C. A. Hilgartner

Hilgartner & Associates, 254 Kensington Place, Marion OH 43302


David L. Johnson

School of Natural Resources, Ohio State University, Columbus OH 43210







This paper uses a newly developed theory, based on Korzybski's construct of time-binding -- which systematically takes the observer into account -- to re-examine the theory and practice of ecological engineering in China and in the United States. The practice of growing fish for human consumption provides a suitable test case. In order to show the significance of the differences in design between these various aquaculture facilities, we introduce several tools based on the construct of time-binding; a) a description of the main strategy for survival in the biosphere used by the human species, along with b) a description of a counter-strategy, in wide use throughout the human species, which tacitly aims at producing species-suicide and extinction, perhaps accompanied by annihilation of the biosphere; c) a criterion of principled consistency, against which to judge the acceptability of any theory -- which amounts to a criterion for sustainability; d) a unifying principle for human knowledge, which brings into focus a common core of general principles underlying most of what we humans know.


Time-binding theory not only discloses the basis for the Western opposition between Man and Nature, but also shows how to eliminate this opposition so as to fit humans back into the natural world -- in a way that takes into account the unique role within the biosphere which we humans appear actually to play. Thus it promises to enable us humans to guide our transacting with ourselves-and-the-rest-of-the-ecosystem toward the enhancement of the living, with unprecedented effectiveness. We suggest ways to use these resources to generate a body of ecological theory and practice compatible with long-term co-evolutionary goals   -- to develop integrated systems (which explicitly include humans as well as non-human species) that enhance rather than restrict biological and cultural diversity around the globe, and foster the health of the biosphere.






Biological diversity


Chinese aquaculture


Ecological engineering


Energy, renewable vs. non-renewable


General semantics


Psycho-social evolution




Time-binding theory




o A criterion for sustainability


o Accumulating, contributing to & transmitting human knowledge


o Applying a theory of human transacting to develop strategies for human survival in a sustainable ecosystem


o Comparing aquaculture in China and America to gain insights into ecological sustainability


o Fostering sustainable ecological diversity




C. A. Hilgartner


David L. Johnson




In this paper, the authors utilize a new theory, one which systematically takes the observer into account, to re-examine the theory and practice of ecological engineering1 , as it currently exists in China and in the United States. The practice of growing fish for human consumption provides a suitable test case.


The design of the aquaculture facilities in China differs markedly from that of the similarly-named facilities in the United States. This partly comes from the fact that in China, the fish farmers have explicitly used their own ecological engineering principles in developing and building their facilities and elaborating the associated practices2; whereas in the United States, the fish farmers have not yet done that. Rather, they have followed the patterns used in land agriculture. (No one yet knows for sure what the US version of ecological engineering would yield by way of patterns of aquaculture.)


We address the question of whether underlying similarities of principle exist between the theories of ecological engineering formulated in these two disparate cultural settings -- and the bearing of these principles on the prospects for the survival of the human species and of the biosphere as a whole.


This question, in turn, raises a more fundamental issue, one concerning how the human species relates to and deals with the rest of the biosphere:


a) For thousands of years, the various Western cultures have treated the human species as apart from, divorced from, the rest of the biosphere. We Westerners have seen "man" as the unmoved mover, charged with the job of controlling and dominating the natural world, usually considered as female ("Mother Nature").


From about the fifteenth to the end of the nineteenth centuries of the Christian era, European Westerners conquered many other peoples on the planet, dominated them in various ways, and in the process successfully exported this Western attitude over most of the globe. Over and over, the evidence indicates that when humans follow the various patterns of domination and control of Nature, the environment undergoes generalized degradation3: loss of habitat for indigenous species, loss of biological and cultural diversity up to and including extinction of native species and cultures, and other forms of "simplification" back toward the inorganic and the non-living5, too numerous to list. Today, both the extent and the rate of biosphere degradation consequent to human activities puts into question the survival of both the human species and the rest of the earth's living systems.


b) Various Eastern cultures, e.g. the Chinese, have a long tradition of striving to maintain a balance with Nature. The Chinese system of aquaculture, so different in detail from the American one, has historical roots which cast light on this ancient tradition. (Of course, the Chinese have in the largest sense had no greater success in avoiding environmental destruction than has any other high civilization, having produced significant areas of massive erosion, of desertification, etc.6


Beyond the differences in detail between Chinese and American aquaculture, what similarities and differences of principle exist between them? What parts or aspects of the systematized insights, the knowledge encoded in the Chinese way of growing fish for human consumption, can we Western scientists learn from, and deploy in our own survival crisis?




On the issue of how humans deal with the biosphere, the authors bring to bear the construct of time-binding, the process of accumulating human knowledge (in the form of tested guesses) at rates which depend on how much knowledge the humans already have accumulated7. Non-Western and non-Eastern in its origin, this construct first got proposed as a way of defining the species-term Man. By now, its exponents have worked out its implications and consequences far enough to make it a trans-cultural frame of reference for what we humans know. In an Appendix, the authors present some of the details of this theory, including its premises.


Meanwhile, of direct concern to the present paper, this theory provides at least three central insights:


(a) It yields a description of the main strategy for survival in the biosphere used by the human species. Most humans have remained unaware of our survival-strategy, even while actively engaging in it. This insight also yields a description of a counter-strategy, in wide use throughout the human species, which tacitly aims at producing species-suicide and extinction, perhaps accompanied by annihilation of all other life-forms on the planet. Most humans seem equally unaware of this strategy, if not of its consequences, even while actively engaging in it.


(b) It delivers a criterion of disciplined consistency, against which to judge the acceptability of any theory. This construct, when re-examined, turns out as a criterion for sustainability.


(c) It sets forth a unifying principle for human knowledge, which brings into focus a common core of general principles underlying most of what we humans know.


Time-binding theory not only discloses the basis for the Western opposition between Man and Nature, but also shows how to eliminate it, and so how to fit humans back into the natural world -- in a way that takes into account the unique role within the biosphere which we humans appear actually to play. Thus it promises to show how to extend the range of our knowledge far enough to reconcile the viewpoints of Western science with Eastern insights, and thereby to enable us humans to increase the effectiveness with which we guide our transacting with ourselves-and-the-rest-of-the-ecosystem. We suggest ways to use these resources to generate a body of ecological theory and practice compatible with long-term co-evolutionary goals -- to develop integrated systems (which explicitly include humans as well as non-human species) that enhance rather than restrict biological and cultural diversity around the globe, and foster the health of the biosphere.




