Healthy Language-Behaviour and Spirituality

by Rolf Sattler

Language is so characteristic of the human species that Taylor (2016) refers to humans as "the language animal." Language plays a very important role in our lives and society and affects our understanding of the world, ourselves, and our behaviour. Common misunderstandings and misevaluations of language can lead to unhealthy, harmful and even destructive behaviour. As a result we suffer, and our relationships with our lovers, partners, family, friends, coworkers, organizations, and nations deteriorate. But if we can evaluate language more appropriately, it may lead to healthier behaviour and open the door to deeper spiritual awareness.

Note: The jokes are in smaller print.

Misevaluations of Language illustrated by Korzybski’s Structural Differential

Let us first look at misevaluations of language. It seems many or most people take it more or less for granted that language allows us to describe and communicate our inner and outer world as it is. For example, somebody would say: “there is a yellow flower” and would take it for granted that there actually is a yellow flower independently from him or her observing it. However, this implies a misevaluation of language. Language functions like a map. And, as Korzybski has pointed out, “a map is not the territory it represents.” Thus, a map that refers to a flower is not the flower; a map that refers to reality is not reality. If it is a good map, it shows us some aspects of reality, but not reality as it is. Reality is much more, I would say, infinitely more than any map, any language can portray. Different maps may complement one another and thus show additional aspects of the same reality. But even then reality as it is eludes us. Needless to say, more or less inaccurate maps may mislead.

Korzybski’s Structural Differential demonstrates very well why language cannot portray reality as it is. In a somewhat simplified form one could present the Structural Differential as follows:

Simpllified presentation of the Structural Differential

Fig. 1. Inferences (I) represent only part of our description (D), which represents only part of our sensory awareness (S), which represents only part of reality (R). The outmost circle may be seen as representing all of reality or only a real object. Note that our sensory awareness, description, and inferences are included in reality but do not represent it completely. For a full presentation of Korzybski's Structural Differential see

What is within the outer big circle symbolizes reality or let’s say an object (R). We have a sensory awareness of this object, but since this sensory awareness or perception of the object cannot capture all of the object, it is represented by a smaller circle within the big circle. Everything within this smaller circle represents our sensory awareness of this object (S). When we verbally describe our sensory awareness or perception, this description (D) cannot portray all of our sensory awareness, and therefore it is represented by a still smaller circle within the circle of our sensory awareness. Everything inside this circle represents the description of our sensory awareness of the object. A still smaller circle within the circle of description represents any inference (I) from our description. In short, as we proceed from reality to sensory awareness to description to inference we lose more and more of reality because - consciously or subconsciously – we abstract more and more, which means that we select certain properties of reality. In other words, we remove ourselves more and more from reality. Let me illustrate this by an example, let’s say a flower. As we sense or perceive this object, due to the limitations of our organization, especially our nervous and sensory systems, we lose a part of the reality of this flower. For example, since we cannot sense ultraviolet, we cannot sense ultraviolet patterns on the petals of this flower. Therefore, our sensory awareness of the flower represents only a selection or abstraction of what is actually there: it represents only a smaller circle within the larger circle of the real object. Now, if we want to use language to describe the flower, we lose again because we cannot capture through language all the nuances of our sensory awareness of the flower. In other words, our description of the flower represents a still smaller circle within the circle of sensory awareness. And as we draw inferences from our description we remove ourselves even further from reality. For example, we may interpret the flower as a modified shoot on the basis of some properties that we select from the description of the flower. And from this inference we may make further inferences that are even more removed from reality. For example, we may make inferences about the evolution of the flower. When I say that our sensory awareness, description, and inferences are increasingly removed from reality, I do not want to imply that they are fictitious. They still contain aspects or properties of the flower, but less and less of them. As Korzybski pointed out, “a map is not the territory it represents, but, if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness” (Korzybski 1958, p. 58). “The search for structure involves similarity of linguistics and empirical structures” (ibid, p. 544). But since language cannot represent all there is in reality, it follows that “Whatever you might say something “is”, it is not” (ibid, p. 409) because “Whatever we might say belongs to the verbal level and not to the unspeakable, objective levels” (ibid, p. 409). This indicates clearly that reality cannot be fully grasped through language. Since science uses language and mathematics (a form of language), it also fails to represent reality as it is. It can only function as a map that at best represents some aspects of reality. Thus, facts as well as scientific hypotheses, theories, and laws that are formulated linguistically represent only aspects of reality. And the same applies to everything else that is linguistically said, written, or thought such as opinions, judgments, doctrines, beliefs, law, literature, poetry, mythologies, religious dogmas, morals, etc. All this in turn affects our institutions, governments, politics, commerce, economics, health care, education systems, the Internet, and other aspects of society.

