A Theoretical Overview of the Magic of Language and the Meta-Model
As languaged beings, we move through the world using symbols to "make sense" of things. Without language, we would experience only an animal consciousness. We would not live or process the dimensions that uniquely set us humans apart: time, space, purpose, destiny, self, morality, relationship, etc.
Animals obviously "think" and feel. They do so at a primary level of consciousness. They "know" things and experience the meaning level via primary associations. But human consciousness has a reflexive quality. And this reflexivity ushers us into ever higher levels of awareness so that we become aware of our awareness, and then aware of that awareness of awareness, etc.
As a semantic class of life, we use symbols as symbols that stand for something else, and not as mere "signs" (Korzybski) or mood signals (Bateson). We even develop language systems that have a reflexivenessthat enable us to meta-communicate about our meta-communications.
Consequently, we move through the world not only using language, but sometimes we forget the true nature of language as symbolic. And when we do so, we confuse external and internal realities. We thus inescapably live a dilemma. We can only operate upon the world indirectly, and only through our language Paradigms, and yet our paradigms arise from how we have constructed our perceptions.
These paradigms (our presuppositions, models, frames, beliefs, values, etc.) comprise our mental constructions of meaning. Eventually they come to function as unconscious structural elements of our world, which inescapably drive our perceptions, emotions, and behaviors. Or, at least, they do until we develop awareness of them.
Given the nature of human reflexivity, when we do become aware of our mental maps as just that—mental maps, we develop "consciousness of abstracting." This then enables us to truly experience choice. So via consciousness of abstracting, we come to recognize just how we have created our own paradigms or beliefs of the world so that we become open to the choice dimension.
"So beliefs are not really real, right daddy?"
'Yes! You have it, daughter. At least they are not real externally. Internally, however, they operate as very real. Internally they entirely define and determine things."
"So which is it? I wish you'd make up your mind."
"Both. Real and unreal. It depends upon your perspective."
"What do you mean 'perspective?'"
"From the external point of view, beliefs have no reality. They do not exist. That's why you've never stubbed your toe on a belief that someone dropped. But from the internal point of view, your beliefs create your reality!"
"So I'm stuck with my beliefs."
"So while I'm not stuck with my beliefs—I can change them to whatever I want to believe."
"Well, kind of... within certain restraints."
"'Restraints?' What do you mean by that, daddy? I have to believe some things?"
"No daughter, you don't have to believe anything. But whatever you do believe—thatwill become your perceived and felt reality."
'That makes it sound as if beliefs are pretty powerful things, like they will determine what I see and feel."
"Yes, you have that right."
"So it sounds like the key here lies in learning how to find and change beliefs that don't serve me well."
"Very good. You do have an NLP mind after all!"
"What, you had some doubt... that now vanishes away gracefully?"
"Ah, a mind-line used on your dear ole dad!"
'Well, did you expect me to read about mind-lines and not apply them?"
"Another one! Yes mind-lines certainly do give us the ability to change beliefs, especially limiting ones, and to relanguage our very neuro-linguistic reality, and to shift our paradigms."
"Shift paradigms? Why do you keep using this big words?"
"To impress you of course. Feel impressed yet?"
"Oh, go on, what do you mean about these pair of dimes?"
"Paradigms—you know, models of the world. By mind-lining someone's belief, you can alter and transform the operational paradigms that guide his or her everyday actions. Doing so also reframes perspectives and meanings and creates new mental maps that will take your plans where you would truly like to go."
"Well, I'd prefer to go out for a pizza for supper tonight..."
"Not smooth enough. I caught that."
"So you're saying that you don't have to remain 'stuck' in any attitude, viewpoint, interpretation, meaning, emotion, reality, or interpretation?"
So dad, you can get unstuck from your attitude of avoiding taking me out for a pizza?"
'You did good with that one, daughter. What kind of a pizza do you want?"
