IGS Discussion Forums: Learning GS Topics: Semantic Reactions and the SD
Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, May 3, 2007 - 10:40 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

The thing that the structural differential does not include is the notion of semantic reaction or any mechanism to illustrate it.

Two concurrent processes are going on. Our brain is continually generating what to expect in our sensory process based on the up-to-the-second history of what went before in conjunction with the totality of the neural records.

That prediction is continually being checked against the incoming abstractions - at many levels of abstraction in a hierarchical cascade. Only when the prediction does not match the incoming abstraction does the "exception" get passed up to the next level of abstraction.

If we are lucky the incoming abstraction together with the information that it wasn't what was expeced stimulates more memory to see if there is an alternative scenario in our experience that accounts for the difference. (Oh, yes. Now I remember changing where I put those.) When such failure of prediction cascade up enough levels, we become fully conscious of the situation. (But, I thought you really liked me.)

The structural differential accounts for none of this predictive and interactive process.

Another way of saying this is that we have our "meanings" ready and waiting to be "confirmed" by incoming sense data. Those waiting meanings comprise our semantic reactions, and they are there ahead of the incoming data, waiting to be "confirmed". It's all explained in Jeff Hawkins book in significant detail, and it is based on empirical knowledge gained long since Korzybski was out of the loop. The structural differential explains abstracting, but not memory recall nor prediction.

I have an updated structural differential diagram that does not yet include the prediction factor at Updating the Structural Differential.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, May 3, 2007 - 02:30 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

The structural differential illustrates three levels, event, object, and verbal, and it illustrates abstraction from level to level. It also illustrates the Whorfian hypothesis with the dashed arrow pointing back to the event level to indicate that the verbal level words we use aleggedly influence what we abstract.

A semantic reaction is more than simple abstraction. There is no part of the structural differential to indictate either this or recall from memory.

If you think it does, you are projecting much more into it than it actually illustrates.

I hope your shock may help you "see" more clearly.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, May 3, 2007 - 08:04 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Semantic Reaction: "[The semantic reaction] can be described as the psycho-logical reaction of a given individual to words and language and other symbols in connection with their meanings, and the psychological reactions, which become meanings and relational configurations the moment the given individual begins to analyse them or somebody else does that for him. [italics original] (S&S 4th. Ed, p. 24)."

A careful look at the definition shows that "semantic reactions" occur to not just words and symbols, but to every aspect of our sensory experience. We literally react to virtually everything in our physical and symbolic environments in terms of the meaning - our past experiences - we have. Korzybski's definition is specific to words and symbols, but we react to pictures, photographs, actual objects and situations in terms of their meanings to us in essentially the same way as we do to words and symbols.

Some discussion and illustrations are here.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, May 3, 2007 - 11:58 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Perhaps I should have said a careful look at the implications of the definition.

The parts of the "definition" in question are "... and other symbols in connection with their meanings, and the psychological reactions, which become meanings and relational configurations the moment the given individual begins to analyse them or somebody else does that for him."

"And other symbols" opens the door to all kind of icons and associations that a person has - anything that reminds a person of something else - anything that symbolizes (consciously or unconsciously) something else. What the perceiver is reminded of is the associated meaning for that person. An example: the clock pointing at noon which brings forth salivation and or thoughts or speech about lunch as the worker knocks off to go to lunch. Consider the name, image of, or actual sighting of, by the wife, of the restaurant her husband took an old flame to: all evoke the same semantic reaction of jealousy and or betrayal. There's no essential difference between the reaction to the name of the place - words, a picture of the place - a symbol, or the actual sighting of the place. The reaction is to the meaning the place holds for her - and is her semantic reaction - a resurgence of jealoucy and betrayal.

The moment anything is analyzed, be it words, symbols, or an event that can be seen, heard, or participated in, the response is to bring forth for the person the meaning to that person of the event, the symbol that represents the event, or the words that describe it.

The definition Korzybski gives of a semantic reaction as applying to words or symbols applies equally to actual events.

We respond to not only words and symbols, but to any observation or event in terms of the meaning we hold for the event, observation, symbol, or word.

