Saturday, September 26, 2009

Enhancing your map of the world

In 1933, Count Alfred Korzybski wrote and published a seminal book called ‘Science and Sanity’ and founded a field of philosophy known as General Semantics. In his book, Korzybski showed how language influences our perceptions and actions and that incorrect use of language and thought can lead to what he called 'un-sane' behaviour.

Indeed, Korzybski coined the term ‘neuro-linguistics’ and created the foundation for many fields that sprang from his original insights, including the field of NLP.

Korzybski focused on the process of abstracting, of how we as humans build and evolve concepts and generalisations. He described how we build theories and maps of the world in order to make sense of our experience.

The map is NOT the territory

One of the key insights from General Semantics is that “the map can never be the territory”.

What this means is that... given that humans can never operate off and know the full and complete world – the territory – they must, and can only ever operate off a map of the territory.

And no map can ever be a full representation of the territory; therefore we will always be operating off a deleted, distorted and generalised/abstracted map of that territory.

This sounds like a very simple and obvious idea, yet it has profound implications and applications.

Thinking ToolMapping the world

"The map is NOT the territory. It only
represents the territory."

Most people don’t realise that their five senses do not actually provide an absolute and real experience of the world. Our senses and brains evolved to efficiently track and notice difference in the world, not to provide an absolute and accurate representation. Each of our senses tracks change rather than absolute data, and our brain then takes each of these differences and changes and does its best job at making a useful map of the territory.

For example, you probably didn’t know that your eyes are not like a camera. A digital camera has an array of pixels that take the amount of light focused on them and provides an absolute representation, a one-for-one representation of the image that the camera sees. Your eye however, has rods and cones for receptors, and these don’t measure the absolute amount of light focused on them. Instead they only give a signal when the amount of light changes; they only measure and track change and difference.

You have small muscles around your eyes called ‘micro-saccades’ and these muscles keep your eyes moving and tremoring in micro-circles. These movements ensure that the image on your retina keeps changing.

When neuro-physiologists first anesthetized these muscles, they found what was called the ‘Ganzfeld effect’ – the grey/complete field effect. When the image subtended on the retina stops moving, the eye stops sending a signal to the brain. If we anesthetized your eye muscles and kept your head still, and if there was nothing moving in your visual field, your vision would grey out and become blank. After about 5 seconds, you would see nothing.

This is because the eye and brain didn’t evolve to get an absolute image of the world. They evolved to efficiently help you survive, and the easiest and best way to do this is to only notice and respond to difference and change.

All of your senses and nervous system are ‘designed’ by evolution in the same way. You only track for difference and your unconscious mind builds a ‘best-guess’ map of the world from integrating and summing all these little changes and differences. You see, you can never ever absolutely know the world. You don’t have the sensory apparatus to experience the world absolutely.

Add to this your sensory systems only operate over small ranges of size, frequency, speed, etc. and you’ll realise that your map is certainly very, very deleted, generalised and distorted.
And as Korzybski pointed out ‘The map is NOT the territory’.

So when it comes to knowing the world, when it comes to knowing the ‘truth’ you need to be very, very careful. You can never absolutely know the ‘truth’. Your abstractions and the abstractions of your abstractions are a long way from absolute reality. That’s what science is all about, it’s a method for attempting to create accurate theories about the world; and any theory in science is always provisional and always an abstraction.

Language influences our perceptions

So what can you do with these insights? Well, Korzybski pointed out that there are certain forms of abstracting that our language and our culture encourage that are not accurate and lead to un-sane or neurotic behaviour. Language influences our perceptions. By becoming aware of how your language influences your brain, your thinking and decisions, your motivations and inevitably your actions, you can begin to consciously choose more accurate and sane languaging and abstracting.

You’ve already been introduced in this blog to some of the ideas from General Semantics and the tools developed by the fields it inspired and informed such as NLP and REBT. These tools, skills and concepts are life enhancing and can be used to generate life enhancing models or maps of your world that are more sane and more rational. Continue coming back to this blog and reading the coming entries and you’ll experience and learn many more. In coming blog entries I'll be sharing ideas and insights on two linguistic/cognitive techniques called E-prime and O-prime that are very powerful and life enhancing.

Until then, keep enhancing your map of the world :-)

best wishes and kind thoughts,

For those who are interested to learn more... Here's Korzybski's seminal book: Science and Sanity

And here's some other excellent books on General Semantics that I recommend as life and mind changing:

Monday, September 21, 2009

Appreciating your World

I received an email containing the following life enhancing story a couple of days ago, and thought it so impactful and fascinating that it was worth sharing with you!