Paradigms — Models that Both Reflect & Create "Reality"
A paradigm refers to a model or pattern. In his classic book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas S. Kuhn (1962) used the word paradigm as the model that "normal science" operates from containing rules, hypothesis, etc. Stephen Covey (1987, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) and Peter M. Senge (1990, The Fifth Discipline) have popularized the word paradigmfor those in business and management.
A paradigm, as a mental model of the world, refers not only to those ideas, understandings, and beliefs that present themselves ¡n consciousness, but also to those deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, and presuppositions we use to understand, Perceive sensory data, and take action in the world.
Kuhn (1962) has described the process of what happens when a Paradigm changes. It changes one's very world. New paradigms lead scientists to adopt new instruments and to look in new places with the result that they see new and different things.
"It is as if the professional community had been suddenly transported to another planet where familiar objects are seen in a different light and are joined by unfamiliar ones as well" (p.111).
A paradigm both reflects a worldview or "reality" and creates such. This explains why, when we shift our paradigms, we shift our very world (i.e., our experiences, person, etc.). It completely and radically transforms subjective reality which then powerfully effects the ways we interface with the external world.
Illustrations of paradigm shifts pervade almost every age. This includes such things as the Copernicus revolution which changed the way people thought about the heavens, the earth, and the universe itself. The evolution paradigm radically shifted the creation paradigm—each defining a very different experiential world where the people lived.
The Swiss first began developing digital technology when it first appeared, but the Swiss just couldn't "see" or "believe" that people would prefer digital watches over the high quality Swiss watches. And so they missed out on that revolution. Then Edward Deming, who tried to make Americans aware of the importance of Quality Control after the Second World War, ended up in Japan where they welcomed his paradigm shift about business management of empowering employees and trusting them.
And what shall we say of the shift from Newtonian physics to Einsteinian physics at the beginning of the twentieth century? Or again, of the difference between the pathological paradigm in psychology (based on the medical model, a remedial orientation, focus on problems) to the wholeness paradigm in Cognitive-Behavioral Psychology and the Humanistic Psychological Movement in the 1960s with a new focus on mental-and-emotional health and solutions?
Paradigms shift. And when paradigms shift, those embedded within enterinto new worlds, live within new frames, and experience a whole new range of solutions, opportunities, and even problems... and the changes frequently seem utterly magical. Shifting terms, the frames-of-reference we use also create (and reflect) meanings. Our meanings operate as functions of our paradigms.
What does something mean to you? Look behind the meaning. Do you see a paradigm peering out at you? Functionally, paradigms offer us a unified world-view, a way of organizing our perceptions, experiences, etc. so that we "make sense" of the data.
And yet no paradigm perfectly describes, or models, the territory. 'The map is not the territory" (Korzybski, 1933). Every model exists only (and always) as an abstraction from the territory and a map of the territory. If our scientific and personal paradigms never express a perfect correlation with reality, then we must forever keep open the question about their degree of correspondence and their usefulness or productivity of so mapping.
Viewing things in this way enables us to not become too wedded to our paradigms or to forget that it only operates as a map. Consciousness of this—that we forever abstract and operate upon the world through our abstractions—saves us from mis-believing that our perceptions "are" real.
We experience the shifting of paradigms (as in the reframing patterns) as powerful because changing our mental model inevitably transforms our subjective sense of reality. At the level of paradigm shifting (Mind-Lines), we have a place fordoing pervasive change work. When we change our operational paradigms, our very world transforms. A whole new reality arises. Then, in turn, new possibilities, opportunities, creations, experiences, etc. arise.
When Reality changes
How does this work? What mechanism runs this?
It occurs because we do not (and cannot) operate on the territory directly, only indirectly. We can only operate upon "reality" via our models of the world.
This describes our neurological constitution. We don't see all of the electromagnetic wavelength. We only see via the transforms that our sense receptors (rods, cones, neuro-pathways, visual cortex, etc.) allow us to see. Creatures with different internal constructions to their eyes create different models for seeing. So ultimately, we all construct models of the world—mental Understandings (which we call beliefs, learnings, ideas, values, etc.). As we operate from these models or paradigms, they internally organize our psycho-neuro functioning.
