Can you imagine a respectful, supportive and fruitful dialogue
(on the topic of their mutual concern) occurring between:
- A proponent of The Right To Life and a Pro-Choice advocate?
- The Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan and a black sharecropper from
- The Pope and the Chairperson of the International Lesbian Sisterhood?
- The CEO of Monsanto and the conservationist and feminist organizer
Biologists tell us that all living humans belong to a single species. But
over and over again, we create "In-Groups" which exclude "Others". Then
"We" speak to, and about, "Them" as if to, or about, Aliens (onto whom we
project those aspects of ourselves that we don't like). Frequently, "We"
take it as our job to tell "Them" how wrongly "They" behave and how "They"
to do things.
I assume that humans assume
. What any human or group of humans DOES,
I maintain, follows from what s/he/they ASSUME. We can assume THIS, or that
or something else
but we cannot assume NOTHING AT ALL. Much
of what we assume remains entirely non-verbal. (We can and do talk about
physiological processes, but the activities of breathing, heart-beating,
maintaining blood-pressure, etc., which (I say) do involve assuming, do
not depend primarily upon what we say.)
In practical terms, the term theory
signifies "relations among assumptions"so,
I say, we ACT from theory, lived
(as opposed to abstract) theory.
Since what occurs in-and-around any organism takes place dynamically and
on many "logical levels" at once, no organism can get away with generating
one and only one assumption and doing one and only one thing at a time.
Instead, the process of surviving entails making many assumptions, most
of them entirely non-verbal, and conducting inter-related activities, on
every available "logical level" concurrently. So I regard the inter-related
activities which a human engages in as following from what s/he assumes,
or in other words, from the theory composed of the relations among the fullness
of what s/he assumes.
Then when we language our relationships with other humans in "Us vs. Them"
terms, we rely on certain lived assumptions, deeply embedded in our languages
and our cultures, that we generally don't notice or have any awareness of.
|Culture hides much more than it reveals, and strangely enough what
it hides, it hides most effectively from its own participants. (Hall,
1973, p. 30)
So does our languaging.
The very fact that we don't notice them and express them in words keeps
these crucial assumptions concealed, where we can't get at themcan't
subject them to scrutiny. In fact, many of us Americans carry this process
of concealment so far that we feel sure we don't really HAVE a culture,
much less one that tells us what to do and how to liveincluding how
to treat our fellow-humans. It seem hard to imagine a more effective way
for a culture to hide itself than to persuade its participants that it "doesn't
exist". And even those of us who do recognize that we do have a cluture
and that it usually "hides itself" miss a deeper point: The term culture
refers to "a bunch of people who behave similarlywho appear to share
a particular set of rules, etc." So when I say that a culture "hides itself",
I point to a bunch of people utilizing one more way (as modern physicists
put it) to eliminate the observer from consideration
we recognize the great gains in predictability which the physicists achieved
when, at the beginning of the twentieth century CE, they found some ways
to "take the observer into consideration". However, we seem reluctant to
accept the inverse of that insight: To eliminate the observer from consideration
amounts to symbolically annihilating that observeroneself. The act
of even symbolically annihilating oneself manifests self-hatred
Before the twentieth century CE, the fact that the participants in our culture
in general, and the physicists in particular, lacked the tools to take the
observer into account means that they had no way NOT
to manifest self-hatred.
The evidence shows that we haven't thought through our cultures or our languaginganalyzed
these aspects of our own behaving-and-experiencing, scrutinized them,
asked how they work, noticed whether or not we arrange to conceal their
presuppositions or premises, and discussed the terrible consequences that
arise when we do. We just live by them or "use" them.
"A house divided against itself cannot stand." Each of the examples I listed
at the beginning of this Tutorial points to a persisting area of conflict
within the larger human communityon at least some occasions, the stated
excuse for demonstrations, riots, lynchings and other kinds of murder, war,
etc. In the twentieth century CE, the human race has created nuclear explosives,
nerve gases and other poisons, enhanced pathogenic germs, and other so-called
"weapons of mass destruction". We have no evidence, to date, for widespread
agreement throughout the human race that we must under no circumstances
use such "devices" on ourselves-and-each-other. In the presence of such
"devices" and the absence of such agreement, these examples of unremitting
conflict raise a question: Will we end up using these various "devices"
on ourselves-and-each-other? Will we do ourselves in?
In 1965, contemplating the then-current situation of humans-in-their-environments,
I set out to put such questioning into perspective. I made a list of ways
our current behavior threatened our continuing survival:
|Thoughtful people are aware that in the year 1965, there is a world-wide
crisis in human history which is also a crisis in the history of all
life. Our survival is in question: The possibility exists that the
human species may destroy itself, and perhaps all other species too.
