IGS Discussion Forums: Learning GS Topics: Unspeakable *Level*
Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Tuesday, November 1, 2005 - 12:38 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Jim French wrote...


I think one of the problems with the parabola as a symbol is that it represents two different things,

I strongly disagree, but first...


and one of those things is a domain of existence independent of our abstractions, and so it represents not an order [of abstraction] or level [of abstraction] at all.

I'm inclined to agree with this characterization. We could call it the "zero" level/order/stage of the abstracting process. I follow others by just using the phrase "what is going on". The term "order" seems better because of its dual meaning as both a sequence in time as well as its use in "order of magnitude" as in exponential relation. Each "order of magnitude" is a multiplied factor of the previous. In neurological abstracting, each later stage of abstracting has reduced the number of bits of information by orders of magnitude. But if we wish to model the process from an atemporal view, then each "level" corresponds to both the sequence in time and the order of magnitude reduction. Take an elevator up in a building that is shaped like a pyramid.


I believe he should have referred to the event as an unspeakble domain of existence rather than an unspeakable level, as level implies abstraction in his system.

Since unspeakable and silent are commonly used to refer to the object level, it risks confusion in the above formulation by using terminology strongly associated with the object level. "Unspeakable" strongly draws one's attention to the first person perspective, as in what I "see" (part of the object level) I cannot speak (verbal level responses). The event level, depicted by the parabola, is the substratum to which our first level of abstraction is a response - caused, if you will, by "it". Every experience anyone can have is a mapping by their nervous system in response to what is going on. But we cannot have any way to access or get to this what is going except through somebody's sensing, abstracting, and verbalizing or other kind of abstracting, such as drawing pictures. Every such output is a map, so we can ONLY compare our map to somebody else's map; we can NEVER compare our map to the territory itself, because that act itself involves redrawing our own map through our abstracting process. We CANNOT get "outside" our maps. So the event level should never be called "unspeakable"; it can be called "unknowable", even though we create models to explain how it affects us, we still cannot "know" the territory itself.


Of course, the parabola represents an inferred domain, and in that sense the domain is a high-order abstraction we get from science.

I strongly disagree with this formulation. Anything we say about the parabola is such a high order abstraction, but the parabola does not represent what we say about it; it represents what causes, through abstracting, anything we say about it. The dashed arrow going back to the parabola has as part of its function the reminder that how we respond at the unspeakable (object) level can be influenced by the formulations we construct to explain what we do experience. Recall that the brain is an organ that locates its experiences elsewhere. We experience electrochemical interactions taking place in the brain as a pin-prick located in our finger. The brain "projects" its experiences (happenings) onto what is inferred to have caused the experiences, thus imposing structure on what is going on. The phantom limb phenomenon, where the amputee complains of an itch in his missing foot, serves as a vivid example.


This dual role for the parabola has confused many people.

The parabola does not have such a dual role; it is the imprecise way of talking about it and the failure to carefully differentiate inferences about what causes our experences (the abstractions) and what is going on (the territory) that introduces the confusion.


It is highly likely that this inference of science (that there exists a sub-microscopic world beyond our senses) is correct, and such a domain actually exists, and actually did exist even before we inferred it.

We cannot claim such a likelyhood, because we have no way to ascertain "correctness". The best we can do is report that our current map has not been disconfirmed in a long time. That does not mean that it will not be disconfirmed tomorrow. Every time "Science" has produced a model to explain the physical world, a model that seems to last for a while, something came along and proved that model false. Even now we know that the standard model of physics is simply wrong, because it does not account for combining gravity with the other three forces. We KNOW the model is wrong, simply because it does not model all four forces in one comprehensive model. So not only is the "picture" of the sub-microscopic world currently presented by "Science" NOT "likely" it is already considered disconfirmed. The separate parts function well in their area (so far).


If so, then our senses abstract from this domain, and so on lower orders of abstraction, the parabola represents an unspeakable domain of existence from which our nonverbal abstractions are generated, not an inference.

We know that it's not so, so this is an IF-THEN statement with a known-to-be "false" hypothesis.