First we shall describe the functioning facilities for fish polyculture in China, and fish monoculture in the United States. Then, in the next sections, we shall apply some key constructs from the theory of time-binding to the issues we have raised.





During the past 5,000 years the Chinese have raised fish for food. Because of persistent scarcity of protein, aquaculture has assumed greater importance during the last century. As a result of their historic lack of interest in cultures other than their own, the Chinese have developed many of their aquaculture principles without recourse to other sources of knowledge. They have formulated these principles through empirical trial and error, along self-correcting lines. This has produced an integrated system which assumes (and requires) intimate relationships with other living systems, including humans.


The fish ponds form the heart of the system8. The fish species included in the system differ depending on the latitude, food available, and the local products of interest9. To take advantage of solar radiation, the ponds lie with their long axes oriented along the East/West direction. Each year the ponds get drained and the bottom muck removed for later use. In the spring the ponds get filled, organically fertilized, and stocked with young fish.


Fish commonly raised for food include grass carp, which eat any available rooted aquatic vegetation as well as grass harvested by hand by workers along the dikes of the ponds. The grass carp utilize that resource inefficiently and their feces provide organic fertilizer for phytoplankton. The silver carp eat the phytoplankton while the wuchang fish uses the grass carp's feces directly as well as zooplankton and softer aquatic plants. The zooplankton which develops in this enriched system also gets eaten by the bighead carp. Benthic organisms use the nutrients reaching the bottom of the pond. The mollusks make up a favorite food of the black carp while the common carp uses the softer bodied invertebrates. The common carp feeds on these invertebrates by stirring the bottom sediments, a process which also re-suspends the nutrients so that they can reenter the system to produce more phytoplankton. The farmers can also externally supplement this primarily solar-driven system by supplying mainly unrefined fish food such as wheat bran, rapeseed cake, and barley.


The fish ponds make up part of a larger production system which may include pigs raised on aquatic plants and grain raised on site. The pig manure also gets used to fertilize the fish ponds. The bottom muck from the ponds serves to fertilize fields or, if the farm also produces silkworms, the mulberry groves. The fish get sold for profit, after some of that protein gets used by the villagers who serve as workers on the farm system. Frequently the complex will include a restaurant so as to minimize transportation costs. All waste from the fish processing, human waste from the village and restaurant, and all animal waste get recycled as organic fertilizer for the various crops or used in the methane gas generators used for energy production.


This integrated production system emphasizes efficient use of resources and minimizes use of fossil fuel, and of toxic substances. In the presence of toxics, the required recycling obviously will not work. This system yields a greater fish production than would result from culturing any one species alone, and produces 13 to 15 metric tons of fish per hectare/year. The cost is about one-fourth that of production in culture ponds in Britain or the United States.





Aquaculture systems in the United States have historically done intensive monoculture, following the pattern of land-based agriculture. Recently, some systems developed for indoor production have used water recycling systems with bio-filters powered with compressed air or electricity. The farmers stock the fish in great density, up to one fish per gallon of water, and feed them commercially prepared food. These systems use very small numbers of workers and they require much larger amounts of non-solar energy than do the Chinese systems. They release treated waste products into our river systems. The workers usually flash freeze the final product and have it transported long distances for storage. Some facilities raise catfish in ponds, though seldom in association with other species10.


This intensive and usually monoculture technique emphasizes reduced human labor, high technology approaches to solving problems, and high use of "cheap" energy. The fish get highly processed food, grown outside the production system. They receive antibiotics, in some cases routinely. The total production reaches from about one-tenth to, at the best, one-third that of the Chinese system, namely, a maximum of four to five metric tons of fish per hectare/year.




Whenever humans deal with their non-living environments and/or with other species, they deal also with themselves. In other words, any non-verbal lived theory, and any explicit verbal or mathematical theory, includes a specific aspect, tacit and/or explicit, which amounts to a definition for the construct of human -- or whatever term they use to designate what we call Man.


For thousands of years, Western Indo-European (WIE) philosophers (and other workers) approached this aspect of lived theory by asking and answering questions of the form, "What is Man?" Asking the question that way leads to sterile absurdities. One of the less vapid answers, given by Aristotle of Stagira (384-322 BC), says, "Man is a featherless biped."


In 1921, Alfred Korzybski (1879-1950) re-framed the question, asking instead, "What do we humans DO, that distinguishes us from other living creatures?" He answered that we humans accumulate human knowledge, at exponential rates. This process, which he labelled 'time-binding', both forms the basis for how we humans gain our living in the biosphere, and also provides the defining mark of the species. We cooperate to apply what we know, in the process coming to know more. The rate at which we gain new knowledge depends on how much we already know.


Every human lives in a primary, direct relation with the body of accumulated knowledge available within her/his culture. This relationship has three main aspects:


a. We inherit this body of knowledge, unconditionally (and, in the process of growing to maturity, each of us assimilates some fraction of our time-binding heritage, making it our own); having assimilated it,


b. We administer and care for it, and contribute to it so as to increase its extent; and


c. We pass on the enhanced body of knowledge to our peers and progeny and to the generations yet unborn.


Furthermore, what we call 'human knowledge' consists of collections of tested hypotheses or guesses, where some of these guesses have (thus far) survived testing without getting disconfirmed.11 But to speak of a 'collection' of guesses implies that relations exist between the guesses in question, so that the collection amounts to a theory.12


We usually think of the terms 'hypothesis' and 'theory' only in connection with formal experimentation. But these terms prove useful also in the context of informal investigating. For a human organism, the process of sensing doesn't deliver "absolute certainties," it delivers guesses. In acting on her/his guesses, s/he tests them; and sooner or later judges them, in terms of how the encounter turned out. Those guesses which led to favorable outcomes (from the organism's point of view), s/he saves in the form of expectations, and tries them out again, in the next relevant situation; those which led to unfavorable outcomes, s/he revises, or rejects and replaces with other guesses, and tries again.