Not only is this outcome of the evolutionary experiment of this planet
likely, but it even seems to be increasing in probability.
For the sake of analysis, I subdivide this crisis into four inter-dependent
problems, which in briefest summary can be stated thus:
(Hilgartner, 1965, p. 1)
- We do not know, reliably, how not to have wars;
- We have not figured out how to stop having too many human babies;
- We are contaminating the biosphere, destroying the biological
resources which make life capable of continuation; and
- We do not have sane societies: nowhere have we created human
environments fit for humans to live in.
I made that list some 34 years ago. I believe that since then, the human
race has still not dealt with the overall situation I pointed to. What do
we assume, that leads us to put ourselves-and-other-living-organisms in
As I say on the Welcome page of our Website, "To change what we DO, we have
to change what we ASSUME." Do we have other assumptions available, that
might lead us out of this self-inflicted danger, to which we could switch?
In this series of Tutorials on the topic of time-binding
, I explore
that set of assumptions which I regard as the most promising.
In my own teen years (back in the late 1940s and early 1950s), I had begun
to question my own culture and its assumptions, and to make tentative plans
for how I might educate myself so that I could work at answering such questions.
When in 1950 I encountered the work of Alfred Korzybski, and began reading
his 1933 book, Science and Sanity
, I quickly recognized that he had
already done most of the exploratory work I had hoped to pursue. I set out
to assimilate his contribution, so I could pick up where he left off and
proceed from there.
In 1950, when I visited the Institute of General Semantics (which Korzybski
had founded) I bought (and read) the brand-new second edition of his 1921
book, Manhood of Humanity
, in which he first set forth the construct
But it still took me a full decade to assimilate
Korzybski's contributions enough to use them to guide my own living and
to build on them in my own work.
While still a child, Korzybski had begun questioning the assumptions, the
"theory of humankind", of his own culture. At certain points in his life,
he expressed the most profound and troublesome of his ongoing inquiries
as: what makes humans human?
became positively painful for him during World War I, while he served as
an officer in the Second Russian Army. As Charlotte Schuchardt put it in
a biographical sketch of Korzybski, published shortly after his death:
|Immersed as he was in sufferings on the battlefronts, intimately
at home with death and pain, contemplating the thousands of years
of such continually recurring conflicts and their attendant human
tragedies, his questioning became focussed on, "Why? What is wrong?
How can this be prevented?" He had no answer. (Schuchardt, 1950, p.
For more than half his life, Korzybski found no way of answering his own
urgent and profound questioningworse, he found no way of discussing
his quest, his most central felt-problemuntil, in 1919 or 1920, around
his age 40, he deliberately set out to generate a frame of reference that
allowed him to place humans into the context of the whole domain of living
organisms, and that domain within the cosmos. (If you have not already
read the page entitled "Classifying Critters
in which Martha Bartter summarizes the main thrust of Korzybski's answer,
I suggest that you do so now, before proceeding with this Tutorial.) To
quote Schuchardt again:
The Main Idea:
|"What makes human beings human?" The endless questioning continued.
With his mathematical training [Korzybski] recognized eventually that
his question must be reduced to the simplest, most encompassing, functional
terms. Taking into consideration all living organisms, he asked
himself, "What is the role of plants in this world? What do they do?"
He found that they chemically synthesize the soil, water and air with
solar energy. "What of the role of a dog, a horse, or a monkey?" Their
survival depends on moving around in space. "We cannot deny them communication.
Nor can we deny them 'intelligence' or 'emotion.' Their devotion!
Often they are more faithful, more dutiful than many humans. What
about humans? How do they differ?" The question was deeply
One night he suddenly sat up in bed with tears dripping off his chin,
so moved that he had finally solved his question in his sleep. "Humans
have the capacity to transmit from generation to generation; one generation
or one person can begin where the other left off," he said to his
wife. "Man is not an animal." He did not have the terms then, he had
to analyze first what the different classes of life DO. Shortly, he
formulated his labels"chemistry-binding" for plants, "space-binding"
for animals, and "time-binding" for that characteristic, defining
capacity, out of all life, unique in human beings. With this simple
functional formulation he could at last become articulate. (Schuchardt,
1950, p. 35b)
I regard the construct of time-binding
as the most important innovation
Korzybski ever came up with. (For some background on this usage of the term
see paper #55, "An Innovative View of Innovating".) By questioning the "theory
of humankind" of his own culture, Korzybski discarded the available "received
wisdom" of that era, coming to look at the territory for himselfand
ended up seeing new relationships, ultimately based on new assumptions.
