Awareness – Reality Modelling – Map And Territory

by pre., Friday, July 3rd, 2009.

Last week, at the end of the bonus section on dreaming, it was noted that while you are dreaming (and indeed while you are awake) your actual experience is of a constructed tale, a virtual reality. Your experience is not of the individual firings of your neurons or the photons hitting your retina or of course of the object under observation itself.

We realised that the dream world and the waking world feel similar because in fact the experience is the same. While sleeping your senses aren’t constrained by interaction with the outside world, they are cut off and firing in apparently random patterns, but your experience is still only of the data itself, not of an actual physical object. A dream tomato is represented by the same pattern in your mind as a ‘real’ tomato. Your consciousness is only aware of the abstract data, not the thing itself

Indeed, not only are you not aware of the tomato, you are not even aware of the photons reflecting from it into your eye. You’re not aware of the energy or wavelengths of the photons which excite the rods and cones in your retina to varying degrees . You’re not aware of those rods and cones themselves pulsing with electro-chemical energy when firing. You’re not even aware of the patterns and combinations that these firing patterns produce. You’re just aware of ‘red’ and a shape and the mental concept ‘tomato’. It’s not just that you only see abstractions of sense data, but that even the raw sense data itself is merely correlated with an event, a coding of it, it is not the event itself.

Alfred Korzybski

Alfred Korzybski was a philosopher and scientist who’s theory of ‘general semantics’ produced the famous phrase “the map is not the territory“. This distinction is essentially what Korzybski was referring to. Your experience is never of the territory itself, but only ever of a map of that territory, an abstraction presented to your consciousness.

A map the size of the empire

Maps are useful things to have precisely because they summarize. They do not capture every element of the territory that they model, but only the salient parts. To show this is true we need only think about the size a map must be to show every detail of the reality it reflects. To show every molecule, every atom, a map must be the same size as those molecules and atoms. In order to map an empire to 100% percent accuracy, you need a map the size of the empire.

Such a map would obviously be of no use at all. We’re not interested in every molecule and every photon. With a typical map we’re only interested in the angles between the locations on that map, for navigational purposes, or the average political leanings of each parliamentary seat. Maps the size of empires are no more use for understanding the empire than the empire itself.

Korzybski’s ideas imply not only that we can’t know all of reality, but even that to do so wouldn’t be particularity helpful.

How does your map differ from reality?

The important thing to notice about this transcendental realisation, the knowledge that your every experience is a dream-like VR system partially constrained by your sense-data, is that the question “How does your map differ from reality?” makes sense, and that the answer is never “I have captured this event’s nature completely,” for such a thing is neither possible nor useful.


An essential part of transcendence is this realisation, that evolution has not given you the ability to see the world as it is, but just a VR system built to reflect some details of that world which have been important to your ancestors survival.

This realisation implies that there are differences between that model and reality, that there are common mistakes, biases, discontinuations between your perception and the reality of any given situation. We’ll examine some of these biases next week.

The week after we’ll look for ways in which you can improve your map, make your VR world more accurate, better reflect reality.

Finally, at the end of the month, we’ll present a meditation designed to use your dreams to encourage you to test, to check your ideas. Both in your dreams and in waking life. This will both increase your ability to tell when you’re dreaming, and improve the accuracy of the Virtual Reality in which you spend your waking time.

Awareness – Reality Modelling – Common Mistakes

by pre., Friday, July 10th, 2009.

Last week we used Korzybski’s phrase “The map is not the territory” to underline the fact that your experience of a thing is not the thing itself, that many levels of abstraction, simplification, encoding and representation exist between your impression of the world and the actual events in timespace. Between your thinking and reality.

A failure to recognise this simple fact can cause many common cognitive errors, basic mistakes which most humans tend to make often, which are often exploited (in various degrees of explicit intention) to manipulate people, especially through advertising, politics, and religion. These mistakes are, in aggregate, the cause of much self deception, and even war.

Linguistic Mistakes

The words we use to communicate with each other shape the minds we use to think about the world. Languages have each evolved to be learned easily by human children, to fit the needs of our communication. Our languages do not properly reflect the structure of the world. Indeed, as we discussed earlier, they cannot both reflect every aspect of the world and be different from it. Our languages are by nature symbolic. They are biased and warped by the need to be learned easily by children, to be quick and efficient at transmission.

However, listening to a good story well told, hearing dirty talk, or being told off can excite the nervous system and start an emotional response just as easily as the world itself can. Our emotions, our hearts, see little distinction between that good story and having that thing actually happen.

The confusion between language and reality comes in many types.