In this sense, then, we humans function like a self-correcting system, that generates, tests, judges and, at need, rejects and replaces guesses. Furthermore, an important part of human knowledge exists in the form of non-verbal lived theory rather than verbal, or formal mathematical, theory.13





The construct of time-binding makes explicit the main strategy for survival used by the human species: We assume, we predict -- we guess. By means of self-correcting -- the pattern of testing our guesses -- we strive to improve our theories, our orientation to self-and-surroundings. When we succeed, we enhance our ability to predict the future development of situations and the likely outcomes of our own actions, and so improve the chances of bringing about the ultimate favorable outcome: survival of individual, group and species.


Consider an example: When certain members -- "the farmers" -- of a given group grow fish for use as human food, that represents one detail of what I mean by "cooperating to apply what we know." The farmers did not themselves invent the idea of growing fish for food, nor determine what species they can grow in their environment, nor invent the culture methods, nor develop the procedures and tools they use to stock, tend, harvest, store, distribute, and cook them, etc. -- they inherited the knowledge which allows them to do those things. And inevitably, in the process of growing and handling their stock, they test the guesses which underlie that inherited knowledge, and so modify and contribute to the body of knowledge they started with. In principle, they pass on their re-worked body of knowledge to their successors.


Framed in this way, the construct of 'time-binding' provides both a criterion of principled consistency, and also a unifying principle grounded in our knowledge of knowledge. Let us briefly state each.





Certain constraints apply to time-binding theory. To say that time-binding has its basis in the fact that we humans engage in self-correcting implies that we assume. (See Appendix: A.) We can assume this, or that, or SOMETHING ELSE, but in principle cannot assume "nothing at all." It also implies that whatever we DO has behind it a complete set of premises, from which the actions -- the DOINGS -- follow rigorously; and that, potentially, these premises may need revising.14,15


However, in order to engage in self-correcting, a system must hold its guesses as intrinsically uncertain -- or in other words, as in principle inaccurate, incomplete, and self-referential. (See Appendix: B.) This amounts to functioning in an attitude and spirit of radical uncertainty.


Given these conditions, and remembering that (as we maintain) we humans operate from theory, lived as well as explicit, then we state our criterion of principled consistency in terms of the behavior of theorists:


a) A body of experiencing (in the most general sense of the term);


b) Two or more theories, with discernably different premises, which purport to account for that body of experiencing:


Then we hold that theory preferable which most effectively elicits from the theorist the behaviors of


i) systematically and openly acknowledging her/his own assumptions, and her/his own role in developing and using the theory; and


ii) holding these assumptions tentatively (regarding them as in principle testable and disconfirmable).


When considered in light of the survival strategy of the human species, this construct looks like a criterion for the sustainability of the activities of the theorist under scrutiny, in her/his time-binding, ecological, biological, physical, (etc.), environments.


1. Counter-Example: A Strategy for Species-Suicide


To provide perspective on this criterion, consider a counter-example: a system which treats what we call 'its guesses' as "Absolute Certainties" (e.g., one which takes the attitude that "I don't make guesses -- I see only what's REALLY THERE!").


Such a system follows from assumptions almost precisely the opposite of those underlying a self-correcting system -- namely, the tenets that its maps represent the territory "accurately," "completely," and "objectively," that they correspond point-for-point with what REALLY occurs16. (See Appendix: C.) Such maps would have no room, and their user(s) would have no need, for any kind of representation of or contamination by the map-maker (observer, organism). In other words, by silently assuming that it possesses or generates "perfect" maps, the system eliminates the observer -- and in the process, also eliminates the setting or the observer's environment -- from consideration.17


Consequently, the system does not engage in self-correcting. Instead of testing what we call 'its guesses', it defends them from scrutiny and criticism, according to the pattern of image-defending or self-defending. And since it systematically leaves the observer (and her/his environment) out of account, it cannot confer the advantage of taking into account the effects of what the organism has just done on her/his current situation and her/his proposed activities. Hence, in principle, the pattern of self-defending proves less effective as a strategy for survival for humans than does that of self-correcting (which systematically takes the observer into consideration and so does confer this advantage).


In fact, under certain circumstances, the pattern of self-defending can turn into a strategy for species-suicide and for annihilation of the biosphere -- as we shall show in detail below.


b. Mixed Example


A system can, inconsistently, depend partially on the assumptions which underlie self-correcting (radical uncertainty), and partially on those which underlie self-defending ("absolute certainty"). The social institution of WIE science provides one example. (See Appendix: D.) So does any traditional culture.


Exponents of WIE science participate in a self-correcting social system -- at least, self-correcting within the arena of the explicit scientific hypotheses which they generate, test, judge and at need revise or replace. But as shown in detail in Appendix: D, WIE scientists grant a privileged position to the traditional grammar common to the WIE discursive and formalized languages.18 In other words, they grant a kind of "universal validity" to the assumptions encoded in that grammar (without knowing what those assumptions say), and consequently show patterned resistances19 to any attempt to disclose, criticize, test and/or revise or replace them.


But when someone grants a privileged position to certain assumptions, in effect s/he commits her/himself to live by the protocol of self-defending. Thus the self-correcting social system of WIE science rests on self-defending underpinnings. Even the most brilliant and capable of scientists, with a real gift for and a lifetime of seasoning in the disciplined wariness required by a thoroughgoing commitment to self-correcting, contradicts her/his discipline and her/his commitment to self-correcting with every sentence of a WIE language which s/he utters or writes, every equation of a WIE mathematics which s/he generates, on the topic of her/his findings and constructs.


Similar constraints apply to the world-view generated within any traditional culture. To the extent that the participants utilize their shared cultural viewpoint as a matrix to provide for sustaining their own lives, they perforce function in a self-correcting manner. To the extent that they regard their shared world-view as a "TRUE" reflection of "the way things REALLY ARE," to that extent they function in a self-defending fashion.


To date, we humans have no example of a culture, world-view or accepted frame of reference which, by the present standards, consistently posits a setting and spirit of radical uncertainty.





Our unifying principle depends on several closely-related constructs:


a) First, it depends on the possibility that humans may freely choose the lived premises which they operate from, and the explicit verbal and mathematical premises they build their explicit theories on. This possibility makes sense only in a universe of discourse in which its polar opposite may also hold: the possibility that humans may remain unaware of what they assume, or even, of the very notion that they assume at all.20


b) Second, our principle depends on the existence of a core theory of time-binding, explicitly based on the non-aristotelian premises of Korzybski. (See Appendix: A & B.) While espousing this core theory, a human holds her/his guesses as inaccurate, incomplete, and self-referential, and methodically tests and judges them, according to the protocol of self-correcting.


c) It also depends on the existence of alternative premises ("counter-premises" -- see Appendix: C & D), which (we maintain) get used widely throughout human communities. While relying on the counter-premises, a human holds her/his guesses as 'accurate', 'complete', and 'objective', and methodically protects the guesses and the counter-premises that underlie them from any attempt to disclose, criticize, test, and/or revise them. (In effect, s/he grants them a privileged position).


