A Tutorial

How well do you integrate …

what goes in ‘here’ with what goes on ‘out there’?

When we talk about wanting to become better critical thinkers, or more discriminating individuals, or simply more sane human beings, what we’re talking about concerns questions such as:

  • How well do we ‘interface’ with the world around us?
  • How appropriately do we interpret what goes on outside our skin?
  • How appropriately do we interpret what goes on inside our skin?
  • Do we purposely and consistently apply what we ‘know’ about what goes on ‘out there’?
  • Do we purposely and consistently apply what we ‘know’ about what goes on ‘in here’?

This introductory tutorial will re-acquaint you with some notions you may find familiar, or even ‘obvious.’ Perhaps it will introduce you to some new ways of thinking about your thinking. And perhaps the resulting implications will enable you to become more critical and more discriminating.

What Happens ‘In Here’ vs. ‘Out There’

What goes on ‘in here’?We ought to be able to agree on certain facts regarding what happens inside our skin, how our nervous system responds, in response to what happens out there:

  • We can’t experience everything; we abstract only those events and characteristics we can, and choose to, experience.
  • As each individual is unique from anyone else, each nervous system is also different.
  • It follows that each individual’s experience of what goes on will be different from everyone else’s.
  • Our ‘in here’ experiences, reactions, and responses are NOT the same as what actually happens ‘out there.’
  • We each react uniquely to what goes on; what goes on does not dictate or necessarily determine how we react.
What goes on ‘out there’?Regardless of race, religion, nationality, or culture, we should be able to agree on a few basic facts regarding what goes on in the world around us:

  • We live in a process-oriented universe; everything is changing all the time.
  • With our human limitations, we can’t experience much of what we know goes on; e.g.high frequency sounds, radio waves, infrared light, etc.
  • Events happen in a certain order and in relationship to other events in a specific context or environment.
  • Not only do things and events continually change, but their environments continually change as well.
  • At times we aren’t aware of these changes and their implications.

What’s your orientation or world view?

Based on your own individual life experiences, which occurred in your own unique environments and contexts, you have developed what might be termed your own personal approach to things.

You might call this your orientation, or approach to life, or “world view” (in German – Weltanschauung). How you respond, or react, to what happens in your life will be determined in large part by how you view your world – your underlying premises, assumptions, beliefs, etc.

Therefore, we each need to carefully consider and become conscious of our own individual orientation towards how we approach our life experiences.

How would you define your own “world view”?

What’s your orientation, or ‘world view’?

As a start to becoming more aware of your orientation, or “world view”, how much do you agree, or disagree, with the following statements?

  1. You’re either for us or against us.
  2. It’s not so important what you believe, just as long as you believe in something.
  3. You can’t change human nature.
  4. Everything happens for a reason.
  5. God works in mysterious ways.
  6. Expect a miracle.
  7. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.
  8. To thine own self be true.
  9. Everybody’s got a right to their own opinion.
  10. It just wasn’t meant to be.
  11. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
  12. All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten.

Consider the implications, or consequences, of these statements in terms of how you react to events in your life. If you agree, or disagree, with the statement, do you also agree, or disagree, with the logical consequences of that statement applied to your experiences?

Building Block vs. Spiral Analogy

How do you learn?

Typically, we grow up with a view of learning using the building blocks analogy. ( “Analogy” refers to those instances when we say something is like something else.)

With this view, we tend to see things in a segregated, compartmentalized structure. For example, in grade school we learned our alphabet (a block of letters), our numbers (a block of numbers), how to spell (blocks of letters), etc.

