Confusing the ‘Map’ with the ‘Territory’ Part II

By Bobby Bodenhamer, D.Min.
Pour la traduction française, cliquez ici 

In Part I we learned:

  • Most PWS can speak freely in some contexts and block consistently in other contexts. A model about blocking and stuttering must take this into account and seek to explain it.  NLP/NS presents one model for this purpose.
  • Our perceptual maps are a product of our creating movies inside our head. The movie will be made up of pictures, sounds and/or feelings (Smells and taste play a lesser part.)
  • In themselves, our mental movies have no meaning. We supply meaning by defining the movie with “words”. Thus our mental maps are made up of our movies and our language meanings.
  • Alfred Korzybski’s statement that “The Map is not the Territory” at least partially explains how the same person can block consistently in some contexts, yet consistently speak freely in other contexts.
  • Unconsciously the PWS confuses their perceptual mapping with what is going on in the territory of their world.
  • Think about it. All the pictures, sounds and feelings in our head are not what they represent in the world or in the territory.  They are just symbols of what we have experienced from the world/ territory. Our words whereby we create meaning are just symbols of our experience of the territory. Our maps are created metaphors about our world and our experiences of the world. They are “not real” but only as real as we make them.
  • When the PWS blocks, he most often operates from a perceptual map that he developed in childhood. Instead of operating from a perceptual map of an adult ‘who knows how to talk’, the meaning he places on the context in the territory that he finds himself triggers him back to negative childhood experiences such as being made fun of due to his blocking.

Part II

People who make mental changes believe that “the map is not the territory” or “the menu is not the meal;” and they believe it is their map and their map alone that they operate from.  This is another way of saying that our perception is not reality. It is only our perception of it. However, because it is our perception (our internal representation and conceptual meanings) it is what we operate from.  It doesn’t matter how accurately it maps (perceive) our present reality. We will operate from our perceptions as governed by our higher-level frames of mind.

Michael Hall in article entitled “Seven Key Distinctions of Masterful Communication” at


“The map is not the territory” summarizes the common-sense wisdom that a map never is the territory it is designed to represent.  The menu is not the meal; the sex manual is not love making; the photo is not the person.  These are different phenomenon.  They operate at different levels and in different dimensions.

“So simple, yet so profound.  So simple and yet so easy to forget.  How and when do we forget it?  When we think (and feel) that what we think (our mapping), what we perceive, what we believe in, what we value, what we identify with, etc. is what is real.  That’s the delusion.  Yet it never is; it cannot be.  At best it can be a good, useful, and fairly accurate map about it.

(Note: I [Bob] believe that the reality that Michael here speaks about explains where many in the world of the PWS find themselves. Holding to such beliefs as ‘stuttering is not a psychological phenomenon’, exemplifies what Korzybski so warned against – the identifying of a person with a behavior. Holding to such beliefs foregoes the possibility of making new discoveries in the realm of cognition around blocking.)

“But when we forget, we identify. We identify map and territory.  What I think about something is real, is the final word, is absolute, is beyond question, is unquestionable, etc.  And this describes the concrete thinker, the absolutist, the pulpit pounding pundit who has “the answers,” the guru who demands blind and unquestioning obedience, the fundamentalist in any and every system (Christian, Moslem, Liberal, Conservative, Political, etc.).

“Map is all of the stuff inside, from the way the outside world impacts upon your senses and sense receptors (eyes, ears, skin, etc.).  Map is all of the ideas, beliefs, understandings, feelings, memories, etc. that you create inside about the outside world.  We do not deal with the world directly, but indirectly.  We interface with the electromagnetic spectrum as mediated through our sense receptors, neuro-pathways, brain cortexes, beliefs, belief systems, etc.  Territory is the outside world, all of the experiences, words, events, and happenings “out there.”

“The masterful communicator knows that all of our mapping is fallible and is, at its highest development, still our best guess.  He or she also knows that the value of a map lies in its usefulness, lies in it being able to provide us some navigational guidance as we move through the world and experiences.  Does the map correspond well enough so that we can use it to direct our thoughts and actions?  Does it facilitate me having the experiences I want to have?  To achieve the things I want to accomplish?

“How well do you recognize that all of your mental mapping about things is just that, a map?  How much is this your frame of mind?  How quick are you to explore and ask questions rather than go into “deity mode” of telling, demanding, or giving advice?  How grounded is your recognition that your feelings are functions of your maps, not of the world?  How intuitive have you driven in this distinction so that you recognize that any and every emotion is the difference between your map of the world and your experience in the world?

“These are questions that help us benchmark where we are in our own development of making the map/territory distinction and meta-stating ourselves with this as a premise for moving through the world so that it becomes our in-knowing (intuition) as we communicate.”

What does this mean to the PWS? This means that:

  • Those PWS who grow in the freedom of verbally sharing themselves recognize the value of re-creating their map (perception) that accurately, as far as symbolically possible, maps the present moment. We are a “symbolic class of life.” We do that with our mental movies and words acting as “symbols” from our experience of our world through our five senses. But, these are just symbols about our world. They are not the world. We get into trouble when we confuse the two and label our “symbols” as being “real.” We also create trouble for ourselves when we think that they are a totally accurate map of our world.When we consciously or unconsciously operate from frames of mind that we learned in childhood, we certainly are not operating from a map that even comes close to accurately mapping out the adult world we now live in. This is the root of most problems, if not all of them. It is most certainly the root cause of many PWS operating in their adult world from their blocking strategy rather than their adult fluency strategy. Unconsciously the PWS is living in their past which is usually their childhood.