On higher orders of abstraction, we can think of the parabola as representing an inferred domain of existence.

On higher orders of abstracting we can thing of anything we say about the parabola as representing an inferred domain of existence.

The parabola represents whatever is going on. Anything we can say about it is a projection of structure onto it.
The "unspeakable" level is a first level/stage/order abstraction by our nervous systems. We directly experience these sensations, some of which we are "aware of", others of which we are "conscious of". ("Aware of" means can respond to; "conscious of" means can answer questions about). Whatever we can say about the event level is represented by the dashed line arrow pointing back to the parabola. This illustrates the "circularity of knowledge" in that how we formulate affects what we will see, with the Whorfian hypothesis representing a somewhat more extreme doctrine in this regard.

The "levels" (orders, stages) depicted by the model - the structural differential - should NOT be taken as "multi-ordinal" in themselves. Each singularly represents a flat stage in what we might call the processing of "information".

0 what is going on (before any abstracting) - the event level
1 What my senses detect (first response) - the object level.
2 Recalled associations (second response) - semantic reactions - including learned words.
3 Subsequent reactions - in words, and more associations - higher levels

The first umpire says, "I calls them the way they is."
Identifies with the event level.
The second umpire says, "I calls them the way I sees them."
Identifies with the object level.
The third umpire say, "There ain't nothing 'till I calls them."
Creates a judgement "identification" at verbal levels.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Wednesday, November 2, 2005 - 10:51 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

David, You write:


ME: I am a little confused by this. It seems to me that the 'inside' of the parabola does, indeed, represent WIGO without any abstracting, but the holes in the parabola represent abstractions, some of which are connected to the 'object' level and some not.

The "holes" in the parabola, as well as in the other parts of the structural differential represent "characteristics" appropriate to the level involved. The "string" represents a potential or actual abstraction. A "characteristic" at a higher level can be said to be "an abstraction" only if it is the response at the higher level to the corresponding characteristic at the lower level (connected by a string). [We should not "identify" the characteristics of one level with characteristic of the level from which it is abstracted.] For example (of structure projected), a photon of a certain frequency (projected characteristic in the event level) gets absorbed by the rod cell abstracting from it, but the corresponding (projected characteristic in the object level) result in the rod cell is a changed electrical potential between inner and outer sides of the cell membrane. This level is too low for us to "experience" it, as that occurs in the brain many levels of neurological processing downstream. At some unspecified level we might "experience" a very brief flash of light in our visual field, that being an "unspeakable" object level response.

Milton writes:


I think of the parabola as a map. Korzybski had to do some abstracting to create such a map, such a representation. I read this map as a proposition: There are happenings beyond our (at least mine) immediate and direct awareness. Scientists have illustrated with instruments that there are things going on beyond our immediate awareness or sensing. Some might say they created these happenings with their instrumental interventions. I prefer not to believe this completely (quantum physics notwithstanding). Scientists and technologists have created objects, and have abstracted more information based on following the proposition that there are goings on beyond our immediate awareness.

The structural differential is the map. The parabola is a structure of the map that is intended to indicate "what is going on". The "realistic" view of the correspondence theory holds that there exist "things" in what is going on, that maps may be constructed in such a way that structures drawn in the map are taken to "correspond to" the "things" that are presumed to exist. Under this view, structures in the map are explained as "representing" the "things" that are presumed to exist. General semantics, in some interpretations adopts the correspondence theory, but only as a starting point. The one problem with the correspondence theory is that one must assume that it is true in order to explain it. We take a "God's eye view" outside of the process and hold up a structure in what is going (the territory), we hold up a structure in the map, and then we draw the attention of the omniscient observer to specific structures in the territory, which I shall use the word 'thing' for, and other specific structures in the constructed map, which I shall use the word 'object' for, and assert or claim that one goes with the other. Then we suggest that the omniscient observer has the capacity in some way to evaluate "similarity" of structure between the "thing" and the "object".

Using this point of view, the parabola represents the universe of things (and happenings). This "feature" of the map represents "all" that is happening. The dots or small circles drawn in the parabola merely represents the existence of things and happenings, but not any particular ones.