Confusing a symbol with it’s object

When not aware of the difference between the map and territory we can easily confuse a word with the thing in reality which it stands for. We can confuse the symbol ‘world’ with the actual world.

Plato took this mistake to an extreme, influencing much of history after him. In his theory of forms Plato noticed that each, for example, ‘rabbit’ in the world was different. No two rabbits are the same, yet we use the same world for each of them. What, therefore, can the world ‘rabbit’ mean? Plato suggested a heavenly Platonic ideal. A kind of perfect rabbit to which all earthly rabbits are only an approximation. He had taken his map’s representation of a rabbit, and taken it to be more real than the observed rabbits running around breeding in the fields.

We would insist these days that there are in fact no heavenly Platonic rabbits. All our words group and classify things according to more or less arbitrary criteria. There are no wheels, only things which will serve the function of a wheel. This pointy stick may be a pointing device, or it may be a spear.

Confusing your own interpretation of a symbol with other’s interpretation

Without baring in mind that events experienced are in fact a model, not the thing which that model represents, people can become confused about the fact that one word can mean different things to different people. In fact very few words exact implications are the same for everybody. Pretty much nothing outside pure maths. The ultimate source of much argument and disagreement can be traced to a difference of opinion about the meanings of words. Since no words have a meaning at all without a context in which to mean it, these types of argument need not represent true disagreement at all.

Confusing facts with inferences and beliefs

The capital of England is London“. Is this a fact, or a belief?

It’s widely accepted, of course, but it is a belief. You have not observed the capital of England being London, only observed others treating it as though it were so. Even if there were some way to actually observe a city ‘being’ a capital, and you observed it, it would only in ‘fact’ be demonstrably true that you had had the observation, not that your observation was not an hallucination or illusion.

Outside pure mathematics there are very few actual ‘facts’, yet we tend to live our lives with many inferences and assumptions which we treat as though they were as true as the purely self-referential tautologies of pure maths.

Confusing separation and singularity

Our languages are evolved to classify, to divide our experience into discrete units. When we talk about the world we use symbols which are well defined and discontinuous. We talk of “Mind” and “Body” as though they are totally separate. We even think this way. Descartes didn’t invent the ‘dualism’ which bears his name but he made explicit a bias which is built into the very way our brains work. We talk of space and time as though they too are separate entities, but modern physics shows us that the two are just different ways of looking at the same thing.

Confusing individuals with classes

Not all instances of a class are the same. One cat is not like another. Not all trees are the same, though our language uses but one word for each. This confusion is over-generalisation. Bigotry and racism are examples of this kind of overgeneralising. Even if it’s true that most dogs have four legs, this does not rule out a three legged dog. If you’re asked how many legs a dog has, you may give the wrong answer. If you accept a bet on how many legs some unseen dog has, it may not pay to rule out even a mutant with five.

Confusing something now with the same thing then

Our symbolic minds tend to treat things as if they are immutable, unchanging, when in fact just about everything in the world is constantly in a state of flux. “You” now are not the same thing as “You” when you were six years old. We argue against this confusion quite a lot a the Transcendence Institute. People tend to think of themselves as set, unchanging. “I am not good at X”, “I don’t like Y”. To make these statements more accurate you need to append “yet” or “so far as I know.”

Cognitive Mistakes

Even before language, our minds had certain cognitive biases built from the way the neurology of all mammals work. Evolution has built us with certain cognative short-cuts, which are very useful, but which can also mislead. The three major ones noted by General Semantics are:


Our minds tend to think in boolean, in black and white, because our maps tend to be black and white. As we discussed in the section on intuition, the neural systems we use to represent the world tend to want to settle into stable forms. To consider which class something is in rather than how much it reflects a whole range of classes.

General Semantics calls this ‘black and white’ tendency “Aristotelian” (though some take issue, claiming it’s not what Aristotle ever claimed. An example of confusing one person’s meaning of a word with another person’s meaning). It stresses that Aristotelian logic can not adequately represent the actual world, pointing out that despite our tendency to think otherwise the world is “Null-Aristotelian” or “Null-A“.


Likewise, General Semantics points out that no two phenomena are identical. At the very least they differ in their location in space or time. It is literally impossible to have two things existing which are the same as each other. If they were the same, they would just be one thing. If two phenomena were identical, we could not tell which was which. G.S. calls this “Null-Identity” or “Null-I“. People often act as though two things are the same, even when they are not, failing to spot this difference.


Euclid was a Greek mathematician who invented (or discovered) much of the stuff you learned in Trigonometry class. Things like “the angles in a triangle add up to 180 degrees“. Was he right? Well, yeah. Of course everything he said is is perfectly true on a flat plane.