The "definition" of semantic reactions is simply to broad to be limited to reactions to symbols and words,

In a more mathematical language expression, you may consider that his "definition" of "semantic reaction" is providing some extensional examples of reaction in terms of meaning - since his main concern is the use and misuse of language, but he has provided a description of a process that applies just as well in a much broader domain. By illustrating the fuction X2 using the ordered pairs {1,1}, {2,4}, {3,9}, . . . you do not constrain the domain to the natural number unless you explicitly state that the function is to apply to ONLY the natural numbers. Korzybski's definition specified two items - words and symbols in the domain of reactions, but those same reactions apply to a much large domain of human existence. The function "semantic reaction"(X) is continuous onto a range such that the inverse function "semantic reaction"-1(Y) includes much more than just words and symbols. It includes all events and objects we make any kind of sense of. In the four levels on language, semantics refers specifically to reference - what one thing "refers" to or "symbolizes" or "maps" or "associates" to. Consequently a "semantic" reaction is a reaction not to the object itself, but to what it symbolizes, what it refers to, what is is associated with, and in the case of human abstracting, that is not to characteristics of the object level experience, but to our "meaning" that object level experience "refers" us to through or aggregate time binding experience with similar objects. Recall, after all, that the "object" level experience of a word is a pattern of black marks. We process that stimulus in our neural nets and bring forth our history of associations. "Words" and "symbols" are simply object level responses that we further abstract and associate with past experiences. We do the same with all other object level experiences. We further abstract and associate with past experiences.

The way "semantic reaction" is defined, in applies to a broader domain than just words and symbols.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Friday, May 4, 2007 - 07:26 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Remember Psycho? Tell me that his reaction to the tines of the fork, to the parallel lines, were not unconscious semantic reactions. His reactions were to the associated meaning to his subconscious of those "real things" that had symbolism for him. Recall the distorted wheel? It was a dream symbol for a "revolver" - a gun - which his conscious mind could not accept.

Tis not I who am "broadening" the definition of 'symbol'; look at its definitions.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Friday, May 4, 2007 - 09:26 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Thomas, the husband and wife you spoke of need to learn to slow down the rate at which they move to higher levels of abstraction and into judgement levels. They can do this by questioning their own interpretations by asking, "Is that what is 'really' behind what he (or she) said?" "Could he (or she) have meant or intended something else?" The management of emotional response is achievable at the level of decision as to what value (good or bad) to apply to the event or words. See my post here and my discussion of emotions. A councelor can help them learn to question their own evaluations for multiple possibilities.

The general semantics notion of "semantic reaction" needs to be kept current with modern brain science. What we now "know" about brain function is that our brains continually record the totality of our experiences at multiple levels of abstraction, and each moment of recording include the total active neural network. That includes but is not limited to sensory input, motor activity activation, hormonal moods, physical orientation (proprioception), and more. All the afferent neurological process and all the efferent neurological process that are currently active, together with all the neurological circuits that are recalling past related activity (an abstraction from history), meaning the organisms mood, state of hunger, arousal, anger, fear, together with short term memory of recent activity, and long term memory currently active as well as the predictive memory structures telling the organism what to expect next. It is a totally non-elementalistic recording of relevant and irrelevant activity that is being "recorded", but it is not just the record that is being recorded. Associated records are being modified though the mechanism of synaptic facilitation that increases and decreases the connectivity at synapes. This alters the functioning of the active network, and that allows being able to abstract "relevancies" and "discard" or "ignore" irrelevancies, such as learning to recognize a new face in different contexts. The circuits that feedback reward for correct recognition strenghen the abstraction of the face while weakening the connections to particular past backgrounds. Each can still be remembered - for a while, but the face begins to be more easily "picked out of the crowd" of stimuli because of differential reward feedback. That abstraction level is also recorded. Saying the right name and getting positive feedback strengthens a still higher level of abstraction response. The next time you see this person, all these levels become more active in the neurological circuits through the process that is now labels adaptive resonance that is embodied in the brain's auto-responding capabilities. Feed into the brain part of a pattern, and it "resonates" by activating one or more larger patterns of which the fed in pattern is a part. This is how a wet slow "computer" can beat a dry fast computer that is thousands of time faster. Jeff Hawkins On Intelligence is must reading for any would-be general semanticist who want to have any kind of currency.

Every sensory input (paired with current activity, plans, feelings, etc., as well as what is being anticipated) evokes the abstraction hierarchy (the multi-level "meaning") of past "resonant" experiences. We may choose to pick out some part of this stimulus montage and call it a word or symbol, but our brains don't work that way. Our brains non-elementalistically respond to the total input situation. Consequently it is not valid to define "semantic reaction" as merely a reaction to the elementalistically split out word or symbol in the totaly of input-state-output that the being is currently processing.

General semantics is supposed to be a modern applied extensional discipline, consequently any "definitions" allegedly based in extensional observations must be kept up to date with current science.

We now know that the brain's response non-elementalistically predicts what is expected based on short term activity and long term memory in conjuction with the current physical, "emotional", "hormonal", etc., states of the body, the immediat short term past activity trace currently active in the neural circuits as well as resonating associated long term memory of past similar situations - all at multiple levels of abstraction - networks within networks and networks connected to networks. Predicts what is recalled, evaluates - at multiple levels of abstraction - acts and keeps a continuous record of what we could call predict-input-state-output "data".