If we are not aware of the abstraction that occurs at the different levels of the Structural Differential, we misevaluate these levels. Thus we may misevaluate the level of sensory awareness and the verbal levels that include verbal descriptions and inferences such as conclusions, hypotheses, theories, interpretations, judgments, etc.

Since the different levels present different degrees of abstraction, they are not identical. If this non-identity is not recognized, further misevaluations occur because of the confusion of different levels. For example, the level of sensory experience may be confused with reality, or the level of inferences may be confused with that of description.

Although one can distinguish reality, sensory experience, description, and inferences, they appear to intergrade and thus form a continuum. Therefore, be aware that the circular lines drawn in Fig. 1 do not take into consideration this continuum. Fig. 1 represents only the clear-cut cases of sensory experience, description, and inferences, not the intermediates between these categories.

“Two cows are standing in the pasture. One turns to the other and says, “Although pi is usually abbreviated to five numbers, it actually goes on into infinity.”
The second cow turns to the first and says, “Moo.” ”(Cathcart, T. and D. Klein. 2008.
Plato and a Platypus walk into a bar. London: Penguin Books, p. 20).

Misevaluations of Language leading to Unhealthy Behavior

It seems that much of the insanity in our personal lives and society is related to misevaluations of the language we use. In terms of the map analogy two major types of misevaluations can be distinguished: 1. The confusion of the map (language) with the territory (reality), which is due to a lack of awareness of the process of abstraction, and 2. The use of more or less inaccurate maps (inappropriate language).

In a sense misevaluations imply already unhealthy behaviour because language and behaviour cannot be clearly separated; they are interconnected and for this reason in the title of this article I put a hyphen between language and behaviour. Furthermore, additional harmful and destructive behavioural consequences may ensue from the misevaluations of language.

To point out unhealthy behaviour, I first want to explain what I mean by
health. According to Chinese medicine, health means balance. Lack of balance arises when one level of abstraction such as the level of verbal description or verbal inferences takes precedence over the more fundamental levels from which the linguistic levels have been abstracted. In other words, when more importance is attached to words than to non-verbal sensory experience and unnamable reality. Besides balance, health is related to wholeness and holiness (the sacred). Health, wholeness, and holiness seem to have the same etymological root, which also indicates their interconnectedness. Wholeness is obscured when the linguistic level is confused with reality. Just because words such as apple, tree, orchard, forest, or Canada are separate does not mean that their referents are separate. An apple is connected with the tree; the tree is an integral part of the orchard; etc. This interconnection that ultimately includes the whole universe is obscured when we ignore the process of abstraction, when we ignore that language is abstracted from reality. The consequences of such ignorance can be and have been disastrous. For example, the local exploitation of the tar sands in Alberta negatively affects the surrounding areas such as water quality and the health of people, and it contributes to global warming with its disastrous consequences that we are already beginning to see.

When we ignore wholeness, we also risk losing a sense of the holy or sacred. Being aware of the wholeness may evoke awe and reverence and thus reconnect us with the sacred, which affects our behaviour.

The loss of wholeness and holiness implies an impoverishment and deprivation that seem unhealthy and harmful. “Eating the menu instead of the meal” metaphorically points to the confusion between reality and levels of abstraction. A meal “is” not what is written on the menu. What is written on the menu implies an abstraction from the meal. If we mistake this abstraction for the meal, we miss what has been left out in the abstraction. Experiencing a meal without the overlay and projection of its abstract description and perhaps additional inferences such as “this meal is not so good” appears rather difficult, if not impossible, for many or most people in our culture. The fact that we often talk while eating is also not helpful. For this reason, some people prefer to eat in silence, especially during spiritual retreats.

