Lived Theory

C. A. Hilgartner

Whenever the most beautiful is perceived, ugliness arises, the least beautiful. Whenever good is perceived, evil exists, its natural opposite.

Thus, perception involves opposites: reality and fantasy are opposing thoughts; difficult and simple oppose in degree; long and short oppose in distance; high and low oppose in height; shrill and deep oppose in tone; before and after oppose in sequence.

The truly wise accept this and they work diligently without allegiance to words. They teach by doing, not by saying; are genuinely helpful, not discriminating; are positive, not possessive; do not proclaim their accomplishments, and because they do not proclaim them, credit for them can never be taken away. (The Book of Tao, Chapter 2. Frank J. MacHovec, translator. Mt. Vernon, NY: Peter Pauper Press, 1962)

For members of Western cultures—native speakers of one or more of the Western Indo-European (WIE) languages—the above passage from the Tao Te Ching seems somewhat alien. We Westerners regard "natural opposites"—pairs of polar terms, such as those listed in the quotation from the Tao—not as closely related and mutually-determining, but rather, as disparate, separable, as if their oppositeness provides the ONLY relation between them. As Alan Watts puts it,

By and large Western culture is a celebration of the illusion that good may exist without evil, light without darkness, and pleasure without pain, and this is true of both its Christian and secular, technological phases. Here, or hereafter, our ideal is a world in which "there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away." (Revelations 21:4) (Watts, 1963, p. 48)

In the present paper, we deal extensively with the polar terms theory and practice. Initially we focus on theory, disclosing and developing inter-connections between the "parts" of an axiomatic system. Then in the Discussion section, we consider some of the implications for practice, the "practical" repercussions, of these developments of theory.

The moment we mention the topic of theory, we risk losing most of our audience. In accord with the so-called Western cultural "illusion," good, practical people scorn theory—"mere" theory. It has no bearing (we say) on the pragmatic concerns of realistic, practical folks. It just doesn't matter.

We sympathize with this attitude. We have developed more than a passing acquaintance with what passes for theory among Westerners, and a great deal of it seems not to make a difference in practice. Furthermore, we suggest why not. Characteristically Western theories systematically eliminate the observer from consideration. And by so doing, such theories deny that any transacting occurs between an observer and her/his theories. But if the theorist has no effect on his theories, and/or the theories have no effect on the theorist, it should come as no surprise that such theories "just don't matter."

(The fact that the revolutionary physicists of the beginning of the Twentieth Century first introduced the notion of "taking the observer into account," and found ways of building this notion into their theories, means only that their theories remain inconsistent. What relativity and quantum theory give with one hand, they take away with the other.)

In the present paper, we do not use Western theories (nor Eastern ones either). Instead, we utilize an entirely non-traditional theoretical system, based on assumptions created, or generated (or whatever-one-does-to-produce-assumptions) by a particular person—Alfred Korzybski (1879-1950)—in a particular time-and-place (mostly Chicago, during the period 1921-1943) rather than by anonymous "tradition." Our theoretical system takes the observer into account in a systematic fashion. Hence we DO show the transacting that occurs between observer and theory. We deal with a new class of theories: lived theories, which do make a difference to the people that use them.

We invite our readers to join us in exploring territory which seems unfamiliar to everyone, ourselves included—and find out just what kind of a difference it makes to rely on lived theory.

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