Eventually, he devised a way of expressing these relationships and assumptions
linguistically (to himself-and-others), in the process developing an explicit,
general theory of humankind
. This construct, this theory, did not arise
as a generalization of the "common sense" of any culture or family of cultures,
nor from the assumptions encoded in any language or family of languages.
Instead, it appears supra-cultural
in short, entirely non-traditional
in origin. It sets forth a way
of viewing the place of humans vis-a-vis other humans, other organisms,
and the cosmos as a whole which differs from that set forth by the advocates
of any traditional viewpoint. The construct of time-binding
way of summarizing his lifetime of questioning, became the basis for everything
Korzybski did thereafter. (Korzybski, 1921) He used it as a frame of reference
from which to review what we humans, or at least we Westerners, have learned
since the era of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. He put his findings together
into a new "World-View", which he first presented in his 1933 book Science
and Sanity An Introduction to Non-aristotelian Systems and General Semantics
In 1941 he disclosed the most-fundamental premises from which this alternative
"World-View" stemsthe non-aristotelian premises
them in English. The alternative "World-View" which we present on
this Website stems from Korzybski's non-aristotelian premises, and so has
both its historical and its logical beginning in this innovation.
Korzybski concludes that we humans accumulate human knowledge
the form, I assert, of tested guesses
), at rates that depend on
how much knowledge we already have
. This means that within a given culture,
or across cultures, our collective knowledge increases at exponential rates.
This overall construct, time-binding
, both models what distinguishes
humans from other species, and also models the general processes by which
we humans survive in the biosphere. It accounts for what we DO that (so
far as we now know) other organisms do not yet do. In short, it holds that
we humans cooperate to apply what we know, in the
process coming to know more.
In developing the construct of time-binding
, Korzybski uses the construct
: Humans live in environments with more dimensions than
do any other currently-known organisms. In Figure 1, I summarize this way
of looking at living organisms:
||NUMBER OF DIMENSIONS
WHAT THEY DO
(Like a pointno dimensions)
|PROVIDE THE FOUNDATIONS
(Like a lineone dimension)
||Bind basic energies.
(For green plants, that means, use the energy of sunlight to combine
carbon dioxide and water into glucosefrom which the plant makes
everything else it needs.)
|Don't move around "on purpose".
(Like a planetwo dimensions)
||Utilize basic energies. Move
around "on purpose".
||Species don't change rapidly
with the changing generations.
(Like a solidthree dimensions)
||Utilize basic energies. Move
around "on purpose". Psycho/cultural evolution: increasingly rapid
change, as we accumulate human knowledge (in the form of tested guesses)
at rates which depend on how much knowledge we already have.
||Humans cannot establish a
"negative mark" for humans. To do so, we would have to see, and speak,
from outside of our human points of view.
Then the relationship between a human born into and growing up within a
culture and the time-binding heritage has three main aspects:
- Each human inherits the available body of knowledgeor
at least, that portion available within her/his culture in the era of
her/his birth. Further, s/he assimilates some portion of the
heritagemakes it her/his own.
- Each human contributes to the heritagewhether or not
you or I can name our contribution.
- Each human passes on the resulting augmented body of knowledge,
to peers and to progeny and to the generations yet unbornafter
the fashion of a steward or trustee.
As Korzybski's friend, the mathematical philosopher Cassius J. Keyser, puts
|... it is obvious, once the fact is pointed out, that the character
of human history, the character of human conduct, and the character
of all our human institutions depend both upon what man is
and in equal or greater measure upon what we humans think man
is. (Keyser, 1922, p. 291)
An important part of the survival-problems I list in my 1965 paper comes
from a demonstrable, fundamental misconception some of us humans have about
ourselves. As members of the currently dominant world culture, which does
not explicitly subscribe to the theory of time-binding, we tend to hold
ourselves as "separate from Nature." That leads to some weird consequences,
which I can bring out most succinctly by referring to the term to transact
We humans, I saylike other living organismstransact
. I do NOT use the term environment
to signify "some THING 'out there', distant from me as an organism, that
remains static and unchanging and 'exists' independent of any observer".
Instead, I use the term environment
to refer to "the other side of
my skin"; or to put it the other way around, I use terms like I
to signify "the other side of the environment's skin". So I consider
as both dynamic and intimately-connected.
Thus I say, we transact with ourselves-and-our-environments. Each instance
leaves both us and our
environment altered. To see what this means, please engage with me in a
simple demonstration: Take a deep breathhold it for a few seconds,
and then exhale. Yes, pleasedon't just read about it or talk about
itactually DO it. (You'll breathe anyway, or perish on the spotbut
here, my request says, "Inhale and exhale once CONSCIOUSLY, as a part of
a demonstration, and do so NOW specifically because, for the sake of this
demonstration, I asked you to.")
