Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Guest Blog - General Semantics by Conor O'Higgins

Korzybski's Structural differential

Alfred Korzybski developed a system he called General Semantics. It was one of the biggest influences on Robert Anton Wilson, NLP and cognitive psychology. It's fallen out of popularity recently, maybe because Korzybski never was much good as communicating it to popular audiences. This article is part of an attempt to jazz up General Semantics a bit.

The diagram below is one of the key tools in General Semantics. Korzybski called it the “structural differential”, which shows Saint Alfred's knack for picking ugly terminology. (In this article, I use my own chosen terminology for most things, not Korzybski's.)
The structural differential is a simple map of different levels of Being. Students of General Semantics study this diagram over and over again until they stop muddling the levels.

(open the image in a new window)

Studying this diagram helps you become conscious of which level you're talking about. You don't stop abstracting; you just become aware of when you're doing it. It's ok to read a menu. Eating a menu is not such a good idea.

The map is not the territory, and the map always deletes information from the territory:
  • Only one 25-quintillionth of the electromagnetic waves that exist at WIGO get picked up by the senses.
    (see comments)
  • At the Perceivable level, visual images are comparable to two 576 megapixel cameras shooting video at 100 frames per second. Two layers down, at the Label level, nothing remains but: “I saw a cat. It was black.”

The map is not the territory, and the map adds to, generalizes and distorts the territory:
  • A 590nm wave at the WIGO level gets turned into “orange”. “Orange” does not exist at the WIGO level.
  • At Level 2.0, there's a blind spot where the optic nerve enters the retina. Somewhere in 2.5, the brain makes up some fictional content and puts it in there instead.
  • Also in 2.5, traits get added in, so that the things that show up at 3.0 are sexy, frightening, gorgeous, stinky etc. (The Impressionist painters were obsessed with getting this point across.)

This is not illustrated in the diagram, but higher levels influence lower levels too. Influence runs in both directions. Words influence behavior, which is a level 1.0 thing. Interestingly, the labels and language we use at level 4.0 change the brain so much that the settings on the filters at 2.5 change. (There's a ton of psychology studies making this point, such as and Words can change your BS. Change your BS and you change your reality-tunnel. 

It's not uncommon to get up into really high levels of meta-meta-meta-comments. For example, this article is at least level 8.0; it is an article about a response to criticism about a book.

Some people mostly ignore levels 1-3, and live in a labyrinth of labels. An organism generates a description, another organism reads it and responds to it, another responds to that - this can go on for a lifetime, and there's sometimes pretty good money in it. There's no need for facts, for the body, for mindfulness, sensation, or the real world. You can get lost in symbols and call yourself an intellectual, but you'll get paid more if you call yourself a lawyer. Korzybski had a technical term for it; he called it 'bla-bla'.

Pragmatism saves us from bla-bla. Pragmatism means always judging Beliefs (which are Level 4.0 things) by whether they can successfully affect and predict happenings at levels 1, 2 and 3. Kaos Magick is also called Results Magick; it doesn't judge Beliefs by whether they are good Beliefs; it judges them by whether they get Results.

This is known as Keepin' It Real.

I have taken a vow to Keep It Real; I only write about things that get results. I am writing about General Semantics because it gets great results. It uses books, diagrams etc. (Level 4.0 things) to reprogram the filters at Level 2.5 to create a calmer, clearer, less confused, less unrealistic, saner, happier reality-tunnel at Level 3.0
Reprogram your filters, before they reprogram them for you!

By Conor O'Higgins (Thanks very much Conor!)


CàM said...

Can I get a reference for:

"Only one 25-quintillionth of the electromagnetic waves that exist at WIGO get picked up by the senses."

Conor O'Higgins said...

I might've got the math a bit wrong on that.

Electromagnetic waves (ELF radio waves) can be up to 100 000 km long. There are waves at all wavelengths up to that.

The visible range covers a span of just 300 nanometers, from 400nm to 700.

100 000 km divided by 300 nanometers is actually about 30 trillion, not 25 quintillion

CàM said...

Thanks, it's good to know the working. Obviously we have a limited range of sound perception as well.

Conor O'Higgins said...

We hear from about 20 to 20 000 Hz. I'm not sure there actually are limits to the 'possible' frequencies that exist, but ultrasound scanners use frequencies up to 4 gigahertz.

So we hear a range of about 20 000 parts out of 4 billion, or about one part in 200 000.

Roald Dahl wrote a great short story called The Sound Machine about the world of sound that gets deleted at level 1.5, alien to humans, "something else which we didn't know about - something called toin or spurl or plinuckment, or anything you like"