However, if we apply what we ‘know’ about what goes on around us, we can choose to use a more appropriate analogy: we tend to learn in more of a spiral pattern than simple building blocks. In this spiral nature of learning, we acknowledge:

  • just as the spiral expands from the center, our learning is continual and never-ending
  • as we learn about one thing, we enable ourselves to learn more about something else, from a slightly – or dramatically – different perspective
  • what we learn relates to what we’ve already learned, and what we’ve yet to learn, just as the spiral connects, or relates, one region to another
  • the spiral more appropriately implies the continually-changing and more complex nature of ourselves and the world around us


We often overlook, forget, or ignore the fact that much – if not most – of what we’ve learned, we’ve learned from someone else. Parents, teachers, friends, authors, composers, historians, scientists, and countless others have provided each of us with a vast array of accumulated knowledge. This continual passing of knowledge from one generation to the next has facilitated the evolution of human progress.

Alfred Korzybski used the term time-binding to refer to this unique human capacity for picking up where prior generations left off, for building on the accumulated knowledge of our parents, and their parents, and their parents, etc.

He attributed this time-binding capability to the fact that we can use, manipulate, record, document, and exchange information through language. Language serves as the tool that enables and facilitates time-binding.

Time-binding implies much more than simply the ability to communicate. After all, we know that many animals can communicate on rudimentary levels. To Korzybski, time-binding denoted the critical distinction between humans and lower forms of animals.

Based on years of research, observation, and contemplation, Korzybski concluded that for humans to most efffectively bind time, we must use more appropriate language when communicating with others, and especially when we communicate with our own selves.

More appropriate language

Earlier we discussed the need to properly integrate what happens outside of our skin with the we way we internally process, interpret and think about those happenings within our nervous systems. Similarly, it makes sense that we strive to properly integrate, or structure, our verbal language to appropriately represent the non-verbal events and happenings which are NOT words.

The map… is NOT the territory

Just as a well-drawn map depicts, represents, illustrates, symbolizes, etc., an actual geographic area, so should our language properly reflect that which it refers to – that which is NOT language. However, we often confuse the words we use with those ‘things’ the words refer to. We confuse the word with the thing; we mistake the map as the territory. We do well to remember:

  1. The structure of our language (the map) should be similar to the structure we find in the non-verbal world of not words (the territory)
  2. Language is an aspect of human behavior; language does not exist outside of the individual humans who use words, sentences, statements, questions, etc.
  3. When we forget – or ignore – these simple facts, we inevitably create problems, stress, and misunderstandings – with others, and with ourselves.

(Some) Common language traps

  1. The subject/predicate grammar form misrepresents what we know goes on in the non-verbal world, e.g.“Roses are red”We have learned to think of ” red” as an attribute, or quality, in the rose itself. However, given our current understanding of how our nervous systems work, it’s more appropriate to think of ” red” as a product of our own individual eyes, brain and nervous system:”Roses appear red, to me”
  2. We tend to think in terms of opposites, or two-valued differences: right/wrong…black/white…good/bad…for/against…In the non-verbal world around us, however, we seldom encounter such clear-cut differences. Instead, we actually experience things, events, happenings, etc., along a spectrum, or a continuum, with lots of ‘grey area’ between the ends:<– more right ————– more wrong –>
    <– more white ————– more black –>
    <– more good —————– more bad –>
    <– more for —————- more against–>
  3. We often confuse statements which sound like facts, as facts. Rather than maintain a sense of tentativeness and uncertainty, we’re quick to accept statements, comments, judgments, opinions, beliefs, etc., as facts or truth. This lack of discrimination, this disregarding of key differences, results in our acting and behaving as if we’re responding to facts, when we’re really responding based on assumptions, inferences, beliefs, etc.Professor Irving J. Lee (1909-1955) of Northwestern University, proposed a high standard for considering something as a “fact”, vs. an “inference”:
    Facts Inferences
    • Can be made only after an observation, experiences, etc.
    • Can be made anytime, including the present and future
    • Stays with what can be observed, does not speculate or presume
    • Goes beyond what is observed, speculates as to intent, motivation, meaning, etc.
    • As close to certainty as humanly possible – would you bet your life on it?
    • Expressed in degrees of probability, potentiality, etc.

