Tuesday, June 16, 2009

General Semantics Logomania

So, as Executive Director of the Institute of General Semantics, I felt that the logo we were using was kind of blah, and that a new logo would in order (although I'm not formally in public relations, I think I have some affinity for the practice). Here's the old logo for you:

Now, it is true that we often refer to the Institute by its initials, but IGS is hardly distinctive, or recognizable, or unique for that matter. Google "IGS" and you get

  • The International GNSS Service (IGS), formerly the International GPS Service
  • IGS Energy, America's #1 independent retail provider of natural gas
  • IGS The No.1 WoW Service Provider. WoW Gold, Accounts, world of warcraft gold
  • The International Geosynthetics Society
  • the Indiana Geological Survey
  • the International Glaciological Society
  • The Ipswich Grammar School
  • International Graphonomics Society
  • The Institute of Governmental Studies
  • IGS (Information Gathering Satellites)
  • Generon Innovative Gas Systems
  • The Institute for Global Studies
  • Welcome to IGS Games
  • IGS is the industry leader in Skiptracing, Asset Location and Collateral Recovery
  • Membership in the International Gem Society is $59 for one year, $109 for two years, or
  • the International Guitar Seminars website
  • Innovative Growing Solutions Inc. is now in a larger, more convenient location
  • Interdisciplinary Group Seminar (IGS) 2006 - 2009
And I could go on in this vein, but I think you get my point. Overall, the Institute comes in at number 13 on the Google list, not terrible but not great either. But the bottom line is that if you pronounce it as an acronym, you get igs, which sounds like a cross between ick, and ugh (yeah, yeah, I know all about how popular UGGs are, but that doesn't help the Institute at all, does it?).

As for the line, "founded in 1938 by Alfred Korzybski," while that certainly is distinctive, I don't think it belongs in our logo. That's the kind of statement, in my opinion, that you might find in a business logo. The way I see it, 1938 is not so long ago as to make people say, wow! If it were 1066, or 1453, maybe then. And Alfred Korzybski is not particularly well known, certainly not known independently of general semantics, so there is no benefit from association in the way that there would be if, for example, the Institute for Intercultural Studies indicated that it was founded by Margaret Mead. If anything, the old IGS "motto" reinforced the negative, and erroneous impression some people have had that the Institute is some kind of cult, a cult of Korzybski. Now don't get me wrong, I'm more than happy to direct a cult, if you're willing to follow. Don't say anything now, you can let me know later.

But back to my story. I had a vague notion of what our new logo should look like, and my friend Corey Anton, who's an IGS Trustee, enlisted his wife Valerie Peterson, in making some initial designs, which were then completed by my old friend Peter Darnell (and here's a plug for his outstanding Visible Works Design company). So, here is one version of the new logo:

You can see another version of the Institute of General Semantics website, just click away, take a look, and meet me back here.

Pretty cool, huh? Well, I think so anyway. The idea of enclosing the logo in an oval, kind of like a seal, came up as a consequence of trying to integrate it into the existing website (courtesy of IGS webmaster Ben Hauck, working with Peter Darnell), and once that happened, well, I really like that version as well . I can't wait to start making t-shirts (you think I'm kidding? maybe we'll do caps as well... and I have a thing for neckties...).

So, anyway, let me tell you a bit about the logo, why don'tya? First, in keeping with the spirit of time-binding, our new logo is actually a retrieval of one of the original symbols used by the Institute, the null A sign (the letter A with a line over it), which stands for non-Aristotelian, Alfred Korzybski having introduced general semantics as a non-Aristotelian system.