Other examples that show harmful consequences of a lack of awareness of the process of abstraction are the following: “He is a liar,” a description, and “He is bad,” an inference. Both statements are abstractions from reality, based on the selection of a few characteristics that define a liar and a bad person. In reality he is much more than just a liar or a bad person. He has many other traits. But if we are unaware of the abstraction and mistake the description and inference for the reality, our behavioural reaction can be very biased, negative, harmful, or even destructive. In other words, our unaware reaction can be insane. Insanity involves delusion, in this case delusion about the reality of this person. In another context, Chase (1938, p. 79) noted, “Wholly bad girls and lazy boys are not to be found anywhere except in our own heads.”

We also have to keep in mind that even positive sounding statements may be based on misevaluations, if the verbal statement is equated with reality. For example, the description “he is altruistic,” or the inference “he is good,” involve abstractions from reality and may be also more or less biased. In his novel
Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse wrote: “Never is a man or a deed wholly Samsara or wholly Nirvana, never is a man wholly a saint or a sinner.” And he added: “Everything that is thought and expressed in words is one-sided, only half the truth: it lacks totality, completeness, unity.”

Potentially harmful or even destructive reactions to misevaluations of language occur in many situations and at different levels ranging from within oneself, between lovers, partners, family members, friends, coworkers, organizations, institutions, religions, ethnic groups, nations, etc. For example, if we say “this nation is evil,” and we forget that this inference is based on an abstraction, the reaction may be harmful, destructive, and may even lead to war. Equally biased may be the opposite inference that “this nation is good.”
There may be good and bad traits in nations, but a trait is not the same as the total reality of nations.

As I pointed out above, a second type of misevaluations that can have unhealthy and harmful consequences is due to more or less inaccurate maps, that is, more or less inappropriate language. For example, saying that he always acts irresponsibly or that she is never good would constitute inaccurate maps because these statements appear incorrect. Many people seem to be more aware of such misevaluations and their potentially harmful consequences than the misevaluations based on a lack of awareness of abstraction.

Healthy Language-Behaviour

How can we avoid misevaluations of language that can lead to unhealthy, harmful or even destructive behaviour? To a great extent we can avoid them through an awareness that whatever is expressed through language is not reality but an abstraction from reality, which selects certain features from reality. Reality comprises much more, I would say infinitely more, than what is represented through language. Therefore, as Korzybski put it, “whatever you might say something "is", it is not.” In other words, a word is not the thing it refers to; and language, as a map, is not the territory of reality; it represents at best some aspects of reality.

Through this awareness we can also change the way we talk and write. Korzybski proposed “extensional devices” that create more awareness of the process of abstraction and help to bring language closer to reality, or in other words, improve the partial correspondence between language and reality. In their book
Drive Yourself Sane, S.P. Kodish and B. I. Kodish (2011) discussed Korzybski's extensional devices and other extensional techniques as follows (see also Stockdale 2009):

Avoiding the “is” of identity and predication will help to reinforce the awareness that whatever is expressed through language is not identical with what it refers to. The “is” of identity occurs in sentences such as “He is a liar,” whereas the “is” of predication occurs in sentences such as “He is bad.” As I pointed out above, in reality he “is” much more than just a liar or just bad. To underline that he is much more, Korzybski suggested that we should say “He is a liar, etc.” and “He is bad, etc.” And if we don’t want to add the “etc.” we would have to be at least aware of it and assume that the person(s) we talk to also have this awareness. But how many people can retain a constant awareness of the etc.? In the absence of such awareness unhealthy and harmful behavioural reactions may occur. Hence, the importance to develop more awareness of what is left out in verbal statements, which leads to greater balance and health.
Instead or in addition to the “etc” we may say, for example, that “he appears dishonest to me,” which underlines that this is just my view or perception and not a reality that exists independently of me.

According to
E-Prime language, all forms of the verb "to be" should be avoided. Some authors such as Ellis (1975) have written complete books in e-prime. To avoid major distortions that may lead to insanity, it seems, however, sufficient to avoid the "is" of identity and predication as pointed out above. Even that as well as the use of e-prime requires considerable training because old habits have become deeply engrained (Kellog 1990/91).

Hymie and Becky Goldberg are having a day in the country. Becky sees a lovely place under a tree next to a small pond and points it out to Hymie.
“That’s a beautiful spot for a picnic, “ she says.
“It must be, dear,” shrugs Hymie. “Fifty million mosquitos can’t be wrong.” ”(Osho. 1998.
Take it Really Seriously. Osho International Foundation, p. 89).

2. Although adding or at least being aware of the “etc.” may diminish the unhealthiness of the behavioural reaction and thus act as limited damage control, it is not sufficient. We also have to differentiate between different meanings of a noun such as “liar” or and adjective such as “bad.” Korzybski referred to this differentiation as
indexing, which means that we have to distinguish between liar1, liar2, etc. and bad1, bad2, etc. For example, liar1 could be a liar who intentionally deceives people in order to profit from this deception, whereas liar2 could be a person who lies to avoid unnecessary upset or harm. Similar distinctions can be made for the meaning of adjectives such as “bad.” To draw attention to words with multiple meanings, Korzybski suggested placing them in quotation marks. If we are unaware of different meanings, bypassing may happen: we think we talk about the same thing when in fact we don’t, and such misunderstandings may have more or less negative behavioural consequences. In addition, bypassing may happen when we forget that meaning is not only in words but also in the people and their behaviour. It has been said, “No text, no phrase or word can be reduced to a single meaning” (Craw and Heads 1988, p. 515.)

“There is to be a christening party for Paddy and Maureen’s new baby, but before the ceremony the priest takes Paddy aside and asks, “Are you prepared for this solemn event?”
“I think so,” replies the nervous Paddy. I’ve got cheese rolls, salad, and cake.”
“No, no,” interrupts the priest, “I mean spiritually prepared?”
“Well, I don’t know, says Paddy thoughtfully, “Do you think two cases of whisky are enough?” ”(Osho. 1998.
Take it Really Seriously. Osho International Foundation, p.228).

“A girl says to her date, “You remind me of the sea.”
“You mean,” he says, “because I am so wild, magnificent, and romantic.”
“No,” she replies, “because you make me sick.” ”(Osho. 1998.
Take it Really Seriously. Osho International Foundation, p. 196

3. Even indexing is not sufficient to completely avoid unhealthy and harmful behavioural reactions. We also need dating (also called "when index"), which means we have to add the date to statements such as “He is ‘dishonest’, etc.”. Maybe he was only “dishonest” last month or yesterday, but not today. Knowing this makes a big difference. People change in many ways. If language does not take into account the fluidity of reality including people, it provides a poor and rather misleading map.

It has been pointed out that nouns tend to imply statics, whereas verbs refer to dynamics. Since reality appears to be profoundly dynamic, a language consisting only or mainly of verbs seems closer to reality than our common languages that have a noun-verb structure. Do verb-based languages exist, and, if not, could we develop such verb-based process languages? (see my essay on
Process Language)

“Hymie Goldberg goes to see Doctor Feelgood in a terrible state. “You must help me, doctor,” pleads Hymie. “I can’t remember anything for more than a few minutes. It is driving me crazy.”
“I see,” says the shrink. “And how long have you had the problem?” Hymie pauses, then says thoughtfully, “What problem?” ”(Osho. 1998.
Take it Really Seriously. Osho International Foundation, p.646).

4. Quotation marks are used to emphasize unreality.

5. Another reason why our common languages tend to provide a rather poor map of reality and thus may lead to unhealthy behavioural reactions is because they tend to fragment reality into bits and pieces. They cut up wholeness, which I think is one reason why we tend to lose the holiness, the sacred of existence. For purposes of communication it may be necessary to fragment when, for example, I want to tell my doctor that I feel pain in my ear. But we have to keep in mind that in reality my ear is not separate from the rest of my body and my body is not separate from my environment.
To underline the interconnection and wholeness, Korzybski suggested connecting words by hyphens. For example, to refer to the organism-in-its-environment, or mind-speech-body, or language-behaviour. An unawareness of such connections and wholeness has led to very harmful consequences and seems at least partly responsible for the ecological crisis and much mental illness.

“The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.”(Osho. 1998. Take it Really Seriously. Osho International Foundation, p.393).

6. Adding the context also helps to render language more accurate. For example, instead of simply saying that he lied yesterday, adding that he was accosted by a gang provides important relevant information. Context seems important in all languages and especially in tribal languages. Chase (1938, p. 59) remarked, “No foreigner can really learn a tribal language from books, for it is a mixture of words and “context of situation.” ”

“During English class one morning, Miss Goodbody calls out, “Betty, tell me the meaning of the word ‘trickle’.”
“To run slowly,” says Betty.
“Quite right,” says Miss Goodbody. “Now tell me the meaning of the word ‘anecdote’.”
“A short funny tale,” says Betty.
“Good girl,” says Miss Goodbody. “Now, Lucy, see if you can give me a sentence with both those words in it.”
Lucy thinks for a moment: “Yes, I know,” she says. “Our dog trickled down the street wagging his anecdote.” ”(Osho. 1998.
Take it Really Seriously. Osho International Foundation, p. 132).