But do we live on a flat plane? No. If you draw a triangle on the surface of the earth, with one point at the north pole and two on the equator each angle would in fact be a right angle, Three 90 degree angles for a total of 270 degrees. It’s lines are not straight, but curve in three dimensional space around the surface of the globe.

General Semantics emphasises that we do not live on a flat plane, that even four dimensional space-time is in fact curved just as the two dimential surface of the earth we live on is curved. It calls this fact “Null Euclideanism” or “Null-I“. Being aware that the map you live in is not reality helps you to correct your innate mistaken tendency to assume you do live in Euclidean space.

These mistakes, and many others, have lead to misunderstanding and even escalated to war. Full understanding requires you see these biases in your perception, even in your thinking. Next week we’ll look at ways to try and limit these mistakes, or at least spot their influence.

Awareness – Reality Modelling – Empiricism

by pre., Friday, July 17th, 2009.

You’ve seen that all your experience comes filtered and processed, a “virtual reality” rather than some direct experience of an actual event in space-time. You’ve examined a few of the common blind alleys which forgetting this fact can lead you down.

These bind alleys can leave you open to advertising and other manipulations, including self deception. Which begs the question:

How do you avoid those blind alleys?

How do you avoid falling prey to these self deceptions? To the advertising and other manipulations in your life? All you have are your senses and your evolved instincts, and those are summarising and abridging when they’re not actively deceiving.

Philosophy spent more than two thousand years floundering around looking for answers to this problem. From before the time Socrates tried to teach that our experience is just a shadow puppet show of a greater reality right up until the beginning of the modern age, nobody ever really seemed to find a good answer.

However, a good answer has been found in the form of empiricism. David Hume set forth a skeptical, naturalistic, empirical philosophy in which he emphasised what we have come to know as the scientific method.

The method can be summarised in a brief instruction: Doubt things. Check stuff.

Doubt things.

Philosophical scepticism. It’s right to adopt a pragmatic doubtful initial position on any new idea or perception. The number of true ideas is infinitesimally smaller than the number of false ideas. Any given idea, perception or indication is more likely to be mistaken than true.

However, scepticism is not closed mindedness. There is a way to improve the odds that a given perception or interpretation is true.

Check Stuff.

This is to double check. Triple check. Then check again. Make sure the interpretation or idea matches up well with everything else you have learned. Test it against your other perceptions. Importantly: Look for exceptions rather than confirmations. You’ll see many ‘confirmations’ even for a false idea. Confirmation, proof, is practically impossible. Whereas just one exception makes an idea untrue, at least inaccurate.

You live in a model

Your experiences, every one, have been of your senses and instincts. These are not reality itself, but a model of reality, a map. You can’t sit in a room and build an accurate model of something outside that room that you have never seen, never experienced. The only way to make an accurate model is to go outside and look at the thing you’re modeling. When you see a mismatch, it’s your model that is wrong. Reality can’t be wrong. By definition.

Language, Symbolism

Languages have evolved to match the structure of your thoughts. The words you use bare only symbolic relations to the things that they represent. As such, language can get in the way of thinking. Korzybski suggested that you learn to think without words, to allow instinct and intuitions to guide you but in truth this is just one way of reducing your reliance on language, your instinct to trust words.

As well as trying to keep words out of your thought processes, to think intuitively, you can also simply restrict the use of words which have developed in languages to reflect known cognitive biases.

E-Prime is an attempt to do this. It’s the same as natural English, but with all forms of the verb “to be” removed.

In E-Prime it’s impossible to say “Joe is a banker”, because this is a form of the verb “To Be”. Instead you’re forced to say “Joe works as a banker” or “Joe’s job is banking”.

This is a form of thinking which bans breaking the “Null-I” idea. That two things are identical. No two things are in fact identical. Joe is not identical to all bankers. No two bankers are in fact alike.

Rather than thinking of a “Joe” who has the property “Banker” you should think of a relationship between the job of “Banking” and “Joe”. In general E-Prime encourages you to think in terms of relationships rather than properties.

Brain States

Trying to use just a subset of natural languages is just one example of a brain state which may improve the recognition that all our experience is of a constructed cognitive model of a world rather than that world itself.

Last week we listed three cognitive mistakes which Korzybski’s General Semantics identified. “Null-A”, “Null-I” and “Null-E”. These are essentially prompts from Korzybski to try to always keep in mind that the world is not Aristotelian, not black and white. There is no identicality, no two things are the same. It is not Euclidean, there isn’t really any flat space.

