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Using General Semantics

Susan Presby Kodish, Ph.D.

General semantics can be considered a neuro-semantic, neuro-linguistic discipline. Therefore, I have found that learning the definitions and descriptions of the formulations found in Science and Sanity, staff presentations and other sources provides a necessary but not sufficient condition for developing a general semantic orientation. Using the following material will help you to incorporate general semantics into your everyday habitual reacting, getting it into your nervous system, thus learning it neuro-semantically.

By using general semantics, we can learn to understand ourselves and others better. We can also learn to react-evaluate differently, if we so desire. In developing a general semantic orientation we thus can improve our functioning.

In the material on the following pages, I summarize some of my formulating on how to approach these goals. The format of presentation is:


  • Some reactions that relate to using this formulation:
    • Some questions to ask yourself, and answer, that will help you to use this formulation in your day-to-day life.

The 15 formulations which follow are:

  1. Semantic reactions
  2. Time-binding (Personal)
  3. Organism-as-a-whole-in-environments
  4. Map-territory relations
  5. Non-identity
  6. Non-absolutism
  7. Self-reflexiveness
  8. Consciousness of abstracting
  9. Multiordinality
  10. Question formulating
  11. Dating
  12. Indexing
  14. Hyphen
  15. Etc.
    • note total organismic reacting; my and your sensing-thinking-feeling-acting-etc.:
      • What was going on in and around me as I reacted?
      • What was I sensing?
      • What was I ‘thinking’?
      • What was I ‘feeling’?
      • What was I doing?
      • How was I moving?
    • Develop an orientation of delaying reactions:
      • How can I delay my reaction?
      • When I wait to react, what happens?
    • Increase response options:
      • How did I choose to react that way?
      • Can I make other choices?
      • What?
      • How?
  2. TIME-BINDING (Personal)
    • Note developmental life processes; changes over time:
      • How did I get this way?
      • What led to my reacting in the ways that I do?
      • What kinds of response habits have I learned and developed?
      • How can I learn to “date” myself? (See “Dating” below)
      • What habits do I like?
      • What habits might I like to change?
      • How will I do this?
      • What are the first steps to changing?
      • When will I take them?
    • Accept present, including myself.
      • How can I best build on my personal experiences?
      • How do I help and hurt myself and others by demanding that events, including myself,
      • should happen differently right at this moment?
      • When I don’t accept events as they happen at the moment, does that cause them to change?
      • How does this hinder my growth?
      • What problems are created?
      • Should a flower not happen as it does?
      • Then how come I shouldn’t happen as I do?
      • How will accepting myself help me to move on?
    • Broaden awareness of what is going on, ‘inside’ and ‘out’:
      • What do I sense ‘inside’ and ‘out’?
      • What do I smell, hear, see, touch, taste, etc.?
      • What else can I become aware of?
    • Cope with uncertainty:
      • How will having greater awareness help me to deal with whatever happens?
      • How can this help me to experience more security, even when I can’t feel ‘certain’ about anything?
      • How can I learn to “index” better? (See “Indexing” below)
    • Assume non-identity of orders of abstraction:
      • Is the way I evaluate something the way it ‘really is’?
      • Are my words the same as my non-verbal experience?
      • Am I referring to a ‘fact’ or an inference?
      • How can I tell the difference?
      • What happens when I avoid the word ‘same’?
      • Can I ever know the way something ‘really is’?
      • If not, how might I better evaluate?
    • Assume non-allness of abstracting:
      • What might I have left out?
      • What else?
      • What effect does this have? (See “Etc.” below)
    • Recognize that semantic reactions refer to the particular person reacting:
      • What about me contributes to my reacting in a certain way?
      • What about ‘I’ gets in my ‘eyes’ as I develop my view of events?
      • What effects does this have?
    • Remember that my conclusions are not the same as my inferences are not the same as ‘facts’ are not the same as non-verbal experiencing are not the same as “what-is-inferred-to-be-going-on”:
      • Can I ever know what some event ‘is’, apart from even my non-verbal evaluating?
      • What happens when I don’t use the “is of identity”?
      • Does what I do equal what I ‘am’, as a totality?
      • Does what others do equal what they ‘are’, as totalities?
      • How could I ever know what I and others ‘are’, as totalities?
      • What differences will I experience when I focus on what I do rather than on what I ‘am’?
      • What differences will I experience when I focus on what others do rather than on what they ‘are’?
      • What happens when I don’t put over-generalized, over-restrictive labels, like good/bad and smart/stupid, on myself and others?
      • Can I ever describe anything apart from my evaluating?
      • What happens when I don't use the “is of predication”?
      • Can I ever know that something ‘is’ pretty in and of itself.
      • Where are the sights I see, the sounds I hear, the aromas I smell, the flavors I taste, the sensations I experience located?
      • What happens when I say that something looks pretty to me?
    • View formulations as hypotheses to be tested:
      • How can I test this out?
      • How will I know to what extent I’ve evaluated this accurately?
      • Can I ever feel absolutely ‘sure’ of my evaluations?
      • What does this suggest?
    • Use quantifiers and qualifiers to express tentativeness:
      • How does this seem to me?
      • What happens when I use the word “Perhaps”?
