The Structural Differential
– An Explanation by Susan Kodish and Bruce
Excerpted from Drive Yourself Sane.
The structural differential represents different
levels and processes (structures) involved in abstracting. By keeping
it in front of you as you evaluate and formulate, you can differentiate and
avoid identifying these different structures, which exist on different levels
or orders of abstraction.
A parabola with broken-off edges on top represents structure1
– the submicroscopic event (process) level. This corresponds to…some
space-time happening inside, outside, or on the skin. The small dark
circles or holes represent individual details, characteristics or aspects
we ascribe to such an event; what we infer is going on. The broken-off
edges indicate that the parabola extends indefinitely. We can never
exhaust the details, which go on and on, etc.
The circle below represents structure2 –
what we call the object level, the level at which we experience so-called
‘objects’ of ‘perception’ including ‘things’ we see, touch, taste, smell,
etc., as well as non-verbal contemplating, etc. The strings hanging
down from the parabola dangle freely or connect to holes in this circle and
represent the process of abstracting. That is, certain characteristics
from the event level are left out and others are included or selected by
our nervous systems. Our ‘perceptions’ consist of this nervous system
mapping of an event.
We use a circle to represent this level to indicate
that a particular ‘object’ of ‘perception’ that we experience appears finite
in comparison with the event it represents…
As each successive level of abstraction constitutes
a representation or map of the previous level, the non-verbal ‘perceptual’
‘object’ level constitutes a map of the event level. The ‘perceptual’
‘object’ is not the event. The perceived ‘object’ does not cover all
of the event. And we can make a map of this ‘object’ or ‘perceptual’
This new map takes us to the next level or order of
abstraction, the first verbal level…
The first verbal level appears below the circle.
Concerning single terms, it represents an individual’s name such as Bruce
or Susan. More importantly, it refers to statements. Thus, it
represents descriptions such as “I am sitting in a chair now.” We
call this the descriptive level.
The holes again indicate characteristics ascribed to
this level. The strings hanging from the object level again indicate
the process of abstracting from the non-verbal to verbal orders. Certain
details are included, potentially giving a similarity of structure between
this level and the object level. Certain details also are left out
in descriptively mapping non-verbal ‘perceptions’.
Again, the map is not the territory, which translates
here as the notion that the word is not the thing and does not and cannot
cover all that it represents…
“Baby stuff!”, as Korzybski used to say, and yet human
beings constantly act as if the map ‘is’ the territory, as if the word ‘is’
the thing. Much of advertising seems to focus on getting us to respond
to the words and images as if they were identical to the particular product
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The second hanging label represents a second-order verbal abstraction or
mapping of the first-order description. The numerous strings have
been omitted to streamline the diagram; however the process of abstracting
continues. At this level, a statement about a statement, we go beyond
description of the non-verbal experience. This and subsequent
levels of statements about statements about statements, etc., indicated
by the two labels underneath it, include inferences, assumptions, premises,
conclusions, hypotheses, generalizations, theories, etc. We call these
the inference1 and inference2 levels.
The self-reflexiveness of this mapping process, the
notion that we can continue to make statements about our statements and
generalizations about our generalizations, is indicated by the broken-off
label at the bottom of the diagram. The broken edges symbolize that
this process can go on indefinitely. We indicate this by noting “et
cetera”. We can take this label to represent the highest-level inferences
we can make at a given date.
The arrow from the broken-off label to the broken-off
parabola represents…that whatever we know about the non-verbal event level,
the parabola, we know only from such verbal higher-order inferences and
theories. Our scientific knowledge at a given date, inferential in
character, gives us the most reliable knowledge of the process level, more
reliable than our ‘naked eye’ sense data…
The connecting arrow also represents the process of
neuro-linguistic feedback. In a spiral fashion, our verbal behaviors
are among the structures which form part of the world we transact with and
they affect our subsequent abstractions and behavior. Be careful what
you say to yourself, you may be listening.
Korzybski originally developed the structural differential
to show the difference between human beings and other animals. The
smaller circle with no strings attached to either the parabola or to the
labels represents the animal ‘object’. With the lack of strings, we
don’t intend to suggest that an animal, say a dog or cat, doesn’t abstract.
No strings indicates that animals don’t have the potential for consciousness