A school of thought founded by Alfred Korzybski in about 1933, in response to his observations that human and social discussions and problems were seldom well-defined, and almost never resolvable predictably into elements that were responsive to successful intervention or correction.
In contrast, he noted that engineers could almost always successfully analyze a structural problem prospectively or a failure of structure retrospectively, and arrive at a solution which first of all could be predicted to work and secondly could be observed to work. He found especially significant the fact that engineers had a language which helped them to do this, in mathematics. The properties of mathematics are such that it can be seen to mimic its referents, and therby simulate or emulate the behavior of the observed physical universe with some precision. This gives physical scientists and engineers a valuable tool.
Korzybski also observed that the humanities lacked any parallel for mathematics in their languages. He set out to change that. General Semantics, therefore, is the result of Alfred Korzybski's effort to introduce linguistic precision of a sort to the humanities. In it, he attempted to make accurate observations with regard to the mechanisms of neural, biological, mental, and emotional interactions between man, other organisms, and the environment, and to describe these in terms which would admit themselves to prospective and retrospective rational analysis of human and social events similar to that of which engineering was capable.
General Semantics never caught on as a majority school of thought within the humanities, but a tenacious and growing band of followers continues the effort today to apply and advance upon the results which Korzybski produced.
- See "Science and Sanity" An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics A. Korzybski 1933
- For a view of how a society might be affected by General Semantics, see "Worlds of Null-A"
and "Pawns of Null-A" by A.E. van Vogt.