Meaning emerges and operates according to the frame (or model, paradigm) that we put around any event or situation. Here the contexts that we bring to bear on information controls our derived and attributed meanings. And here too, our meanings change with the ever shifting of our frames or paradigms. So when we change a frame-of-reference, we change the meaning. This provides an explanatory model and theoretical basis of reframing. It also explains the plasticity that we humans experience with respect to meaning. Ultimately, whatever we think/believe about something—so it "is" to us.
If we accept the Ptolemaic paradigm and conceive the earth as flat, the center of the universe, and the sun as circling this planet, etc., then we experience life as on a flat earth. Believing this would lead us to finding "evidence" for it. We would develop "eyes" for seeing supporting facts and so it would make perfect sense to us.
When we accept the power of a voodoo priest stabbing a voodoo pin into a representative doll as a true and inescapable curse that hexes and guarantees death—so it becomes. Autopsies on "voodoo" deaths in Haiti consistently reveal no "natural" cause of death. Somehow, in someway, the person's autonomic nervous system just shuts down.
This may explain why so many different kinds of therapy procedures, theories, techniques, etc. all work. In different contexts with different people every school of psychology works to some degree and to some extent. Research does show that every therapy form shows evidence of success.
The explanation? In human experiences (psycho-logics) things do not work mechanically as things do in the world of physics. This differs radically from the realm of the "hard" sciences. When it comes to subjective experiences (i.e., "the world of communication, meaning, and information," Bateson), we have to consider the role and place of meaning, the role of paradigms and frames-of-references. In this reality, cognitive plasticity dominates.
If the frame controls the meaning which influences emotions, states, experiences, behaviors, etc., then framing things in ways that make solution possible powerfully intervenes at the paradigmatic level (and one typically outside of consciousness).
If paradigms offer us such a port of entry into the internal subjective world (ours and that of others), how do we identify "an operating paradigm?" How do we learn to spot them? We can use the Meta-Model, a model about mental models.
This meta-paradigm offers insight and practicality in identifying and working with paradigms as mental models. Bandler and Grinder (1975) originally developed this model using Noam Chomsky's (1956) Transformational Grammar to understand how language works in the transformation of meaning and how to enrich a person's model of the world.
The model distinguishes between surface sentences and the deep structures. These levels of representation describe every sentence. Within and below our everyday surface sentence statements we can find a fuller set of representations. The deep structure contains a fuller representation of our meanings than does the surface structure. What we say "on the surface" reflects a higher level abstraction and so suffers from the modeling processes of deletion, generalization, distortion, and nominalization.
Deletions show up in omitting, overlooking, or forgetting information, impoverishing one's maps by leaving out important awarenesses.
Generalizations arise from standardizing, making rules, and identifying patterns between things that we think as similar and so impoverish by causing loss of detail and richness from the original experience.
Distortions add to or alter experiences and so impoverish by turning processes into things so that activities become static, and ideas become confused with reality.
Nominalizations distort processes by freeze-framing the actions into a static form, by labeling the movement, and naming it and treating it as a reified thing.
The linguistic distinctions of the Meta-Model provide a way to move from the surface sentences back down to the deep structures. Dang this moves us to the fuller representation. And there we can examine the meanings attributed and attached to things in our first mapmaking. This process sends us back to the experiences out of which we made our maps and paradigms.
What sources did Bandler and Grinder use in developing the Meta-Model? They developed this neuro-linguistic model by studying gifted therapists who could effect powerful and effective therapeutic changes. Through modeling Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir, and Milton Erickson, they discover how these world renown therapeutic wizards did their word "magic." Bandler and Grinder (1975) described:
"the magic" as introducing changes in their clients' models which allow their clients more options in their behavior... each has a map or model for changing their clients' model of the world—i.e. a Meta-Model—which allows them to effectively expand and enrich their clients' models..." (p. 18).
