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Korzybski, grew up speaking Polish, Russian, French, and German, He learned English much later, and 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.

But Korzybski made a more radical discovery, namely, that our perceptions/conceptions (reality-tunnels) are also shaped by the structure of the language we use. A Native American, an African, a Chinese, etc.—anyone using a non-Indo-European language structure—will live in a different universe than those who only know Indo-European.

From these starting points, Korzybski arrived at a devastating diagnosis of most of our culture's habitual linguistic structures (which he called neurolinguistic structures, because they act as the software with which our nervous systems, including our brains, process data). Our worst habit, he thought, lay in the constant assumption of identity implied in most uses of the verb "is." Such sentences as "The photon is a wave," "The photon is a particle," "Beethoven is better than Mozart," "The thing I saw was a spaceship," would become, in Korzybski's system, "The photon behaved like a wave when measured with this experimental apparatus," "The photon behaved like a particle when measured with this different apparatus," "Beethoven seems better than Mozart to me," "The thing I saw seemed like a spaceship to me."

Korzybski also popularized the idea that most sentences, especially the sentences that people quarrel over or even go to war over, do not rank as propositions in the logical sense, but belong in the category that Bertrand Russell called propositional functions. They do not have one meaning, as a proposition in logic should have; they have several meanings, like an algebraic function. According to Korzybski, many of our pet ideologies belong in the propositional function category ("This is an X," "This has too much Y in it," "Get away with that Z-ish Xism"), and we assume we can prove them or refute them, whereas neither we nor our opponents actually know what they mean. They don't mean anything, until the multivalued X, Y, Z, etc. become concretely or operationally related to specific space-time events perceived, touched, smelled, or otherwise encountered by observers making reports.

Propositional functions not recognized as such, or treated as propositions, Korzybski called "'noise" (usually in italics). It seems odd to think that most human anger and violence derives from noise, but A third party can often see that both antagonists are using the same words but they mean different things to each party. Therefore there can be no resolution unless each person gives up their concepts and argues from more basic perceptions and experiences.

The Mental Level

“Thus, we see that one of the obvious origins of human disagreement lies in the use of noises for words”.

Alfred Korzybski

Again when we talk about the intellectual level, we need to clarify a couple of points as we did with the emotional level.

Firstly that concepts are not thoughts, and secondly that concepts act as a way of summing up various emotions into one principle.

So  concepts organise feelings from the lower level but also receive instructions from the intuitive level. We shall leave off the secondary part until we deal with the intuitive level, but most important is the manner in which concepts are related to emotions.

We need to stress that concepts are not thoughts. That idea should not be perplexing. Imagine if you will when you are sit down in your favourite armchair with a nice cuppa and are kind of dozing off. A hundred and one ideas can pass through your brain at that time. You might one moment be thinking about a meal that you had in the afternoon. The next moment you might be thinking about getting some food for tea. At the next moment you might have flicked to whether you are available to go out for dinner next Tuesday and the next moment you might be thinking about what's on TV tonight. All these ideas that flash across the mind are no more than babble they are not concepts in terms of our model.

If you have ever tried to meditate you will know exactly what I mean. In most forms of meditation one tries to still the mind and to be quiet in mind, body and emotions. Now and again one achieves that, and then the mind starts up with various forms of chatter. In all forms of meditation, these should simply be ignored, they can't be helped, they are simply what the mind does when given half a chance, and are of no significance.

In meditational terms they are just chatter and babble, and should be ignored. In terms of our model they are not concepts, but clearly just random thoughts with little importance. They are mostly, in fact, related to physical unease and hold no emotional or intellectual value.

If we follow our model, concepts are summations of various emotional experiences which as we have already said are summations of physical experiences.

If we can, let's try and give a concrete example of this:

Supposing you have to give a report to your boss at work, you want to be honest in your report. Supposing you want to talk to your girlfriend about something that happened, you also want to be honest.

Being honest in each situation is probably very different in terms of what you have to say but as a concept it is the same.

This is why honesty exists as a concept, because in talking to your boss your emotions are very different from talking to you girlfriend nevertheless there appears a concept which is beyond both situations, which is why it can be applied in both circumstances as the concept of honesty.

You can see that concepts exist in a manner that is akin to emotions but is somehow broader than that and at a different level. Loyalty, simplicity, truth, cleanliness, and perseverance are all best expressed as concepts.

Alfred Korzybski, 20th Century Semantist.