    Try a simple test to see how well you distinguish facts from inferences.

  4. Although we would immediately deny it, most of us react to “word magic”. We believe that if there’s a name for something, or a word for something, then that something must be ‘real’. Otherwise … why would somebody have gone to the trouble to make up the word?This unrecognized, perhaps unconscious, belief in “word magic” has facilitated the continuation of myths, superstitions, hexes, curses, jinxes, etc. We talk about something as if it exists, and describe it in great detail with other words, and draw pictures of it, and then begin to act as if it exists.For example, you no doubt would say that unicorns are not real – they don’t exist. And yet – you know what one looks like, you’d clearly recognize one if you saw one. In fact, would you even be surprised if you saw one in a zoo? (There are even websites dedicated to them, like: The Unicorn Friendship Center.)We also practice “word magic” when we respond to labels – especially those with political, religious, racial, ethnic or sexual implications – without regard for the context or intended meaning. Some people will immediately react with discomfort upon hearing, or reading, certain words: liberal, right-winger, pro-choice, nigger, spick, kike, Bible-thumper, faggot, dyke, mick, wop, bitch …We even respond physiologically to words. Have you ever eaten something unfamiliar, then had a negative reaction when you learned what it ‘was’?

Integrating and Summarizing Language Traps

  • Language enables time-binding, allowing humans to build on the knowledge or prior generations.
  • However, we need to be aware that languages are not perfect, but very imperfectly-developed human tools.
  • The subject/predicate grammar form, in many cases, misrepresents what we know about the world around us.
  • We tend to use either-or, two-valued terms describing polar opposites, instead of more appropriate relative terms.
  • We often confuse inferences (assumptions, opinions, etc.) with facts, and create troubles when we act on inferences as if they were facts.
  • Language allows us make up fantasies, yet talk about them as if they existed; we continue to pass along, and believe, superstitions, jinxes, myths, etc.
  • We mistake the word as the thing, and react to the word as if it were the thing.
  • We think of words themselves as having meaning, when it’s the speaker who attempts to convey meaning, and the listener who interprets and derives meaning.

A Scientific Approach to Thinking and Living

You probably don’t think of yourself as thinking like a scientist. But neither do you probably think of yourself as a Neanderthal, or even a medieval, thinker.

What’s the difference?

Scientists follow an approach, or method, which generally includes these types of behaviors:

  1. Observe, Collect Data
  2. Make a hypothesis, or assumption
  3. Test the hypothesis, challenge the assumptions
  4. Revise the hypothesis as appropriate

Repeat as necessary

The key is that, to most appropriately think and behave, according to what we know about what goes on around us at the close of the 20th century, we need to develop this scientific approach in our daily living. We need to observe before we conclude, test before we judge, challenge before we believe, and always be willing to revise our assumptions and beliefs as new observations and information warrant.


  • What we perceive as what goes on ‘out there’ is not what goes on ‘out there’; we cannot perceive all of what is going on.
  • What goes on ‘out there’ and what goes on ‘in here’ must be integrated as unique, ever-changing, never-repeating experiences by each individual.
  • Each of us has our own ‘world view’, developed in the context of our previous experiences and environments. This ‘world view’ shapes how we react and respond to the events we encounter.
  • What we ‘know’ is the result of structuring, relating, and revising our prior ‘knowledge’ with new experiences.
  • Languages enable and facilitate our learning. Language is the means by which humans build on the achievements of prior generations – time-binding.
  • However, language itself is not perfect; it allows structural errors which permit humans to distort and misinterpret what goes on.
  • Effective language use is that which is similar in structure to the non-verbal referent to which it refers; “similar”, but not “the same as” – just as “the map is not the territory”.
  • We need to become aware of and avoid: subject/predicate misrepre- sentations; either/or two-valued attitudes; mistaking inferences as facts; and “word magic”.
  • We can apply a scientific approach in our daily life by continually challenging our assumptions and beliefs, and revising them as new facts and data warrant.


