately meaningless, as far as the external world is concerned, but become symbols in the illness of the patient. ”—Alfred Korzybski, Polish-American philosopher, scientist, engineer, mathematician, linguist, logician, author of Science & Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics, and is remembered most for developing the theory of general semantics (1879-1950)
[Alfred Korzybski] The Lower Order Abstractions vs. the Higher Order Abstractions
The lower order abstractions are given to us by the lower nerve centres They are ‘dynamic’, ‘continuous’, non-permanent, shifting, unreliable, and above all un-speakable.
They have a character of immediacy, because, structurally in terms of order, they are closest to outside events. They come first in order in the functioning of the nervous system. We always associate with them some ‘objectivity’ as, by necessity, the eventual definition of an ‘object’ starts at this level.
It should be emphasized over and over again that, speaking correctly,on this level we cannot define anything, since abstractions on this level are fundamentally un-speakable. We may look, listen, handle, feel., but cannot speak and therefore cannot define. The moment we define our objects, we are no longer on the level of lower order abstractions. By neurological structural necessity we have passed to the higher nerve centres [speech], and higher order abstractions. This is what is meant when we say that this lower level is unspeakable.
Because these lower order abstractions are closer to the outside events, and because they come first in order, they have a special character of immediacy, with which we must start. The struggle begins when, through some primitive-made doctrines or structural assumptions [metaphysics], we try to avoid going any further than these lower order abstractions. As a matter of fact, this is an impossibility, because of the very structure of our nervous system. However intensely we believe that it is possible to do so, and however ‘emotionally’ we attempt to do it, we are cherishing delusions, which easily become morbid identifications, delusions, illusions, and often hallucinations.
This level being un-speakable,the only way to function on this level is to look, listen., but to be silent outwardly as well as inwardly This last condition represents a most beneficial semantic state, really-difficult, perhaps impossible, to acquire without training.
The higher order abstractions appear to be products of the activity of the higher nerve centres, further removed from the external events and lacking, therefore, in immediacy. But these higher abstractions are static and so may be analysed. They have a separable unit ‘quantum’ structure, which can be treated individually It should be carefully noticed that the static character of these higher order abstractions is the origin of their separable quantum character, conditioned by the human nervous structure. They are, if properly treated, reliable and are uniquely responsible for our being time-binders [transmission of knowledge and abstractions through time which are accreted in cultures].
Again, by the structural necessity of our nervous system, we deal first with lower order abstractions, and next with higher order abstractions. It must be noticed that no one,unless he is [pathologically] entirely deprived of the higher nerve centres, is, or can be, an exception. We all deal with lower abstractions first, and with the higher next, no matter how perfect or imperfect these abstractions may be.
The general confusion of orders of abstractions, the lack of theories, and therefore of structural understanding of the entirely different characters of these distinct orders of abstractions, leads to, and must result in, identification or confusion of orders of abstractions. As the different processes are going on, whether we will it or not, in every single one of us, they may result in the delusional ascribing of the characteristics of the higher order abstractions to the lower order abstractions as for instance, permanence, immutability., somewhere involving ‘infinities’. When objectified, we have such semantic disturbances as fanaticism,absolutism, dogmatism, finalism, which often become morbid semantic states.
A similar confusion may lead to the delusional ascribing of the characteristics of the lower order abstractions to the higher ones. Under such delusions we ascribe to the higher abstractions fluidity, shiftiness, non-permanence, ‘non-knowability’. , which results in pessimism, cynicism, disregard for science, bitterness, fright, hopelessness and other equally vicious semantic disturbances. These in turn affected by structural necessity the proper working of the entire organism, which always works as-a-whole.
The Aristotelian-system [Formal ‘logic’] and other older systems were not only built before these facts became structurally known but were actually based on such confusion. Hence their viciousness By building a language and a method of this nature they perpetuated and made effective mechanically through the structure of language, a harmful confusion This language being not in accordance with the structure and functioning of the nervous system and the world, must produce pathological results somewhere.
Mathematicians, though in the main unconscious or innocent of the structural, semantic, and neurological issues involved, nevertheless have solved this problem by producing methods of passing from one order of abstractions to another, from dynamic to static, and vice versa. The influence of these discoveries has also affected the other sciences unconsciously. Without consciously recognizing it, the modern trend of science is to banish from its habits and methods the application of the ‘is’ of identity.
~Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics 5th Edition (1995), Ch. 35 - Action by Contact, P. 637-639