Alfred Korzybski, the Author of Science and Sanity (1933), created General Semantics because he had a vision for mankind —a vision of human beings growing up out of the “childhood” of humanity’s enculturation. His vision was also beyond the power of any single individual—a vision that required the collaboration of many, many people (Science and Sanity, pp. 560-561).
That vision grew from a question (see below). As an engineer, he readily recognised that year after year, decade after decade, century after century—our ability to engineer better buildings and bridges kept improving. It gets better because we build on the previous discoveries and understandings of those who went before us.
“So why are we not getting better and better in the ‘soft’ sciences? How is it that we keep improving in science, mathematics, chemistry, physics, etc. but not in psychology, sociology, politics, anthropology, etc.? What is the difference?”
Korzybski’s answer, in part, was that in the sciences that are progressing, we have developed a specialised language and understanding that is precise. A science that develops precision language and that can be productively critical of itself (receiving feedback from experiments that show what doesn’t work) keeps developing.
Where we have learned how to be specific, we are able to build on previous knowledge. Understanding, knowledge, skills, etc. can grow and develop when we have a way to be precise and self-critical. That allows us to tap into human potentials in a new way.
“The origin of this work was a new functional definition of ‘man’ … based on an analysis of uniquely human potentialities; namely, that each generation may begin where the former left off. The characteristic I call the ‘time-binding’ capacity.” (Korzybski, Science and Sanity, 5th Ed. 1993)
Starting where the former generation left off— that was the idea. Yet for that to happen, we have to be able to both effectively communicate the information that’s developed and test that information. If we can’t put it to the test, we can’t find out if it is just fluff and imaginary. We can’t develop robust information that can serve as foundational. We also have to be able to reflect on what we already know, have learned, and think to keep improving it. For this, Korzybski offered a Theory of Multi-Ordinality which he contended was the basis of sanity.
All of this explains the importance of critical thinking. It is not enough to just think— we have to examine and re-examine our thinking. This takes commitment and intentionality through meta-cognitive and awareness practices. The first of which is to test our thinking and question it against the facts and the criteria of credibility. And that’s what the executive functions in your brain were designed to do. But you also have to learn how to use the higher executive functions in order to do that. And that’s where we typically need a meta-cognitive make-over.
Joseph Yeager wrote about thinking: “There are always options if we know how to think of them.” (Thinking about Thinking with NLP, 1985, p. 25). Yet that’s the crucial factor— knowing how to think of something.
So what stops us? Thinking itself!
To be more specific, previous thoughts. It works this way. Once you think about something — your thinking itself can become a way of thinking. And then, as a way of thinking (a thinking style or pattern) it gives you a format, a template, and/or a frame for future thinking. In other words a habit or pattern of thinking.
While that can be effective, it can also be ineffective, if you get locked into that way of thinking. When that happens, you can become stuck in your thinking, boxed-in to only that way of thinking. We call, these boxes identity structures, meta-programs, values and beliefs.
To challenge your boxes is to first become aware of them, as well as the original intention that you had, when you created them. This requires awareness and critical inquiry.
For example, your beliefs may keep you from having any awareness that your thinking is the problem. You are thinking, but not thinking about your thinking— and without doing that, you can’t take responsibility for and lead your thinking.
That may mean you aren’t able to tap your thinking potentials of creativity, innovation, wise decision-making, etc. This is why meta-thinking (meta-cognitive) skills and awareness skills are so important in development.
It’s a fundamental skill built into the process of undertaking developmental coaching.
In developmental coaching, we ask you questions that invite you to think about your thinking, to become aware of your thinking; enabling you learn to become aware of your blind-spots and therefore transcend them.
If you are looking to become a coach, be coached by a developmental coach, you can make contact below.
Written by L.Michael Hall. Edited by Jay Hedley