About General Semantics

individual being supportedThisIsNotThat is based on the principles of General Semantics (GS). GS can be considered an inter-disciplinary discipline for evaluating and adjusting to what happens in your life. General Semantics deals with the processes involved as we perceive, construct, evaluate, and respond to our life experiences. Our language-behaviors represent one aspect of these responses.

Generalizing What We’ve Learned

What if we could generalize the “best practices” to be learned from what the most effective:
conference meeting

  • doctors do when they diagnose a patient’s symptoms?
  • attorneys do when they cross-examine a witness to uncover the facts?
  • scientists do in their laboratories when they experiment?
  • police detectives do when they gather evidence at a crime scene?
  • engineers do when they must design solutions to new problems?
  • journalists do when they report a story?
  • artists, writers, and composers do when they express their creativity?


    1. We would increase our understanding and awareness of the role of language and symbols play in our verbal and non-verbal behaviors.
    2. We would limit the undesirable behaviors we are prone to exhibit, such as:
      • jumping to conclusions
      • holding unrealistic expectations
      • not recognizing the hidden assumptions and premises upon which we unknowingly act
      • making broad generalizations and promoting stereotypes
      • confusing our own inferences, opinions and beliefs as facts or ‘truths’
      • resisting change or failing to adapt to change
      • engaging in and perpetuating language habits that are more medieval than modern
      • responding to labels and categories rather than specific individuals and events
      • feeling ‘victimized’ by those who push our buttons, condition our wants, and propagandize our political sensibilities


  • We would increase those productive behaviors such as:
    • thinking-feeling-acting in the here-and-now, moment-to-moments of daily living rather than re-living the past or dreading the future
    • appreciating and promoting individuality and diversity
    • thinking, speaking, and listening more deliberately, critically, and productively
    • more effectively solving problems, resolving conflicts, and maintaining relationships
    • integrating and building upon all our sources of knowledge, and sharing that knowledge (in other words, “time-binding”)


The self explorer, whether he wants to or not, becomes an explorer of everything else. — Elias Canetti

Worlds of Differences

General Semantics helps you differentiate, and integrate, what we might think of as four different ‘worlds’:

  • the world ‘out there’, beyond your skin, that’s always changing, in perpetual process
  • the world ‘in here’, inside your skin, your nervous system and senses, through which you (only partially) experience the world ‘out there’
  • the world that’s not words, the sensory or non-verbal world that you see, hear, taste, smell and touch
  • the world of words, your verbal world of names, symbols, labels, opinions, assumptions, categories, values, beliefs, etc.

In our verbal world of words, we integrate what we ‘know’ about the world ‘out there’, the world ‘in here’ and the world that’s not words. This is not that.

All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions. — Leonardo da Vinci

Alfred Korzybski and Science and Sanity

Alfred Korzybski

General semantics, formulated by Alfred Korzybski in his 1933 book, Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems, is based on underlying premises, some of which include:

  • We live in a continually-changing, process-oriented world, much of which we have no means of directly observing or experiencing.
  • What we do experience is therefore partial and incomplete; we abstract only a small portion of what’s there – and there is always more.
  • Different people abstract differently from their own individual experiences, based on their backgrounds, capabilities, interests, biases, etc.
  • As we become more conscious of this abstracting process, we learn how to become more tolerant and accepting of our own – and others – limitations and potentialities.
  • We recognize the distinctions between the sensory or non-verbal world in which we sense and experience, and our verbal world in which we use symbols and language to talk about our experiences.
  • The methods of a scientific approach provide us with a basis for evaluating and modifying our attitudes, behaviors and beliefs.

If you deliberately apply these principles, the potential consequences include:

  • More effective, discriminating communications with others, and with yourself
  • More appropriate, and desirable, reactions, responses and adjustments to the inevitable “accidents waiting to happen” in your four ‘worlds’
  • A more tolerant, inquisitive, open-minded, “matter-of-fact” outlook that is less prone to prejudice, stereotyping, and dogmatic generalizations
  • A greater degree of moment-to-moment awareness of your own, and others’, different perspectives.