Trying to maintain a brain-state in which all these things are ‘kept in mind’ will encourage you to always (or at least more often) have in mind the idea that your interpretation should fit these criteria, for this criteria have been shown to be essentially always true even though your brain has evolved to disbelieve them.

Increasing Awareness

The aim here is to increase your day to day awareness of how information gets deleted and distorted during the conversion to sensory data and especially the linguistic and other representations you use internally and between individuals in a group. You need to keep these common errors in mind at all times. Make it a matter of reflex to consider these things. In this way you will avoid some of the more common mistakes listed last week.

The Meditation

In this month’s meditation, to be played as you dream, you’ll be encouraged to notice that the world around you is pure model, your brain unconstrained by sensory perception. You’ll learn to reflexively wonder about “Null-A”, “Null-I” and “Null-E”, about how your experience differs from the actual physical structure of reality.

Awareness – Reality Modelling – The Meta Model

by pre., Friday, July 24th, 2009.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve examined the difference between reality and perception. Between the physical universe and your understanding, your map or model of that world which you’ve built in your brain. The virtual reality which can sometimes poorly reflect the actual environment in which you live.

We noted that the scientific method or empiricism has proven perhaps the best tool mankind has developed for trying to make your map, your impression of the world, more accurately reflect the world as it actually is, while always knowing that it can never truly be totally accurate (for a map the size of Rome is no use in exploring Rome). We discussed some scientific methods which can help you in your daily life.

This week we’ll point out some linguistic tricks, routines, verbal ticks, which you can make into a habit which should both help you understand the differences between your map and actual reality in your own life, and help you to help others notice those differences in their own.

The Meta Model

Richard Bandler and John Grinder, together developed what they called the meta-model of therapy in the seventies. Essentially, the meta model is a set of questions, linguistic ticks, which are designed to help find and eliminate common distortions in your map brought on through the use of language.

Most of these distortions take the form of an unwarranted assumption. That is, the way you use language tends to take some things for granted, things that are not always in fact true. By remembering to bare in mind the questions suggested by the meta model, you can more easily spot these assumptions and investigate their truth.

Assumed Causality

Your brain is wired so that it will see causation everywhere. If it experiences one thing, and then another thing happens, it immediately postulates that the first thing caused the second. If you are always miserable at work, it may assume that work makes you miserable.

However, there will always be mechanisms to any causal effect. Ways to interfere with it. Divert it. Suppress it. There will be exceptions and hidden causes and even simple mistakes. Not to mention the fact that simple correlation doesn’t always imply causation at all.

When you find yourself thinking things like my job makes me depressed, it’s worth investigating deeper. How does this first thing cause the other? Could something be done about that? Are there any exceptions? Are you sure?

Assumed Equality

As well as assuming causality, sometimes your map tends to be biased towards assuming equality. That is, you have an inherent bias to using the verb “to be“. We casually throw around phrases like “John is a car mechanic,” or “Joined up writing is grown-up” or “Television is rubbish” even though these are not actual statements of equality. This assumed equality is usually just an exaggeration of correlation. It is certainly not true that John is exactly the same as all car mechanics. It’s barely even sensible to claim that writing is ‘grown up’ rather than indicative of the age of the person who wrote it.

Noticing an assumed equality should suggest questions like “What else does John do?” or “What is it about television which is rubbish” or “How is joined-up writing grown up?” – questions which make you examine the actual correlations instead of assuming equivalence.

Assumed Telepathy

Your mind has a series of complex systems designed to interpret other’s state of mind. You are constantly analysing glances, smiles, and gestures. Looking for clues to other people’s moods and intentions. You’re probably even keeping a subconscious running count of positive and negative sounding words people use. Then all this information is presented to your consciousness as the neurological equivalent of the phrase “Peter is angry”.

Note the assumed identity there, before also realizing that simply because you believe Peter to be angry does not make it a fact. You should be asking yourself questions like “why do I believe Peter is angry” or “What makes me think that Joan is psychopathic?” You do not have direct access to other people’s brains. Your channel to understanding their moods is noisy and narrow.

If you find yourself assuming that you know what another person thinks, it’s worth wondering how you know. Could you be mistaken? Could they in fact be in that state of mind for some other reason? Have you actually asked them how they feel?

Assumed Universality

Your language and your thinking is littered with words and ideas like “always” and “never”, even though such things in fact come up rarely. Correlation is common, a co-efficient of exactly -1 or 1 is rare. There are always exceptions. Including to the rule that there are always exceptions.

You probably occasionally use words like ‘all’ or ‘none’ in instances when it’s not in fact true for every example. It’s always worth taking note if you find yourself using words like this, to look for any exceptions to your rules. Ask “Is it always true?” or “have you really never had things go right?”