Given these conditions, we state our unifying principle for human knowledge in terms of how the behaving-and-experiencing of our theorist gets manifested:


Any "particularized" theory (a "theory of ...") which its exponent has framed so that it rests on the non-aristotelian premises (described above and in Appendix: A & B), so that it manifests itself as holding its guesses as 'inaccurate', 'incomplete', and 'self-referential', becomes a branch of time-binding theory, and will articulate seamlessly with those other branches of human knowledge which their exponents have framed so that they stem from this core of general principles (so that they already form parts of time-binding theory).


As noted, by our criteria, most theories appear inconsistent. The exponents of the theories which make up WIE science, in particular, build on unacknowledged underpinnings of self-defending.


For such theories, the seamless unity of human knowledge remains mostly concealed. Such theories appear "isolated" from one another. Their mutual inter-connections remain obscured, no one knows how to inter-translate their vocabularies, they become more and more nearly mutually unintelligible21 -- and the range of their predictions falls short of what we humans need from our theories at present.


Let us explore some further consequences of these constructs.





The last point of this theoretical section centers on the self-reflexive question of how the lived theory held by a human affects that-human-and-her/his-environment.


The construct of 'time-binding' refers to "certain activities of living humans." Thus it presupposes the construct of living. In dealing with this construct, I find a pair of terms proposed by Dewey & Bentley22 particularly useful. They distinguish between


i) the mechanical, one-way interacting characteristic of the non-living. Since non-living systems engage in no "doings" or "happenings" more elaborate than having a shape, a physical state, etc., mechanical interacting can produce no alteration more profound than changes of shape, of physical state, etc.; and


ii) the organic, two-way transacting of living systems, which leaves both participants fundamentally and profoundly altered, in some sense that affects the further living of the living system(s) involved.


Thus, in the process by which any organism transacts with its environment, the environment ends up altered, and the organism also ends up altered. In effect, they modify each other -- often in the direction of co-evolution, of making the match between them closer.


The process by which any human transacts with her/his environment shows a special twist, for any human guides her/his transacting by means of lived theory. Consequently, the alterations which result from the transacting make both the human and the environment into a closer approximation of the picture of "what goes on" embedded in the theory s/he lives.


For example, a lived theory which tacitly posits that its tenets represent the territory "accurately," "completely," and "objectively" already eliminates the observer or logician or biologist from consideration. Consequently, since it systematically leaves out of account the observer, it also systematically leaves out any transacting between organism (observer) and environment; and so in turn it leaves out the environment too. Such a theory, then, provides the symbolic means to represent only inanimate mechanisms, e.g. the kind of theory that makes up an "isolated system" which maximizes a single variable.


Someone who lives such a theory may have the tools to account very well indeed for the non-living, the physical -- or for such "variables" as power, or status, or profits, etc. Unavoidably, in the process of living that theory s/he makes her/himself resemble the kind of mechanism that seeks to maximize such variables -- single variables. In general, when we humans live a theory which systematically leaves out of account the observer -- ourselves-in-our-environments -- we transform the environment so that it becomes less hospitable to transacting organisms, transacting persons, living systems, and more like a "mechanism" and so more hospitable to non-living mechanisms; while we transform ourselves so that we become less adept in transacting with a varied and healthy environment and more "mechanical" and "businesslike," more resembling the types of "mechanisms" depicted in the theory.


Contrariwise, if the lived theory stems from premises which systematically takes the observer into account, the alterations induced in the environment in principle make it less like a "mechanism" and more hospitable to transacting organisms; and the alterations induced in the human in question in principle make her/him less "mechanical" and "businesslike," and more adept in transacting with the world of living systems.23





In keeping with a theory which systematically takes the observer or organism into account, we begin our discussion by briefly considering the discussants -- ourselves -- and the transacting between us which led us to write this joint paper. We believe that our audience, which we expect to consist mostly of WIE scientists, predominantly ecologists and other biologists, will have an easier time dealing with our contribution to the theory of ecology if you see that it grew out of a collaboration between an exponent of general semantics and time-binding theory (CAH) and an ecologist who specializes in fisheries management (DLJ).


The construct of 'transacting' predicts that, in the process by which any organism (e.g. one of us) transacts with her/his environment (including the other of us), the environment ends up altered, and the organism also ends up altered.


Here, we assert that, as a direct consequence of our transacting, both of us have undergone a demonstrable and drastic alteration of our personal and professional viewpoints; and the theory of ecology we now share has undergone a similar demonstrable and drastic alteration from what we held before.


DLJ asserts that, as a consequence of the extensions of ecological theory which took place during our collaborating, he has a new yardstick for assessing the ecosystems he studies, and can now explain and account rigorously for many observations which, previously, he could not. CAH asserts that, as a consequence of the inter-connections drawn between empirically-based ecological theory and theoretical general semantics during our collaborating, he now has some new theoretical constructs to explore -- extensions of time-binding theory, which amount to new implications of the non-aristotelian premises of Korzybski.


The constructs presented above provide part of the evidence against which to judge these assertions.







The Chinese and American systems of aquaculture, in microcosm, highlight many of the differences in approach of the two cultures. To evaluate them in terms of our new theory, we must include comparisons of the biological, economic, and social sustainability of the systems and of the opportunities to test guesses rather than to defend them.


Westerners frequently find the evaluation of Chinese production figures difficult24. Cultural and historical differences between American and Chinese ways of handling production data and other findings probably play a major role in these difficulties. As members of Western cultures, we have the tradition of measuring the actual production of a given facility, recording and tabulating the figures, and doing statistical measures on these production data so as to show variability around a mean, making clear the difference between the individual and mean yields of this facility and maximum figures. We find that Chinese managers frequently offer a single production figure. Visiting scientists may recognize that members of Chinese (and many other Eastern) cultures seek to avoid loss of face and that the Chinese State customarily rewards high production figures and penalizes low ones. Even allowing for these cultural differences, they still find it hard to sort out the meaning of such figures, e.g. to establish the degree of uncertainty of the data. This, in turn, makes it difficult to express the information about the production of Chinese aquaculture facilities which they do receive, and interpret them, in the terminology of testing and possibly disconfirming guesses.


Biologically the Chinese system appears much more sustainable than does the American system of aquaculture. The Chinese system underwent development over a long period of time, and it emulates natural systems in that it has allowed a production ecosystem to evolve. Because it depends primarily on local solar energy and incorporates multiple closed recycling loops, that system requires little in the way of nutrients from outside the system. It releases polluted (mainly, nutrient-rich) water into the river system only once a year, when the ponds get drained, and produces very little if any of solid wastes which require off-site disposal. It permits use of some toxic materials such as pesticides, but visiting scientists usually cannot establish the amounts and types of chemicals utilized. The Chinese managers and scientists routinely assure their visitors that levels of toxic materials remain quite low or absent; but whatever testing for residues they do probably gets done on an irregular basis at best.


The transacting of the workers with the land forms perhaps the key aspect of the Chinese aquaculture system. Although the system earns money, it has as a very important goal the support of a large number of workers and their families. The infrastructure of the village enters intimately into the production ecosystem, and the villagers' health, lifestyle, and economic well-being remains explicitly inter-connected with natural systems.


The Chinese have copious supplies of human labor, whereas materials and fuel remain scarce and expensive. Moreover, the workers generally lack the freedom to make choices about how they earn their living. This calls into question the sustainability of their social and political system. At present, it guarantees a large on-site work force. But whereas social and political systems that force persons to work in occupations not of their own choosing may work in the short run, they may not do so for long -- may prove non-sustainable. The recent political unrest in China may, in retrospect, look like just a precursor of things to come. Historically, when people have had a choice, they have tended to leave the hard hand-labor of the farm and move to the cities. In China this could lead to a breakdown of current agricultural practices, perhaps with the substitution of less viable practices copied from Western agriculture.


The Chinese dilemma then hinges on the fact that they practice relatively sane ecological management of aquaculture, but the people in general have not assimilated the ecological knowledge which underlies their aquaculture system. Without assimilation and ownership of this knowledge, and in the absence of restrictions on travel and choice of occupation, the workers may not stay on the site, or they may chose less viable practices. Already farmers have begun to press to lessen their work burden by using more variety and larger quantities of chemical poisons for weeds and insect pests.


Economic models and assumptions also affect the Chinese system. With little capital and prohibitive fuel costs, hand labor makes up the only real option. In recent experiments with capitalistic incentives for farmers, aimed at increasing the agricultural yields per hectare, the development of free markets has allowed the emergence of a new privileged class. Will farmers with new-found wealth and freedom to make economic decisions continue to depend on hand scythes for harvest and human excrement for fertilizer?


To summarize, the Chinese system grew out of centuries of empirical efforts (trial and error, trial and success), and evolved an elegant, highly sustainable biological community based on abundant human labor. The political and social system, represented first by the god-like emperor and then by the communist totalitarian system, now shows signs of failure, and might fail to sustain the production ecosystem, which, in principle, seems otherwise sustainable.





American aquaculture began as a method to produce sport fish for stocking in natural systems. Only recently has an attempt been made to produce food fish. Catfish monoculture makes up the most highly developed of these systems and follows a pattern already established in American land agriculture. That model strives to achieve high production levels with a minimum of human labor. This constraint has led to maximizing the size of the production units and encouraging use of mechanical and chemical technology, as opposed to the biological technology so highly developed in the Chinese system.


The American system grew quickly during a period of "cheap energy" and high physical and mechanical technology, and the kind of WIE scientific theory which systematically eliminates the observer from consideration. As a result, the production system remains isolated from the human users and leaves humans out of account except as "consumers"   -- a non-transactional and therefore non-living role. (By definition, a "consumer" has "disposable income," and "needs," "interests," etc. He selects and purchases "goods" from the marketplace, in light of these "needs," etc. According to economic theory, the structure of the consumer does not get altered by his market choices. The choices made by masses of consumers can affect the 'contents' of the marketplace, but no choices affect the 'structure' of the marketplace. Therefore economic theory does not define the construct of "consumer" as 'transactional'; and therefore it does not represent any "consumer" as 'living'.)


This arrangement fosters a lack of awareness of where food comes from, and dependent attitudes, in the general populace of the United States. Furthermore, the managers practice "creative book-keeping" by failing to make even plausible estimates of the full environmental costs, e.g. of fossil fuel energy, of off-site preparation of highly processed fish food, of persistent residues from pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, etc., of transportation and storage of the "finished product," of release of polluted water, generation of solid wastes, and so on -- and by failing to include such figures as part of the production costs.


Meanwhile, the elegance of the mechanical technology downplays any attempts to engage in recycling or other sustainable practices, and instead leads to giving the facilities a biologically non-sustainable, linear, pass-through structure.





Table I summarizes the comparisons of the sustainability of the Chinese and American aquaculture systems, on a number of dimensions (some of them suggested by the single-topic issue of Scientific American for September 1989).




The overall non-sustainability of both of these aquaculture systems reflects a general non-sustainability of current human enterprises around the globe.


Biologists, and especially ecologists, recognize a condition of crisis for the biosphere in general and the human species in particular. Furthermore, they attribute this crisis to the impacts of human activities on the biosphere.


However, since they make their assessments from within WIE science, which treats the human species as "outside of nature," few draw what we regard as the central inference and explicitly state the nature of the crisis: a manifestation of the results of following one or more strategies for species-suicide and extinction. The authors regard the human race as an endangered, AND ENDANGERING, species, in an acute species-suicidal emergency.


We find the practice of science (with its present underpinnings) a species-suicidal enterprise.


Indeed, just about everything we humans do, by way of gaining a living in the biosphere (with the present underpinnings) proves equally species-suicidal.


Further, as Ruckelshaus puts it,


... With a few important exceptions, the environmental-protection movement in [the industrialized] nations, despite its major achievements in passing legislation and mandating pollution-control measures, has not had a substantial effect on the lives of most people. Environmentalism has been ameliorative and corrective -- not a restructuring force.25


The environmental movement has indeed made significant gains. But what it has accomplished amounts to applying Band-Aids to arterial bleeding.


According to the theory of time-binding, for us to build our whole way of life on non-sustainable practices amounts to malfeasance -- a failure of stewardship of the time-binding heritage.


We have refused, or failed, to recognize this failure of stewardship -- and therefore have failed to recognize that it signifies disconfirmation of major cultural hypotheses.


To fail or refuse to recognize the disconfirmation of a major hypothesis of this sort amounts to defending the hypothesis from scrutiny or criticism -- and that in turn signifies the organism's commitment to self-defending and to the strategy for species-suicide and annihilation of the biosphere described above.


Jonathan Schell's argument against building and deploying nuclear weapons, and thereby risking species suicide by nuclear holocaust, applies with equal force to the procedure of using non-sustainable practices as the basis for our aquaculture and other systems for gaining our living in the biosphere. Schell writes,


... Up to now, every risk has been contained within the frame of life; extinction would shatter the frame. It represents not the defeat of some purpose but an abyss in which all human purposes would be drowned for all time. We have no right to place the possibility of this limitless, eternal defeat on the same footing as risks that we run in the ordinary conduct of our affairs in our particular transient moment of human history. ... [W]e have no right to gamble, because if we lose, the game will be over, and neither we nor anyone else will ever get another chance. ... [We must] act without delay to withdraw the threat we now pose to the earth and to ourselves.27


Before we can remove that threat, we must first acknowledge our present situation:


With our presently available, tradition-based tools, we humans have tried to handle our environmental and species-specific survival crises for LONG ENOUGH. We can now see what further application of those tools will bring to pass.


The time has come to DECLARE A BREAKDOWN:


We cannot solve our present problems, we cannot resolve our species-suicidal crisis, with the standard tools at our disposal.


Indeed, in the larger view, these tools CREATED the crisis.


Having acknowledged the failure of our tradition, and the profundity of this failure, nothing prevents us from consciously taking on the task of elaborating a more general frame of reference, one suitable to the present conditions26 -- with revised assumptions, transactional theories, sustainable practices, etc., in principle capable of guiding us to set up viable human communities in a viable biosphere -- and using it to do precisely that.


For example, nothing prevents us from designing a system for aquaculture which, in some sense, combines the strengths of the American pattern and the Chinese one, and amounts to a production ecosystem sustainable on every dimension we can now envision, within the uncertainties of our ability to predict sustainability.


The new theoretical system under discussion in this paper, represented in part by the constructs presented above, provides a platform for developing such patterns, such systems: patterns which will enhance, rather than further and fatally diminishing, the living.




The authors acknowledge and thank Professor Rattan Lal, Ohio State University Department of Agronomy and President of the World Association of Soil and Water Conservation, for reviewing the manuscript and for his subsequent encouragement. CAH thanks his colleagues within Hilgartner & Associates. DLJ wishes to thank Professor Ma Shigun, Institute of Zoology, Academia Sinica, Beijing; Professor Li Dianmo, Associate Professor and Deputy Director, Institute of Zoology, Academia Sinica, Beijing; and Professor Yan Jingsong, Nanjing Institute of Geography, Academia Sinica, Nanjing, for providing information and insight into Chinese aquaculture, both during their visit to the United States and as hosts of Professors William Mitsch and DLJ during their visit to China. Financial support for this research came from the National Science Foundation and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.




1. Mitsch, W. J & S. E. Jorgensen (1989). "Introduction to Ecological Engineering." In Ecological Engineering An Introduction to Ecotechnology. John Wiley & Sons, New York.


2. Yan Jingsong & Yao Honglu (1988). "Integrated Fish Culture Management in China." In W. J. Mitsch & S. E. Jorgensen, editors, Ecological Engineering An Introduction to Ecotechnology. John Wiley & Sons, New York.


3. Vogt, William (1948). Road to Survival. New York: W. Sloan Associates.


4. Osborn, Fairfield (1948). Our Plundered Planet. Boston: Little, Brown & Co.


5. Bookchin, Murray (1989). "Death of a Small Planet." The Progressive 53(8):19-23, p. 31 col 3.


6. Tuan, Yi-Fu (1970). "Our Treatment of the Environment in Ideal and Actuality." American Scientist 58:247-9.


7. Korzybski, Alfred (1921). Manhood of Humanity: The Science and Art of Human Engineering. E. P. Dutton, 1921. 2nd Ed., (1950), M. Kendig, ed., Institute of General Semantics, Lakeville CT 06030.


8. Yan & Yao, 1989.


9. Bardach, J. E., J. H. Ryther & W. O. McLarney (1972). Aquaculture The Farming and Husbandry of Freshwater and Marine Organisms. John Wiley & Sons, New York.


10. Bardach, et al., 1972.


11. Hilgartner, C. A. (1968). "General Semantics, Psychotherapy, and the Logic of Science." Unpublished manuscript, 1963; revised 1967. Abbreviated version, ETC.: A Review of General Semantics 25:315-324.


12. Hilgartner, C. A. (1965). "Feelings, Orientation, and Survival: The Psychological Dimension of the Current Human Crisis." Presented at the Ninth International Conference on General Semantics, San Francisco State College, August 1965.


13. Hilgartner, C. A. (1985). "Two Lived Theories." Presented at the International Conference on General Semantics, San Diego, August 1985.


14. Korzybski, Alfred (1933). Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non- Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics. Non-Aristotelian Library Publishing Col, Chicago.


15. Korzybski, Alfred (1943). "General semantics, psychiatry, psychotherapy, and prevention." In M. Kendig (Ed.), Papers from the Second American Congress on General Semantics. Institute of General Semantics, Chicago, pp. 93-108.


16. Hilgartner, C. A. & John F. Randolph (1969). "B. The Structure of 'Unimpaired' Human Behavior." Journal of Theoretical Biology 23:347- 374, pp. 353-6.


17. Hilgartner, C. A., Ronald V. Harrington, & Martha A. Bartter (1983). "A Stably Unstable System with 4.5 Billion Participants." Presented at the Workshop on Supplemental Ways of Increasing International Stability, Laxemburg, Austria, 15 September 1983. Printed in H. Chestnut et al., eds., Supplemental Ways of Increasing International Stability. Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1984.


18. Hilgartner, C. A. (1977/78). "Some Traditional Assumings Underlying Indo- European Languagings: Unstated, Unexamined, and Untenable." General Semantics Bulletin Nos. 44/45, pp. 132-154.


