Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

The Structural Differential Diagram. (General Semantics Basics)

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

The Structural Differential Diagram. (General Semantics Basics)

Article excerpt

Part II

Part I of this article appeared in ETC, vol. 59, no. 4, Winter 2 002-2003.

The First Verbal Level: Description

By using language, we can assign symbols, in this case words, to our perceptions and sensations. This enables us to describe our experiences to ourselves and others. Hayakawa wrote, "Human beings use extremely complicated systems of ... noises called language, with which they express and report what goes on in their nervous systems." (2, p.9)

In the structural differential diagram, we can represent this level of words by attaching a tag to a few of the strings that hang from the object level disk

We remember from Part I of this article that in moving from the process level to the object level, a human nervous system cannot abstract most of the process level 'characteristics.' Those 'characteristics' left out are represented by the process level parabola's free-hanging strings that do not connect to the object level disk.

Notice that the disk also has free-hanging strings. These indicate that in our abstracting from the object level to the descriptive level, some aspects of a person's 'sensations' about an object are left out of the description. Therefore, the tag represents a description that can account for only some details or features of something. As Korzybski put it, "The 'object' has more characteristics than we can include in the ... definition of the label for the 'object."' (3, p.414)

To put it another way, you cannot know or describe all the details of anything, not even an ordinary object, such as an apple that you hold in your hand. (3, p.471). In this process, when we move from one level of abstraction to another, we abstract from the object level of firsthand sensory experience (seeing, feeling, and tasting the object we call "apple") to the verbal level of words (thinking, speaking, or writing a description of the "apple"), which are about that experience, and are not the experience itself. (See Note 1.)

This abstracting from experience (disk) to words (tag) is represented in the diagram by having only some strings from the disk actually connect to the tag. Many details of the perceived object are left out of descriptive statements about the object. Korzybski wrote, when explaining how to train children in consciousness of abstracting:

We ... may start with any familiar daily-life objects and a microscope or magnifying glass..., [and] ask them to tell us 'everything' or 'all' about the ... apple. When the children have exhausted their ingenuity in telling 'all' about the apple, we should not be satisfied. We should make them doubt, urging them that, perhaps, they did not tell 'all' about it, using the word 'all' continually. The term 'all' should be stressed and repeated to the point of the children's being thoroughly annoyed with the term.... When the children have become thoroughly convinced of the non-allness and the impossibility of 'allness,' we are ready to explain to them what the word abstracting means." (3, p.471-472)

Your Map Is Not the Territory

Korzybski often used the terms map (a form of representation) and territory (that which is represented). These terms emphasize the difference between the non-verbal level (territory) and the verbal level (map). (3, p.58) We use language to create map-like descriptions of the territory of our 'reality.' When we create maps that are similar to the territory, our talk fits better with the facts of the situation. This can help us cope with 'reality' more successfully. Chisholm wrote:

If my territory has certain relations, if it is put together in a certain order, and I can build a symbolism [map] which has similar relations and a similar order, then what I deduce in the symbolism will be more accurate, more true to the territory, and I will get a predictability which is greater than if my symbolism is not similar in structure to the territory. …

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