General Semantics Advanced Thinking
A System-Discipline Concerned with the Sanity of the Race & the Individual
On Time-Binding

by Milton Dawes

The way we define ourselves will affect the ways we ‘think’ about ourselves; the ways we live our lives; our attitudes and behaviors; the ways we treat others – and the ways others treat us.

If we want things to change in our lives, we have to change the ways we ‘think’ about things; the ways we ‘think’ about others; the ways we ‘think’ about our world. A great deal of our thinkings-and-feelings are based on our definitions. Unfortunately, we are most times unaware of our definitions. And as they are not formally expressed, we have no hint that many of our problems can be attributed to the ways we have defined someone or something. Awareness of our attitudes, our expectations, and the ways we relate to, and treat someone or something, provide us with valuable clues to the ways we have defined someone or something.

On page 394 in Science and Sanity, Korzybski wrote: “Among ‘humans’ the abstractions of high orders produced by others, as well as those produced by oneself are stimuli to abstracting in still higher orders”. I would like to draw attention to the phrase “as well as those produced by oneself”. I label “abstractions produced by oneself” as “intra- personal time-binding”; and “abstractions of high orders produced by others” as “interpersonal time-binding”. What I mainly want to emphasize is “intra-personal time- binding” – in terms of “self-appreciation”. We learn a great deal from ourselves – and we could learn much more if we recognized and appreciated that fact. And if we passed on this “learning from ourselves” bit to our children, there might be a dimunition of their tendency to believe, and behave, as if they can learn “only” from the ‘experts’, and that their experiences are of little worth. This could do a great deal for their developing self-esteem and self-confidence.

Time-binding“, Korzybski’s definition of humankind, incorporates theoretical foundations for species ethics (human relationships), critical evaluation (critical ‘thinking’ about our ‘thinking’), and the individual and social consequences of different ways of ‘thinking’, in terms of racial and individual sanity. An appreciation of ourselves as time-binders could lead us as individuals to become more strongly aware of our links with each other, with others long gone, and with others yet to come. An awareness of ourselves as intra-personal time-binders, helps us to become more integrated individuals, by linking our different instances of consciousness, and other activities, thereby keeping us more in touch with ourselves. Our awareness of ourselves as interpersonal time- binders links us with others, and helps us to appreciate ourselves as co-workers, or partners, in exploring and seeking to make sense of things. Seeing ourselves in cooperation – and as cooperators – could diminish a great deal of our disrespect, abuse and mistreatment of each other. A species paradigm grounded in cooperation could accelerate us towards higher levels of generosity, helpfulness, and more satisfying relationships.

Time-binding emphasizes the importance of “times” (not excluding places) – present times-achievements, as a function of passed times-achievements; and future times-achievements as a function of present times-achievements. This makes explicit opportunities for continuing species and individual self-review towards self-corrections, towards self-improvements. Our present social, scientific, and other paradigms – with their attendant behaviors, institutions, policies, laws, discoveries, technologies, etc. – are developments from past behaviors, policies, etc. They will affect how we design future laws and institutions. They will affect our behaviors for many years to come. Time-binding is grounded in many contributing factors. Among these we find memory, self-consciousness, parents, schools, teachers, books, institutions, laws, rules, rituals, policies, artistic expressions, religions, myths, beliefs, technological products and achievements, churches, buildings, bridges … and especially language.

Time-binding describes unique behavioral characteristics of the human species. Here is one way of structuring the process. An individual, or group, has certain experiences and insights; invents and discover things; creates structures (social systems, building, bridges, and so on), lets say at time1. At time2, these experiences, discoveries etc., can be represented by memory, symbols, words, rituals, and so on. (Buildings, bridges, social, political systems, if not destroyed, can be revisited and reviewed.) At time3, these time2 representations become inputs – starting points for further inquiries, explorations, discoveries, improvements, and so on. “Intra-personal time-binding” describes the situation where an individual is aware of his/her own time1 experiences, and use those as groundings for further developments and improvements. Intra-personal time-binding involves learning from oneself. When we do something, review it, and make corrections, we are intra-personally time-binding. Although we do this quite often, we are most times unaware of this process. Without this awareness, we hold back improving ourselves as time-binders.

