Map and Territory

The cornerstone of Sleight of Mouth, and the NLP approach to language, is the principle that "the map is not the territory." This principle was initially formulated by General Semantics Founder Alfred Korzybski (b. 1879 - d. 1950), and acknowledges the fundamental distinction between our maps of the world and the world itself. Korzybski's philosophy of language has been a major influence on the development of NLP. Korzybski's work in the area of semantics, combined with Noam Chomsky's syntactic theory of transformational grammar, form the core of much of the "linguistic" aspect of Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

Korzybski's major work, Science and Sanity (1933), asserts that human progress is largely a consequence of their more flexible nervous systems, which are capable of forming and using symbolic representations, or maps. Language, for instance, is a type of map or model of the world that allows us to summarize or generalize our experiences and pass them on to others, saving others from having to make the same mistakes or reinvent what had already been discovered. This type of linguistic generalizing ability of humans, Korzybski contended, accounted for our formidable progress over animals, but the misunderstanding, and misuse, of such symbolic mechanisms was also responsible for many of our problems. He suggested humans needed to be properly trained in the use of language to prevent the unnecessary conflicts and confusion that arose from confusing the 'map' with the 'territory'.

Korzybski's law of individuality, for instance, states that "no two persons, or situations, or stages of processes are the same in all details." Korzybski noted that we have far fewer words and concepts than unique experiences, and this tends to lead to the identification or "confusion" of two or more situations (what is known as "generalization" or "ambiguity" in NLP). The word "cat," for example, is commonly applied to millions of different individual animals, to the 'same' animal at different times in its life, to our mental images, to illustrations and photographs, metaphorically to a human being ("a hep-cat"), and even to the combined letters c-a-t. Thus, when someone uses the term "cat," it is not always clear whether he or she is referring to a four legged animal, a three letter word, or a two legged hominid.

Korzybski believed it was important to teach people how to recognize and transcend their language habits in order to communicate more effectively, and to better appreciate the unique characteristics of their daily experiences. He sought to develop tools that would prompt people to evaluate their experiences less by the implications of their everyday language and more by the unique facts of the particular situation. Korzybski's goal was to encourage people to delay their immediate reactions while they searched for the unique characteristics of a situation and alternative interpretations.

Korzybski's ideas and methods are one of the foundations of NLP. In fact, in 1941, Korzybski mentioned "neurolinguistics" as an important area of study relating to General Semantics.

NLP contends that we all have our own world view and that view is based upon the internal maps that we have formed through our language and sensory representational systems, as a result of our individual life experiences. It is these "neurolinguistic" maps that will determine how we interpret and react to the world around us and how we give meaning to our behaviors and experiences, more so than reality itself. As Shakespeare's Hamlet pointed out, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

In their first book, The Structure of Magic Vol I (1975), NLP co-founders Richard Bandler and John Grinder pointed out that the difference between people who respond effectively as opposed to those who respond poorly in the world around them is largely a function of their internal model of the world:

[Pjeople who respond creatively and cope effectively...are people who have a rich representation or model of their situation, in which they perceive a wide range of options in choosing their action. The other people experience themselves as having few options, none of which are attractive to them ... What we have found is not that the world is too limited or that there are no choices, but that these people block themselves from seeing those options and possibilities that are open to them since they are not available in their models of the world.

Korzybski's distinction between map and territory implies that our mental models of reality, rather than reality itself, determines how we will act. Therefore, it is important to continually expand our maps of the world. In the words of the great scientist Albert Einstein, "Our thinking creates problems that the same type of thinking will not solve."

A core belief of NLP is that if you can enrich or widen your map, you will perceive more choices available to you given the same reality. As a result, you will perform more effectively and wisely, no matter what you are doing. A primary mission of NLP is to create tools (such as the Sleight of Mouth patterns) which help people to widen, enrich and add to their internal maps of reality. According to NLP, the richer your map of the world, the more possibilities you will have of dealing with whatever challenges arise in reality.

From the NLP perspective, there is no single 'right' or correct* map of the world. Everyone has his or her own unique map or model of the world, and no one map is any more "true" or "real" than any other. Rather, the people who are most effective are the ones who have a map of the world that allows them to perceive the greatest number of available choices and perspectives. They have a richer and wider way °f perceiving, organizing and responding to the world.

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