How we use language determines the way we evaluate our relationship with ourselves, others, and our world. Many human problems can be traced to our ignorance of the ways we use language and the ways language influences us. — Alfred Korzybski

Language Matters

untangle the tangled webs you verbally weave

With language we can …

  • speak, write, read, and listen
  • think and express our feelings
  • analyze and solve problems
  • establish rules, regulations, laws, policies, procedures, ordinances, and standards
  • reach compromises, agreements, settlements, resolutions and contracts
  • understand, to be understood, and to pass on our understandings to others
  • dream, imagine, contemplate, cogitate, deliberate, create, innovate and ponder

and … with language we can also …

  • mislead, misinform, and misunderstand
  • deny, suppress, inhibit, prohibit and limit what others do and say
  • rule, dictate, terrorize, intimidate, indoctrinate and alienate
  • generalize, categorize, stereotype, pigeonhole and profile
  • lie, cheat, steal, quibble, libel, slander, sue and defraud
  • perpetuate myths, superstitions, prejudices, feuds, and atavistic traditions
  • create and exacerbate fear, anxiety, regret, guilt, jealousy, paranoia, suspicion, and hate.

“Language plays a tremendous role in human affairs. It serves as a means of cooperation and as a weapon of conflict. With it, men can solve problems, erect the towering structures of science and poetry— and talk themselves into insanity and social confusion.” — Irving J. Lee

Some Assumptions

  • Our language ought to reflect what we collectively know and understand about our common world.
  • A ‘scientific attitude’ is required for effective and productive thinking, communicating, and relating:Observe – Assume – Test – Revise (repeat)
  • We each experience our common world uniquely, partially, and with limitations. We each see the world with a sense of “to-me-ness.” There’s always more to observe, more to say, more to understand.
  • It’s important that we look for similarities among differences, and that we look for differences among apparent similarities.
  • Who rules our symbols, rules us. – Alfred Korzybski

Potential Benefits of Application

  1. Greater awareness of what goes on in your life.
  2. More appropriate responses, evaluations and adjustments to what goes on in your life.
  3. More effective, discriminating communications with others, and with yourself.
  4. A more tolerant, inquisitive and “matter-of-fact” outlook that’s less prone to prejudices, stereotypes and dogmatic generalizations.
  5. A sharpened ability to differentiate facts from non-facts, and to avoid misunderstanding and confusion.
  6. The ability to look at situations and problems from different perspectives.
  7. More realistic expectations, fewer unexpected surprises.

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. — Marcel Proust


Listen to this interview for American Airlines SkyRadio inflight entertainment:

American Airlines SkyRadio

Watch this 7-minute overview from a lecture given at University of Nevada Las Vegas in 2004.

[flowplayer src=’http://stevestockdale.com/ss/videos/unlv.mp4′ width=400 height=300 splash=’http://stevestockdale.com/ss/videos/unlv.jpg’]

“If your language is confused, your intellect, if not your whole character, will almost certainly correspond.” — Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch

Alfred Korzybski (1879-1950)

“His time-binding theory and … General Semantics … severed across old lines of thought
as does a clean cleaver through moldy cheese.” – Douglas M. Kelley

Alfred Korzybski published Manhood of Humanity in 1921 and introduced his theory of time-binding. He classified humans as time-binders, primarily differentiated from lower forms of life by their unique capability to use language — and other symbol systems — to accumulate knowledge from generation to generation, such that the child can pick up where the parent left off.

Twelve years later came the book in which he provided a methodology for applying the consequences of time-binding, Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics. He and M. Kendig established The Institute of General Semantics as a non-profit organization in Chicago in 1938, aided by initial funding by Mr. Cornelius Crane. The Institute moved to Lakeville, Connecticut in 1946, and subsequently resided in Baltimore, MD, Englewood, NJ, Brooklyn, NY, and Fort Worth, TX.