7. Another way to improve our language map and to reduce or avoid unhealthy behavioural reactions is to
eliminate absolutisms and allness terms such as all, always, never, etc. Such absolutisms do not seem to correspond to reality and therefore much injustice and suffering has been inflicted on people by their use.

“The village priest approaches a group of small boys sitting in a circle around a dog. When he comes up to them, he asks, “What are you doing to the dog?”
Little Ernie answers, “Whoever tells the biggest lie, wins the dog.”
“Oh dear,” exclaims the priest, I’m surprised at you boys. When I was young like you, I never told a lie.”
There is silence for a while, until little Ernie shouts out, “Okay, give him the dog!” ”(Osho. 1998.
Take it Really Seriously. Osho International Foundation, p.107).

8. Qualifying and quantifying may also help to reduce or avoid unhealthy and harmful behavioural reactions. For example, instead of an overgeneralization we may say “as far as I know,” or “to me,” or “under these circumstances.” Instead of making either/or statements, we may say “to some extent,” or “to a degree,” and we may use fuzzy logic (see my essay on Healing Thinking through Fuzzy Logic) .

Avoiding perfectionism may also be helpful. Looking for perfect health, perfect love, perfect happiness, perfect peace, perfect truth, etc. seems futile.

“Randy Mustaver is telling his friend that he has toured around the whole world looking for a perfect woman.
“Did you find her?” asks his friend.
“Yes, I did,” replies Randy. “But it is a sad story.”
“Why is that,” asks the friend.
“Well” says Randy, “she was looking for a perfect man.” ”(Osho. 1998.
Take it Really Seriously. Osho International Foundation, p.200).

10. Using visualizations (visual maps) such as drawings may convey information that cannot be as well communicated through language.

11. Applying the above devices not only to answers but also to
questions may be of crucial importance.

Sometimes it may be more appropriate to refrain from talking and instead change the ambiance through laughter, hugging, or whatever seems appropriate. If we want to speak,
pausing before we speak can be helpful. This way we can consciously choose the most appropriate expression instead of more or less automatically following inappropriate habits. Furthermore, pausing may create a space, in which we can directly relate to the unnamable ground of existence. Being unnamable, it may be called mysterious. Albert Einstein was well aware of the mysterious. He wrote: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science” (Einstein, A. 1954. Ideas and Opinions).

The extensional devices imply or are consistent with the following philosophical and existential outlooks:
Holism (undivided wholeness)
Process Philosophy
Non-Aristotelianism (not anti-Aristotelianism) that transcends Aristotles’s logic through
Perspectivism (both/and logic)
Fuzzy Logic (thinking in terms of degree instead of only either/or)
Reverence for the
Unnamable, the Unspeakable, the Mysterious, the Sacred.

In addition, the extensional devices imply an
awareness of abstraction, non-allness of verbal expression (limitation of language), importance of definition and context in order to avoid bypassing, limitation of subject-predicate methods and their transcendence through the recognition of non-identity, limitation of linearity and its transcendence through non-linear methods, relativity, uncertainty, undivided wholeness and dynamics of reality, the importance of behavioural reactions, allowing, pausing and silence with regard to the unspeakable and mysterious.

“Is eternity out there in the Great Beyond? Or is it lurking right here in the neighborhood? If so, who has time for it?” (Cathcarts, T. and D. Klein. 2010. Heidegger and a Hippo walk through those Pearly Gates. New York: Penguin Books, p. 77).