The resulting Meta-Model consisted of 12 linguistic distinctions. These enable us to identify a good bit of the structure of a person's mental models. Via the linguistic cues in the model, we can listen to a person's ongoing surface statements and develop an intuitive sense of the supporting deep structures. This provides insight into the person's way of mapping reality. The model also provides insights into how, and in what areas, the person's mapping processes may suffer limitations.
After we have detected and identified a person's mental model, we can meta-model the paradigm to clear up the parts that lack clarity or precision. Further, we use the model for ourselves to fill in missing or deleted pieces, to clear up distortions, and to specify generalizations more precisely.
As map-makers, we do not operate directly on the world. We move through the world with and through our paradigms. Such mapping guides our everyday thinking, perceiving, speaking, and behaving. Because at the heart of mapping lies making distinctions, all maps lead to perceptions and behaviors. When we experience a behavior as not "making sense," we know that it comes from a map different from our own. Conversely, when we become acquainted with another's map, we can then understand how his or her experiences and responses "make sense."
The Meta-Model distinctions sort for well-formedness and ill-formedness. Using the Meta-Model questions empowers us to enrich the impoverished parts of maps. The words in our maps which effect our neuro-linguistic reality only work usefully if they trigger enhancing internal sensory representations. Frequently, we lose or distort important information during codification of experience into language. The Meta-Model assists us in decoding the old formations and getting back to the original experience. From that experience we can then create a more productive map.
Does the Meta-Model Depend on TG?
As an aside, in the years since Chomsky's revolutionary formulations of language, which became Transformational Grammar (TG, 1956,1965), and brought about the demise of Behaviorism, a great many changes have occurred in the field of Linguistics.
The biggest change that occurred, and it occurred at about the same time that Bandler and Grinder generated their Meta-Model—
TG died. This came about due to the intense intellectual work of Chomsky and his associates as they took his model and pushed it to its logical conclusions. This resulted in Chomsky (1976) rejecting the Deep Structure (D-Structure as he came to call it). He then pursued other formulations such as EST (Extended Standard Theory). Lakoff, McCawley, Ross, and others created Generative Semantics (mentioned, in fact, by Bandlerand Grinder, 1975, p. 109), but that model also "died" within a few years. Harris (1993) details the controversies, the rise and falls of models, and other developments in Linguistics in his The Linguistic Wars.
Currently, various forms of Cognitive Linguistics (Lakoff, Johnson, Langacker, and others) have taken the field by storm. These newly formulated models strike me as providing an even better correlation with the NLP model. They start from many of the same philosophical assumptions as NLP and they have begun by exploring how the brain represents words and referents in "mental space." So back to the question:
Does the Meta-Model depend on Transformational Grammar? If so, to what extent? Actually, it does not. I have found that it surprises many people to discover that except for some linguistic jargon (i.e., nominalization, modal operators, etc.), the Meta-Model only uses one thing from TG—the idea of levels (surface and deep).
For this we do not necessarily need the surface and deep structures of TG, we have this idea of levels already (and in a much more useful format) in Korzybski's Levels of Abstraction model. I have more of this detailed in The Secrets of Magic (1998).
Since we all communicate our mental models by means of our surface statements, language itself provides a pathway to our maps. Meta-model questions work powerfully to assist us in remapping. Such questions facilitate recovering missing pieces, Straightening out distorted information, reconnecting to referent experience, and remapping more effectively. By the process of mefa-modeling we can bring clarity out of chaos, de-energize the limiting rules in our mental maps, and transform our mental Paradigms.
Using the Meta-Model directs us to listen for specific words.
From those words, we then construct a representation in our mind based solely on those words. Then we ask, "What else have I missed?" "What limitations occur in this representation?" "What doesn't make sense?"
When we meta-model, we listen for, and detect, ill-formedness in mapping. Such language typically indicates mapping problems. Meta-Model questioning challenges and expands the ill-formedness. To do this, we start by assuming that we do not know another's mental models. This frees us up to curiously explore what the person says and does until we gather high quality information.