Looking for exceptions will lessen the bias towards assumed universality that your model of the world may tend to have.

Ignored Conditionals

Just as universals like “all” and “none” tend to actually have exceptions in the real universe, so conditionals like “must” and “should” have implicit conditions.

Words like these or “ought” or ‘should” beg the question “What happens if I don’t?” or simply “why does it have to?”.

As earlier, the question begged should really be answered in order to keep your thinking as close as possible to the territory rather than just skimming the map.


The NLP guys had a whole lot more examples and questions which we don’t really have time for here but which we encourage you to investigate, including presuppositions, treating actions as static, and simple omissions.

The Meditation

Our meditation this month will contain meta-model style questions, asking the “who, where, why, what, when,” trying to always encourage you to spend your dream time narrowing down the ambiguity of language, trying to focus your attention on the difference between the dream model you are living in and the actual world which exists.


Particularly when using the meta model to talk to others, there is a danger that these types of questions will be interpreted as hostility. A failure to empathise. Rather than just agreeing and sympathising with a person, it can sound like you’re challenging them, trying to prove them wrong. These kinds of questions can be argumentative by nature. Also remember to ask yourself “Is this person in need of help? or just wanting understanding?”

Awareness – Reality Modelling – The Meditation

by pre., Friday, July 31st, 2009.

We present a waking-up-meditation designed to be played, fairly quietly, ten minutes before an alarm clock. The meditation is devised to influence your dreams, to infiltrate your dreams. It’s more a guided lucid-dream than a meditation. It will encourage you to become more aware, during waking life, of the fact that the world you experience, your senses and thoughts and models of the world are not in fact the same thing as the world itself.

Realising You Are Dreaming

For the first minute of the meditation, as it fades up slowly into audibility, the meditation contains quiet suggestion, ensuring that you remain asleep, remain in slumber, as you gradually become aware that you’re dreaming. The slow start is contrived to help this transition, to bring you slowly from the full dream state into a lucid dream state.

If you find that you are waking fully, try to just remember the dream you were in and fantasize that you’re still there, doing as the meditation suggests. Then, the next morning, try setting the meditation to start ten minutes earlier. Experiment to find the time when you are most fully immersed in dreams, and thus most likely to remain in them as you become aware of outside noise and suggestion.

Reality Check

The next few minutes encourage you to check your internal model’s consistency. You’re encouraged to try the kinds of tests it suggests later, when you are awake, too. These tests can give the clues needed to jolt a brain into the realisation that it is dreaming, that the world isn’t consistent, and it’s therefore likely you are dreaming.

During this time you’ll also spend time thinking about the fact that this experience is almost pure model, that the things you are seeing, the things you are imagining, are one and the same. You’ll ponder the fact that this is true while you’re awake too, merely that when you’re awake your model is constrained by your sense perception.

Checking Mistakes

The next few minutes of the meditation will try to teach you the habit of questioning yourself, and your perception, often. Check you understanding of the world. Both during the dream, now, and during waking life.

You’ll remind yourself that your experience of things is not the things themselves. That simply because you ‘see’ something, doesn’t mean it’s there. You’ll try to look at things, in detail, that aren’t there and are only in your dream.

You’ll remember that the other minds in your dream are no minds at all, that they are entirely built from your brain. Their anger, sloth, radicalism or insanity is in your mind, not theirs, for they have no mind. You’ll be reminded to apply this when awake too.

You’ll note that your idea, your perception of some thing in your dream, is of that thing as you remember it, not as it is now. You’ll also hear suggestions that you’ll remember this fact about the things in your actual experience, while you are awake.

Cognitive Errors

For the final few minutes of the meditation you’ll concentrate on cognitive errors. You’ll be reminded that the world is Null-A, Null-I and Null-E, that it’s not black and white, no two things are the same and the space you experience is not the same as the space that exists.

Meta Model

The final portion of this guided lucid dream deals with the Meta Model discussed last week. You’ll examine you assumptions about causality, your assumptions about how similar two alike things actually are, your assumptions about the intent and reason of other people, the “who, where, why, what, and when,” of life. You’ll spend these few minutes of dream time narrowing down the ambiguity of language, focusing your attention on the difference between the dream model you are living in and the actual world which physically exists.

Dreams affecting reality

All this should tend to make you ask these questions of yourself automatically, in real waking life, and thus to become more aware of the difference between your model of reality, and reality itself.

Download The Meditation:

Guided Meditation File 18 – Awareness – Reality Modeling
Backing Music “Le Nettoyer” By Greg Baumont
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