ISSS Primer Project


Editor's note: If we are serious about Systemic Inquiry, there is a part or aspect of systemics, a "systemic aspect" that interpenetrates all interrelationships, and that is our language. How we think, how we talk, how we comunicate, we all do this with language. There are problems with language, mis-identification of abstractionals, confusion of abstractional levels, reversal of abstractional processes, and more. But the one aspect that affects us all to the depths of our being and the heights of our joy, is the "misplaced concreteness" of words. As Korzybski points out, and in typical science writing fashion, at the end of this piece, "The map is not the territory." See also Zen's "Do not mistake the pointing finger for the moon." the anonymous "The word is not the Thing." and the latest variation, "The menu is not the dinner."

But having an intellectual grasp of this knowledge "does not yet mean one has a systems view." The words have to be turned into action, and the action has to applied over a period of time, and exist as a process such that evolutionary growth emerges and learning occurs. Only then can we continue our journey as masters of our fate. Otherwise we remain stuck in the mud of our thoughts where all we can manage to do is call everything names...Where making war is the way, and making love is obscene....Well, if you HAVE TO have a name, call it "Taking eyes off ball."

What we have here is a working table of contents (the g-s slice of our index) , authored by Bob Pula, recongnized as general-semantics greatest teacher. Submitted by Homer Moore. Direct link to G-S Homepage.





process of abstracting
structurally-determined (i.e., pre-attitudinal, selecting/filtering)
integrating (pre-conscious)
projecting (pre-conscious; potentially conscious)
languaging (multi-ordinal; self-reflexive)
spiral character of abstracting
Attitudes, preferences, etc., through neuro-linguistic mechanisms, complicate but do not fundamentally change the process; all human evaluating derives from and constitutes abstracting.


Structural Differential
as map (model) of the abstracting process, accumulation of and transmission of knowledge (information), etc.


semantic reaction
total, ‘emotional’, ‘intellectual’, i.e., psychological response of a (human) organism-as-a-whole to a stimulus; broader than what is traditionally called ‘meaning’
symbol: human, delayed, conditional
signal: animal, immediate, unconditional, animal-human continuum


multi-use of terms
lexical (‘same’ term, different definition)
contextual (‘same’ term, different situation)
neurological (‘same’ term, different brain)


multiordinality of terms
‘same’ term, different evaluations related to different orders of abstracting; ‘meaning’ = f(order of abstracting)


orders (levels) of abstracting


orders (levels) of abstraction
results in time T (artificially ‘fixed’ for analysis) which affects further analysis


order, relations, function as mutually defining terms


(relationships, pattern, order, arrangement, observe-observed continuum in time) as only ‘content’ of knowledge -- breakaway from the search for ‘essences’, ‘things in themselves’, etc. General-semantics as a non-essentialist discipline.


Sapir-Whorf-Korzybski Hypothesis
“... a language, any language, has at its bottom certain metaphysics, which ascribe, consciously or unconsciously, some structure to the world.” (Science and Sanity, p.89) “We do not realize what tremendous power the structure of an habitual language has. It is not an exaggeration to say that it enslaves us through the mechanism of s.r. (semantic reaction) and that the structure which a language exhibits, and imposes upon us unconsciously, is automatically projected upon the world around us. This semantic power is indeed so unbelievable that I do not know any one, even among well-trained scientists, who, after admitting some argument as correct, does not the next minute deny or disregard (usually unconsciously) practically every word he had admitted, being carried away again by the structural implications of the old language and his s.r.” (Science and Sanity, pp.90-91)


intensional orientation
over-dependence on definitions, verbalizations, etc.


extensional orientation
while maintaining linguistic formulational capabilities, priority assigned to non-verbal (‘silent’) orders of abstracting


extensional devices
as neurolinguistic prophylactic (see above)




as a meta-communicational (meta-linguistic, meta-system) system


g.s. as method of evaluation
relatively ‘neutral’; no fixed ‘content’; an open system; a propositional calculus; modern, open, applied epistemology


neurolinguistic feedback
‘feedback’ borrowed from Norbert Wiener but anticipated by Korzybski in his formulation of the circular-spiral character of abstracting and neurological emphasis. (See Structural Differential, Science and Sanity, pp.386-411)


neuro-semantic environments
as environments


not anti-Aristotelian, but broader and corrective


of level (orders) of abstraction(ing) necessary for fully (fullest) functioning humans


science as method
(not to be confused with scientific ‘knowledge’ at a date, technology, behavior of scientific societies, etc.) recommended as method for sanity


life as an asymmetric relation
irreversible process-at-a-date: “you can’t (1991) unboil an egg.”


(restricted Heisenbergian and general Korzybskian) accepted as at heart of human evaluating


as characteristic human activity, leading to:
-- formation of cultures
-- formation of culture-studying cultures
-- rejection of space-binding (excessively competitive) ethics
as tool of time-binding
language-referent relationships
verbal/non-verbal (silent) levels


verbal-non-verbal isomorphy
(while maintaining awareness of non-identity)


logical fate
(premise-conclusion relationship)


fact/inference distinction
(levels of abstraction)


multi-valued vs. two-valued
(either-or) orientations


types of questions
pathology-inducing (lack of consciousness of abstracting)


I.F.D. disease


H = ME + MM


A technical term in general-semantics; a dictionary won’t help.

A personal process (an activity with recognizable phases), somewhat different for each person; involving:
  1. Structurally-determined selecting/filtering (sensory and neural abstracting); including transducing (e.g., for the eye, from electromagnetic vibrations at 186,000 m.p.s. to electrochemical at 225 m.p.h. in the large neural fibers.)
  2. Functional selecting depending on past experiences, moods, needs, interests, etc.
  3. Integrating -- summarizing, gestalting
  4. Projecting -- “the tendency of brains to allocate their own experience elsewhere.” Robert Pula
  5. Self-reflexiveness -- including reactions to reactions, etc.
  6. Talking (symbolizing) to self and others, which involves:
    Multiordinality -- many possible orders of abstraction;
    Self-reflexiveness -- talking about talk, statements about statements, etc.

The entire process is potentially self-corrective and produces results that can be communicated.


This process makes it clear that

Our maps, non-verbal or verbal, are not the territory. Our maps cannot represent all of the territory. Any map represents a territory-map maker synthesis; this must be taken into account in evaluation the map.

Since the map is not the territory, what we seek is a map similar in structure to the territory.


© Robert P. Pula, 1991


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