In the process of inhaling and exhaling once, you have absorbed something
on the order of 40 mg of oxygen, and have excreted about 55 mg of carbon
dioxide. This has changed the chemical composition of the air in your immediate
vicinity (environment); and likewise has changed your own chemical composition
(organism) by a comparable amount. I call this kind of two-way interchange
(after Dewey & Bentley, 1949)
If, as someone who holds yourself as "apart from Nature", you should wish
to downplay and minimize the "external" or biological significance of the
transactional changes you engage in by breathing, allow me to remind you
of one way you fit into the biosphere: During mosquito season, female mosquitoes
find their preyyouby "smelling" the carbon dioxide you excrete.
Supposedly, they detect the local increase in concentrations of carbon dioxide
which you produce, and follow this gradient "upstream" toward higher concentrations,
in order to find you and suck your blood, and thereby get the high-protein
meal they require so their eggs can mature.
So far as I know, a female mosquito "mosquitoes" seamlessly and flawlessly.
Any English (or set theory) sentence I can construct to describe "what she
does" divides up her activities in ways that do not represent them accurately.
For the purpose of discussing the process of "mosquitoing" I might find
it useful non-verbally to IMITATE "the mosquito as she hunts"spread
my arms and make flapping, winglike motions; vocally mimic a mosquito's
whine; make sniffing gestures, and biting-and-sucking gestures (however
inaccurate as a representation of "inserting the proboscis and sucking blood");
etc. The mosquito does not, I believe, engage in linguistic analysis of
her own activities. Most especially, she does notcannotmislead
herself (the way we humans can and do) by using, for example, a western
Indo-European (WIE) language such as English, whose way of "slicing up the
world" verbally partitions the seamlessness of her non-verbal "mosquitoing"-in-her-environment-at-a-date
into separable and separate verbal "items"organism, environment,
wings, proboscis, air, gradient of carbon dioxide
, etc. Since these
aspects function seamlessly, any linguistic system that separates them gives
a distorted representation of how they (seamlessly) work.
WHAT HUMANS DO
IN THE PROCESS OF "HUMANING"TIME-BINDINGSEEMS EQUALLY SEAMLESS.
BUT AS A CONSEQUENCE OF THE ASSUMPTIONS BUILT INTO OUR LANGUAGING, WE HAVE
HAD REAL TROUBLES SEEING IT OR DESCRIBING IT THAT WAY.
What Happens When We Time-bind in the Absence of an Explicit
Theory of Time-binding
For any individual human, or group of humans, time-binding
takes place within a culture which also functions as a speech community.
It starts a new chapter at the birth of every child. What the parent-figures
pass on to their young consists precisely of the human heritagea lived
theory composed mainly of tested guesses (framed in their shared language),
which we might call that culture
. But in the absence of an explicit
theory of time-binding, practically nobody has seen it that way. Instead,
humans treat and have treated it a bit like breathinga backgrounded
activity, which everyone DOES and few consistently NOTICE doing.
Of the ten thousand or so cultures which have flourished on planet Earth
over the last three million years or thereabouts, each has its own coherent,
shared, growing patterns for what "We"the "Real People"DO
and DON'T DO
. Within a particular culture, I say, these
patternsthe participants' view of what we Westerners call "human nature"amount
to a developing lived theory, a shared, mainly tacit, restricted "theory
of humankind". Each "theory of humankind", I contend, follows from assumptions
(which, with careful scrutiny, we can tease out and specify), just as any
other theory does. Further, as a restricted theory, in principle each depends
on at least one special, restricted and restrictive assumption, that has
the effect of limiting what the theory can successfully apply to.
In no instance that I know of, however, do the exponents of a restricted
"theory of humankind" awarely
- regard it as "a theory", or
- regard it as restricted, or
- hold it tentatively, or
- regard it as developing and changing, or
- frame it so as to make it disconfirmable, or
- explicitly regard it as having arisen from the abstracting (symbolizing-activities,
languaging) of the "Real People"past, passing, or to come.
Instead, they appear to take their own restricted "theory of humankind"
unquestioningly, as a "given", an unchanging manifestation of "The Way Things
Since few humans believe that their ways of living have anything to do with
, very few workers have even tried to make the lived theory
of their own culture explicit, or sought to trace out and state the assumptions
it stems from. To compound the difficulties, the participants in the culture
learn their "theory of humankind" at Mother's knee, so to speak, and Mother
herself didn't know much about formal logical analysis or making assumptions
explicit. (Not to mention that modern logicians tell us that no one can
adequately analyze a system from within the system.)