"All the techniques of every form of therapy are techniques which affect the processes of representation, or the creation and organization of a clients' model of the world. To the degree that techniques induce change in a clients' modeling of the world is the degree to which they will be effective in assisting a client to change. As a client's model of the world changes, his perceptions change and so, too, does his behavior." (II, page 195) The Meta-Model specifies numerous linguistic markers that we can sort for in language. These, in turn, provide an avenue to understanding a person's beliefs. Such linguistic markers include:
• Causation statements—how we model the way the world works, functions, relates to itself, etc.
• Equation statements—how we create models about what things mean, what abstractions equate with behaviors, and the paradigms of significance about things.
• Value words and ideas—the model of ideas about what we think important and significant.
• Identifications—the paradigm that we use for self-identification.
• Presuppositions—unquestioned assumptions that we simply assume as true in our mental models.
• Nominalizations—verbswe turn into nouns so that we talk about processes as if things.
• Modal operators—terms designating our style
(modus operandi) in the world: necessity, desire, possibility impossibility, choice, etc. By paying attention to these facets of the linguistic maps that we or another present, we learn to hear paradigms—the structural organization of a person's subjective world.
The Meta-Model begins from the presupposition that we create our neuro-linguistic reality via map-making (or abstracting). We encode this at neurological levels (the deep structure) and at surface levels (the surface structure). We do this by modeling. From our abstractions, we abstract (summarize, conclude, reduce) again and again. This eventuates, in language, cause-effect constructions, meaning (belief) constructions, constructions of identity, association, etc.
The Meta-Model consists of 12 linguistic distinctions (see Appendix B) These distinctions give clue to how much our map may suffer from conceptual limitations due to poor construction. These distinctions indicate significant places in our mental mapping where we have left out significant information (deletions), over-generalized information into vague categories (generalizations), nominalized processes (nominalizations), and changed things (distortion). Sometimes these deletions, generalizations, and distortions work to truly enhance life. Sometimes they create major problems.
Along with the 12 linguistic distinctions that spotlight potential limitations, the Meta-Model offers 12 sets of questions enabling us to re-map and build more well-formed models where the mapping process left out, over-generalized, distorted, or nominalized in non-enhancing ways.
In this way, the Meta-Model provides a way to think and talk about how we engage our mental mapping processes. Identifying the innate modeling processes (deletion, generalization, distortion) gives us some categories for thinking about our mental maps, or thinking about our thinking.
Using Transformational Grammar, the Meta-Model assumes that every sentence has two levels, surface and deep structure levels. The deep structure doesn't mean "deep" as in "more profound." "Deep" rather describes prior abstractions before the higher level abstractions. The deep structure consists of "what a complete representation of the sentences' meaning or logical semantic relation would be." It represents a linguistic or verbal description from our mental model.
Since we "think via internal representations of sights, sounds, sensations, and words, etc. (the VAK), oftentimes, when we move from the sensory based referents to the deep structure, we get a fuller description in less abstract words. If someone says, "I'm really depressed!" we can meta-model, "How specifically do you know that you feel depressed?" Typically, the person will access their reference experience and give us the pictures, words, sounds, and sensations. This brings up the pre-paradigm data of the map.
As we "go back to the experience" out of which we mapped our reality, the Meta-Model questions trigger transderivational searches (TDS). We "go inside" to find (or re-experience) the fuller structure—the original experience as we remember it. The person who does a transderivational search on depression will have identified his or her reference structures.
Where does your brain go when you read the words, "cute little brown puppy?" Do you stay here in this time and place? Or do you quickly do some time-traveling? Did you quickly go to your own internal "library of references" to make meaning of it? Bandler and Grinder (1975) wrote,
"Transformational grammar is based on the study of how meaning is transformed into words. We call the words the surface structure. The actual meaning, or experience, underlying the words is the deep structure. The Meta-Model is built to help you get at the underlying deep structure by clarifying information given in the surface structure." (pp. 96-97).
