Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Language, Maps, and (New) Media

Speaking of general semantics, and new media, my friend Bob Logan, who's one of the speakers at the New Languages, New Relations, New Realities Symposium this October at Fordham University (you didn't miss the announcement in my previous post, Calling All Papers!, now did you?), brought this video to my attention.  It features Tim O'Reilly, founder of O'Reilly Media, and like Douglas Engelbart and Alan Kay, he is a new media maven who acknowledges general semantics as an influence, and sees a connection between computer technology and Korzybski's non-Aristotelian system:

This Ignite series looks quite intriguing (perhaps taking a page from the TED talks?), and appears to be connected to O'Reilly Media, which I first heard about back in the 90s from Steve Talbott, author of The Future Does Not Compute (which is published by O'Reilly).  On the page devoted to this presentation, Tim O'Reilly on Language as a Map, there's some additional information and links that I would like to share with you here (I hope Tim doesn't mind):

O'Reilly Media's Founder and CEO Tim O'Reilly has used language to shape the software industry's thinking several times. In the 1990's he helped create and define the term Open Source (o help de-stigmatize "free software"). In this century he defined the term Web 2.0. By finding and evangelizing a meaningful name, Tim boosted the development and adoption of these world-changing technologies.
Tim had been exposed to the idea of using language as a map in the 1970's through a man named George Simon. As Tim wrote in his 2002 essay Science and Consensus:

At about the same time, I studied with a man named George Simon, who was trying to build what he called "languages for consciousness," believing, like Benjamin Whorf (author of Language, Thought and Reality), that our language limits our ability to perceive, and that until we have languages for certain states of consciousness and perception, we won't be able to use them. He saw his work as an extension of general semantics, a system developed in the 30's by Alfred Korzybski, author of Science and Sanity. Korzybski's famous statement, "the map is not the territory" is more than an observation; it's a tool for living more perceptively. A lot of my friend George's work was in training people to open up the ladder of perception, to recognize the difference between what you are experiencing directly vs. through various levels of abstraction, to let go preconceived notions and let the world come in fresh.

George also argued that as human consciousness evolves, certain things that were once on the frontiers of awareness, and that were experienced with near-mystical force, become commonplaces as they are routinely abstracted into language. In my classics honors thesis at Harvard, I used this premise to assess certain of Plato's dialogues, arguing that the mystical overtones with which Socrates describes concepts like justice and truth were the result of the newness of his ideas. As we "rehearse" these now familiar ideas thousands of years later, we don't get that same rush. Most of us receive them at a level of abstraction, fitting them into our accepted system of facts, rather than taking them in through the entire ABCD perceptual cycle.

Tim expands on these beginnings in his Wired Profile, The Trend Spotter. This talk was filmed at Ignite Sebastopol. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Very impressive, indeed.  I wonder if Mr. O'Reilly might be interested in speaking at our Symposium, and otherwise discussing the relationships between language and new media further?

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