19. Whorf, B. L. (1956). Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf. John B. Carroll (Ed.). MIT/Wiley, New York, p. 247.


20. Hilgartner, C. A. (1978). "The Method in the Madness of Western Man." Communication 3:143-242.


21. Cf. Whorf, 1956, 246-7.


22. Dewey, John & Arthur F. Bentley (1949). Knowing and the Known. Beacon Press, Boston. Paperback edition, 1960.


23. Hilgartner, 1985.


24. Bardach, et al., 1972.


25. Ruckelshaus, William D. (1989). "Toward a Sustainable World." Scientific American 261 No. 3, pp 166-174 (September 1989), p. 168 col 3.


26. Ruckelshaus, 1989, p. 168 col. 3.


27. Schell, Jonathan (1982). The Fate of the Earth. New York: Alfred A. Knopf (Borzoi), p. 95.


28. Whorf, 1956, p. 246.


29. Whorf, 1956, p. 212-4.

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APPENDIX The theory which underlies the present study focuses on the self-reflexive domain of how a human deals with what goes on in and around her/himself -- including how this human deals with human symbolizing. In order to show the basis for the comments in the text, the authors here present


o The map-territory analogy, which provides distinctions and terminology for specifying two main ways of handling the process by which a human symbolizes and then guides her/himself by that symbolizing -- the approaches which we call 'self-correcting' vs. 'self-defending.'


o The non-aristotelian postulates disclosed by Korzybski, which underlie the self-correcting approach.


o The generically Aristotelian premises tacitly encoded in the grammar common to the Western Indo-European family of languages (including formalized languages, e.g. set theory or analysis, as well as discursive ones, e.g. English, French, etc.), which underlie the self-defending approach.


o How the explicit non-aristotelian assumptions we use manifest themselves in the theory which underlies the present study, in contrast to how the tacit, generically Aristotelian assumptions manifest themselves in standard contemporary Western Indo-European science.


A. The constructs of 'assuming' and of 'self-correcting' (at need, revising what one assumes) hinge on an analogy which compares the construct of 'living' to the process of map-making: To say that an organism lives means that it generates maps of that territory composed of 'what goes on in and around the organism', and then it guides its doings and choosings by its maps.


When one uses a map to guide one's behavior, one can in principle distinguish, or neglect to distinguish, between 'map' and 'what the map refers to'. Where one neglects to distinguish between them, we regard this as indiscriminate and refer to this form of indiscriminateness as 'postulating map-territory identity'. This neglect manifests itself in a) treating the territory as a "closed" and, to a first approximation, completely-known system, in b) treating the map as if it yielded some kind of "absolute certainty," and in c) holding oneself unwilling even to consider questioning, testing or revising it. At the other extreme, one can remain conscious of the distinction between 'map' and 'what the map refers to'. We regard this as discriminating and refer to this form of discriminating as 'postulating map-territory non-identity'. This discriminating manifests itself in a) remembering to treat the territory as "open" and in principle unknown, and in b) treating the map as more or less tentative and approximate, as incomplete, and as created from one's own point of view for one's own purposes; in c) remaining willing to test it for accuracy; and in d) holding oneself in readiness to revise it at need.


B. The expression 'inaccurate', 'incomplete', 'and self-referential' stands as shorthand for the non-aristotelian premises set forth by Korzybski. As undefined terms, Korzybski chooses structure, order, and relations. Instead of using these undefined terms to state the postulates, here, for the sake of intelligibility, we'll express them in terms of the map-territory analogy, as set forth in Appendix: A.


Non-identity: Presume that the map IS NOT the territory for which it stands.

("The word is not the thing it stands for.")



Non-allness: Presume that no map includes representations of ALL the characteristics of the territory.


Self-reflexiveness: Presume that no map exists free of some kind of representation of the map-maker.


The cautionary principles expressed by postulating map-territory non-identity and non-allness underlie the scientific method and form the basis for its power. Remember, the scientific method can accomplish one and only one thing: To provide a basis for selecting between guesses. In a fully specific setting (e.g., with reference to such and such kind of happenings, as tested by these specific methods, as judged by this criterion), it can either show one's hypotheses, assumptions or other guesses as 'in error'; or else, THIS TIME, 'can find nothing wrong with them'. It cannot prove them 'true' for now or forever. Whenever one violates the tenets of non-identity and/or non-allness, one thereby allows the possibility of starting from already-discovered error, and thereby predictably reduces the predictability of one's guesses (maps).


The cautionary principle expressed by postulating Self-reflexiveness underlies 'taking the observer into account'. Inevitably, what one has just done forms a part of the environment of the next thing one does. The situation of "having the ability to take into account the effects of what one has just done on one's current situation and proposed actions" confers a distinct advantage, in predictive terms, over the situation of "not having that ability." Thus to violate the tenets of self-reflexiveness also predictably reduces the predictability of one's maps.


C. Please do not consider this counter-example as purely hypothetical. The grammar common to the WIE discursive languages (e.g. Dutch, English, French, German, Greek, Latin, etc.), contains no REQUIRED provision or means for EXPLICITLY distinguishing between 'map' and 'territory' -- or in other words, it tacitly encodes the assumption of map-territory identity (cf. Appendix: A).


By analogy to the non-aristotelian premises, we explicitly state the counter-premises which we infer from the WIE grammar. No one previously had set up this grammar as an explicit deductive system, so no one had specified undefined terms for it. I suggest the terms noun, verb, and identical with (this latter construct represented below by "TAKE ... as if it WERE ..." or "need not distinguish explicitly between . and ... ," etc.).


Stated colloquially, the generically Aristotelian Counter-Postulates become:


Identity: (One may TAKE any B as if it WERE any A ; one need not distinguish explicitly between 'map' and 'territory'.)


Allness: (One may TREAT one's map as if every point of the map represented one and only one point of the territory, and no point of the territory went un-represented.)


Linearity: (One may TREAT one's map as entirely and absolutely objective, with no taint of reflexiveness, no trace of contamination by the map-maker.)


There exist two grounds for criticizing the Postulate of Tacit Identity, which hinge on the related constructs of logical and empirical.


The term 'logical' refers in general to the level of the symbols used by a symbol-user. Specifically, within a given symbolic system (theory), we examine the relations between the symbols (including the premises) which make up the symbolic system in use, and judge them by various criteria. For example, we regard frankly self-contradictory arguments, or arguments which confuse "name" with "thing named" or "use" of a term with "mention" of that term, or more generally, arguments which fail to distinguish between map and territory, as logically unacceptable.