Understandably some PWS find such statements quite irritating and many reject such diagnosis as non-credible.  Therefore, to understand my point recall the last time you blocked. How did it feel? Did you feel powerful or powerless?  How old did you feel while you were in that block?  Did you feel your present age or younger maybe even much younger?

  • Those who change their thinking by recognizing that their map is not the territory will eliminate the problem of cause-effect in their lives. What does this mean?  It means that the individual who understands and accepts that their internal map/perception is not, and cannot be, the territory (the external world) will stop the foolishness of believing other people control her mind without her permission.  No one can make you believe or feel anything you choose not to believe or feel. That “other” person whom you fear will judge you should you block has absolutely no power over you without your permission.

In a recent correspondence with Christine on the PWS E-Mail list, Christine stated:

“Although the ‘map is not the territory’ in the semantic sense, I’m inclined to think that the map indeed affects the territory as well, most certainly if the territory is our brain processes. Different thoughts will create patterns that eventually affect brain chemistry, hence, will affect the territory. It’s kind of like how the observer will affect the object according to quantum theory…

“In a way, it makes no sense to stutter regardless of the situation, unless stuttering is all we can do – which it is, of course, not. Also, the situation is never exactly the same twice, but yet we stutter if there’s a resemblance. Resemblance is the most illusory element here (much more so than the initial map of the territory), thus, it’s in many ways the creation of resemblance we must alter. Resemblance is a map about a map, and by definition, over that we should have the most power to change.”

In part of my response to her insightful post, I shared:

Korzybski’s point was that the map and the territory are two distinct entities and cannot be the same.

And, yes, the one affects the other. However, we have much control about how the one affects the other.

The sub-title of Korzybski’s book Science and Sanity is “An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics”. Korzybski aimed to defuse the Cause-Efffect ideology so prevalent in Western Cultures. Aristotelian thinking is “Cause-Effect” thinking.  Non-Aristotelian thinking is the living with an awareness that much of our perceptual mapping is by “choice” and is not “caused” by the territory or the world.

Children do cause-effect thinking:  “Mom and dad divorced. I caused it for there is something wrong with me.” As we mature, we take responsibility for our own thinking and understand the fallacy of cause-effect thinking.

We get into trouble when we hold onto beliefs that just because something has happened in our territory, we “have to” respond a certain way.

In the world of mental health there is a Diagnostic Book called the DSM IV: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  This book provides all the present diagnosis for mental disorders.  When a person is diagnosed as suffering from a Social Anxiety Disorder (which much of blocking is in my opinion) and then that person “identifies” with that diagnosis, then that is cause effect.  “I have a Social Anxiety Disorder. I am ill.”  That person has taken a diagnosis of a “process” and then jumped to identifying with it and thus the person “becomes” the disorder.  It is that kind of childish thinking that Korzybski attempted to bring a halt to.  He called such identifying as “unsanity”.

Another example would be, “I grew up in a dysfunctional family therefore I am dysfunctional.” Another one, “I have my father’s temper.”

Such thinking is cause-effect thinking.  It ends up nominalizing (or making a process real by labeling it) behaviors and identifying with it. This tends to lock the person into the behavior.

All behaviors are a result of the mental processing of our minds through our movies and our languaging. It is all a process. It isn’t set in concrete. It can be changed.  Because you learned how to block as a child does not mean you must block the rest of your life.

Just think how much “not blocking” would affect your view of the world that you live in.  Korzybski would say that the world or the territory doesn’t cause your blocking; you trigger your blocking with unconscious learning. It is unconscious. It can be quite a task to learn how not to do it but you can do it. You are in charge of your thinking. Nobody else is driving your bus. You are driving your own bus.

  • They recognize that the words and images inside their heads are not “real” in the sense that they are absolute or unchangeable. They are changeable. They are just “symbols” of the external world.  We have instruments that will detect the nerve cells and the neuro-transmitters that allow one nerve cell to communicate with another nerve cell. However, can neuro-science go inside the brain and find/ measure a picture, a sound, a feeling or a word?  No, they are “abstractions” of the mind. Our conceptual states are generated at the moment of thought and then they disappear until we think the thought again.  Because the images and word meanings inside our head are not “real” in the sense that they are set in concrete, they only have the reality we give them. In understanding that the “map” is not the “territory”, the PWS will know that those fearful mental movies cannot harm them without their permission.

When to Block and when not to Block

This clarifies what is taking place when the brain knows not to block and when the brain blocks.  For, when the PWS is in a context that is not threatening to their verbally sharing themselves, the mental-movies and the language structures are not there for they haven’t triggered the neural networks that create the movies and the language structures. Now,  the neural networks are there but are not activated thus the movies and the language of stuttering are not present – the PWS now speaks fluently without those old movies of the past creating so much fear and anxiety that triggers blocking.

On-the-other-hand, when the PWS is in a context that threatens their personal sharing of themselves the neural networks of blocking fire and bingo, there are the movies and the language structures that serve to hold the blocking in place. In most cases when this happens, the PWS mentally ceases being a resourceful adult and they associate into childhood memories operating from the mental movies and language structure of when they were a child. Unconsciously the PWS becomes a child with the mental mapping of a child. Those old images of being made fun of by peers; those old images of blocking in front of the class; those old images of hearing dad say “spit it out son, spit it out” suddenly become real and the person “blocks” their personal sharing for it is threatening to share oneself.

It is really true, “The ‘map’ is not the ‘territory’.

Back to Part I