General semantics emphasizes the importance for our human welfare to develop an awareness of ourselves as time-binders, so that we can use this defining human skill to our greater advantage. We learn from ourselves. We learn from each other. We learn from others long gone. We learn from our various environments – physical, political, economic, educational, technological, social, religious, etc. If by “learning” we intend “modification of behavior in the light of experience”, and are concerned to improve the quality of our personal and other relationships, we need to be more critical in evaluating information we receive, and more concerned with the quality of the representations we pass on.

Here is a very simple way you could be more appreciative of those other time-binders. Every now and again, take a few moments to say “Thanks” to parents, teachers, friends, acquaintances, strangers, and the many individuals you have not met. Give “Thanks” to the many individuals who have passed on, and who have left their inputs in books, plays, films, stories, theories, philosophies; in social, political, economic, religious, and other systems and institutions; parks, buildings, bridges, technologies, and so on, for us to learn from, improve on, and carry on where they left off. Too often, we take these legacies for granted.

Time-binding involves improvements. But we can improve on the efficiency of a nuclear device, or designs of land mines. And we can improve our rationalizations of our insane behaviors. We can build on the prejudices, and unsane ‘thinking’ of others, as well as ourselves. And we can improve on the ways we treat ourselves, as well as the ways we behave with each other, by being aware of ourselves as time-binders, as cooperators: We have the power to choose.

From a general semantics frame of reference, we are, by nature, time-binders. This behavior can be encouraged, discouraged, facilitated, promoted, to varying degrees, but it cannot be eliminated. It is about learning and improvements. We are self-reflexive beings – we learn from ourselves. We cannot help learning – and if not discouraged – improving on what we learn. But if every time we label something we said or did, simply as “mistake”, or swear, feel bad, call ourselves names like “stupid”, and so on, and leave it at that, we miss a time-binding opportunity. And we shortchange ourselves as human beings by missing opportunities to learn from our mistakes and our accomplishments.

I remember the old rock and roll song: “You, you along the road must have a code, that you can live by…… Teach the children well“. Children learn from adults, and from each other. They attend the schools, and institutions, and other time- binding structures adults have created. They are affected by what we say, and how we say what we say, even when we ‘think’ they are not listening. They learn a great deal from television programs and advertisements. And they notice what we do, and how we do what we do; and the way we behave with each other, and so on. This happens whether we ‘think’ they are paying attention, or not. We could take a few moments every now and again to ask ourselves this: “Can we take pride in the kind of foundations are we leaving for the coming generations to build on?

With regards to an “ethics” for us, we could start by defining “Good for human beings” as that which promotes continuing time-binding. From that perspective, wars in destroying people, books, buildings, etc., qualify as very, very ‘bad’. And present forms of dictatorship, very very ‘bad’. On the personal level, not giving others a fair hearing, not listening to what others have to say, not seeking to learn from others, we can call “not too good”. Treating our environments with contempt can be considered bad. (I invite you to say how this could qualify as “bad time-binding”.) And I also invite you to make up your own “goods” and “bads”, as a time-binding game.

Korzybski was appalled by what he saw humans doing to each other in the first world war. He wondered how come we could be so advanced technologically, and yet be so primitive in our behavior with each other? We have sent humans to the moon. I am writing this on a laptop computer – more powerful than one that took up a whole room several years ago. We keep advancing technologically due to the time-binding activities in the fields of science and mathematics. But an overview of present human affairs, suggests that we have a long, long way to go as time-binders. Einstein is supposed to have said “The world we have created is a product of our thinking”. How we define ourselves will affect our ‘thinking’ – and our ‘thinking’ will, to a great extent, determine the kind of world we are creating for our children. Thinking of ourselves as “time- binders”, could make a difference worthwhile pursuing. We need to take a good critical look at what we have been accepting, ‘thinking’, learning , doing – and passing on, for our children, and others to build on. Don’t you ‘think’?

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