Robert Anton Wilson & framing – a few notes
Wilson was heavily influenced by General Semantics – in particular, Alfred Korzybski’s book: Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics. Several writers who I find important or interesting in various ways (William Burroughs, Neil Postman, Robert A. Heinlein, etc) were influenced by Korzybski, although General Semantics seems to have picked up a reputation as “pseudoscience” in some circles, perhaps partly because of misrepresentations by some of its critics (or the fact that it seemed to have appeal for L. Ron Hubbard).
Most often when Wilson cites Korzybski, he’s making a point about how common prejudices and bigotries arise from – and are perpetuated by – confusions inherent in the structure of everyday language. These confusions of the map (symbolic language) with the territory (“reality”) manifest as over-generalisation, various logical fallacies, etc – but they’re difficult to spot unless you go looking for them. There’s an article here, from ETC: a review of general semantics, which discusses George Lakoff’s work on framing from the perspective of General Semantics.
Another theme that repeatedly comes up in Wilson’s writing is metaphor. For example, in the chapter, Models, Metaphors and Idols, from The New Inquisition, he writes that to want something is, metaphorically, to be empty – “want” and “vacant” coming from the same root – and that talking of desires as “appetites”, etc, expresses the same metaphor. He goes on to write that even the word, “the”, is a metaphor which assumes the world really is divided up according to the categories we assign to it.
This approach to metaphor, not as something peripheral, a mere flourish of language – but as central to thought, a fundamental mechanism of mind, strikes me as similar to that of Lakoff, et al, in the field of cognitive linguistics. In other words, it seems to me that Wilson is talking about conceptual metaphor, although the more precise work in that field is probably too recent to be referenced in Wilson’s books (Wilson had been thinking about Korzybski’s ideas since the 1950s, whereas the earliest work on conceptual metaphor from Lakoff was published in 1980: Metaphors We Live By). Still, there are some references to “framing” in its wider sense scattered throughout Wilson’s work – for example this excerpt from Cosmic Trigger volume 2 (scanned from p236-7 of my copy). [“Huge Berserk Rebel Warthog” is an anagram of George Herbert Walker Bush, aka Bush senior]:
The aspects of Robert Anton Wilson’s writings which he called “guerilla ontology” or “model agnosticism” intersect and dovetail in very interesting ways with the frames-based view of cognition and language, particularly in the area I’ve labelled metaphoric pluralism. This is something I’ll write about in more depth in the future (possibly in book form, with respect to Robert Anton Wilson’s ideas).
“The Western World has been brainwashed by Aristotle for the last 2,500 years. The unconscious, not quite articulate, belief of most Occidentals is that there is one map which adequately represents reality. By sheer good luck, every Occidental thinks he or she has the map that fits. Guerrilla ontology, to me, involves shaking up that certainty. I use what in modern physics is called the “multi-model” approach, which is the idea that there is more than one model to cover a given set of facts. As I’ve said, novel writing involves learning to think like other people. My novels are written so as to force the reader to see things through different reality grids rather than through a single grid. It’s important to abolish the unconscious dogmatism that makes people think their way of looking at reality is the only sane way of viewing the world. My goal is to try to get people into a state of generalized agnosticism, not agnosticism about God alone, but agnosticism about everything. If one can only see things according to one’s own belief system, one is destined to become virtually deaf, dumb, and blind. It’s only possible to see people when one is able to see the world as others see it. That’s what guerrilla ontology is — breaking down this one-model view and giving people a multi-model perspective.” – Robert Anton Wilson: Searching For Cosmic Intelligence – interview with Jeffrey Elliot (1980)