In science and particularly mathematics we usually try to make assumptions conscious. Not so in life, often with said consequences, except perhaps when we undergo psychotherapy and become conscious of our assumptions. Here we could make a broad generalization that the advance of science and its human value is based, among others, on making unconscious assumptions conscious. It may be said also that most of psychotherapy depends on the same process, thus linking science and sanity. It has not been suspected that the structure of our language also automatically involves silent assumptions which work through the process of implications. Thus, if we use a language of elementalistic structure such as ‘space’ and ‘time’, ‘body’ and ‘mind’, ‘emotion’ and ‘intellect’, the silent assumptions are that these ‘entities’ can be divided, which is false to facts, as there are no such entities taken separately, and the split remains only verbal. A cat without a body should appear only to an Alice and only in Wonderland.
The term ‘infinite’ means a process which does not end or stop, and it is usually symbolized by ∞. The term may be applied, also, to an array of terms or other entities, the production of which does not end or stop. Thus we may speak of the infinite process of generating numbers because every positive integer, no matter how great, has a successor; we can also speak of infinite divisibility because the numerical technique gives us means to accomplish that. The term ‘infinite’ is used here as an adjective describing the characteristics of a process, but should never be used as a noun, as this leads to self-contradictions. The term ‘infinity’, as a noun, is used here only as an abbreviation for the phrase ‘infinite process of generating numbers’,. If used in any other way than as an abbreviation for the full phrase, the term is meaningless in science (not in psychopathology) and should never be used.
Korzybski viewed most terms as OVER/UNDER DEFINED. “They are over-defined (over-limited) by intension, or verbal definitions, because of our belief in the definition; and are hopelessly under-defined by extension or facts, when generalizations become merely hypothetical.”
We consider such terms indeterminate in extensional ‘meaning’ until we can specify them extensionally, in relation to non-verbal happenings. Such terms include so-called ‘concrete’ terms like ‘horse’, ‘house’, ‘husband’, ‘wife’, etc., as well as more general terms like ‘peace’, ‘honor’, ‘freedom’, ‘love’, ‘hate’, ‘democracy’, ‘dictatorship’, ‘terrorism’, ‘law’, ‘order’, ‘capitalism’, ‘socialism’, etc.
Going even further, we can consider most statements, formulated using such terms, as indeterminate as well. We view most statements as functions, with the individual terms as variables which, as we have seen, can take on a range of ‘meanings’ depending on the context of the listener, level of abstraction, etc.
The dictionaries define ‘house’ as a ‘building for human habitation or occupation’, etc. Let us imagine that we buy a house; this buying is an extensional activity, usually with some consequences. If we orient ourselves by intension we are really buying a definition, although we may even inspect the house, which may appear desirable, etc. Then suppose we move into the house with our furniture and the whole house collapses because termites have destroyed all the wood leaving only a shell, perhaps satisfying to the eye. Does the verbal definition of the house correspond to the extensional facts? Of course not. It becomes obvious then by intension the term ‘house’ was over-defined, or over-limited, while by extension, or actual facts, it was hopelessly under-defined, as many important characteristics were left out. In no dictionary definition of a ‘house’ is the possibility of termites mentioned.
A system can be defined as a set of elements standing in interrelations. Interrelation means that elements, p, stand in relations, R, so that the behavior of an element p in R is different from its behavior in another relation, R’. If the behaviors in R and R’ are not different, there is no interaction, and the elements behave independently with respect to the relations R and R’.
Scientific language, which Korzybski used as his model of sane language, is almost exclusively extensional and denotative, or at least tries to be. The language of the mentally ill, most obviously “un-sane,” is almost totally intensional and connotative. This is the language that does not correspond to anything “out there,” and this is, in fact, how and perhaps even why the user is mentally ill. Korzybski’s concern with keeping the conscious “connection” or correspondence between language and verifiable referents is, for all practical purposes, paralleled by the process of psychotherapy. In this process, which is largely “just talk,” the purpose is to foster closer and more accurate correspondence between the patient’s language and externally verifiable meanings.
— Neil Postman
, American educator, media theorist and cultural critic, associated with New York University for more than forty year (1931-2003)