Something To Consider...
Washington, DC, Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007. A man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approximately 2000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After 3 minutes, a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then hurried to meet his schedule.......

4 minutes later:
The violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, and continued to walk.

6 minutes:
A young man leaned against the wall to listen, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

10 minutes:
A 3-year-old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

45 minutes:
The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money, but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

1 hour:
He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was
Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold out a theatre in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each.

This is a true story.

Joshua Bell play
ing incognito in the Metro Station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people's priorities. The questions raised: In a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

Consider this:
if we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made... how many other things are we missing in life?!!

An Amazing Story!

What an amazing story! I checked it out by googling it, and yes, every word is true. In fact, the experiment was written up in an article 'Pearls Before Breakfast' in the Washington Post, and its author Gene Weingarten won a Pulitzer Prize for his outstanding and thought provoking analysis of the experiment. The article and experiment asked "In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?" And the results, which you can view in the video clip below and hear the awesome beauty of the performance, speak for themselves... Very few people stopped to enjoy and appreciate their world!

Savoring and Appreciating your World

Are you savoring and appreciating your life, your world and as many moments of each day as possible? The research from Positive Psychology shows that savoring, appreciation and gratitude all measurably increase levels of happiness and life satisfaction. Taking the time to notice and focus on the positive events in life really is life enhancing.

And the best thing is... with practice, the skills and strategies of savoring and appreciating form deep unconscious competencies that start to operate without the need for constant reminders. The more you do it, the easier it becomes and the more your unconscious mind finds and brings to your conscious awareness the wonderful, serendipitous, beautiful and joyful experiences that occur all around you.

Beginner's Mind

Let me share with you some of the techniques I use to appreciate my world...

To begin with, every time I walk to work at any of the Organisations I consult to, I always take the time to look at the sky, enjoy the ambience of the city-scape and notice the colours, sights and sounds around me. I play with and pretend that I'm a visitor from another country, or from outer-space, and look at the City with fresh eyes. It's amazing how much beauty and newness I find every single time.

In Zen Buddhism this technique is known as 'Beginner's Mind'. It's an attitude and way of thinking that evokes what in NLP is likened as 'the wide-eyed curiosity of a child'. We all know and can recapture that sense of wonderment. So play with it every single day, and you'll build it up like a well-exercised muscle. You'll easily find yourself savoring and appreciating your world anew and in wonderful and fascinating ways.

So here's the question: Do you think that through the eye's of a child, or the filter of a 'beginner's mind' you would have walked past Joshua Bell? Take a look at the description of the article above, you'll see that it was the children that noticed and tried to stop and listen. It was the time-bound, serious and focused adults that dragged them away and failed to notice the exquisite beauty and enchantment of Joshua's virtuoso playing.

My Tunnel of Happiness'ing

Another technique I use every time I walk to work, is to create a 'tunnel of happiness' that I walk through as I traverse the City. This 'tunneling' is done by looking for, noticing and amplifying every bright light, glint, and reflection that I can see high around me.

I use my peripheral vision to see these and I fantasize/visualise these bright, happy, glinting lights as a delightful tunnel encircling high around me. As I walk through my tunnel, I build strong and uplifting feelings of happiness inside my torso, chest, face and head. In this way I truly appreciate and notice the beauty of the buildings, the sky, the windows and reflections, the lights and all the shiny wonderful surfaces that make up our Cities.

If you are tracking the NLP concepts and strategies behind my 'Tunnel of Happinessing' technique then you'll notice the use of visual submodalities that pay homage to the pragmatic wisdom of the designers of great churches and cathedrals. In such places, for the last two thousand years, stained glass, high windows and candles have been used to imbue and stimulate a sense of awe and the numinous. Sparkle and glinting high in the peripheral visual field is associated with the experience of fascination, delight and awe.

Self-fullfilling Prophecy

I also look for happy people and try my best to connect with and get people to smile with me during my commuting. It's a natural effect of mirror neurons and the process of rapport that if you are exuding positive energy and happiness, you'll attract the attention of like-minded people and their response to you will amplify your own state. There's nothing quite as delightful and refreshing as a beautiful smile from a happy person acknowledging your existence. So make sure you include people in your daily search for positivity and happiness.

How are you Appreciating your World?

So how are you savoring and appreciating your world? Have you been rushing past and missing the moments of beauty in your world? Or are you now truly taking the time and attention to value and appreciate your world in new and life enhancing ways!

happiness, peace and joy,

And here's some Joshua Bell music you might enjoy: