Ten year's Ida's way, forty years Marvin's way
Chronicle of an Adventure in Holism

Article for International Association for Structural Integration, 2008


Jean Le Vaux

Jean LeVaux is one of the early pioneers in Non-Directed Movement and a co-founder of the Foundation for New Directions (aka Holistic Living Center) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. For more information she can be reached at jeanlevaux@gmail.com or jean.levaux@nemoves.com.

Dr. Marvin Solit was one of my two connections to Dr. Ida Rolf. I met Ida in New York in 1964 at the International Conference for the Study of Communications, just two years before I met Marvin. My connection to Marvin, as well as to her, was General Semantics 1, which is about communication. He had been advised to study it by Ida and I was introduced to it in Montreal, as I searched for solutions to my own life issues. Finding General Semantics (GS) fundamentally important to other studies, a colleague and I had offered to teach a course at McGill University. The University faculty at the time considered it a pseudo-science. In actuality, it is a powerful tool for developing critical thinking and for understanding how we react to symbols and abstractions. Ironically, the reaction of McGill's selection committee changed from derision to acceptance after we changed the name (not the content) to "The Philosophy and Methodology of Science". We delicately refrained from pointing out that this was a perfect example of an institutional semantic reaction! My colleague taught the course. This experience, though, was partly responsible for my going to the ICSC conference.

I never saw Ida again, nor even thought of her until I met Marvin. Marvin was shifting his orientation for at least the third time. Having begun his professional career as an osteopath, he met Ida while still a student. He simultaneously studied with her and became her protégé (also her assistant and protector, according to her son, Dick Demmerle at the Boston Myofascial Congress, '07). By the time I met Marvin, he had changed his osteopathic practice to incorporate Rolfing®, and now, convinced that "inner rolfing" was possible, without intervention, changed it again to "Non-Directed Body Movement". He had observed that the simple act of paying attention led to inner-directed, or non-directed movement. Like Rolfing, it awakened unresolved injuries, traumas or states, unwinding them in reverse order.

I became one of Marvin's earliest students during his transition. In addition to my long time interest in natural health and healing, and having studied and taught GS in Montreal, Boston, Cambridge and San Francisco, and given seminars to health-oriented professionals, I wanted to explore how language and thought might relate to this pioneering endeavor.


"Standing Around" and Transmutation

Together Marvin and I carried his medical equipment to give away to other doctors. He took no money for it – he was done with equipment. In the late Sixties and early Seventies, we began our weekly "stand arounds". An early participant, Fran, went through a dramatic clearing of eczema that had deeply scarred her face. A visitor from the Netherlands, sitting on the couch with legs primly together, watched in horror as Marvin crawled towards her, his head approaching her legs. It turned out that she had been raped when she was 4 years old. Such events were frequent, but far more typical were the non-dramatic, quiet unfolding. For instance, I must have spent hundreds of hours crying – no AHA! Nothing cerebral, it was all sub-verbal.

The work, as we call it, involves paying attention to whatever arises from within. As we stand, sit or lie, sooner or later something comes up. It may be an awareness of discomfort, or something we label "pain" somewhere in the body. It may be something we call "emotional", such as anxiety, fear or rage. It may be a "resistance", such as impatience or irritation with the process, such as "Let's get out of here, nothing's happening". It may be a pervasive state, which we label "depression", "lethargy" or "emptiness". It could be an old "phobia", an "allergy", or a chronic condition such as "eczema". (Note: quotes indicate that labels are abstractions from broader issues). By noticing what claims our attention, but without the intention of changing anything and without goals of any kind, we allow material to surface which, as Structural Integrators know, is stored not only in memory; it permeates the tissues. Interrupted traumas, because they never reach the point of completion, are braced for repair, but once aborted, they "freeze". Whereas injuries that most people do allow to repair, such as bruises and cuts, interrupted traumas are harder for the repair mechanism to heal, so they clog the tissues with gristle, limiting flexibility and movement. Not only is the "neck bone connected to the shoulder bone", but the bones and tissues are all connected to everything else, including thought, emotion and spirit, history, environment – even symbolic environment.

For awhile, patients continued to visit Dr. Solit, the osteopath, or Dr. Solit, the Rolfer. As he changed his orientation, however, what they had come to expect was no longer offered. Marvin had come to consider even benign intervention a form of control, which interfered with the unique unwinding experience. They were invited to stand and pay attention to their feelings. Those who were intrigued by this unorthodox approach attended workshops – no longer with Dr. Solit – now simply with Marvin. Roles, too, were discarded, along with the equipment. Together we paid attention to feelings. From time to time, he would remind us to ask ourselves "What am I aware of feeling?" He would repeat the question, sometimes maddeningly, to bring attention to sensation. As sensitivity to one's inner process increased, so also did sensitivity to one another, often leading to a kind of mutual "Rolfing", with uncanny connections. In reuniting mind, spirit and body with individual and mutual history, we were enlarging our experience of holism. As tissues became less dense, it became more possible for light to penetrate. This was not merely metaphorical. To Marvin, this was the natural order of "enlightenment" - not abstract concepts first, but direct body experience first. We may indeed be spirits having a physical experience, but bypassing the physical route seems to relegate spirit to the realm of abstraction. You can separate spirit, mind and body in language, but if you separate them in fact, you have a corpse.

Because events happen to us within a context that is unique, it’s valuable to allow them to emerge to awareness without techniques of any kind. Techniques, which could not possibly be specific to this person, or that event, are generalized approaches. Even meditative techniques, however non-intrusive, which seek to quiet the mind or loosen the body, do not provide a context geared to specific historical unwinding.


Money, Roles and Other Symbols

The main reason that Marvin did not want to be seen as Dr. Solit was that roles tend to blur the real relationship between people. He felt that the role of Doctor created a level of abstraction that came between him and the "patient". It was not, nor is it yet, easy for people to understand the part that money plays in a situation where roles are de-constructed. After all, if Marvin's not "doctor" or "therapist", if he's just standing around like the rest of us, what are we paying him for? For anyone shifting their practice towards inner-directed work, the financial aspect will be an ongoing challenge, as it was for us. Those who could do so provided financial support; those who could not provided support that was unique to them. The struggle to be freed from conventional definitions of leadership, payment, value, etc. is a difficult one. Somehow, through many such struggles over the years, the Center and Marvin survived. It was, in Maslow's terms, 5 a Self-Actualizing process for everyone involved.


Language, Symbols and Health

The impact on health and well being of ideas and beliefs, which are couched in language and other symbols, became clearer as the work progressed. John might be furious at Mary, seemingly about a political disagreement. As John feels his anger emerge, it becomes apparent that Mary is not merely the stimulus, but also the trigger for deeper anger. Though there appears to be ample content in the discussion to be angry about, continuing to pay attention to his feelings tends to lead him to clues that shed light on their intensity.

As we learning to "hold language lightly", we increase our awareness of the control symbols have over us; by returning our attention from words to feelings, and from feelings to sensation, we begin to live at a more experiential, less abstract level. We react less instantly as we introduce the slight delay of paying attention.

Movies illustrate the power of the evocativeness of symbols. Celluloid characters interact; you react. You experience thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, usually altogether. You cry, you laugh, you're turned on – you have a holistic reaction, not to a real event in your life, but to a representation, or symbol, of an event. When I was sixteen, I sobbed hysterically at a movie, "The Oxbow Incident", in which an innocent man was being lynched. It may have triggered feelings of helplessness in the face of overwhelming power. Had I conceived of the relationship between symbol and reaction, I could have touched some very deep history. Instead, I continued sobbing, whereupon my boyfriend moved to another row, too embarrassed to be with me.


Control Takes Many Forms

The notion of allowing guidance to emerge from within runs counter to most experience. Guidance usually comes from adults. Adults represent a variety of belief systems. "Stop crying", "fight back:, "good girls don’t do that"; "Pray THIS way or you will be eternally damned." Reactions to such injunctions become ingrained, and like Pavlov’s dog, after awhile the signals don’t have to be repeated for the reaction to take place. Becoming aware of one’s programming, and unwinding its grip on the tissues is a big part of "the work".