Ultimately, any lived "theory of humankind" appears normativeit functions
like a self-fulfilling prophecy
. The theory says, in effect, "Real
People DO this and DON'T DO that"; so those who follow the theory make themselves
Real by DOING this and NOT DOING that.
The restricted "theory of humankind" held by the members of one culture
may differ wildly fromcontradicteach of the various restricted
"theories of humankind" (and the associated assumptions) held by the members
of other cultures. But however much these lived theories may differ from
one another in detail, each encodes one feature in commonthe idea
that humans who operate on other principles "do not belong to the Real People."
Thus each particular culture creates in-groups ("Us", the "Real People")
and out-groups ("Them", "The Enemy", "Not-the-Real-People"). The science
fiction author Ursula K. LeGuin calls this creating pseudo-species
Here I would say that each particular culture that I know of REPRESENTS
the human species as fragmented into many pseudo-species"Us" vs. "Them".
In 1978, I published a long paper which includes a discussion of various
of the intricate ways exponents of Western frames of reference symbolizemythologizesome
of the consequences of such "Us" vs. "Them" relationsin terms of norms
or "pictures of what goes on in-and-around-us". In general, the shared Western
"pictures" posit psychological impasse, power-struggle and conflict. Early
Western viewpoints posit conflict in Heaven (between the King of the Gods
and the other deities, or between God and some of his Angels (Devils));
between God and earth-dwellers (in the Garden or in the persons of Prometheus
or Job); and on Earth (between nations or groups, which wage war; within
the group, between Man and Society; and within the nuclear family, between
Man and Woman and between parents and children).
|Then both Socrates of Athens (469-399 BCE) and Jesus of Nazareth
(4 BCE?-30 CE?) proposed that we REPRESENT the authority of the group
as divided, or better, dissociated into at least two mutually-exclusive,
antithetical "parts" or "wings," e.g. spontaneous vs. deliberate,
or secular vs. sacred, or temporal vs. eternal,
or emotional vs. intellectual, etc. To quote words attributed
to Jesus, "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and unto God
that which is God's." ... (Hilgartner, 1978, pp.153-8)
Socrates and Jesus continued the job of "UNIVERSALIZING" and PROJECTING
the conflict by making it intrinsic to the rest of Creation. Given that
the members of their cultures already symbolized human living in terms of
the listed areas of conflict, we associate the names of Socrates and Jesus
with the symbolic innovation of REPRESENTING
- between different aspects of the group's authorityfor example,
whereas before, the King had also filled the role of God (or later,
of High Priest), they proposed separating the spheres of authority of
God (Priest) and King; and
- intrapersonally, "within" every humanfor example, as occurring
between "the soul" (subject to God (Priest)) and "the flesh" (subject
But of course, "No man can serve two masters."
Do we have a better term for intra-personal conflict
And as the late Joseph Campbell (among others) has demonstrated copiously
and repeatedly, though they differ in detail, the various philosophies/religions
espoused by inhabitants of Asia closely match the Western ones in some fundamental
aspects. To say it more directly, exponents of the so-called "Eastern Philosophies"
also posit conflict on every level including that of the intra-personal,
and so they too espouse self-hatred.
For us as exponents of the currently dominant world culture, to "organize"
(disorganize) our symbolic universe in such ways has consequences we rarely
face head-on, and mostly fail to notice at all. By framing our "pictures"
in this wayby REPRESENTING the whole "universe" on every discernable
"logical level" as dissociated into warring "parts", we institutionalize
. We commit ourselves to systematically corrosive dealings
. We make war on our own primary physiology.
Paula Gunn Allen, an American Indian of Laguna Pueblo and Sioux heritage
and a scholar in American Indian literature, notes that from the point of
view of tribal peoples, our language supports our dissociated stance:
|In English, one can divide the universe into two parts: the natural
and the supernatural. Humanity has no real part in either, being neither
animal nor spiritthat is, the supernatural is discussed as though
it were apart from people, and the natural as though people were apart
from it. This necessarily forces English-speaking people into a position
of alienation from the world they live in. (Allen, 1992, p. 60)
The views Allen points to commit any "I" who holds them to conflict on every
level: conflict with "self" (self-hatred), conflict with "the supernatural",
and conflict with "the natural". She thus shows how self-hatred extends
to the whole of the natural world, the whole of the cosmos. Her comments
present an "external" view of the culturally-and-linguistically- determined
assumptions of which I gave an "internal" account above. Her notion of "hav[ing]
no real part" in the universe, as I read it, corresponds to the more standard
Western philosophical or theological notion of "unmoved mover" (an alternative
label for God): In the shared "pictures" of the currently dominant world
culture, humans act ON
the natural universe, but it
has no effect on them. We function like little "gods" granted "dominion"
over the Earth and all of the (other) organisms that inhabit it. As Daniel
Quinn puts it, as members of the currently dominant world culture, we act
as if we believe that
|"The world was made for man to conquer and rule, and under human
rule it was meant to become a paradise. ...but tragically, [man] was
born flawed. And so his paradise has always been spoiled by stupidity,
greed, destructiveness and shortsightedness." (Quinn, 1992, p. 82-3)
Further, our belief systems insist that we can expect nothing better
of humans; and the linguistic structures that support that perspective
(which I regard as warped) exist in all of the WIE languages.
