“Creative and Critical Thinking: A General Semantics Approach”
Nodal Centre at Smt. Chandibai Himathmal Mansukhani College, Ulhasnagar
6 September 2014 to 20 January 2015
The Nodal Centre for General Semantics, Smt. Chandibai Himathmal Mansukhani College, Ulhasnagar organized a Certificate Course in “Creative and Critical Thinking: A General Semantics Approach,” funded by the Centre from 6 September 2014 to 20 January 2015. The advisory board for the Course comprised Milton Dawes (Musician, creative thinker, writer, seminar-workshop leader, Trustee and Ambassador at Large of the Institute of General Semantics), Prof Prafulla Kar (Director, Balvant Parekh Centre, Baroda), Dr Pravesh Jung (Professor of Philosophy, Department of Social Sciences and Humanities, IIT Bombay, Mumbai), Dr Padma Deshmukh (Officiating Principal, Smt. CHM College, Ulhasnagar) and Prof Ashwini Gokhale (Vice-Principal, Smt., CHM College, Ulhasnagar). The syllabus was framed by a committee comprising Dr Pravesh Jung and the members of the Nodal Centre - Dr Deepa Mishra, (Convener), Dr Dipesh Karmarkar (Coordinator), Dr Samuel Wesley, Prof Hitasha Rohra and Prof Bhavna Binwani. The syllabus, which was covered in 32 lecture-hours, had the following four modules: The Nervous System and the Brain; The Map is not the Territory; Techniques and Implications of General Semantics; Aristotelian and Non-Aristotelian Modes of Thinking.
In order to inform the students about the modalities of the course two pre-course sessions were conducted on 6 September and 18 September, 2014 respectively. Dr. Padma Deshmukh and Prof. Ashwini Gokhale were present for the first session. General Semantics: An Outline Survey by Kenneth Johnson was given to the students as study material in the pre-course session. In these sessions, a group activity was given to the students. They were asked to identify a problem from within the college campus and suggest the ways in which they can solve it. Four groups of students selected the themes – ‘cleanliness’, ‘water and electricity conservation’, ‘women harassment’ and ‘generating respect’ to create a healthy environment and promote equal and respectful relationship between students, teachers and staff members. In-house faculty worked as the mentors and assisted their respective groups to complete the assignment. The primary objective of this exercise was to make the students think both creatively and critically. This exercise also helped the students view the complexity of the problem in a more realistic manner, encouraging them to present more effectively their ideas and projects to others. This was a learning experience as to how to collaborate and work with a distributed team. The exercise was also necessary to know each other. Students carried out the exercise between September and November 2014.
The lectures of the Course were conducted in two phases. The first phase was held from 17 November 2014 to 25 November 2014. In the opening session of the Course, Dr Deepa Mishra elaborated the basic tenets of General Semantics with reference to the concepts of Aristotelian and non-Aristotelian thinking, chemical-binding, space-binding and time binding. Dr Deepa Mishra and Prof Hitasha Rohra familiarized the students with the concept of consciousness of abstraction. Prof Anusha Ramanathan (Visiting Faculty and Researcher) dealt with the relation between language and reality in the framework of General Semantics. She discussed the concept of non-elementalistic language and taught the students the use of E-prime as a very important tool of General Semantics. She asked her students to describe themselves in a few sentences by trying to use E-prime and submit the same as the assignment. In an important session by Dr Gautam Tripathi (Neurosurgeon, Hiranandani Hospital, Powai, Mumbai), students learnt about the anatomy of human brain. Dr Tripathi discussed with examples, the working of the human nervous system and the way it decides how do we see, feel and do things. This lecture made students understand the powers as well as limitations of the human brain in comprehending the world around us. The first phase of the Course was closed with the sessions by Dr Dipesh Karmarkar (Department of Geography). He elaborated the Map-Territory analogy in General Semantics and underlined the need for modifying our maps to comprehend the territory better. He further elaborated the analogy with the help of ‘cartographic abstraction’ in Geography. It helped students understand the consciousness of abstraction. He also elaborated the concepts of non-identity and non-allness. At the end of the first phase, students appeared for the objective test on the topics covered in the first phase. They were asked to write an essay based on their understanding of General Semantics. To assist essay-writing, soft copies of Drive yourself Sane by Bruce I. Kodish and Susan Presby Kodish and General Semantics: A Primer by Steve Stockdale were emailed to the participants. The time between the first and the second phase of sessions was used by the students for essay-writing and preparation of the descriptive test scheduled in the second phase. A group of all course participants and faculty members was formed on whats app. It made the communication among the students and the faculty easier, esp. during the break between the sessions.
