About Meaning

"Hit me one more time, Charlie."

Without doubt, when it comes to understanding, detecting, and . working with neuro-semantic meaning in people, we deal with a atopic of much complexity. Throughout the Mind-Lines Model, as ;• presented in the previous chapters, we have described how ;i|ineaning emerges from representation, linkage, linguistic mapping, From this we have described the transformation of meaning via ^Conversational reframing.

Can We Simplify the Complexity Even More? Il^ We think so.

'.J|s- In the spirit of attempting a simplification, we will here aim first to llpmplify the process of understanding and working with \ ^conversational reframing itself. After that we will seek to simplify the process of developing greater skill and elegance with Mind-Lines. * ?,> In learning about the processes involved in the "strategy" of thinking and responding, conversationally, with new reframes, you will need to have a good acquaintance with how information becomes beliefs which then operate within layers of embeddedness. We almost never entertain an idea in simple representational form. Typically, we have it as embedded in various contexts, and those contexts within contexts.

Making Conceptual Understandings Easier

Certain conceptual presuppositions govern the process of learning the neuro-linguistic magic of Mind-Lines. The following represent the key supporting beliefs that enable us to work in this domain.

1) Meaning does not exist "out there." Meanings have no reality in that domain. Meaning only arises and coheres within a mind—it only exist as part of a given person's internal world. It emerges as a neuro-linguistic product from our interactions with people, events, ideas, etc.

For many, thinking this way about meaning represents a big shift in thinking. For anyone brought up to think that language or meaning "is" real in any external, empirical way, this represents a complete paradigm shift. External events only have meaning to us when we apply meaning to them.

2) Meaning slips and slides. As a non-thing, we can't expect meaning to have a static or rigid quality. Instead it keeps moving and shifting. Meaning has a plasticity to it so that it bends, stretches, moves, slips, slides, etc. Realizing this will help us from thinking of it, or treating it, as static, solid, permanent. If "meaning" arises by "mind in "mind—then expect it to come and go according to the functioning of consciousness. It doesn't stay put. Now you have it. Now you don't.

We see this most vividly in the ever-shifting nature of meanings. A customer goes out to buy a new car. But what that "purchase of a new car means to him or her on a given day may change multiple times. It all depends. It depends upon the ideas, memories, referents, values, and thoughts that flow through consciousness.

At first it may mean "getting a more reliable source of transportation." But as the person shops, other meanings may flow into the person's stream of consciousness. Now it means, "enjoying lookin' good in a sharp machine!" And a little later, "a really smart buy—economical, affordable, solid." And then the next minute, "an expression of my power," "an expression of my masculinity," "the envy of my friends," etc.

What in the world is going on here??

The plastic nature of meaning lets it bend this way and then that Way. Also, the multiple nature of meaning. This highlights an important fact: meaning does not (and cannot) exist apart from a meaning-maker It takes a human mind to create, communicate, and experience meaning. Meaning does not exist "in" the car—apart from the person.

Does this representan entirely new way to think about "meaning?" - it does for most people. And even for those of us who have thought

.. this way about meaning for a long, long time—it still feels strange. , Why should this "plasticity" of meaning feel strange if one has thought this way for a long time? Because even though meanings junction in this way, the habituation of our thoughts seduce us into assuming a false permanence and stability about meaning, j What "old" thoughts do you still put meaning to that happened years ago and should no longer have that same meaning to you, jpr should have a different meaning? Have you ever even ^considered changing the meaning of that event? Indeed, we change meanings to past events all the time. We just sometimes get in a "rut" with the same old meanings.

Do you find this not only strange, but also scary? Welcome to the club. Most people do. This explains why we typically have to .spend some time with this concept in order to get used to it. In this way we can get over any insecurity or fear that we may have about jsuch. That there exists a "plasticity" to "meaning" (even language) Ipoes nof make it so relative that we can make anything mean I anything. But it does suggest that we.should expect to discover a ^fluidity to "meaning" such that it keeps shifting and changing, and 1; »ever stays put.

3) Ultimately, we mentally construct "meaning." Because it tiJakes a meaning-makerto create meaning, meaning emerges in our | experience as a human construct. Philosophically we call this '"^Understanding of meaning, "Constructionism." Recognizing this !0»iipowers us in thinking about and working with "meanings." p Ultimately, we construct orconstrue our internal realities. The old Jbtblical proverb expressed this in a simple but succinct way, "As a pfiwan thinks in his heart, so he is." "Reality" thus operates as a 1 ((junction of our maps (i.e., perceptions and constructions. This, in I itam, leads to the realization of our personal responsibility for * constructing useful ideas or maps.

4) Meaning occurs in frames-of-reference. As a human construct that arises as a thinker-feeler uses his or her consciousness to create "meaning," meaning always exists i n some frame. This explains the source and meaning of the term 'frame" in NLP and in the idea of reframing in the Cognitive sciences.