A Summary Example demonstrating the Extensional Devices

Instead of saying “He is bad,” the application of the above extensional devices could provide the following description: As far as I know, last week, while in a traffic jam, he said to George that he cannot pay back the 100 dollars he borrowed from him, but he added that up to a point he would still like to help him out in babysitting, and two days later, in his home, he said that he could give him at least 50 dollars and asked him whether he could wait for the remaining 50 dollars; as this illumined his body-mind-soul, he laughed and hugged him…
This description incorporates the extensional devices that I now indicate in brackets: As far as I know [qualifying], last week [dating, i.e. the "when index"], while in a traffic jam [context, "where index"], he said to George that he cannot pay back the 100 dollars he borrowed from him [indexing (definition or explanation) of “bad,” also called "which index"], but he added that up to a point [semi-quantifying in terms of degree] he would still like to help him out in babysitting [part of etc.; many other parts could be added, which avoids the implication that being “bad” is all he is and the absolutism that he is always bad, making it obvious that he is not only “bad”], and two days later [dating], in his home [context], he said that he could give him at least 50 dollars [part of etc.; no perfectionism] and asked him whether he could wait for the remaining 50 dollars [question]; showing him a drawing of a smiling face [visualization] illumined his body-mind-soul [hyphens indicating interconnections, wholeness], he laughed and hugged him [changing the ambiance]. This description involves and leads to a behaviour drastically different from the behaviour elicited by the statement “He is bad.” The latter statement is an inference from what has been going on, and, if the “is” indicates identification with what he really is, the map (language) is confused with the territory (reality), which leads to an unhealthy behavioural reaction because it is based on confusion. Even if the “is” does not imply that being bad is all he is, as long as the etc. of his other traits is not explored at least to some extent, the emphasis on being bad and a certain interpretation (indexing) of “bad” provides a very one-sided description that may yield a very one-sided unhealthy behavioural reaction. In contrast, the application of extensional devices provides a more accurate map with healthier behavioural reactions. Nonetheless, even the best map involves still an abstraction that to some extent is removed from reality. But the awareness of abstraction points to the unspeakable reality, which we may revere in silence.

A man told his doctor that he wasn’t able to do all the things around the house. After the examination, he said, “Now, Doctor, tell me in plain English what is wrong with me.”
“Well, in plain English,” the doctor replied, “you are just lazy.”
“Ok,” said the man, “now give me the medical term so that I can tell my wife.” (Public domain)


I have discussed how the evaluation and misevaluation of the language we use relates to our behaviour. How does it relate to our most profound concerns, to religion or spirituality? Before we can explore this relation we have to be aware of different stages or phases of spiritual unfolding. Ken Wilber distinguished the following:
belief, faith, direct experience, and adaptation (Wilber 1999, p. 312). Belief involves language because a belief is normally expressed through words. Hence, it is abstracted from reality, if it portrays reality at least to some extent. As long as one remains unaware of the abstraction, the belief is based on a misevaluation that confuses the map of the belief with the territory of reality. And as long as the belief is expressed in unhealthy language that may lead to unhealthy or insane behaviour, a belief implies a poor map. But even if a belief appears to be a good map, as an abstraction it is removed from reality. Faith appears to be more based on intuition and trust and thus seems less abstract. It has been understood in different ways. Direct experience may involve language and concepts or be less abstract and thus closer to reality than both faith and belief that appear more abstract and thus more removed from reality but nonetheless may exert a powerful influence on reality in a positive or negative sense. For example, if someone believes that (s)he will recover from an illness, this belief may speed up the recovery, sometimes in apparently miraculous ways.

Direct experience, as the name implies, is not second hand as it may often be the case for belief and faith that may stem from a tradition or social influences. However, although direct, what is experienced may be doubted. “I can doubt that clouds exist, I can doubt that feelings exist, I can doubt that objects of thought exist – but I cannot doubt that the Witness exists in this moment, because the Witness would still be there to witness the doubt. As the witness I am not identified with what I witness, which creates liberation in a vast open space.

Although direct experience of the witness appears closer to reality than faith and belief, it still implies the duality of the experiencer and the experienced, the witness and the witnessed. In non-dual awareness (Wilber’s stage of adaption) this duality is overcome: the experiencer and the experienced, the witness and the witnessed are no longer perceived as separate.

“Dualism in a Nutshell. What is Mind? No Matter. What is Body? Never Mind.” (Cathcarts, T. and D. Klein. 2010. Heidegger and a Hippo walk through those Pearly Gates. New York: Penguin Books, p.102).