How Human Transacting Works
Here we come to the heart of the matter. As I have insisted,
we humans transact with ourselves-and-our-environments, and we use the pictures
of "what goes on" embedded in our shared lived theories to guide what we
do. Inevitably, we thereby alter both ourselves and our environmentsand
the changes we produce tend to make us-and-our-environments into closer
approximations to the pictures of "what goes on" embedded in these shared
- IF, lacking (or ignoring) an explicit theory of time-binding, we continue
to assume a "cosmos" characterized by conflict and power struggle on
every level, THEN the changes we produce will consist of further conflict
and power struggle on every level.
- IF we continue to assume a "universe" in which we humans function
as "unmoved movers"little "gods"(and so may do whatever
we "whim" to do), THEN the changes we produce will continue progressively
to render the planet, the biosphere, less and less habitable, less and
less capable of participating with and so sustaining actual humansperhaps
less and less capable of sustaining any organisms at alland to
render ourselves less and less capable of acting like participants
transacting with ourselves-and-our-environments within nested ecosystems.
- Alternatively, IF we should recognize ourselves as able to change
what we assume, and should accept and make our own a theory, such as
that of time-binding, which denies the primacy of conflict and affirms
humans not as little "gods" but as limited, but transacting, participants
in the biosphere, THEN, I predict, the character of the changes we would
produce by our transacting would change also, in directions which would
render ourselves-and-the- biosphere more capable of mutually supporting
We seem quite unaware that we do transactand seem almost totally blind
to what the pictures embedded in our lived theoriesd SHOW
The progressive, cumulative threat to the survival of ourselves-and-the-rest-of-the-biosphere
comes precisely from that unawareness and that blindness.
Meanwhile, we TALK about what we do (as we blindly engage in time-binding).
Given the shared assumptions we currently rely on, we usually, we talk about
"what we do" in ways that precisely misrepresent this dynamic two-way interchange.
Because our language makes it so easy to do so, we consistently notice what
we do and have doneand consistently fail to notice what that "doing"
has done to and for us. As Allen points out in her own way, that fits right
in with the linear structure of WIE languages such as English and set theory,
in which it seems so easy to argue that "A causes B, and B causes C, and
C causes D, and ...". This linear "reasoning" provides no way of arriving
at, or marking, "end-of-string"; and it fails to account, in "becausal"
terms, for A. This makes the process of discussing self-reflexive topics
such as time-binding
unexpectedly difficult. However, what we CAN
say (in English and set theory) about time-binding does bring us to a point
where we can at least glimpse how we work within our cultures now, and how
we might do so if we operated less blindly.
the Presence of an Explicit Theory of Time-binding
I can at best come up with a partial listing hereas
someone brought up within the currently dominant world culture, I find myself
limited in what I can visualize or imagine.
Using Time-binding as
an Over-arching Generalization
I regard the construct of time-binding
as an explicit,
general theory of humankind
which has broad implications:
- for how individuals live their lives and deal with themselves-and-their-environments;
- for how groups deal with their members, with themselves as groups,
and with other groups;
- for how we humans treat the other organisms that share the planet
- for how we deal with the planet as a whole;
- for the ways we structure, and hold, our existing heritage of human
- for how we seek out new knowledge;
- and so on.
As Keyser (1922) suggests, when we revise "what we humans think man is
that provides us with means to re-structure the ways in which we humans
transact individually and collectively, in every dimension available to
A general theory of humankind based on time-binding provides distinct advantages
over any of its older rivals, including that it satisfies modern logical
and empirical standards of adequacy:
- As a view of the uniquely human environment of symbolizing, it includes
fine details concerning the structuring of human knowledge. In my view,
any transacting, any guess, any knowledge has two components. One of
these hetero-referentially "tells about" some aspect of what
goes on around-and-in the human organism who generates it; the other
component self-referentially gives some kind of representation
of that human.
- It treats a culture as a lived theory composed of tested guesses and
the relations amongst them, held in common by a group of humans, which,
on its "other" side, gives its exponents guidance as to what aspects
of their environments ("what goes on in and around us") to consider
as important, and on its "self" side, encodes an explicitly-held, normative
set of rules or standards for how "WE PEOPLE" behave, for what "we"
must, and must not, DO, etc.