What significance does this have? Much. Primarily it directs us to go looking for the frame.

"What frame of reference does this or that idea occur within?"

"What frame is this person using to say or perceive this?" "What frame has to be there in order for this statement to make sense?"

In other words, frame-less meanings do not, and cannot, occur. Where you have a meaning, you have a frame of reference. An idea, thought, or emotion as a personal meaning attains much of its "meaning" from the ideas, experiences, events that it references.

5) Frames govern meaning. A corollary to the fourth supporting belief specifies that frames govern, modulate, organize, drive, and control the experiences that occur within them (i.e. the thoughts, feelings, language, behavior, and responses). When we set a frame, that frame will govern the consequences and conclusions that follow. Korzybski called this "logical fate."

Suppose you set the frame for a customer that goes, "This is a great deal, but you can only take advantage of it today. The sale goes off tomorrow and this will not be available." Set that frame and if the person "buys" it and wants that deal, it will determine his or her responses.

The statement "Hove you" means one thing when I say it to my wife. It means something very different when I say it to my father.

6) He who sets the frame governs the experience. All human experiences occur within some frame. It occurs within cultural frames-of-reference, personal frames, family frames, business and economic frames, etc. The language frame comprises one of the largest frames that we all unconsciously accept and live within, and which therefore governs our experiences. If you grew up hearing and speaking English, then as a language system English will govern how you think, how you Perceive, what experiences stand out and count, which do not, etc.

Similarly, the cultural frame typically operates in an out-of-conscious fashion so that we hardly ever notice it. To notice it, you have to step out of the frame, namely, go to a different culture. Then suddenly you become aware of what you had always assumed. Western American culture has assumed, and hardly ever questioned, such frames as "bigger is always better," "healthy individuals separate from the group," "your value and worth is .measured by your achievements," etc.

Regarding frames, we have no choice about living without a frame. Therefore, "he who sets the frame controls the experience" , limply describes what happens in relationships and cultures. , Someone will always set the frame. Actually, we all live in the midst .¡of many frames—frames embedded within frames. The only questions now become—

"Do you know the frame out of which you operate?"

"Does the frame serve you well?"

"Who set the frame?"

"Do you want to set a different frame?"

It works as simply and profoundly as this. If I walked up to you ,and started talking about your automobile, I have thereby "set the frame" for our conversation. Setting the frame refers to setting either the content of the subject matter or the context for the subject fatter. If I ask, "What automobile do you prefer?" I have set the ^fiantext of the conversation as eliciting your preferences (hence ; values and criteria) while, simultaneously, I have set the content as that of discussing particular automobiles.

A subtly occurs in this. Namely, that while the language of the question gets you to focus on the content of automobiles, at a poigher logical level, I have actually set a frame whereby I can elicit ^your values and standards. I haven't done so explicitly, only Pmplicitly. And if I have "ears to hear" I will learn about your values ijpnd your strategy for decision making. K In the process of Mind-Lining, you will learn how to eloquently ¡pake charge of conversations as you direct and control both the f Content and the context of conversing. When you know how to , embed various contents within higher/eve/ contexts you will know how to preclude another person's conscious awareness as well as tiowto include it.

Summarizing About the Structure of Human Meaning

Though conceptual, these understandings about meaning play an important role in developing skill with neuro-linguistic magic in the process of transforming meaning. To summarize:

1) Meaning does not exist "out there."

2) Meaning slips and slides in its operations.

3) We mentally construct meaning.

4) Meaning exists in some frame-of-reference.

5) The frame governs the meaning.

6) He who sets the frame therefore governs the experience.


In Mind-Lines we encapsulated all of this information by playfully describing it as "The Magic Box." We have two more important conceptual understandings about meaning that we want to add to these six.

These basic and supporting "keys" unlock our understanding of human neuro-semantic reality. So, by understanding and accepting them, we become ready to work with "the magic meaning box." As a "semantic class of life" (Korzybski), we make meanings. Sometimes we find or discover the meanings that others have created and sometimes we invent, construct, conceive, or construct new meanings altogether.

One of the central ways that we do this involves a linking process. We link things up. We associate various stimuli with some response and thus the "stimulus" "means" or equals or leads to that "response" in our nervous system.

Animals create meaning in this way. The dog sees a piece of meat and moves close to it, smells it, and has a response. His autonomic nervous system reacts with a response of salivating which prepares his stomach and organism to eating the meat. All the while, an experimenter rings a bell. The first time, the dog doesn't respond to the bell except perhaps to cock his ear. Zero Learning has occurred at this point. But if the meat and bell ringing occurs togefher"at the same time," or in close approximation, the dog connects or links the sound of the bell with the meat, and so responds to the bell with salivating. Learning I has now occurred.

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