General Semantics Advanced Thinking
A System-Discipline Concerned with the Sanity of the Race & the Individual
On Visualization

by Milton Dawes (1998)

On page 452 of Science and Sanity, Korzybski wrote: “…visualization, represents one of the most beneficial and efficient forms of human ‘thought’.” (In this piece, I use “visualization” in terms of “deliberate and purposeful imagining”.)

The more we visualize the less we identify. In other words, we are less likely to confuse two things as being the same. When we visualize, we more easily see things from different points of view, we become more creative. Situations in the universe seems paradoxical to us mainly when we think-feel, talk, or write about them. Paradoxes are usually the result of poor critical thinking. We are not only less likely to create paradoxes for ourselves when we visualize, but can also use visualization to resolve apparent paradoxes.

Universe (apart from humans), as far as we know, is never at odds with itself, never confused, has no uncertainties. Our language habits, when we are not skilled in critical thinking can contribute to a great deal of confusion. In everyday situations, some barbers do shave themselves regardless of how they have been defined. And people catch up with buses without being concerned with the mathematical problem of halving distances. When we visualize, we are likely to become more aware of structures and relationships in our everyday situations, which we do not usually recognize when we talk, listen, write, and read.

We visualize possible or potential situations when we make plans. As an example of visualization complementing verbalization, take the following sentence: “Tomorrow, I will move the television and place it beside the stereo.” We do not usually take from this sentence the kind of relationship that could be useful to us in carrying out our plan. Now visualize-imagine yourself moving the television. In your imagery, you might immediately notice a relationship between the size of the TV. and how strong you feel. You might decide that you cannot move this object without some help. You might realize that the TV has no handle for you to grasp. You might notice that placing the TV beside the stereo, or at a particular place creates too much clutter. You might realize that the TV stand will not fit in the area you decided on. You might realize that you will have to move some things around to create space, maintain a certain look of balance, and so on. Now if you go back to just the words Tomorrow, I will move the television and place it beside the stereo, you are not likely to ‘see’ any of the relationships mentioned.

In planning a vacation, we are often concerned that we will leave some important item behind. We can minimize instances of such forgetting through visualization. We can visualize-see-imagine ourselves in the places we intend to visit. We can visualize-imagine ourselves doing things – hiking, boating, fishing, dancing, going to museums, and so on. Such visualizations help us decide what we might need to wear, what items to pack, and so on.

Words usually come at us faster than we can visualize their referents. When we automatically give meanings to the words we hear and read, we tend to create semantic blocks to visualization. We have also come to believe that we impress others more by our skills with words than with our silence, and we are usually more impressed by others through their skills with words than we are with their silence.

Visualization could become an even more useful in our personal everyday situations if we were to consider it in terms of a time saving, problem-solving and decision-making tool. But we are to a great extent stuck on words, labels, definitions, classifications, policies, etc.

We could visualize to help ourselves see things with greater clarity in our social, national, and international dealings. On the international level for instance, consider the situation with India, Pakistan, and nuclear non-proliferation policies (supported by nations with their nuclear programs already in place). Can you now visualize political leaders in Pakistan and India, ignoring what they see as threats to their security, ignoring political opponents, and deciding to follow the advice from governments with their nuclear programs already in place?

Regarding labor-management relations, consider this situation. Some time ago, the United Automobile Workers union went on strike against General Motors. On the news, I heard one union member say “We are going to bring GM to its knees.” Now visualize some structural components of General Motors, such as the buildings, machineries, employees, and so on. Can you visualize what is likely to happen to these employees if General Motors is indeed brought to its knees? We can imagine that an individual skilled in visualization would very likely not make such a statement.

We can use visualization to help us better understand what’s going on in our world, and therefore help us become better and more creative managers of ourselves. Through visualization, we can become more creative in our approach to our personal and social activities and relationships. Visualizing takes practice. Our love affair with words, and the speed with which we interpret and give meanings to words, tend to diminish and discourage practice in visualization. To practice visualization, we need to practice imagining purposefully, with a goal to become more acquainted with ourselves in our world of changing relationships. As we learn to visual situations related to the words we read or hear, we need to also learn to distinguish between our verbalizing and our visualizing.

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