The Map is NOT the Territory

I was just thinking about, what to me, is the most essential presupposition of NLP. And that is “the map is not the territory”. This phrase was originally coined by Alfred Korzybski in the 1930’s when he developed the system of General Semantics, a forerunner of NLP and one of its major influences.

General Semantics was developed at the time as a critique of Aristotelian logic. Which is the “yes/no”, “good/bad” objective logic that we often find ourselves in (because this is the predominant logic in our society and therefore reinforced by society). However, here is not the place for a grand discussion of General Semantics. I just want to look at this one particular and very, very important area.

Now, what does “the map is not the territory” mean? It means that the reality that we perceive is not the actually reality as it is. I strongly suspect that a world “external to,” or at least independent of, my senses exists in some sense. But I cannot say for sure, since all the information I get about that external reality comes from my five senses and therefore is purely subjective.

We all have different beliefs, tastes, ideas, interests, interpretations of events, etc, etc. We cannot say objectively what is “good” or “bad”, what is “right” or “wrong”. Only what is “good” or “bad”, or “right” or “wrong” FOR US!

And my “reality” can be and probably is very different to your ”reality”.

This is where Richard Bandler took the idea of NLP as the “study of the structure of subjective experience” Since all experience is subjective!!

We don’t KNOW anything for CERTAIN!

Think about it over the weekend. You invent, to a large extent, your own reality. That is not “right” or “wrong”, it is just yours! It is very important when communicating with people that you remember this and respect their reality.

And if you are doing some form of intervention, whether that be therapy, sales or anything else. You have to understand and ENTER the other persons reality and find specifics about what reality means to them. For example if they say “I get angry”, OK, I know the word “angry”, and I know what “angry” MEANS to ME and how I get “angry”. But I don’t know about them, how THEY do it. I have to get the specifics of THEIR reality.

And that really, to me, is the crux of the skills and techniques and models of NLP. If you just remember that all reality is subjective you will instantly become a better communicator. And therefore better at what you do…

Categories: NLP

About Matt Caulfield