Milton's view, as expressed, although somewhat less precise in his formulation, is consistent with this "realistic" or "scientific realism" or "naive realism" view.

A more careful understanding of general semantics, however leads one to find this view suspect. We explained the view by assuming it to be true, and by assuming that the structures that we depict in our maps "exist", and by assuming the perspective of an "omniscient observer".

Let's look for just a moment at any such putative "omniscient" observer. The observer will be looking at the territory; the observer will also be looking at the map. But the observer has the observer's own abstraction process and the observer's own object level responses. When this "omniscient" observer is "comparing the 'map' with the 'territory'", the observer is doing something other than what was described or assumed. The observe looks at the territory and has an abstraction object1 response to the territory. The observer looks at the map and has an abstraction object2 response to the map, so when the "omniscient" observer is evaluating the supposed similarity of the map to the territory, the "omniscient" observer is "in reality" evaluating the similarity of object1 response to object2 response. Even an "omniscient" observer "abstracts" and creates "object level responses".

Can we describe this situation without presuming that the structures of our objects "correspond" to structures in the event level? Yes, but only if we are very careful with our formulations. We must always indicate that when we are talking about the event level we are hypothesizing structure. We "create structure" in our abstracting process, and then we "project" that structure onto what is going on. This is why I nearly always use the word 'putative' in conjuction with the word 'thing'.

The parabola, a structure in the map, represents no putative things; no structures are hypothesized to "exist" in what is going on; the parabola merely represents the entire universe of possibilities, but it does so without hypothesizing any putative structures or things with one limited exception. The parabola has small circles in it that hypothesize the capability of what is going on to "cause" reactions or responses in our sensory nervous systems. These are putative [Note the use of the word 'putative' here.] "characteristics".

Realism would say we create a map of reality.
I say we create a map.

Realism would say we use the map to navigate in the territory.
I say we use the map to predict what we will experience in response to our actions.

Realism would say that we discover errors where the map does not correspond to the territories.
I say that we discover errors where our experience does not match what our map predicted we will experience.

Realism says we correct our map to reflect the territory.
I say we modify our map and try again.

I say realism is not what general semantics is about, although it can be useful as an early stage of education in general semantics.

Philosophically there is no known way to evaluate whether realism or more advanced general semantics is "correct". The question can be asked within the perspective of realism, but it cannot be asked within the higher level perspective.

The closest approach would be something like, "Can I develop my map to such a degree that I will have no more prediction failures?".

The notion of "correct", it turns out, is a question of being - of metaphysics. General semantics, however, only deals with questions of knowledge - epistemology. These correspond roughly to the distinction between the third person perspective (describing "it") and the first person perspective (describing what I see). Incidentally, this is what "E-prime" is about, expressing oneself only in the first person.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, March 22, 2007 - 01:16 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Milton wrote: "Levels imply separation, or division."

Well, this has been a question going back more than twenty-five centuries. We treat "levels" as things we count, but we treat division as a process of cutting into parts. We abstract, and in doing so, we can abstract into steps which we can count, or into a graduated slope which we can cut anywhere.

"There are two kinds of people in the world: those that divide people into two kinds, and those who do not."

We count things (and make levels of them) that our senses abstract as wholes or units. We measure things that we have difficulty counting. We measure flour, but we count grains of wheat. Both are artifacts of the human nervous system abstracting process. The paradigm case example for division is water; the set of paradigm case examples for counting contains anything we can pick up with two fingers and distinguish visually in terms of figure and background. Want more on this? Read Atomism and Divisibility.

Sorry, but it's not the United States Constitution; its the Declaration of Independence". It is meant not that we are physically equal, but that we all are entitled, in our society, to be treated equally by our government.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

(a retired "warrior" defender).

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Friday, March 23, 2007 - 12:56 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Hi Milton,
I was fortunate during my twenty years, including the Cuban Crisis and the Vietnam era, that I was never require to injure another human being. But I was assigned to train as a Polaris Weapons Officer - the one responsible for releasing the nuclear missiles, an assignment that I refused. I defended my refusal with this argument.

You specify "mechanistic", by which I assume you mean the "standard" or "lay" definition of the "scientific method" - gather data, analyze it, devise a theory to account for the data, use the theory to make new predictions, test the predictions, and continuously repeat the process, periodically revising the theory as predictions fail.

We cannot know that this method cannot eventually anticipate or predict events with a reliability such that we can account for everything of significance to us, attaining a level of reliability that we do not see prediction failures over decades of use of the model and at any level of detail that we care to apply, subject to the limits of the uncertainty principle. Such a model is a map, and one fundamental principle of general semantics is that the map is not the territory, which can be paraphrased that the map is not identical with the territory. It follows immediately that there will be differences between the map an the territory, and that means there will be detailed prediction failures. "Chance" can be labeled as the name we give to unpredicted events. Another is the fact that the models we do have are abstract, do not cover all the details, include the uncertainty principle, and are often governed by chaos theory (sensitive dependence on initial conditions). You cannot predict the future path of a pendulum accurately, because, no mater how hard you try, you cannot physically duplicate the initial conditions fine enough, and even if you could get close, the uncertainty principle will prevent you from knowing because we cannot measure simultaneously the position and momentum with a certainty less that the uncertainty limit. Consequently, even without "chance" (unpredicted events), our current model says we cannot predict with accuracy. There will be events which we cannot measure, which will "grow up" to become major hurricanes. I would not call any such resulting event a "chance" occurrence. If I role a (fair) die, I get different numbers, because I cannot control the initial position and momentum close enough to result in a repeatable result. Some people have learned to flip a coin repeatedly reliably enough in terms of applied force, starting position, and act of catching the coin to influence the percentage of getting a desired result. Such a skill is no different than putting a dart in the board within millimeters of the desired portion of the target. We don't call that chance. But for those of us without the discipline and skill, why, we get apparently random results - largely because we have not learned to control the starting conditions rigidly and reliably enough. In the case of nature and the weather, we have a similar situation - we do not have detailed enough models, enough data, or enough computing power to achieve detailed reliably predictions.

The insurance companies do well enough by averaging out the detailed differences, so long as there are not too may exceptional events in the population of data.

It is regretful, however, that I am unable to infer what you mean by "qualitative" nature, especially of "infinity", a concept with which I am intimately familiar. It was, after all, the subject of both my mathematical and philosophical training. Moreover, when you use the phrase "qualitative measurement", you have introduced a contradiction; "measurement" is, after all, the hallmark of the quantitative. Did you "misspeak" when you wrote that phrase? Did you "mean" to write "quantitative measurement"?

Science never has proceeded "purely" by the method outlined, as the process of "devising a theory" is generally intuitive and inductive; it can be anything from "pure trial and error guesswork" to "informed and educated guesswork".

Think: "Ok, a causes b, and b causes c, but d also causes c." This is "qualitative". "Now let us measure all these effects and calculate the frequencies". This is "quantitative". "Hmmm. I'll guess that X accounts for the proportion of b and d." (Qualitative.) "Let's measure that" (Quantitative.) And so on...

For some procedural (mechanistic?) methods of "managing" qualitative discovery processes, look at Synectics and Hedonic Response in Problem Solving.

As far as even scientific progress is concerned, see "All the believers have died."

As far as religions are concerned, see Confronting the Challenges of Conflicting World Views.

When we hold up the spectacle of religions in battle with each other, are we also exhibiting our own viewpoint (demanding tolerance) as somehow righteous and "correct"? Are we guilty of just what we say the warring religions are guilty of?

I don't say our own view is "correct". I say that our remaining ethical question is, how do we protect ourselves from those who would not allow us our beliefs without simultaneously imposing our beliefs on others?

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Friday, March 23, 2007 - 11:14 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Milton wrote, "I'm not religious at all--I don't think...and it is the mind and thinking that are the obstacles to awareness.

What means "religious"? Doubt and Faith

The "mind" and "thinking" can enhance and enable awareness. Logical thinking in science makes predictions that enable us to become aware of things we previously missed. Using the "mind" to concentrate or focus attention can enable us to become aware of things we previously missed.

