Sanity as an Emotion


Related to my prior post, in thinking recently about the documentary Pina, I’ve been talking to a new friend about the purposes of performance, theater, art, and the like.  For me I had thought the main purpose was something like “to communicate a story,” which was not really my original thought but something I thought I had learned last year from others.  That purpose was one that was somewhat eye-opening, yet somewhat disappointing.

My friend made the point that for her, the purpose was not “to communicate a story,” but “to communicate an emotion.”  She is an opera singer; I, an actor.  It was really interesting to me to hear this purpose, and I found myself in surprising agreement with her perspective.

I got to thinking about general semantics some time after the discussion.  I’ve never really gotten a handle on how sanity fits in with general semantics.  I mean, I’ve understood that it’s related, and that studying and practicing general semantics seemed to help (me) toward feeling saner as I moved about in this life, body, and world.  But what “was” sanity exactly to general semantics?

I would like to submit the opinion that sanity constitutes an emotion.  Now, I don’t mean that sanity is an emotion in any kind of identification sense.  Instead, “emotion” is just the category into which sanity seems to fall within the field of general semantics.  If general semantics were seen as an art, and if the purpose of art is to communicate emotion, and if sanity were seen as an emotion, then it seems to me that general semantics is an art aimed at communicating the emotion of sanity.  In other words, if you involved yourself in general semantics, if it were effective then you would experience the emotion of sanity.

Now, what does sanity feel like?  From my anecdotal experience, it is something along the lines of feeling (more) adjusted and correspondent with reality.  Maybe more specifically, it’s not so much correspondent with reality but correspondent with actuality.  That is, reality is what our senses perceive; actuality is what is actually going on no matter what our senses perceive.  Reality is much like the product or even symptom of two things coming together: our senses and actuality.

I think within general semantics sanity is measured as being aligned with reality, actuality, or perhaps most accurately, our best scientific guesses about what actuality “is.”  So sanity in general semantics is a state of mind more than a behavior.  Sanity in general semantics less seems to have to do with behaviors we colloquially call “insane” or “crazy” like having homicidal, sociopathic, or suicidal tendencies, though sanity in the general semantics sense may thwart some of these tendencies if they are founded in maladjustments to reality/actuality.

So, putting this together with the notion of general semantics as a system of thinking, we might come up with the following thesis:

The current world is rife with emotion.  One type of emotion seems to be causing many people harm to themselves and their environments: the emotion of unsanity.  Many people feel “crazy,” “unsane,” even “insane,” and pine for a better way to cope with their realities.  These people pine to feel “sane.”  And insofar as sanity is a feeling, then sanity is also an emotion.  What methods might work in making people feel sane?

Well, perhaps the methods of artists, in their professional desires to communicate emotion, might have insight.  If we were to see Alfred Korzybski as an artist, we might look to his systems of thinking and measure his abilities during his performances at helping people toward feeling sane.  We might give significant credit to his particular systems of thinking — his artistic definitions — in their abilities to bring about the emotion of sanity: “the map is not the territory,” “the word is not the thing,” “structure is the only content of knowledge,” etc.  And so we arrive at Korzybski’s “general semantics” as one method for bringing about the emotion of sanity.

Something like that.

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