While it would be a mistake to equate Korzybski (the man) with general semantics (the system of formulations), there is no denying the fact that Korzybski as formulator did do the formulating — and we have him to thank for that. Clearly, others since have made significant contributions to the field. What we view today as “general semantics” has a greater breadth — and perhaps, depth — than that which Korzybski left us in 1950.

Within the smallish body of persons who consider themselves as students of general semantics, there exist those at each end of the “blame-credit” spectrum — some believe Korzybski has been forgotten and left behind at the expense of successors who have (unsuccessfully) tried to ‘popularize’ his system for mass consumption. Others believe as strongly that Korzybski has been idolized and ‘worshipped’ at the expense of his own work, and the work of those who have attempted to extend GS.

Ultimately, he will be remembered — as will most of us — by what he wrote and said, and what others write and say about him.

(some of) What Korzybski Said

“What is General Semantics? Why GS? You should get from the beginning a type of reaction. One of the main points is how the reaction can be moulded. When we come to the problem of meaning, significance, etc., we are up against every kind of human difficulty.

“In revising semantics, I am adding the word General, and also have enlarged the meaning in the sense that it turns out to be a general theory of values; evaluation.

“In our seminars we investigate the factors of evaluation. If evaluation of any subject is correct, could you then have predictability? Have you a sort of feeling or orientation of what it would mean to you in your private life if you could predict that if you did so and so, such and such would happen? Don’t you begin to see that your future happiness depends on whether we can have predictability?

“When you calculate a bridge, you are actually talking to yourself about the bridge; you automatically get predictability about your bridge. Then our bridges do not collapse.

“Now, can we do something of that sort in ordinary life? This is a very serious thing, because if we can, then we will have great benefit. If so, we can handle our lives as well as we handle our bridges and sky scrapers. Why is it that our bridges do not collapse, but our private lives do? If we are not foolish about our bridges, why are we foolish about ourselves? The question is  — do we know how to handle our brains?”

“One of the main difficulties in applying General Semantics is that although the theoretical issues are very complex, the practical issues are childlike simple. People of your level are not willing to accept something which is too simple, because you fancy you are grown up. I am sorry, you are not grown up!” — seminar transcript, July, 1938

(some of) What Others Said About Him

“He deepened my awareness of the human relevance of all studies. He has too vividly shown that what men say and do is inevitably linked with what they see and with what they assume. Accom-panying that insight is a new kind of respect for human potentiality.” — Irving J. Lee

“… he turns your attention to something less tangible, something that you cannot compute additively, that you cannot demonstrate to others with a brilliant display of ‘whys’ and ‘therefores’. He makes you conscious of structure, relations and order. He helps you feel that you as a living-thinking-feeling-acting individual are a conscious node of interrelatedness in a universe that you eventually feel throbbing with you, through you, around you …” — Sam Bois

“He existed as a process and produced in his lifetime a number of ink marks presenting to some degree his basic formulations of the function of mankind. In this capacity, he was never surpassed. His time-binding theory and his subsequent development of General Semantics as a method for the achievement of its maximal function severed across old lines of thought as does a clean cleaver through moldy cheese. This cleavage has yielded a resultant new approach, which is only beginning to be felt in multiple scientific disciplines.”  — Douglas M. Kelley

“…[his] was not the sentimental approach, nor the metaphysical, which have had such a long vogue. Rather it was an engineering approach. He began with an ‘obvious’ fact, but one so large that it had mostly been taken for granted and never adequately explored before; namely, that humans represent a symbol-producing, symbol-using class of life. In other words, the arrangements by which we regulate our lives and the relationships among us are established through the functioning of our symbol systems. Man has created for himself an environment of symbols, and for better or for worse he has to live with them.” — Guthrie Janssen