Much as management controls labor, parent controls child, dictators control subjects, and religions control thought and behavior, so does mind control body. Yet body, slave and child all seek expression and empowerment.

Master does not typically ask slave what he thinks, or what he needs. Neither does mind ask body; mind (and its chosen experts) tells body what to do: "Hyperactive and unfocused?" Take Ritalin". "Urinary tract infection? Take antibiotics". "Depressed? Take an anti-depressant". "Broken arm? Put ice on the swelling and put it in a cast." "Fever? Take it down." Really? Might we not have something to learn from the "hyperactive" child about how s/he is affected by environment, food, educational system, etc? And might a body not know what it's doing when it swells or raises its temperature?

When we suppress symptoms, we invite escalation. You take an aspirin to alleviate a headache, which works for awhile, but since the message your body is trying to send is suppressed, it will try another route. You may later get an ulcer, and have surgery. Control breeds resistance, so you will always need more controls and escalation.

People who seek expert intervention often feel they have no choice; fear and pain drive them towards relief from symptoms. In the work, however, we have come to regard pain as important to the repair process. By not labeling it "pain", a general term for highly differentiated feelings, we can be led to connections which, if the "pain" were relieved or suppressed by medication, would not appear as readily. Learning to listen to the body is a process that has to happen over time, during which one learns to recognize escalatory and suppressive impulses, and hopefully to distinguish the "pain" of unwinding from that of damage.


Trauma and Control – One Cat's Experience

Here's an example of control and an incomplete trauma. Shortly after I began working with Marvin, our cat, Booffie, fell out of a tree. Distraught, my husband and son, both named Howard, rushed her to the vet. They came back with the news that she had a dislocated hip, which would be operated on at noon the next day. I acquiesced at first, not feeling clear about what to do. As the next morning wore on, however, I became more and more agitated. It just didn't feel right. I expressed my concern, and was met with stony silence. "What will you do? Let her suffer? How can you risk her health for some kooky idea?" "I just can't do this right now," I said. "Here's what I would like. Let's pick her up, take her to Marvin's, and see what he says. If he feels she needs surgery, we'll go do it right away, but I don't think a couple of hours will matter." They sullenly agreed. I called the vet who was irate. "You must see the X-rays; her hip is above the socket; there's no way for it to heal. She must have surgery to put it back in place. Also you will still have to pay for the anti-contagion medication, the anti-swelling medication, the X-rays, and her overnight stay. Not easy on a graduate student's stipend, but "Okay; we will. I'm just not ready right now. I'll probably bring her back tomorrow."

We drove the 20 minutes from our home in Lexington to Marvin's office in Brookline. Booffie was shivering in the back seat. We stopped, occasionally, for her to rest beside the road. When we arrived, we took her to Marvin's treatment table, (which had not yet been given away), and we all sat there, the Howards glowering, me cowering, and Marvin quietly observing Booffie. He drew our attention to her breathing, which was diaphragmatic. As we watched, it changed to abdominal. Her shivering he regarded as important; it was her body reestablishing balance. He explained that she would have to do several things as part of the healing process. She would slowly calm down as she realized we were not doing anything to her. She would also have to recover from the anti-contagion shot, the anti-swelling shot, the fear of the fall, and also her reaction to the environment at the Vet's. Her defenses had tightened and weakened her, making it hard to restore breathing and circulation, and to repair the damage.

Marvin felt that if we provided a quiet environment, without pressure, without anxiety, simply supporting her as she healed, she would gradually strengthen her muscles, tendons, sinews and tissues, and improve blood circulation. He thought it might take about six weeks for her to be strong enough to pull the hip back into its socket, and reverse the accident. On the other hand, there were many variables and no certainty. "It's really your decision."

I waited. It sounded good to me, but my glowering Howards were the ones to decide. Still anxious, but partly convinced, they agreed to try it. For several weeks she was a "three-pawed" cat, gingerly avoiding putting weight on the fourth paw. Six weeks later, she was able to pull the hip back into its socket. Afterwards she walked with a very slight change in her gait; it was not perfect, but it was 95 percent perfect. And she was a very strong and confident cat. No joy from either the vet or my men, but that type of recovery, which continued to happen over the years for many of us seldom aroused curiosity. "Anecdotal", "It's immoral to take such a risk". "Is this Christian Science?" "A certain percentage of cures happen anyway without intervention".