How any given input is processes goes roughly as follows: Compare it to the most active prediction, if it matches reasonably, continue with plans; if it does not match reasonably, check for other reasonably matching patterns and activate those predictions structures. If none are available pass the prediction failure information up to the next higher level of abstraction, the sequence of which ends in full consciousness of the situation - "Wait a minute! What's going on here!?" (And if under very high stress, execute shutdown (withdraw) or panic mode - do something random.)

Both the predictions and the recalled (resonance activated) history are the non-elementalistic "meaning" to the organism of the stimulus in the current context. Pumpkin pie "means" one thing immediately after the Thanksgiving dinner, another thing two or three hours later, because the body state is part of the prediction-input-state-response history. ("Last time I ate pie too soon after dinner I did not feel so good.")

Semantic Reaction (updated):

[The semantic reaction] can be described as the total psycho-logical reaction of a given individual to the situation or event, including words and language and other symbols, in connection with their predicted meanings recalled from past experiences, and the psychological reactions, which become meanings and relational configurations the moment the given individual begins to analyse them or somebody else does that for him. [bold indicate changes]

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Friday, May 4, 2007 - 09:29 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

A "good" explanation of semantic reactions should be capable of explaining both "normal" and "pathological" response patterns.

Didn't Bates achieve "sanity" by coming to understand his symbolic associations and bringing back his memories?

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Friday, May 4, 2007 - 01:19 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Ben wrote, "I don't find as Ralph finds that people typically limit the definition of "semantic reaction" to symbols and words."

I do not find typically. That's an inference beyond what I said - an abstraction to generalities that do not apply to the specifics about which I wrote. If I want to make such a generalization I will actually state it, and I will usually back it up with examples.

Nora has already replied in a quite satisfactory way on the subject.

What does "negative evaluation of the scope of the understood definition of "semantic reaction." mean?

What, specifically did YOU evaluate as "negative"?, and what do you mean by "understood" definition? A "definition" is an expressed formulation, whereas "understood" would imply someone who read that definition and their internalization of it - "presumed" by the inclusion of the word 'understood' to somehow differ from the formulation itself. It points to an idiosyncratic response - multi-meaning at level three - in a brain.

Ben also wrote I think he [Korzybski] relates "semantic reaction" fairly well to anything we have a profound reaction toward with which we associate some meaning ("message behind the code").

Not just "profound" reaction, but EVERY reaction that is not just a simple neurological reflex. Moreover, because of the way our brains record our experiences, we always associate any experience with our past experience, even new ones. It is rare that we experience something so new, so strange, that we do not immediately come up with anything to relate to it - and I am not writing of only words and symbols. New unknown words can leave us running for the dictionary, but fairly often we "infer" the meaning from the context. But our day-to-day experiences simply don't get responded to without immediate associations - the "meaning" to us based on our past exposure. We expect a person or a message when we hear the rrrriiiinnnngggg sound from that oddly shaped black blob with nicely shaped white patches with black marking in them. (provided you have seen an old fashioned standard black dial telphone). We associate the ring with its meaning someone calling us or possibly an annoying telemarketer - annoyance - which is it? etc.

And there's my generalization with examples.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Friday, May 4, 2007 - 02:11 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Nora wrote (numbers added by me):

1. Event-level: (weather happens)
2. Object-level: you see clouds in a pattern
3. Descriptive level: you describe the pattern as similar to your memories of other patterns
4. Inference: "sun coming out soon"
5. Abstraction: I'm happy because I like the sun.

Actually, all of 2-5 are abstractions, but so as not to purpetrate a "category mistake" (Gilbert Ryle), 5. might better be labeled "judgement" or "value."

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Friday, May 4, 2007 - 02:55 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Levels 3-5 are all semantic reactions for certain, and level 2, which actually comprises many sub-levels not described contain many levels that are also semantic reactions. Light on the retina, for example, is an abstraction that is NOT YET a semantic reaction. But recognizing anything you see, prior to putting any words to it, is already a semantic reaction.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Friday, May 4, 2007 - 05:55 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

'Happiness' is the label for a semantic reaction. That you saw the sky clearing, in an evaluation of lower level abstractions, even if you put no words to it, and the sense of happiness is a judgemental type evaluation - a "positive orientation" that is only possible due to a history of learned responses. So there is "meaning" to you, even if not lexically expressed, and those are "semantic" reactions.

You "recognize" clearing followed by something in the past that gave you a pleasure, even if you did nothing but sit under the clearing sky. That in itself is recalling past experiences - association, hence some low-level meaning to you.

