"The little word is has its tragedies; it marries and identifies different things with the greatest innocence; and yet no two are ever identical, and if therein lies the charm of wedding them and calling them one, therein too lies the danger. Whenever I use the word is, except in sheer tautology, I deeply misuse it; and when I discover my error, the world seems to fall asunder and the members of my family no longer know one another." - George Santayana
According to Robert Anton Wilson
, when you use the verb "to be" you are engaging in "theology and demonology
" by erroneously ascribing the qualities of one thing with another in a way that presupposes
a sort of static Aristotelian essence
. Wilson discusses the "is" of identity in his book Quantum Psychology
, these ideas were originally formulated by Alfred Korzybski
in the 1933 work Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics
Korzybski believed that the identification (ie. the "is" of identity) with ideas, judgements, emotions, etc. that appears so prevalent in Aristotelian Systems, and now in everybody, causes "unsanity" in humans by encouraging us to engage in half-truths and self-deception.
Some of the problems with using "is" appear in the following linguistic "bait-and-switch".
The words and their meanings
certain medical shooting, stabbing, etc.
Consider what happens if you say "Abortion IS murder"
Abortion is Murder
medical shooting, stabbing, etc.
After which the model looks like this:
Abortion shooting, stabbing, etc.
certain medical procedure
Which reduces to...
certain medical procedures,
shooting, stabbing, etc.
You may substitute "God is dead" "I am a loser" "Green is red" "Murder is abortion" or any number of sentences for "Abortion is murder". If we accept the idea that "abortion is murder" then we must also accept the idea that one who has an abortion "is" a murderer, which makes upwards of 40% of American women "murderers". And if they "are" in fact "murderers", I wonder why none of them serves jail time for this offense.
Korzybski illustrates further the problems with the "is" of identity and with over/under definition of terms further with the following paradox, formulated by the mathematician Gottlob Frege.
In a village there was only one barber, who shaved only those who did not shave themselves. The question arises whether the barber shaves himself or not. If we say 'yes,' then he did not shave himself; if we say 'no,' then he shaved himself.
The trouble here arises because our definition of "barber" does not include the fact that one can also consider him as a man. The definition (ie. the "is" of identity) "is" over-defined by intension
and under-defined by extension
. When we approach the problem from outside the Aristotelian frameworks, from a non-Aristotelian framework, the paradox is not a paradox at all because it exists only within the definition of barber, but not empirical
According to Korzybski, Einstein had to break free of the "is" of identity in order to formulate the idea of space-time rather than the non-empirical 'space' and 'time' identifications which appear today as false.
This writeup written entirely in E-Prime!
Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics by Alfred Korzybski
Quantum Psychology by Robert Anton Wilson
Prometheus Rising by Robert Anton Wilson