The second phase of the Course was held from 12 January 2015 to 20 January 2015. The second phase started with the understanding of creative and critical thinking. Dr Deepa Mishra elaborated the concept of creative thinking and emphasized that the power of creativity is available to all of us. It is one human characteristic which everyone shares. Creativity is not limited to any one area of life. So one should not be under the impression that only artists and writers are creative. One can be creative even in everyday activities like cookery, sports and problem solving and hundreds of other activities. She interpreted creativity in multiple ways from higher levels of abstractions in painting to doing smaller tasks. Starting with what qualifies as creativity she went on analyzing various characteristics of creative people. Her purpose was to help students in identifying how creative they are. She also warned the students to be alert about various obstacles in the process of creative thinking. Dr Dipesh Karmarkar cautioned the students about the problems in understanding the word ‘critical thinking’ in negative terms by explaining the difference between Sanskrit words teeka and sameeksha. He discussed the need to be critical and delineated the components of constructive criticism. The important feature of the second phase was exploring the links of General Semantics with other disciplines. Prof Jayshree Panicker (Department of Psychology) conducted a very effective interactive session on Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT). She made students come face-to-face with the inner-processes of the mind that form our views and opinions. With lots of humour, she made students realize the need to be a rational thinker to minimize the intensity of human sorrows and sufferings. Dr Samuel Wesley (Department of History) discussed how General Semantics is helpful for interpreting history. He used the case study of Holocaust to discuss the point. Prof Sangeeta Joshi (Department of Mathematics) discussed the concepts of Euclidian and Non-Euclidian Geometry. She discussed multiple ways in which the point, line and plane relationship was explored in non-Euclidian framework. Dr Padma Deshmukh (Department of Microbiology) and Prof Ashwini Gokhale (Department of Economics) discussed the relationship of General Semantics with microbiology and economics respectively.
Dr. Pravesh Jung (IIT-Bombay) presented the journey of evolution of General Semantics. He discussed how Aristotle and other Greek thinkers interpreted the relationship between the world and the word. Starting with what is unique about Korzybski which made General Semantics so powerful he went on to explain the difference between utterances or sounds and meanings. He further emphasized that General Semantics is not linguistics. The major preoccupation of General Semantics is with meanings and not with words. He made it very clear that Korzybski is not the first person to raise such concerns about language, meaning and society. The originality of general semantics does not lie in the question of how meanings are produced; rather the novelty lies in the answer suggested by Korzybski. Tracing the answer in the dominant Greek thoughts, Dr. Jung talked about the relevance of Korzybski and his system of General Semantics. The Aristotelian world believed that the relationship between world and the word is that of representation and representation is identical to meaning which is to say that the Greeks believed language represents the world and it represents the world precisely because the tools of language namely words traps essences or thingness of the things. And General Semantics is not only about the essences of things. It is concerned with how words, ideas and world are created. Dr. Bini B. S. (Balvant Parekh Centre, Baroda) explained the structural differential as a system of evaluation. She also discussed the meaning of creatical thinking and its relevance to General Semantics.
In the second phase, students appeared for a descriptive test on General Semantics and also made group presentations. The pdf file of the Korzybski: A Biography by Bruce Kodish was emailed to the students as additional reading.
The session-wise attendance was maintained and the timely submission of assignments was closely monitored through emails and messages. Along with the attendance and session participation, students were evaluated on the basis of one group and two individual assignments, one essay, one group presentation and two tests (objective & descriptive).
The Valedictory Program of the Course was organized on 20 January 2015. Vice-Principal Prof Ashwini Gokhale felicitated the Chief Guest Dr. Pravesh Jung as well as Dr. Bini. Dr. Deepa Mishra and Dr. Dipesh Karmarkar presented the report of the Certificate Course. Dr. Pravesh Jung delivered a lecture on “The Rise of the Individual and the Culture of Rights”. Certificates (with grades) were awarded to the students for successful completion of the Certificate Course. Prof. Bhavna Binwani proposed the vote of thanks.
Dipesh Karmarkar and Deepa Mishra
CHM College, Ulhasnagar