Booffie went from being controlled to coming into her own power – an inverse relationship. The more control, the less power. Not only for the one controlled; the controller has less power as well, since control depends on suppression, whereas power comes from organic inner growth.


By Contrast….Trusting the Body – Giving Birth

When I was giving birth at home 37 years ago, as most of us did who worked with Marvin, I was in labor all night, surrounded by my husband, friends from "the group", Marvin and his wife Harriet. Two of my other sons hid in their rooms, covering their ears. At a certain point, I began pushing. Marvin, quietly sitting on the floor, suddenly asked me, "Are you sure you're in second stage labor? Knowing you and how impatient you are, I think you may be trying to get it over with instead of paying attention to the moment." I realized that it was true, paid attention and stopped pushing until the push came from the baby. That's about all he said or did all night. He didn't even cut the cord, but did suggest that we wait till all the blood ran out before my husband cut it.

As with Booffie, the remarks I heard were mostly incredulous and disapproving: "But you could have needed a Caesarian," or "In your room? Not a very sanitary environment", and "You were just lucky that nothing went wrong." One can discern the fear motivating these questions - precisely the kind of verbal environment that would have made me tense and inflexible, had I been exposed to it.

Many a former patient would return to Marvin to "fix" something, or to deliver a baby at home. He would not, however, since people without experience in delaying their reactions, or working with feelings/sensations, made him uneasy about their ability to deal with unexpected situations that might arise.


IASI Breakout Session

Recently I hosted a breakout session at the IASI Symposium '07. I had a wonderful group who got right into non-directed attention. I introduced the history of "the work", and then I asked everyone (about 12 people) to stand, pay attention to what they were feeling, not label or judge their feelings, (or if they did, notice that they were labeling or judging) and not move until a motion originated unmistakably from within. I talked briefly about the value of paying attention to their own feelings while treating their clients, and tackled the conflict they might feel as professionals who were charging fees. Having pointed out that they could bring much more of themselves to their work if they included their own state of being, and also model inner attention, I added that they might expect less burnout (a huge problem for SI practitioners) and more energy, and be able to work longer and more effectively, to say nothing of more authentically.

We did standing awareness for about 25 minutes, during which time I walked around, occasionally stopping next to one of the participants, feeling my own sense of connection to them. "What are you aware of feeling?" I stood quietly beside one, not sensing an impulse to do anything but be there. I found my hand drawn to someone else's upper back, gently supporting it. I leaned my back against another's back, as I experienced her fear while she was going into a backbend. I felt I could not invade another's space; I was clearly shut out, so I just sat beside him for a few minutes. Another, who had come in late, dissolved into tears, saying she felt she was at the "breaking point", and that she felt pressure in her face. I asked her to feel that more, and maybe tell us what it felt like. She said she had a test to take later, and repeated that she felt like she was breaking.

A distinguished visitor, who came in after my opening talk, just saw a bunch of people standing around, sitting, lying, etc. He looked at me quizzically, so I whispered to him to just stand there, and not move till he was moved to. He did.

When we reassembled to share what had transpired, I was blown away. I have never seen or heard so much emerge in so short a time. They were Structural Integrators, true, and so predisposed to pay attention. Still, they were stunned by what came up. The woman who had been nodding while I touched her back said she had mild scoliosis, and felt warmed and embraced. The "backbend person" was sobbing. She had been working professionally as a Rolfer for several years, and nothing like this had ever happened to her. She had felt her body twisting, her head "bashed", her neck unwinding, and by the time she was done, her neck moved freely, the unwelcome torque had disappeared, and she felt clearheaded and open for the first time in a long while.

The participant, who later said that his leg and hip had been bothering him, also said that he felt distant and uninvolved. I acknowledged his lack of involvement, saying that I had felt no access to his space, and he then related childhood incidents that seemed connected to his current experience.