Using the Meta-Model recovers the deep structure or full neuro-linguistic representation. We can then question the map that we have made of that experience and transform it into a more enhancing map. Bandler and Grinder (1975) believed that people end up in pain, not because the world lacks the richness to allow them to satisfy their needs, but because they operate with impoverished representations.
"One way in which our models of the world will necessarily differ from the world itself is that our nervous system systematicallydistortsand deletes whole portions of the real world. This has the effect of introducing differences between what is actually going on in the world and our experiences of it. Our nervous system, then, initially determined genetically, constitutes the first set of filters which distinguish the world -the territory- from our representation of the world —the map." (p. 9).
By "Meta-Model strategy" we refer to a strategy for reconnecting with experience in a way that provides a richer set of representations and meanings. Doing this facilitates more choices for us. Impoverishedrepresentationslead to pain and limitation by providing fewer choices, especially when we confuse such with the territory. So, we challenge such mental models.
Of course, even the deep structure derives from a fuller and richer source which also "is" not the world, only an earlier modeling. And beyond the deep structure lies the sum total of all of our experiences of the world, the sensations originating in the world (1975, p. 159).
Since we know that every statement, idea, belief, etc. comes packaged in some frame-of-reference, our frames and frames-of-frames give form to our mental mapping which we use in orienting ourselves in life. So above our internal representations of specific visual, auditory, and kinesthetic components we have higher level frames that drive those representations.
So in reframing, we first identify the frames we use in processing information that creates experience. Upon doing that, we can then shift those frames to generate new and different meanings. Such reframing shifts our perspective and so restructures our cognitions and meanings.
Reframing changes meanings by changing reference frames. And when meaning changes, so do responses and behaviors. All reframing models primarily change responses through the process of altering the governing frame.
In Chapter 3, we mentioned the Meta-State principle, whoever sets the frame governs the subsequent experience. Because frames (or paradigms) run perceptions, understandings, values, emotions, behaviors, etc. whoever (or whatever) establishes a frame of reference controls neuro-linguistic reality. This insight elicits both fear and excitement.
Fear because people and cultures can establish frames outside of our awareness. This explains, in part, the power of the mind-lines. Language doesn't just work at one level, it operates at many levels. When someone "sets a frame of reference" at a higher level by implication, presupposition, oroutframing, they can conceptually box us in without us realizing it!
Exciting because once we learn how to assume ownership over this process, then we can truly choose the frames we want to live in and take charge of our emotional responses. This also protects us from those who might otherwise "set the frame" thereby inducing us into feeling "manipulated"by their "mind control." Mind-lines occur all around us and from every media (newspapers, television, books, speeches, everyday conversations, sale pitches, etc.). But now we can catch them. Now we can choose which ones to welcome and buy into.
Again, we return to one of the most fundamental and principal principles in neuro-semantics—"meaning" does nof exist in the world. Meaning only, and exclusively, exists in a human mind. It does because it arises as a function of abstracting (i.e., thinking, evaluating, explaining, attributing, believing, interpreting, etc.). What exists in the world at large and what only can exist there? Stimuli.
The frame-of-reference we put around a stimulus totally determines the meaning it has for us in how we experience it. By reframing , we attach new meaning to the same sensory stimuli to generate new responses in us. In reframing then, we do not change the world, we change our meanings that we attribute to the world.
While the Meta-Model operates overtly and explicitly with mental mapping, the model presented here of Mind-Lines operates covertly. By them we conversationallyreframe ourselves and others for fun and profit.
Magic surrounds us—it orders our sense of reality, it creates our neuro-linguistic reality. The magic within symbols, words, and language can turn life into a living hell, full of monstrous fears, dreads, hates, etc. or into a living paradise of delight, love, wonder, growth, appreciation, and never-ending learning.
May you now enjoy the process of becoming a wise magician so that you can use it marvelously to bring pieces of heaven into your world and all of the worlds of those whom you touch!
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