Fascinating little article on how to think:

In 1933, in Science and Sanity, Alfred Korzybski proposed that we should abolish the “is of identity” from the English language. (The “is of identity” takes the form X is a Y. e.g., “Joe is a Communist,” “Mary is a dumb file-clerk,” “The universe is a giant machine,” etc.) In 1949, D. David Bourland Jr. proposed the abolition of all forms of the words “is” or “to be” and the Bourland proposal (English without “isness”) he called E-Prime, or English-Prime.

Since the brain does not receive raw data, but edits data as we receive it, we need to understand the software the brain uses. The case for using E-Prime rests on the simple proposition that “isness” sets the brain into a medieval Aristotelian framework and makes it impossible to understand modern problems and opportunities. A classic case of GIGO, in short. Removing “isness” and writing/thinking only and always in operational/existential language sets us, conversely, in a modern universe where we can successfully deal with modern issues.

The original Klingon language didn’t have “to be” in it. The linguist who came up with the language wanted to give it that quirk. Unfortunately, in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country that changed when General Chang recited Shakespear in Klingon with “To be or not to be.”

Should I be depressed that I know this?

Epistemology was never my strong suit in grad school, but I have to admit a casual scan of this article makes it seem uncomfortably close to the Koontzian. First, phrases like “a medieval Aristotelian framework” is a big red flag that we’re not dealing with a very precise thinker. Second, the article takes an epistemological walk down a metaphysical road: what the author really doesn’t like is the essentialism, or the idea that universals are a thing in the world and not a category of the mind.

That’s fine; a lot of philosophers reject essentialism in particular and metaphysics in general. But there’s nothing particular “modern” about the “modern problems and opportunities” the author talks about. In fact, you can pretty much go back to the 13th centruy and hear the same sort of metaphysical nominalism from William of Ockham. And right up to today philosophers have been calling metaphyics everything from voodoo (Habermas) to misplaced concreteness (Russell.) Why do we need quantam psychology (whatever that may be) to put a very, very old wine into a very weird looking bottle? This just reads like a very smart guy who knows very little about the history of ideas. But I could be wrong.

…we’re not dealing with a very precise thinker.

I’d say that’s a pretty fair assessment of Wilson, bless his mutant heart.

Wikipedia, of course, has some stuff. The bit that really made me grin is this:

…he is arguably a more cogent and persuasive exponent of Leary’s “imprinting circuit” theory of psychological development than Leary himself.

…which isn’t really a tremendously high-water mark to hit, mind you. :)

E-prime has always struck me as being (usefully modeled as, natch) more a useful exercise than any sort of practical approach to “modern problems”. Mind you, this is largely because I think the idea that one’s language conditions one’s thought/deep structures/“reality tunnel”/worldview/trip isn’t really nearly as cut-and-dried as that–more of a chicken and egg situation. I’m pretty sure there have been languages that lack the strong is-ness use that English has, and that the cultures that used them were every bit as fucked up as humans have always been great at being. Maybe I’m wrong, but I wouldn’t lay money on it.

Wilson’s a pretty entertaining writer, though. Plus, I’ll always have a soft spot for him because I read the Illuminatus! trilogy at precisely the correct time in my life–that being immediately after reading Atlas Shrugged during adolescence. It was like literary antivenom!

Oh, I don’t know about the guy specificly, this is just the first time I’ve seen “to be” suggested as the cause of an entire category of logic errors. :)

This guy is a dope.


“In my reality tunnel, the thing I see as ‘this guy’ appears to have the attributes and behaviors of the type of person I would describe as ‘a dope’”

To me, one plus one appears to be two.

A seems to posess A-ness

Metaphor? Simile? Who needs em?!

I love most of wilson’s stuff and agree with his philosophy quite a bit. On this article though he’s gone a bit off the Koonzian end of the pier.