From the standpoint of a non-aristotelian system, the counter-premises fail to survive logical scrutiny. a) A symbol-user relies on the Postulate of Tacit Identity if and when s/he fails to distinguish between some B and some A -- or in other words, TAKES this B as if it "WERE" that A . But in so doing, s/he engages in the archetypal example of "making a mistake," by the dictionary definition of '(to make) a mistake'. b) A symbol-user relies on the Postulate of Allness if and when s/he treats her/his map as exhaustively accurate and complete -- which amounts to treating "map" as 'identical with' "territory." (Still a mistake.) c) A symbol-user relies on the Postulate of Linearity if and when s/he treats her/his map as if it had no "room" in it for any kind of representation the map-maker -- which amounts to treating "map" as 'identical with' "territory." (Still a mistake.)


On logical grounds, then, we judge any symbolic system (theory) which includes the Postulate of Tacit Identity among its premises as based on already-discovered error, and thus as ultimately unacceptable.


The term 'empirical' refers in general to the level of how well hypotheses derived from a symbolic system, when treated as predictions, survive testing. On empirical grounds, we judge a hypothesis as empirically unacceptable (and thus in need of revision or replacement) if, when tested in a fully specific setting (cf. above, Appendix:B), it ends up (partially or completely) disconfirmed. If a significant number of the hypotheses we derive from a symbolic system or theory end up disconfirmed, we judge the symbolic system itself as empirically unacceptable, and in need of revision or replacement.


Then any theory which includes among its premises the Postulate of Tacit Identity will, sooner or later, fail to survive scrutiny -- logical or empirical or both -- (as long as the scrutinizer does not her/himself rely on the Postulate of Tacit Identity, in which case s/he may well find some way to beg the question and thereby avoid putting to test the Postulate of Tacit Identity or its consequences).


D. The allegation that WIE science depends partly on non-aristotelian and partly on the generically Aristotelian assumptions seems so drastic that we shall deal with it with some care.


As the anthropological linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf points out,


What we call "scientific thought" is a specialization of the western Indo-European type of language....28


Any language has to have some kind of grammatical structure, and that structure incorporates assumptions (or "implicit and unstated agreement(s)") which, in effect, segment along linguistic lines that which we experience. We who use the language


cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way -- an agreement that holds throughout our speech community. The agreement is, of course, an implicit and unstated one, BUT ITS TERMS ARE ABSOLUTELY OBLIGATORY; we cannot talk at all, except by subscribing to this way of organizing and classifying data decreed by the grammar.29


The particular assumptions built into the grammar common to the WIE discursive and mathematical languages (such as English or set theory) cut up what we experience into fixed "THINGS" and more or less evanescent "RELATIONS." In our discursive languages, we signify these "things" by self-identical nouns or noun-phrases, and the "relations" by not-self-identical verbs or verb-phrases. In our mathematical languages, we designate the "fixed entities" by self-identical quantities or things (e.g. x or 3 ) and the "non-fixed aspects" as operations or relations (e.g. 'belongs to' or 'equals'). Then to form a complete sentence, a speaker or writer in a discursive language combines at least one noun-phrase with at least one verb-phrase, e.g.


The cat grinned. ;


or, to form a well-formed formula in a mathematical notation, combines at least one quantity with at least one operation, e.g.


x = 3 .


Not-A .


As noted above, any language has to have some kind of grammatical structure. If we users of this language managed to restrict our agreement so as to distinguish between "map" and "territory," confining this way of organizing and classifying data to the level of "map" alone, probably no one would find anything to criticize in it. But, unfortunately, we unawarely project this pattern onto ourselves-and-the-worlds-we-live-in, in several ways and on several levels. In the WIE tradition, we presume that the "world" REALLY DOES consist of static-and-unchanging "entities" exactly suitable to designate by means of self-identical noun-phrases, and of more or less evanescent "relations" exactly suitable to represent by means of not-self-identical verb-phrases. Also, on another level, we presume that, like our two-part sentences, the "world" consists of two incompatible realms, or of pairs of incompatible realms, which we variously name as 'mind' vs. 'matter,' 'soul' vs. 'body', 'subjective' vs. 'objective', etc. Thus psychology studies 'mind', while physics studies 'matter'.


In terms of the map-territory analogy, we assert that the common WIE frame of reference which we scientists rely on implicitly posits that the 'map' encoded in the WIE grammar qualifies as identical with the 'territory' it allegedly represents.


Therefore WIE science derives (at least in part) from hidden assumptions which rest on already-discovered error.




Aquaculture system



Atmosphere Slight Extensive (Fossil fuels)


Climate Slight Extensive (Fossil fuels)


Water Moderate Extensive


Biodiversity1 Moderate Positive (Redistribution of (Reduce impact on wild species) stock)


Non-solar Little Considerable

energy used



Aquaculture High Poor




Social Poor Poor




Economic (Irrelevant and (Irrelevant and


sustainability3 misleading) misleading)



1Biodiversity: The Chinese redistribute fish species without regard to watershed of origin. The authors construe this to have a deleterious effect on genetic diversity of wild stock. On the other hand, the Americay system of monospecific aquaculture may take some pressure off wild stocks because of increased supply and, in some cases, a superior product -- allowing increase in wild stock size. However, the cultured stock has almost non- existent biodiversity, in accord with the practices of modern American agriculture.


2Social sustainability: None of our socio-economic systems -- "Communism," "Capitalism," "Socialism," etc., in any of their manifestations -- explicitly assumes a biosphere, nor that human affairs occur within constraints mediated by ecology, nor that human affairs follow the kinds of patterns set forth in the theory of time-binding. Consequently, the theories encoded within these socio-economic systems confer no predictability about how to sustain the activities of a time-binding class of life operating within the ecology of the biosphere. Therefore the authors judge the social sustainability of both the Chinese and the American patterns of aquaculture as poor.


3Economic sustainability: From the larger ecological point of view, economic theory, which no one has yet framed in a transactional manner, confers no predictability concerning living systems. Until someone rectifies this situation by providing transactional economic theory, the authors therefore judge any assessment of the "economic sustainability" of this practice or that as irrelevant and misleading.