- It provides an operationally-defined model for how humans manage to
survive in the biosphere.
- Its exponents, from Korzybski to the present, have explicitly based
it on evidence.
- Its exponents explicitly regard it as restrictedas in principle
inaccurate, incomplete, and self-referential.
- Its exponents explicitly regard it as developing and changing.
- Its exponents explicitly regard it as A THEORY (not a "divine revelation"
or "the way things Really Are").
- Its exponents explicitly and insistently hold it tentatively.
- Its exponents have framed it so as to make it disconfirmable.
- Its exponents explicitly regard it as having arisen from the abstracting
(symbolizing-activities, languaging) of humansorganisms capable
These advantages provide the tools for eliminating the "war" with "self",
with "nature", and with "the supernatural", replacing the tradition of incessantly
shuttling between war
with another pattern of living
to Re-define the Primary "Us"
When I call time-binding a general theory of humankind,
I suggest that we treat it as a higher-ordered generalization, of
which the restricted "theory of humankind" generated by each of Earth's
specific cultures forms a special case. (I discuss aspects of my
way of using the notions of general theory and special
cases below, under the caption. "If and When a Group Adopts Time-binding
As Its Own".) Thus the act of holding this general theory enables me to
represent the cosmos we inhabit, and the human species that lives here,
as unitary; every individual as intrinsically undivided (never mind how
our culturally-determined frames of reference may REPRESENT humans-in-their-environments);
and all culturally-determined viewpoints as co-equal. This lets me show
in principle and in fact how NOT to fragment humankind into pseudo-species.
In effect, then, the construct of time-binding makes it possible
for us humans to re-draw the boundaries of the primary human "In-Group",
The implications of this construct lead us to treat any organism at all
which observably can engage in time-binding as a member of the primary "Us".
If an organism, of whatever species, can and does receive, and assimilate
some portion of, a heritage composed mainly of tested assumptions
(in other words, a theory, a culture); if it can and does contribute to
the heritage; and if it can and does pass it on to peers and progeny and
to the generations yet unbornthen as an advocate of the theory of
time-binding, I say, let us welcome it as one of "Us".
Observer Into Account in a New Way
The construct of time-binding
also has implications
for human knowledge in the broadest sense, and for how we deal with our
knowledge. As I mentioned above (first section), in the first decades of
the twentieth century CE, certain physicists noticed that whenever they
measured a physical system, that altered the system under scrutiny. They
became very ingenious about it, and even quantified certain aspects of the
changes they brought about. The theory of time-binding takes the observer
into account in a new way. For whenever someone measures a physical system,
s/he also alters the MEASURER
And since the notion of measuring
stands as a special case of 'sensing'
', that means that any organism at all, which by any
stretch of the imagination has a "sensory receptor" and uses it to 'sense'
or 'perceive' what goes on in-and-around-itself-at-some-date, by that very
act alters itself-and-its-environment-at-approximately-that-date (the point
I made above, without explanation, when I introduced the construct of transacting
This sense of "taking the observer into account" appears utterly fundamental.
By the argument presented above (first section), the logical feat of taking
the observer into account in a new way alters our lived theoriesit
replaces a specific instance of tacit self-hatred with one of explicit self-acceptanceshifting
how we conduct our search for further knowledge as well as how we live our
lives. Arguments already presented above suggest the necessity for and possibility
of revising the underlying theoretical basis for biology and for the human
psycho-social sciences. These comments about taking the observer into
account in a new way
suggest also the urgent need to revise the foundations
of WIE logic and mathematics, as well as quantum theory and relativity.
The research group of Hilgartner & Associates has at least scratched
the surface in each of these arenasand has published some of our findings
in professional journals of the various disciplines named. (See Paper
"E-Prime and Linguistic Revision", for an extensive bibliography
of these publications.)
Adopt Time-binding As Their Own
Since Korzybski published Manhood of Humanity in
1921, some people have consciously adopted the theory of time-binding as
their own. The ones I know personally or know of appear to have gained advantages
which no linguistically-and-culturally-determined, traditional "theory of
humankind" can match. For example, these include opportunities to eliminate
intra-personal as well as inter-personal conflict and power-struggle; opportunities
to treat our fellow-humans as co-equals, rather than divisively, as some
kind of "threat" to the "rightness" of our own culturally-determined views;
If and When
a Group Adopts Time-binding As Its Own
In principle, any culture, any group could, at its own initiative,
consciously adopt the theory of time-binding as its own "theory of humankind".
