E-Prime

The studies of consciousness and quantum physics probably have very little to do with each other, and very little in common, with the exception of appearing chock-full of paradoxes. “Light is both a particle and a wave! When I look around at the world, there is an observer sitting in my head — but where?!” Why do we tend to struggle to speak clearly about these things? Perhaps the way we speak — down to the individual words we use — muddles things more than we realize. One potential culprit is the verb “to be”, along with its many forms of “is, are, were, was, am, be, been”. Usage of these verbs does not always cause problems but they often too easily allow for making claims about the world that obscure underlying experience (how we come to know) and make unwarranted — and unnoticed — logical leaps. Rather than “Light is both a particle and a wave” we can try to say “Light behaves like a wave when measured using instrument X, and behaves like a particle when measured using instrument Y”.

In Science and Sanity, Alfred Korzybski — along with his presentation of general semantics — suggests a ban on the usage of “to be” as an antidote to “demonological thinking”. He calls it E-prime (English Prime) — a new form of the English language. This proposed restriction on language serves to counterbalance a common, comfortable, and confused way of seeing the world: as a collection of neatly separated objects who each have some “core essence” or ideal form — Aristotelian essentialism. By speaking more precisely about how we come to form beliefs and being more careful about making logical leaps in speech, we may slowly improve how we think (a weak form of Sapir-Whorf). It may help us better accept the nebulosity around us.

This post was written in e-prime


Also published on Medium.

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