General Semantics Advanced Thinking
A System-Discipline Concerned with the Sanity of the Race & the Individual
Forms of Re-presentation

by Milton Dawes

We usually don’t ‘think’ about it – but what we see and hear, our ‘thoughts’, our ‘feelings’, knowledge and experiences all constitute forms of re-presentation – maps we create. What we see for instance, is not just what’s out there, but a re-presentation – an outcome from interactions between light waves and our individual nervous system processes. But our re-presentations and mapping do not stop at this basic level. We have available to us many ways of re-presenting our re-presentations and mapping our maps. These maps of maps – re-presentations of re-presentations – can be very confusing if we forget the importance of order – what comes first. We create problems for ourselves and for others; we build our societies on poorly structured foundations when we lose track of what is being re-presented by what – what qualifies as map, and what qualifies as territory, in any given situation.

For clearer ‘thinking’ about ourselves, others, and the situations we find ourselves in, we have to keep reminding ourselves that our maps are not the territories they re-present. And our words are not the processes they re-present. Following our culturally expected ways of thinking (‘cewt‘ – pronounced “cute“), we tend to define and refer to ourselves as nurses, mechanics, homosexuals, heterosexuals, doctors, teachers, students, priests, and so on. In doing so, we usually don’t remember that our labels and definitions constitute verbal re-presentations of what we do – not what we are. The problems we create for ourselves when we mindlessly practice cewt have to do with the factor that we tend to relate with, and we tend to treat others according to how we define and label them. Concomitantly, others tend to treat us according to how they define and label us. And most importantly in my opinion, we tend to treat ourselves according to how we label and define ourselves. We usually forget that behind all our labels and definitions, we all qualify as “human beings” – a distinction I believe if remembered, would result in improving our relationships with each other and with ourselves.

Following cewt, we also tend to ‘think’ in terms of good-bad, true-false, right-wrong, important-not important, success-failure, big-small, fast-slow, hot-cold, beautiful-ugly, interesting-uninteresting, and so on. We are not usually mindful that these terms among other things, re-present our two-valued, either/or ways of looking at, interpreting and valuing things, situations, and others. Nothing is absolutely good or bad. What is judged to be a failure today might be judged a success tomorrow. Conflicts inevitably develop when we take one side or the other and defend (sometimes with much violence) our different beliefs, assumptions, opinions, etc., not as our individual re-presentations, but as universal facts – what is so. This is not to say that conflicts and disagreements do not also result in creative insights. The point I am making is that in our recognizing that we re-present, we tend to be less dictatorial, less dogmatic, more open to new ideas and other ideas. When I recognize that my re-presentation is different from your re-presentation, and that they both constitute re-presentations, we are likely to behave more respectfully with each other, compared to my saying, “It is so,” and you saying, “No. It is not so“. Or when I say “What this means is …” and you say “No. It means…“.

We can achieve high levels of effectiveness in our everyday interactions, if we keep re-minding ourselves that our re-presentations at one level, are not what they re-present at another level: What we see, or hear, does not re-present all that could be seen or all that could be heard. What we ‘think’, say, assume, believe, ‘feel’, etc., is not necessarily what’s going on out there – and does not re-present all that’s going on.

If you hear yourself saying something like “What’s the big deal – everybody know this,” – I invite you to ask yourself these questions:Language represents our most used form of re-presentation. Through words we label, define, ‘think’ about, plan, describe, praise, criticize, coerce, threaten, make assumptions, speculate, theorize, generalize, analyze, philosophize, write poetry, plays, and songs, make jokes, tell stories, and so on. But words are not the only form of re-presentation available to us. We can communicate and relate with each other by making barking sounds like dogs, and meowing sounds like cats. We can whistle like birds, neigh like horses, and we can generally imitate many of the sounds we hear. We call each other names, shout and swear at each other. And we can imagine, visualize, create rituals, draw designs, create maps, make models, films, sculptures, and paintings, act, compose music, dance, use numbers, and create equations. We communicate and express ourselves through gestures, drum beats, smoke signals, clothes, costumes, etc., etc. (I invite you to add to this list.)

How often do I myself, remember to make distinctions between how I re-present something, and whatever I ‘think’ is being re-presented?What difference does it make if I believe something that’s not so?

Is it possible that advertisers and politicians in general, depend on me and many others, to be ignorant of the factor of re-presentation?

None of us is skilled in expressing ourselves through all these forms. But knowing of them can help us as individuals improve on the skills we do have and alert us to the possibility of developing others. We can become more appreciative of the ways others re-present. When we have more forms of re-presentation available to us, we gain more structural knowledge of our world and ourselves. We allow ourselves to ‘see’ situations from different points of view. We increase our general level of intelligence and our intelligent responses to situations. We develop more flexibility in our ‘thinking’, ‘feeling’ and behavior. We develop more creative approaches to problem-solving and living in general. We experience less stress in difficult situations.

In schools, if students recognize they have other forms of re-presentation available to them, they might not re-present their anger, frustrations, and ‘feelings’ of being left out, etc., by resorting to violence against their teachers and fellow students. Wars, conflicts and disagreements are usually indications that parties are stuck in particular forms of re-presenting their concerns and differences.

The next ‘time’ you ‘feel’ upset about someone or something I invite you to do this experiment: make a drawing, or sketch, etc., of the situation to see if you can gain some insights into what you label as “insult“. You could even practice now by re-presenting an “insult“, with a design. The design would include re-presentations of the ‘insulter’, yourself, the location of the ‘insulter’ and your location. It would include re-presentations of different ‘times’, words used, your interpretation and ‘feelings’, the situation as seen from your side, and your assumptions about the situation as seen from the other’s side, and so on. Having created your design, examine it in details and see where you would locate the “insult”.

In exploring forms of re-presentations, you might ask yourself this: “What is my most used form of re-presentation. Are there others I could develop?” For instance, among my own most used forms of re-presentation is a tendency to structure-analyze and look for rhythms and relationships in and among ‘things’. I like to make up theories about what might be going on in personal, interpersonal and international levels of relationship.

Unlike other life forms, we humans have a wide variety of ways to re-present ourselves and our experience of the world around us. Let’s not forget this. If we are unaware of our habitual form of re-presentation we will likely fail to recognize or consider others ways of ‘thinking’ about and dealing with situations. When we increase our awareness of the many forms of re-presentations available to us; when we improve our skills in applying the ones we have more appropriately; when we add to the ones we habitually use; we expand our consciousness, our creative skills, and we increase our ability to meet the many challenges and opportunities that come our way with greater ease. Let’s keep in ‘mind’ that the form of re-presentation we use in a situation is also a way of re-presenting ourselves – our understanding of the situation, and our values. If our form of re-presentation is also a form of re-presenting ourselves, and if we dislike others misre-presenting us, it might be to our advantage to work at re-presenting ourselves well. If our general satisfaction and ease in our relationships at home, at work, among friends and acquaintances – and most importantly, with ourselves -, depends on what we do, and how we do what we do, attending to the way we re-present our experiences of situations, could be one of the best gifts we present to ourselves.

And by the way: Keep in ‘mind’ that for clear ‘thinking’ the words above should be considered as re-presentations of some of my ‘thoughts’. How you re-present them to yourself is your responsibility.

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