Make your own free website on

The Structural Differential

 – An Explanation by Susan Kodish and Bruce Kodish

Excerpted from Drive Yourself Sane. Pp. 90-94

    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’ map.  
    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 being sold…
    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

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 of abstracting.

Return to Module 3