He’s looking a bit put out, isn’t he? Poor Alfred Korzybski, he looks as if no one has paid his ideas any mind. And he’s probably right.
If your average teenager stumbled upon this image, just how fast might the back button be pushed? He’s serious, he’s old, he has words like “multiconditionality” on the board, and it’s a black and white photograph.
But I am thinking that he and folks like him – Gregory Bateson also comes to mind – are exactly what’s needed in the schools of education across the US.
What does it mean, as Korzybski famously said, that “the map is not the territory”? Let me take a stab.
I really don’t know what the United States looks like. Out my window in Milwaukie, Oregon, (suburb south of Portland), I see the roofs of two houses, the tops of 11 Douglas Fir trees, the empty branches of one poplar and two maples, and 14 electrical wires stretched from one pole to houses and posts out of my vision. The sky is cloud-covered. The vegetation dormant. In other words, I know what my dot of the US looks like (45.4559 x -122.6084); and I know what it looks like right now. At night? Yesterday? Tomorrow? Hard to say with any accuracy. I can also faintly recall a few places I’ve been, some more frequently than others: Mt. Hood, the Oregon Coast, my parents house in SE Portland; and some places just once: Burlington, VT; Moab, UT; in my high school girlfriend’s basement.
Now, I have flown over vast stretches of the United States. I have stood on both coasts. And I’ve looked at magazines and photographs of various places all over the country. I even have a jar of dirt from my grandparents farm in Nebraska. And we have a map of the United States in the kitchen. I visit my family in Seattle, Reno, Eugene, Beaverton, Forest Grove, and Portland. But I don’t really know much about the United States.
What’s in my head are models, abstractions Korzybski called them. When our mental models more closely and minutely align with the actual, we live better. But it’s so hard, since our capacity to experience is shrouded by layers of abstractions, not the least of which is scattered on the screen you are now reading. When I say “Douglas Fir,” what image pops in your head?
Schools and education are perilously far away from this. We ought to be about model-building, experimentation, refinement, experiencing.