Chunking Up

The Sleight of Mouth pattern of chunking up involves generalizing an element of a statement or judgment to a larger classification, creating a new or enriched perception of the generalization being expressed. "Learning," for example, is a member of a larger class of processes which may be referred to as various forms of "adaptation"—which also includes processes such as "conditioning," "instinct," "evolution," etc. If a person has been termed "learning disabled," does that mean that the person is also to some degree "adaptation disabled?" And, why doesn't the person also have a "conditioning disability," "instinct disability," or "evolution disability?" Some of these terms sound almost comical, and yet they are a possible logical extension of such labels.

Again, reconsidering the judgment with respect to this type of "re-framing" leads us to consider our meaning and assumptions from a new perspective, and move it out of a 'problem frame'.




Conditioning Learning Instinct Evolution

Chunking Up can Lead us to Reconsider the Implications of a Generalization or Judgment

Practice this process for yourself. Take the same negative label, judgment or generalization you used in the previous example. 'Chunk up' one of the key words linguistically by identifying some larger classification, into which that word could fit, that has richer or more positive implications than the ones stated in the label, judgment or generalization; or which stimulate a completely different perspective with respect to the label, judgment or generalization.

Key Word Other Processes or Object in the Same Class

"Failure," for instance, could be 'chunked up' to the class of "behavioral consequences," or "forms of feedback." Being "unattractive" could be chunked up to "varying from the norm." "Expense" could be chunked up to "cash flow considerations." And so on.

Larger Classification

Chunking Laterally (Finding Analogies)

Chunking laterally typically takes the form of finding metaphors or analogies. The Sleight of Mouth pattern of analogy involves finding a relationship analogous to that defined by the generalization or judgment which gives us a new perspective on the implications of that generalization or judgment. We might say, for example, that a "learning disability" is like a "malfunctioning computer program." This would lead us naturally to ask questions such as, "Where is the malfunction?" "What is its cause and how can it be corrected?" "Does the problem come from a particular line of code? Is it in the whole program? The computer media? Perhaps the source of the problem is with the programmer."

Analogies such as this, stimulate us to enrich our perspective of a particular generalization or judgment, and to discover and evaluate our assumptions. They also help us to shift from a problem frame to an outcome frame or feedback frame.

is analogous to

A "Learning Disability" -► A Malfunctioning

Computer Program

Where is the problem and what is its cause?

'Chunking Laterally' Involves Finding Analogies Which can Stimulate New Ideas and Perspectives

According to anthropologist and communication theorist Gregory Bateson, 'chunking laterally' to find analogies is a function of abductiue thinking. Abductive thinking can be contrasted with "inductive" and "deductive" processes.

Inductive reasoning involves classifying particular objects or phenomena according to common features that they share - noticing that all birds have feathers for example. Inductive reasoning is essentially the process of'chunking up'.

Deductive reasoning involves making predictions about a particular object or phenomenon based on its classification; i.e., if - then type logic. Deduction involves 'chunking down'.

Abductive reasoning involves looking for the similarities between objects and phenomena - i.e., 'chunking laterally'.

Gregory Bateson illustrated the difference between deductive logic and abductive thinking by contrasting the following statements:



Men die.

Men die.

Socrates is a man.

Grass dies.

Socrates will die.

Men are Grass.

Comparison of Abductive and Deductive Thinking


According to Bateson, deductive and inductive thinking focuses more on objects and categories rather than structure and relationship. Bateson argued that thinking exclusively through inductive and deductive reasoning can cause a rigidity in one's thinking. Abductive or metaphorical thinking leads to more creativity and may actually lead us to discover deeper truths about reality.

Practice this process for yourself. Again, take the negative label, judgment or generalization you used in the previous examples. 'Chunk laterally1 by finding some other process or phenomenon, which is analogous to that defined by the label, judgment or evaluation (i.e., is a metaphor for it), but which has new or richer implications than the ones stated in the label, judgment or generalization; or which stimulates a completely different perspective with respect to the label, judgment or generalization.

is analogous to

Key Word Another Process or Phenomenon

An analogy for "failure," for instance, could be Columbus' inability to establish a trade route to the Orient, and ending up in North America instead. A baby swan (or "ugly duckling") is a classic example of an enriching analogy for an "unattractive" person. An analogy could be made between "expense" and the "energy" required for physical exercise and growth. And so on.

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