The woman who had dissolved into tears, feeling that she was "breaking" would have liked me to spend time with her, and I learned later that others were watching, hoping I would, so they could see what would ensue. I didn't feel drawn to do so, but another participant spoke up, asking "What if you don't label it a "breaking point", but rather an "opening point". We had talked a little about General Semantics, and how labels and abstractions can freeze our perceptions. The power of the group in action! The entire event was momentous for me, and full of learning for all of us.


Relationships and Early Stages

Ashley Montagu 7 and Stephen J. Gould 8, who regarded "neotenous" evolution, or the infantile phase of development, as a key determinant of evolution, resonated with Marvin. Ashley Montagu felt that the infant and early childhood phases needed to be prolonged rather than rushed, which spoke directly to Marvin's own reflections. He had noted that evolutionary changes had often happened, not gradually, but through sudden climactic events, and that the best adapters were those who had developed generalized rather than specialized responses to change. Staying longer at early phases of life tended to promote generalized adaptive qualities. Thus he encouraged not rushing our children into walking, talking, or focusing on early abstract learning. If humans were to prolong early stages, they might tend to be more grounded. And as we become more aware, we usually find that early relationships overwhelmed us. In the work, unwinding, especially with and through one another, reveals that the pace of early childhood ignored what was happening within the child in us. Marvin became increasingly confident that there was precision, not only in unwinding of tissues, but also in unwinding of relationships: between individuals, among groups, countries - even planetary and cosmic events. Relationships were his business, and became our business.


Inner Exploration Leads to Outer Exploration

From exploration of body structure, Marvin moved naturally to the investigation of structure in general. From General Semantics, he and I had both come to understand that there were no static "things" - no homeostasis, only heterodynamics. Motion was everywhere. There were no smallest particles, however small the dissection. Ultimately there were only related events. GS had led us to a kind of quantum perspective

Marvin's interest in structure attracted him to geometry, which was its ideal language. He began to make models. It became apparent to him that the "straight line" was an abstraction, merely a diagonal of more complex relationships. "You can't get there directly, you have to tack" he observed; "there's no such thing as a straight line. Whenever you see a "straight line", imagine it as a diagonal of an orbit, or a cross-section of a wave. He created tensegrity structures, with tension elements balancing compression elements, illustrating the spinal column, the cell, DNA. These and other models were not simply space envelopes; they had centers, from which all relationships emanated. Buckminster Fuller, who had been a great inspiration, led him to explore basic structures. Marvin became fascinated with patterns of growth. He was convinced that The Golden Mean was its fundamental pattern, and he expended great energy trying to persuade mathematical thinkers of its importance.


Geometry and Physics

His quest eventually brought him into contact with William Day, author of Genesis on Planet Earth 2, and A New Physics 3 (which Marvin, through our Foundation for New Directions, published. These two pioneers found common (and uncommon) ground as they unwound the assumptions behind Newtonian and Einsteinian physics. Bill's thesis was that the problems in mainstream physics lie largely in its basic assumptions and the abstract equations used to make them fit the real world. We should be able to describe the universe mathematically without adding corrective factors to get the right answers."

Bill saw no need for quarks, time reversals, or even a Big Bang. "The universe was self-creating from the initial rupture of the space fabric ... All we have to do is change our assumptions about space."

Bill's physics, based on motion, informs and supports the experiences of Structural Integrators in a way that earlier theories of motion do not: "Bodies center themselves in their space environments by their gravitational fields. Instead of moving because they are forced, bodies in space move spontaneously to remain centered in a space environment made non-uniform by other fields around large masses. It is a self-organizing universe."


More to Explore – The Boundaries of Holism Enlarge

Using geometry to illustrate his understandings, as it became clear to Marvin that the duality of our world is electricity and magnetism, he represented each with geometric figures of their trajectories and motion. He further modeled the transformation from the "non-material" state to the "material" with geometric duals that could transform from one to the other: the icosadodecahedron with its 30 triangular and pentagonal faces not able to contain volume, and its dual, the triacontahedron, (not shown) with 30 parallel faces which were, therefore, able to contain volume.