      • To what degree does this apply?
      • What happens when I avoid the word “same”?
      • What happens when I use “a” or “an” instead of “the”?
      • What happens when I use plurals in place of singular forms?
    • Take responsibility for my own reactions:
      • What happens when I say “I” instead of the rhetorical “you”?
      • When I say “you” is it you I’m talking about or myself
      • How can I rephrase this using “I”?
      • How can I acknowledge the “to-me-ness” of my evaluations?
    • Recognize multi-meanings:
      • How did I develop my idiosyncratic definitions?
      • Can there be other ways of defining/describing events?
      • How can I remember that we all have personal meanings for words and non-verbal experiences?
    • Separate ‘facts’ from inferences, uncover assumptions, etc.:
      • What do I ‘mean’?
      • How do I know?
      • Can I sense what I’m talking about?
      • What observations support or negate my inferences?
    • Note assumption-conclusion-behavior links:
      • What assumptions do I make about this happening?
      • What conclusions am I reaching?
      • How am I behaving?
      • What changes in my assumptions and conclusions will be needed in order to behave differently?
    • Become aware of different levels of internal processes:
      • What’s going on in me now?
      • What am I ‘thinking’?
      • What memories are triggered?
      • What assumptions am I making?
      • What do I believe?
      • What images do I have?
      • What rules for living do I follow?
    • Note dead-level abstracting:
      • Am I getting stuck on either higher-order or lower-order abstractions?
      • What kinds of inferences and conclusions can I draw from what I observe?
      • What do I need to observe to test my inferences and conclusions?
      • What happens when I alternate among these levels?
    • Recognize semantic reactions to semantic reactions:
      • How am I reacting?
      • How am I reacting to these reactions?
      • What happens as this process continues?
      • What happens when I get upset about my semantic reactions?
      • What happens when I accept my semantic reactions?
      • What happens when I focus on my current experience, rather than my past experience or anticipated future?
    • Note answerability of questions asked and usefulness of answers:
      • What kind of answers do I expect when I ask this question?
      • To what extent can I feel satisfied with any answer?
      • How can I rephrase this to find out more of what I want to know?
    • Shift from “why” to “how” questions:
      • How can I know “why” something happened?
      • How far back do I have to go?
      • What will happen when I ask “how” something happened instead of “why”?
    • Avoid complex questions:
      • Does my question include an opinion in disguise?
      • What do I ‘mean” e.g., when I ask, “How could I have done that?”
      • What happens when I separate this into three questions:
        1. What did I do?
        2. How did I come to do that?
        3. How do I evaluate what I did?
  11. DATING
    • Use dates to show how things change over time:
      • I1996 am not I1984.
    • Separate past from present, look for changes over time:
      • When did something like this happen before?
      • How did I react then?
      • How old was I?
      • How have I changed since then?
      • How have other happenings changed since then?
      • How can these changes influence how I react now?
    • Use indexes to show differences within classifications:
      • Seminar1 is not seminar2
    • Look for differences:
      • How does this situation seem different from similar ones?
      • Do these differences make a difference?
      • How?
    • Develop specific, detailed descriptions:
      • What do I see, hear, smell, taste, touch?
      • What happened?
        • And then?
          • And then?
      • How many semantic reactions can I list?
      • What physiological sensations occur?
    • Develop a multi-valued orientation:
      • What happens when I give up a two-valued orientation and look for continuums instead?
      • For example, what happens if, instead of labeling my reaction as anxious or calm, I rate the degree of anxiety or calm I experience on a scale of 1-10?
      • How can I describe this?
    • Focus on moment-to-moment experiencing:
      • What do I notice?
      • What is going on ‘inside’ of me?
      • How are others reacting?
    • Label what is going on as accurately as possible:
      • How do I react to “whatever”?
      • How can I best describe my reaction?
      • How can I differentiate my reactions, e.g., distinguish anxiety from excitement?
      • How do I know what my reactions ‘mean’?
    • Develop an orientation of minimum expectations:
      • Can I expect with certainty that someone will behave differently than usual?
      • How does having more-than-minimum expectations lead me to react?
      • What will happen when I have minimum expectations?
    • Watch for overgeneralizations:
      • Does that apply all of the time?
      • When and when not?
    • Use single quotes to note words that you consider elementalistic or otherwise questionable:
      • What happens to my reacting when I note ‘think’, ‘feel’, ‘Mind’, ‘body’ etc., instead of think, feel, mind, body, etc.?
      • How does this alert me to possible problems in evaluating?
  14. HYPHEN
    • Connect with a hyphen words that suggest separation of what we best understand as unified processes:
      • What happens when I note my thinking-feeling instead of ‘thinking’ separate from ‘feeling’?
      • How about mind-body instead of my ‘Mind’ separate from my ‘body’?
      • Can these ever be separated other than verbally?
  15. ETC.
    • Use “etc.” to note non-allness:


      • Is that all?
      • What else?
      • What else?
      • Do I have it ‘all’ now?
      • What happens when I add “etc.” to the end of my communications?
ETC.     ETC.     ETC.    ETC.     ETC.     ETC.     ETC.
©1995 Susan Presby Kodish

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