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Alfred Korzybski

By David Lintner

"All rivers have the ocean as their final destination . . . ."
Arjuna Nick Ardagh
Relaxing into Clear Seeing, p 17.

The model of human perception known as Neuro-linguistic Programming bases part of its paradigm on the role of language in creating an individual’s experience and expression of personal reality.

The linguistic part of the NLP model is based in part on the work of Alfred Korzibsky (Science and Sanity). Korzybski, the father of modern transformational grammar, realized that language is an expression of fundamental metaphysical belief. He observed that our language is based on Aristotle’s view of the universe, which revolved around the idea of "is-ness."

The sky is blue. The dog is fat. The pillow is soft. The wine is sour. Everything I write is truth. These examples demonstrate how we define our experience of reality as a series of objects, each with qualities.

Korzybski suggested that such a tendency to make the world concrete, from a time limited individual perspective, determines how we will perceive the world. Language defines reality. He proposed we examine the entire system again.

Korzybski suggested that our language would serve us better if it reflected the view of the cosmos suggested by Einstein’s theories of relativity, as well as the discoveries made in the field of quantum physics. Both approaches dissolve the objective view of reality, and redefine the world in terms of relative processes.

Korzybski pointed out that our human perceptual processes, our five (or more) senses, cannot and do not come close to registering everything that could be perceived. The eyes, for example, go through several "stepping down" stages before the rest of the brain manufactures an experience we call sight. When we look at the "sky," it is not blue. It is our experience that is blue. You brain creates "blue" an experience of the scattering and absorption of photons in the atmosphere.

Not only do we not directly perceive reality with any of our senses, Korzybski pointed out, but we further abstract our experience by creating an abstraction of our sensory abstraction: language. Language is at least two steps removed from "reality." Language is not about objective reality. Language is about one’s subjective experience of the sense’s abstract reality model.

We also know that ten different people will be paying attention to the same moment and place in time in ten different ways. Leslie Cameron-Bandler (Lebeau) modeled the attention process further, and observed that different people employ their senses to "sort" their incoming experience differently.

For example, when my former wife (and still friend) and I were driving along a road one day, we passed a car and driver by the side of the road. As we passed I said, "Wow! Did you see that guy?!" And she said, "What guy? Did you see that great old car?"

Some people are sorting for people and some for things, some for environment and some for information, some for location and some for activity. Each one is paying attention differently. And each one has its subtleties. If you sort for people, for example, you could be sorting for what they think, or what they feel, or what they do. And that can be refined further: what do they think about me: what do they feel about me; what are they doing to (or with) me.

Like the lines (Bette Midler’s ?) from a movie: I’m tired of talking about me. What about you? What do you think about me?"

Korzybski observed that many people were distressed in life, and that the cause of their distress was their rigid "objectified" views of the world. I wonder how many fundamentalist Christians he knew? Because many people do not distinguish the difference between their experience and reality, they believe their experience is the only reality. And yet there are different political parties, favorite flavors of ice cream, and arguments between people who claim they love one another.

If we were all sensing the same reality, how could there be such diversity among us?

Early models of NLP proposed the Meta Model of language. The meta model is a series of categories of processes based on transformational grammar. Transformational grammar explores the transforms that take place between perception and how we ultimately talk about it.

One category of words, representing an individual’s subjective objectification process, is called "nominalization." In this process an individual turns a process into a mental thing. A complex dynamic is turned into a nominal thing. An examples is the word "relationship." Many, many people want a relationship, or want out of one they originally wanted to get into. Huzzah.

Using the code word "relationship" to describe the dynamics between people deletes a great deal of information about what actually happens between the two, as well as the hidden mental template each person mostly unconsciously uses to evaluate the other person in terms of the "relationship."

In terms of spiritual, development, NLP provides the seeker with a means of understanding how personal divisive subjective experience gets in the way of the spiritual process. When Buddha commented on how an individual becomes what he or she thinks, he pointed to the propensity of the human mind to identify with its own limited sensory experience of a world it creates for itself. The senses like to latch onto objects. And if they can’t find suitable ones, they’ll create ones all by themselves.

NLP provides models of the perceptive/behavioral/emotional self, and techniques for responding to them in whatever way the individual decides he or she wants. You can use it to understand, appreciate and harmonize your personal experience, and step beyond the self-imposed limits of spiritual blindness.

Copyright © 2002 David F. Lintner

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