As I picture it, the process of adopting this general theory would NOT require
an amputationthe group would not have to chop out and throw away its
own traditional "World-View" with its own built-in, restricted "theory of
humankind". I do imagine that someone would have to show how the traditional
viewpoint fills the role of a special case of time-bindingwhich, formally
speaking, amounts to having this person inter-translate between that traditional
"World-View" with its encoded "theory of humankind" and the more comprehensive
theory of time-binding. To do that, the inter-translator would, I believe,
have to disclose, bring out, and make explicit the previously-concealed
restrictive assumptionand the group would then have to acknowledge
it as restricted and restrictive. In so doing, they would re-frame the restrictive
assumption in light of a more general frame of reference.
That would, of course, alter the traditional "World-View" somewhatwhich
means that the process of adopting and assimilating the theory of time-binding
would amount to a turning-point in the development of that culture, analogous
to passages individuals go through in the process of growing up and growing
older. But just how the group would modify its previous ways of living
would remain a matter of the group's choice, at its own initiative, and
so need not violate its own sense of integrity and self-determination.
Then across the human species, what had looked like a chaos of codes of
conduct, irreconcilably contradicting and conflicting with one another begins
to become reconciled.
I see reasons to expect that any group that adopts the theory of time-binding
as its basis will gain advantages analogous to those gained by an individual
who adopts that theory. More than that, the theory of time-binding provides
the basis for a whole-species code of conduct. By assimilating such a general
"theory of humankind", the group removes its principles for what "Real People"
DO and DON'T DO from the list of mutually-contradictory, parochial codes
of conduct. Instead it aligns itself with a species-wide morality/ethics
which acknowledges and accepts the relationships of humans with themselves,
with other humans, with other organisms, and with the cosmos as a whole.
Now return to the first page of the Tutorial, and consider
again any one of the fixated conflicts listed theresay, between a
Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan and a black sharecropper who had filed
as a candidate for an elective position on the local County Board of Commissioners.
If each of the parties to these previously fixated oppositions has already
assimilated the theory of time-binding as her/his own, that would mean that
each has drastically altered her/his assumptions, and so her/his stance.
Under these altered conditions, the kind of confrontation I suggested when
I wrote that list could not occur. Indeed, the descriptors I chose to name
the opponents would no longer apply. No one who had assimilated the theory
of time-binding could serve as Grand Dragon of a Ku Klux Klan that still
pursued its historic mission (to use tactics of physical violence and terror
to insure that humans of African descenthumans with melanotic skinremain
in subservient social roles, regardless of whether we still allow the institution
of chattel slavery). No exponent of time-binding, I believe, could or would
remain a member of such an organization. Likewise, in order to assimilate
the theory of time-binding, the "black sharecropper" would have had to revise
his own self-esteem and re-evaluate his own social status, and explicitly
recognize that he, too, contributes directly to the human heritage, and
that observations he makes may well enhance the lives of his peers and successors.
And each would have had to reassess also who constitute his peers. Given
these altered conditions, I regard it as likely that these former adversaries
would meet as mutually-acknowledged equals.
Similar considerations apply to other of the listed conflicts.
People who adopt the theory of time-binding as their own, I expect, will
transact in ways that do not precipitate out as fixated conflict and power-struggle.
Rather, the participants have the toolsthe assumptions, the skills,
the personal commitment, the self-esteemto transact in ways that end
up RESOLVING conflicts and power-struggle.
SO NOW WHAT?
As members of the currently dominant world culture, we have
considered it our job to "fix" the world. We have done so with great, and
increasing, successand we don't like some of the results: polluted
air and water, eroding land, changing weather patterns, disappearing species,
etc. For centuries we have tried to "fix" the world without paying any attention
to our own assumptionsour linguistically-and-culturally-determined
picture of our relationship to the world.
Up till the recent past, we have not had a useful, general "theory of humankind"
(set of assumptions) that describes humans-in-their-environments in disconfirmable,
operational terms. Now we do.
This picture shows us that the only way effectively to change what we DO
requires that we change what we ASSUME.
The available evidence seems to indicate that the best chances for the long-term
survival of humans-in-their-environments will arise if we bring into existence
cultures explicitly based on time-binding.
How do we go about creating such cultures?
You and I have already made a startwe both know that the theory of
time-binding exists. It says that when a human changes the way s/he
transacts, everyone s/he comes in contact with has to alter the way they
transact with her/him.
LIVING the assumptions encoded in this theory takes practice.
However, to the extent that we make this our OWN lived theory, we contribute
to revising the ways that humankind functions.
It starts with us. Will YOU take it on?
C. A. Hilgartner
take a break:
Anyone who has stuck with this Tutorial this far should take time to catch
your breath. Please look at what you have accomplished alreadyand
allow yourself opportunities to assimilate some of what we have presented
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