My name is Ben Hauck. I’m an actor and a writer living in New York City. I also have an interest in general semantics.
In this blog, I write about unsanity. By the word “unsanity,” typically I refer to “living under delusion.” Most of us live under many different delusions, some of which are probably innocent, yet some of which are problematic, even harmful. Some people have it worse than others, as they have deal with more harmful delusions more often. Despite the near omnipresence of delusions, almost no one who holds a particular delusion realizes he or she is deluded.
I write about unsanity and delusions largely through the perspective of general semantics. General semantics is a field founded in 1933 by Alfred Korzybski. Korzybski was deeply disturbed by the world war that he had lived through and fought in, and wanted to address the problems and unsanity that led to it. He didn’t want it to happen again. From its inception, the field of general semantics dealt with the unsanity crisis at the social scale as well as the personal scale. To accomplish his goal, Korzybski had to start with the unsanity of individuals to diminish social unsanity and improve social sanity. Despite such a large goal, he set to it by educating thousands of students in seminars and lectures sponsored by the Institute of General Semantics and other organizations. His methods were incredibly effective at improving sanity, greatly influencing people still in this day.
In addressing unsanity, general semantics focuses largely on an individual’s speech–both spoken words and written words. Speech could be thought of like a map. A map outlines a territory. From this perspective, the relationship between speech and delusion becomes clear: Sometimes, the speech we use outlines a territory that does not exist. Essentially, when we are deluded, we speak about something that does not truly exist but seem to believe it does. General semantics aims foremost to point out these inconsistencies between map (speech) and territory (the physical world). It aims to get people to speak and write more correctly relative to the physical world. In order to reduce delusion and unsanity, general semantics encourages and trains people to revise their maps and to align their maps to better fit the territory.
For its understanding of the physical world, general semantics primarily relies on current scientific understanding of the physical world. It relies on theories rigorously tested as evidence to support the claims we make in our speech, or it may at times rely on theories about the physical world mathematically postulated as potentially true. However, not always do we have access to current scientific understandings of the physical world as we make claims in our daily lives, so general semantics relies on the scientific mindset as a savior for day-to-day evaluations of reality. The term “the scientific mindset” merely refers to the perspectives the scientist takes on relative to his subject of study as he does his job: he never knows his subject with certainty but instead takes an uncertain perspective toward it; he is limited in what he can know about the subject given that his nervous system and his tools can’t abstract all information; among other characteristic scientific approaches to his subject.
What this means is that though I may not have a scientific understanding of why I had, say, an allergy attack, I may speak scientifically about it (that is, as a scientist might). When I speak scientifically about it, I am less likely to be deluded about my allergy attack. For example, I may say “I think it may be caused by peanuts,” taking an uncertain perspective scientists also take in their work, rather than saying “I know definitely it was caused by peanuts,” taking a certain perspective that scientists do not take. I may say, “I’ve only seen spots on my hands and feet,” admitting to the limitations of my nervous system to evaluate my total body, as opposed to “I only have them on my hands and feet and nowhere else,” which admits to an absolutist perspective that may not be true. There are other things a person trained in general semantics would say about her allergy attack contrasted with what a person not trained in general semantics might say. But notably, though, the person trained in general semantics, properly used, would likely speak and write of the allergy attack free of delusion.
Harmful delusions are of special concern to the field of general semantics. A delusion may be said to be harmful if it threatens an individual’s livelihood or interferes with an individual’s progress toward a serious goal. For example, believing you can fly would probably be regarded as a harmful delusion when you are standing at the brink of a cliff. If you acted on this delusion, you most likely would injure yourself severely. In the field of general semantics, the aim is to attend to the person’s speech as if it were a map and to properly align the speech with scientifically understood reality. By forcing a person to talk strictly in physical terms, delusions can be circumvented, even eliminated, and sanity quickly restored. Even a slight shift of thinking can have astounding changes in behavior. Question a person’s speech when he says “I can fly!” by asking him like a scientist “How do you know that?” or “What evidence do you have?” can get the person noticing his lack of wings or engine and save him from a trip to the hospital. Shifting from unsane, delusional speech to sane, scientific speech can bring about significant changes in action. Getting a person to shift into sane, scientific speech habitually can mean a life full of adjustment to reality.
I have employed the tools I’ve learned from general semantics for over 15 years. Many of the tools are ingrained in how I think and live. They have become habitual perspectives and language habits installed to ensure I keep sane and fight the temptation to live unsanely. I find the perspectives and habits of general semantics extremely helpful in my life as I navigate particular challenges I face. Of note, I find the tools of general semantics most helpful when I find myself in conflicts with others. In those instances, general semantics helps me to stay sane when the other person succumbs to the temptation to go unsane in order to triumph in the conflict. I end up “right” more often than I used to be, and the person’s unsanity shines through. I am not interested as much in triumph as I am interested in understanding the other person. General semantics helps me to get past delusions I might have about the other person and instead truly listen to her perspective.
So, as I said, I write in this blog about unsanity. You will find gems related to unsanity as well as sanity, general semantics, mental illness, and mental health. The audience I seek is the person interested in general semantics, the person interested in getting past creative blocks, the person looking to overcome obstacles long interfering with progress, and even the person struggling to overcome a mental illness. In this book, I will mention writers from general semantics and books on the topic. I aim to write very readably so that you understand clearly any topic in general semantics. If you have a question about an article in this blog, I hope you’ll post it in the comment section so that I may respond.
More information about me, or to contact me directly, please visit my personal website, Ben Hauck online.