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This isn’t that!

The great semantic leap of language, as a map of reality


Let’s go back to 1933


In his ground breaking book, Science and Sanity (1933), Alfred Korzybski identified that the “is” of our identity, and the “is” of future projection, presents us with two linguistic and semantic constructions that map representation-to-fact conclusions.


The first has to do with identity, that is to say, how we identify something out there, or what we (as human beings) identify as or with. Of course, identity doesn’t exist, it’s a construct of mind!


The second (prediction) has to do with what we attribute or link things together.


In reality nothing ever stays the same. Change is the only constant. At microscopic levels, everything comprises a dance of quarks, electrons, atoms and cells, always moving, changing, and becoming.


No-thing or living organism ever stays the “same,” not even within itself. Nothing “is” static, permanent, or unchanging. Everything continually changes.

“To use “is” misspeaks, misevaluate’s, and mis-maps reality” Michael Hall

To say, “He is good at cooking” falsely maps reality. “Good” (or bad) is a subjective evaluation, made in reference to an unspecified set of standards. It is a subjective representation and the “is” component means the person saying it believes it to be true. But is isn’t true in reality, only in the mind of the person judging.


Korzybski realised that this unsanity ultimately lies in these misidentifications.


Michael Hall in his 2005 article The IS BIZ says:


“The “is” of Predication asserts our responses onto the world. To say, “This is good,” “That flower is red,” “He is stupid!” presents a language structure implying that something “out there” contains these qualities of “goodness,” “redness,” and “stupidity.” The “is “ implies that these things exist independent of the speaker’s experience. Not so. Our descriptions speak primarily about our internal experience, judgments, and values. More accurately we would say, “I evaluate as good this or that,” “I see that flower as red,” “I think of him as suffering from stupidity!”


“Is” statements falsely distract, confuse logical levels, and subtly lead us to think that such value judgments exist outside our skin in the world “objectively.” Wrong again. The evaluations (good, red, stupid) function as definitions and interpretations in the speaker’s mind.


The “to be” verbs dangerously presuppose that “things” (actually events or processes) stay the same. These verbs invite us to create mental representations of fixedness so that we begin to set the world in concrete and to live in “a frozen universe.” These verbs code the dynamic nature of processes statically. “Life is tough.” “I am no good at math.”


These statements sound definitive and absolute. “That’s just the way it is!” Bourland has described “is” “am” and “are,” etc. as “the deity mode.” “The fact is that this work is no good!” Such words carry a sense of completeness, finality, and time-independence. Yet discerning the difference between the map and the territory tells us these phenomena exist on different logical levels.”


If we confuse the language we use in describing reality (our map) with reality (the territory), then we are identifying with things in mind that actually differ in reality. That makes us unsane because there “is” no “is” in reality. We knew that when we were young, but as we learned to speak, the coding of representational language lulled us to sleep.


There is no chair


In our Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) Practitioner Courses, I will often point to a chair and say “what is that”? Our participants will say “that is a chair Jay, you idiot”.


I’ll point out that it isn’t a chair, that the word “chair” is a representation, that the object is in fact not a chair, we just agree to call it (represent in language) a chair.


The word “chair” points to nothing real. “The Chair” operates entirely as construction of the human mind. A beautiful and useful construction (otherwise how we’d struggle to communicate that we wanted to “sit in a chair” without language).


The point I am making is that unless we know we are using a construct (a representation through language), we inevitably become caught up in a web of constructs and lose touch with reality.


This is the basis for all arguments and conflict. Fights over borders, land, people, money (the ultimate construct), things and even ideas themselves.


Set yourself free


To free yourself of the representational world is to come home to being in reality. We do this by remembering that all language is a construct – a representation of reality (that’s why “sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me 🙂


Well, that’s it from me. See you next time, stay hungry.




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