The mind and thinking are not impediments to awareness, but believing that they are is.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Saturday, March 24, 2007 - 11:07 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Jim French wrote,


"Previously, I had abstracted that Korzybski had conveyed an unintended meaning when he said that the characteristics of the event (parabola) represented our (the human race's) highest, most reliable abstractions at a date. But he says it in two places at least, and the statements, as I read them, cannot be interpreted reasonably as slips, it seems to me. They are too deliberate, too carefully stated.

Please provide the specific citations. What we say about the parabola certainly represents our abstractions, but the parabola, with its mere circles and string anchors contains no structures capable of representing any of what science says about what is going on, even at the most abstract levels. The structure present in the prabola is only capable of indicating that causative processes (the strings) are cabable of inducing responses in our nervous systems, that causative processes don't always induce responses in our nervous systems (the unterminated strings), and that non causative procesess "exist" (circles without strings) which we call "characteristics". No other information or abstraction can be inferred to be represented in the presented structures. No relations among ... . It's little better than the ancients view, which could be expressed as "there be 'being' which is a prior cause of our experienced effects. As I noted earlier, the dashed arrow pointing back to the parabola indicates that our high level abstractions may be projected onto the parabola. But that does not mean that they inhere in it or that it was intended to represent such abstractions. So I'd like to see your citations, so I can examine the context in which they occurred. I've seen this discussion too often not to notice how easily "realists" project and how insecure some of them feel when the existence of "things" allegedly corresponding to their perceived "objects" is questioned. Not all of Korzybski's "camp followers" were as well versed in the philosophical background or the science that Korzybski build his formulations on.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Monday, March 26, 2007 - 08:29 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Milton, Your so-called "references" are not at all what you previously stated when you said Korzybski "says it in two places at least". Those are the citations I asked for, and saying that they are in "Science and Sanity" or any other book are not a "citation". Please provide enough information to indentify the specific text you are citing, including the page number, as the topic was wether Korzybski intended for the parabola to represent our highest level abstractions in addition to that which causes our perceptions - what the Sufi referred to, at the joint Science and Mysticsm conference I attended, as "the implicate order". It was at this conference that I met Karl Pribram, who I facilitated becoming a Korzybski lecture. At that conference the implicate and explicate order were contrasted from the viewpoint of the scientists and the mystics. It was a "holonomic", not "holographic", theory of brain function, as it depended on neural networks. Pribram's brain research found neurons which responded as the fourier transform of the input. Although the "hologram" was an analogy, the term holonomic was chosen rather than holographic. It was also a relatively short lived model of brain function, although portions of the visual system show limited function that can be contrasted with a "hologram". A common misconception is that a portion of a hologram can reproduce the whole. This is not true. A portion of a hologram reproduces a reduced fidelity and degraded representation of the whole - a limited map, and the smaller the fragment is, the more information is lost. We can compare the flat swirling patterns we see through incoherent light on the surface of a hologram as corresponding to the implicate order, or to the parabola. None of the "objects" reconstructed in our vision system by illuminating the hologram with coherent light are directly accessible without both the illumination of coherent light and our nervous system processing. We "see" objects "in" a hologram, but outside the proper illumination we cannot see them. This is the explication process. We "see" "objects" abstracted from what is going on (the parabola, the implicate order, etc.) through our abstracting process. But when we have abstracted structures, they are not "in" the parabola; they are not "in" the implicate order; they are only in the explicate order - the result of our abstraction, and it takes a mature nervous system to achieve "object permanence", which very young children don't do, as Piaget discovered.

So, I ask again. What are the specific (to the page) references where Korzybski said what you interprete as meaning that he meant for the parabola to represent our high level abstractions. I want to read THOSE formulation in their context.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, March 29, 2007 - 10:52 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Sorry, I seem to have gotten your post mixed up with Jim French's earlier post. He did not answer my last post directed at his comments, but you directly addressed my comments about his post, so I seem to have ended up "putting his words in your mouth" in my subsequent follow-up.