May 14, 2002

And the drumroll.

First, let me
repeat the
question:          See:  GARDNER

      *Every* case Gardner cites         (in "Fads & Fallacies")
      as crazy pseudo-science, I'm
      completely convinced that he's
      called it right, with *one*
      exception: want to guess which
      one?  No, it isn't chiropractors.

                                (It would be nice to provide
                                a listing of every crazy fad
                                mentioned in Fads, to make
                                this a multiple choice
                                test... but that would be a
                                *long* list.)

The one exception I have in mind:

  "General Semantics"

And in fact, Gardner admits that
there may be something of
scientific value to General              (At least he admits
Semantics: he knows it's not as          this in my Dover
clear a case as the rest of his          edition... it has
collection.                              the look of a patch
                                         that he inserted
                                         later after getting
                                         some static.)

While I have yet to read Korzybski's
"Science and Sanity" myself, I am
familiar with the S.I. Hayakawa text
"Language in Thought and
Action"... and while I don't agree
with all of the material, it clearly
doesn't deserve to be trashed along
with the flat-earthers.

      It's probably wrong,
      but it isn't insane.

I think there's something
funny going on with
academic credit here:
Hayakawa (and I presume
Korzybski) was pushing
what linguists like to            Specifically: the medium
call "the Sapir-Whorf             of thought is language and
hypothesis"                       thus there is no such
                                  thing as a non-verbal,
My problem here is that           non-linguistic thought.
Korzybski published his
stuff quite early: 1933.          Or "Language is thought",
I would be very surprised         as Mario Pei put it in
if Sapir or Whorf have a          "The Story of Language"
publication that beats
that.  So why isn't this               There are lots of
notion called "the                     problems with this
Korzybski doctrine",                   notion.
rather than "the
Sapir-Whorf hypothesis"?                      Okay, so there's this
                                              stream of words running
   Though actually, it                        through my head right
   seems that it's more                       now, but what chooses
   common to call it "the                     what the next word is
   strong form of the                         going to be?  There's
   Sapir-Whorf hypothesis";                   some sort of pre-verbal
   which strikes me as a                      mental process in action,
   neat method of claiming                    what's the point of
   credit but denying                         calling it something
   responsibility.                            besides 'thought'?

       (I gather they                  This principle is the idea
       realized this                   behind a lot of the
       idea had                        "politically correct"
       problems                        arguments about the need to
       pretty early                    come up with names without
       on, and                         negative connotations.
       started                         Notably the connotations
       backing away                    tend to chase after the
       from it.)                       words after they've been

                                          E.g. "retarded"
Anyway, this is hardly the                becomes "special",
scientific crime of the                   so "special"
century-- lifting the name of             becomes an insult
a widely discredited idea--
but it does call things like                                 STUBBORN_WORDS
this into question:

p. 286, Dover edition of "Fads":

   Modern works of scientific philosophy
   and psychiatry contain almost no                   Look for "Babel-17" in
   references to the Count's theories.                DELANY

   The simple reason is that Korzybski
   made no contributions of significance
   to any of the fields about which he              Does loglan/lojban count?
   wrote with such seeming erudition.

Really?  Well, maybe he didn't.
But is it his fault?


                                                   Here I'm thinking of
                                                   Korzybski as the outsider
                                                   and Whorf as the insider.

                                                   Bardini, in his book on
                                                   Englebart, seems to regard
                                                   Whorf as an outsider of

                           Guy Deutscher in the NYT August 26, 2010:

                           "Seventy years ago, in 1940, a popular science
                           magazine published a short article that set in
                           motion one of the trendiest intellectual fads
                           of the 20th century. At first glance, there
                           seemed little about the article to augur its
                           subsequent celebrity. Neither the title,
                           'Science and Linguistics,' nor the magazine,
                           M.I.T.'s Technology Review, was most people's
                           idea of glamour. And the author, a chemical
                           engineer who worked for an insurance company
                           and moonlighted as an anthropology lecturer at
                           Yale University, was an unlikely candidate for
                           international superstardom. And yet Benjamin
                           Lee Whorf let loose an alluring idea about
                           language's power over the mind ... "