Like sensory experiences, verbal expressions involve abstraction from reality, which means that certain features are selected or filtered out. Unless we are aware of this process, we delude ourselves in thinking that we are dealing with reality when we are just looking at or describing a part of the whole of reality. For example, in the media we are not told the news but only a selection of the news and this selection may be more or less misleading, especially if we assume that it is the news. Science also involves abstraction, selection, filtering since scientific knowledge is expressed through language or mathematics (a form of language). Even if we could know that our scientific theories are correct (which seems impossible because proof seems unattainable), they would not constitute the Truth because they remain an abstraction, that is, they represent at best a partial truth.

Language and behaviour are intimately interconnected. A lack of awareness of the abstract nature of language can lead to unhealthy, harmful and even destructive behaviour. On the other hand, an awareness of the abstract nature of language can lead to healthier behaviour, which can also be attained if we apply the following extensional devices (Korzybski 1958, Kodish & Kodish 2011): Avoiding the “is” of identity and predication, adding etc., indexing, that is, differentiating the which, where (context), and when (dating), using hyphens to indicate interconnections, avoiding absolutisms and allness terms, qualifying and quantifying, avoiding perfectionism, using visualizations (visual maps) such as drawings in addition to language (verbal maps), and incorporating the above also in questions. Finally, creating a better ambiance may also be very helpful.

In spirituality
Ken Wilber distinguished the following four stages of unfolding: belief, faith, direct experience, and adaptation (Wilber 1999, p. 312). Belief involves language because a belief is normally expressed through words. Hence, it is abstracted from reality, if it portrays an aspect of reality (which may not always be the case). As long as one remains unaware of the abstraction, the belief is based on a misevaluation that confuses the map of the belief with the territory of reality, and this confusion may lead to unhealthy or insane behaviour. Faith appears to be more based on intuition and thus seems less abstract. Direct experience may be even less abstract than faith and thus closer to reality than both faith and belief. However, it still implies the duality of the experiencer and the experienced, the witness and the witnessed. In non-dual awareness (Wilber’s stage of adaption) this duality is overcome: the experiencer and the experienced, the witness and the witnessed are no longer perceived as separate.

“Hymie Goldberg goes for his weekly visit to the doctor and says, “Doc, I snore so loudly that I keep myself awake. What can I do?”
The doctor rolls his eyes and says, “Why don’t you try sleeping in another room?” ”(Osho. 1998.
Take it Really Seriously. Osho International Foundation, p.345).

“A potato and a carrot are hitch-hiking at the side of the road when a cyclist comes around the corner and runs down the potato. The next day the carrot goes to visit his friend in the hospital. The potato does not look too good.
“Tell me doc, “ says the carrot anxiously, “do you think my friend will be okay?”
“He may recover,” replies the doctor, “but frankly, for the rest of his life he will be a vegetable.” ”(Osho. 1998.
Take it Really Seriously. Osho International Foundation, p.350).

“Paddy is very, very ill indeed, so Maureen sends for Doctor Gasbag. After a brief examination the doctor announces that Paddy is dead.
“I am not,” says Paddy from his bed.
“Be quiet,” says Maureen. “Do you think you know better than the doctor?” ”(Osho. 1998.
Take it Really Seriously. Osho International Foundation, p. 511).


Chase, S. 1938. The Tyranny of Words. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Co.

Craw, R. and M. Heads. 1988. Reading Croizat. On the Edge of Biology. Rivista di Biologia – Biology Forum 81: 499-532.

Ellis, A. 1975. How to Live with aa "Neurotic" at Home and at Work. Hollywood, CA: Melvin Powers Wilshire Book Co.

Kellog, E. W. III 1987. Speaking in E-Prime: An experimental method for integrating general semantics into daily life. Etc.: A Review of General Semantics 44 (2): 118-128.

Kodish, S.P. & B.I Kodish. 2011. Drive Yourself Sane. Pasadena, CA: Extensional Publishing.

Korzybski, A. 1958.
Science and Sanity. 4th edition. The International Non-Aristotelian Library Publishing Company (CD-ROM edition:

Stockdale, S. 2009. Here’s Something about General Semantics. A Primer for Making Sense of the World.

Stockdale, S. The Structural Differential -ThisIsNotThat

Taylor. C. 2016.
The Language Animal. The Full Shape of the Human Linguistic Ability.
Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Wilber, K. 1999.
One Taste. Boston: Shambhala.

Latest update of this webpage on February 11, 2020.

For a comprehensive article on many aspects of health see
Health and Sanity of Body, Speech, and Mind.


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