When I first went in the Navy, we arrived and were checked in at around 2 in the morning. At about 5:30 we were awakened by a horrid loud noise that we later learned was made by the RTCC by running a coke bottle around hard and fast on the inside of an open corrugated galvanized GI can. This was nothing like I had ever experienced before. When I flew out of the rack I could not see; my vision was cloudy white (in the bright lights), and I could not recognize anything in the combination of a lound thunderous noise being awakened with only a couple of hours sleep. It was a combination of experiences, auditory, visual, a room that I had never seen lighted before, sounds I had never heard, sleep deprived that I had also never experienced. I literally could not see. Neither my visual nor my auditory systems had been primed to predict anything of the sort. It was about ten secords during which some of the sounds began to form as voices, and some of the white fog began to take shapes as individual lights, strange people, a dormatory row of bunk beds. I can recall saying, "I can't see!". Well, I could see well enough, but my visual system had not been primed by my brain and I could not yet make any sense of the input. I had to resyncronize by quickly building a new memory of the tumultuous scene. A few minutes later I was on my way to the showers, following the barked commands of the RTCC, as I began my first day of indoctrination in my new life - six days out of high school. But during those first two or three seconds, my reaction was not yet semantic. I had had no meanings to explain what I was experiencing. The only semantic content was that I could not see. But in reality I had no way to understand what I was seeing, so it did not register on or cause to resonate any established neural networks. That took the next few seconds.

That provides a vivid examples a non-semantic reaction that achieved the level of consciousness.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Friday, May 4, 2007 - 06:01 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

"Emotion" and "intellect" are not easily defined let alone capable of being distinguished clearly, so constitute "elementalisms" as far as Korzybsk is concerned; verbally splitting what cannot be empirically split. This will remain true until such time as a well established, accepted, clear formulation for each that is easily distinguished and is capable of being easily measured empirically is formulated.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Friday, May 4, 2007 - 07:25 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

The dog that wags its tail excitedly when the family car comes home, but growls menacingly when any other vehicle enters the driveway ... what do you think?

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Friday, May 4, 2007 - 09:33 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

"Sit" to your dog means that she will be rewarded by attention or by a snack from you when she does what you have previously given her attention or a snack many times for doing.

A conditioned response automatically follows the stimulus: bell -> salivate. You look at the clock and see 12:00 noon, and your stomach begins to rumble (if you are an on-the-clock worker for very long.) But your dog does not always sit; it looks to you to see if it can "figure out" what you want. Sometimes it sits, sometimes it does not. That's more of a "conditional" rather than a "conditioned" response.

If you discount that learning and association as purely mechanical conditioning, why....
Well, we call that kind of rejection reaction "species chauvinism" in philosophy.

Too far down the phylogenetic scale for you?
(Too close to "fido" on the structural differential?)

How about our cousins? Chimps recognize their own image in mirrors. And Washo not only learned to sign, she taught her baby signing.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Saturday, May 5, 2007 - 07:25 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Verbal level responses are abstractions that seek to "encode" our semantic reactions.

While the verbal output process, once the person has decided what words to use, is not technically a semantic reaction, it is often forgotten that going from one formulation to another involves re-inputting the lower level words, and that does involve semantic reactions. For a detailed explanation of those intermediate process between verbal levels see Consciousness of Abstracting.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Tuesday, July 17, 2007 - 11:46 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Just to add another two cents worth. Any time the reaction or response is not strictly to the intrinsic characteristicss of the immediate object, the reaction is "semantic"; any reaction to one thing it terms of another is a response to the mapping, and that is the primary character of "semantic". When the skin is dammanged by fire, that is a direct reaction. When we yank our hand away from flame, that is a reaction to what it means to keep our hand in the flame (a "bad" thing), it is a low level "semantic" reaction. A Knee-jerk reflex arc is a reaction that comes from the direct stimulus reflected though the spinal cord prior to any responses getting to the brain. This is non-semantic.

The lowest level "semantic" reactions are those that evolution has provided us with. A baby feeling a touch on the cheek turns to suckle on the breast. This is an evolved pattern that has survival value. The touch on the cheek "means" that's where the food is, and the reaction, though automatic and extremely low level, can be characterized as a reaction to the meaning in terms of survival value as to where the food is. Turn toward it and begin to suckle is the survival response in conjunction with the "meaning" (location of food).

So we have a spectrum or hierarchy of levels for which to apply the, obviously multiordinal, term "semantic reaction".

I would classify the knee-jerk reflex as non-semantic, but many other "reflexes" I would say have a semantic character. I would say that virtually all our conscious responses are semantic. Consciousness of abstracting should allow us to become aware of the levels and perhaps even get a hint of the non-semantic characteristics of the stimulus.