Two earlier versions of the null A logo can be found on the covers of some of the books published by the IGS, such as Korzybski's Manhood of Humanity:

You can see the old logo on the bottom of the cover. I think it looks very sharp, actually, although the strict linearity of the image, in my mind, does not jibe with the nonlinear quality of the non-Aristotelian outlook (the motto underneath it, "Leading a Revolution in Human Evaluating," doesn't do anything for me). Another version of the logo can be found on the cover of Korzybski's Collected Writings:

This version is more appropriately circular, but looks hand drawn and amateurish. I should note, at this point that the null A symbol was also popularized by the science fiction writer, A. E. van Vogt, as can be seen on the cover of the first edition of his novel, The World of Null A, originally published in 1948:

Anyway, in making reference to the symbolism of null A, it's worth recalling that non-Aristotelian does not mean anti-Aristotelian; the point was not to oppose or denounce Aristotelian logic, but to move beyond it. Had Korzybski introduced general semantics at some point over the last few decades, he no doubt would have dubbed it post-Aristotelian instead, and indeed general semantics presages many basic elements of postmodernism, including paralogism (in the sense of going beyond logic—which was after all first codified by Aristotle—and its established rules and formulas).

It's also worth recalling that Korzybski forwarded post-Aristotelian thought as a complement to post-Euclidean mathematics and the post-Newtonian physics introduced by Einstein at the turn of the 20th century. And we might further connect the non-Aristotelian to the nonlinear (as I already have), a characteristic associated with oral cultures (which are inherently pre-Aristotelian), and with the electronic media (which can be characterized as post-literate and post-Aristotelian) especially as they have come to dominate communications in the 20th century. Additionally, the nonlinear is very much a part of systems theory (itself an outgrowth, in part, of general semantics), and especially of systems concepts such as chaos and complexity.

The circular component in our new logo is intended to suggest a nonlinear orientation, and a holistic one as well. According to Carl Jung, the archetype of the circle also connotes community, and our IGS is indeed a community, a virtual community in some ways, but also a learning community, as well as an intellectual association, an international society, and in a classic sense, a republic of letters.

So, we've given the logo a more modern, three-dimensional look for its aesthetic appeal and ability to attract attention, but also because general semantics itself represents a multidimensional outlook, in contrast to what Hebert Marcuse described as the one-dimensional man, and consistent with a multi-valued rather than two-valued orientation. Moreover, in Manhood of Humanity, Korzybski described time-binding itself as a third dimension that only human beings have access to, as compared to the first dimension of chemistry-binding that plants engage in, and the second dimension of space-binding that other animals are associated with.

Additionally, our new logo has an element of visual paradox of the sort associated with the artwork of M. C. Escher. And as Douglas Hofstader notes in Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, Escher's artwork exhibits the quality of recursion or self-reflexiveness, which of course is Korzybski's third non-Aristotelian principle.

By a happy coincidence, there is also some resemblance between our new logo and the triangular diagram that appears in the classic work by C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, The Meaning of Meaning, originally published in 1922:

This famous diagram depicts how a symbol relates to the thing it represents, referred to as its referent. The model emphasizes the fact that the relationship between the symbol and referent is arbitrary and conventional, and therefore imputed and indirect—that is why the bottom of the triangle consists of a dotted line rather than a solid one. Instead, the connection between the two is mediated by the mind, which is why thought or reference is situated at the apex of the triangle.

Symbols do not stand for things in the world, they trigger concepts in the mind. Reality does not translate into symbols, rather events are perceived and processed by minds that may associate the experience of those events with certain symbols, but then again may not. Between the map and the territory we find the mapmaker, the human medium that is the bridge between symbols and referents.

As a referent, the Institute of General Semantics needs a symbol that communicates something about who we are and what we are about. We need a symbol that, for those of us familiar with the IGS, connects to our collective perceptions and conceptions of the Institute and the discipline of general semantics as best as possible.

And we also need a symbol that hopefully will attract the attention and interest of those who are new to the IGS and gs, that will invite them to ask questions and learn more about our non-Aristotelian approach.

Of course, there's a sense in which change, indeed almost any kind of change, in and of itself can function as a means of publicizing our organization and all that it represents. More significantly, change can serve as a symbol of life and renewal, and it certainly is true that we must change, adapt, and evolve in order to meet the challenges of a dynamic environment. With this in mind, now, at the close of the first decade of the 21st century, we introduce our new logo for this, our contemporary non-Aristotelian moment, to symbolize our evolving non-Aristotelian movement.

Or, let's just leave it with the sincere wish that our new null A won't come across as a dull A! Or, as we say in New York, F---ing A!

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