"Thirty-Verti". (Icosadodecahedron, with 30 vertices, 30 triangular and pentagonal faces

The next question was inevitable: "But what underlies duality?" He postulated a pre-dual "oneness" before "twoness", which he represented with one icosadodecahedron within the other, spinning them in opposite directions, but in the same space. "Thirty-Verti" was to him the fundamental geometric structure. Because it represented pre-dualistic unity, I dubbed it "original spin". Through geometry, physics may finally be shown to coincide with religion and spirituality.

Marvin and Bill met on common ground with geometry. Bill agrees that "Matter originated from electromagnetism. Electromagnetic waves are a condition of space, whereas matter is closed, has form, and occupies space."5 Marvin regarded waves and particles as states, which he modeled as transformations of one another. About two months before he died, he hosted a symposium for Synergetics Collaborative, the Buckminster Fuller group 9, in which he illustrated the transformation, including Bill's "photons decoupling from space and condensing to particles".5


Marvin, Bill and General Semantics:

Bill: "Current physics is based on algebra and equating relationships. With algebra physicists can use and calculate things that are not real, like negative values and imaginary numbers. But matter is geometric. Geometry describes structures and is not suitable for abstractions. It is quantitative and deals with physical dimensions: sizes, proportions, and shapes. Structures are closed and have limits. There is no space in algebra, in geometry it is indispensable". 3,9


Marvin's Final Exploration

Marvin's own health gave out. Using himself as a guinea pig, he wanted to see how far he could go in repairing his own damage. Over the years, old injuries and traumas had been worked through and reversed, such as colitis, a broken arm, prostate enlargement, jaw and back injuries from an early diving accident and later, a car accident, and more. Perhaps because he had been encouraged by the many repairs that had happened over the years, he placed great confidence in his body's ability to repair any damage. In his determination to explore the limits of his ability to repair, however, he took risks with full understanding that he might die. He ignored abdominal and chest symptoms, clues like breath odor, sallow complexion and prolonged exhaustion. Eventually, we urged him to go to the emergency room where he was diagnosed with kidney failure. In emergencies, allopathic medicine is at its best. Dialysis followed which, after a few years, he stopped altogether. He stayed off it for an amazing two years. We who needed him finally persuaded him to resume dialysis; he also felt that he had more to discover, and do. He continued enduring his twice weekly visits to the hospital for a couple of years longer, until progressive exhaustion and the discomfort of his pierced veins wore him down. He knew he would not be able to repair all the damage he had sustained in one lifetime.

Ten hours before he died, Marvin told me he had heard from Vladimir Ginzburg, another author whose perspectives he admired. One of his books: Prime Elements of Ordinary Matter, Dark Matter and Dark Energy 4 had led to some very animated conversations, especially about Vladimir's study of toroids. Marvin had discussed his conviction that the golden ratio was THE key to understanding nature, growth and organic structures. Vladimir was finally persuaded to consider it in relation to toroids and vortices. "I now understand its crucial importance". Marvin smiled contentedly as he told me with a twinkle. "I can go now, I've been validated."

Those of us who were Marvin's friends, students and fellow "unwinders" have inherited a formidable legacy. We feel we bear the responsibility of carrying on the awareness work, the structural findings, the educational messages, and the worldwide relationships he developed along the way.

We have come to realize that the evolution of the relationships among us is central, not only to our own health and wellbeing, but to the effectiveness with which we carry the work forward. Accordingly, you can usually find one or more of us in the "rug room", as we call it, at 93 Belmont Street, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, doing the quiet work of paying attention to our feelings. If you feel drawn, you are automatically a member of the community. Welcome!

1. Korzybski, Alfred J. 1933. Science and Sanity. The Science Press Printing Co

2. Day, William. 1979. Genesis on Planet Earth. The House of Talos Publishers: East Lansing, MI

3. Day, William. 2000. A New Physics. Foundation For New Directions: Cambridge, MA

4. Ginzburg, Vladimir. 2007. Prime Elements of Ordinary Matter, Dark Matter and Dark Energy, Universal Publishers: Boca Raton FL

5. Maslow, Abraham H. 1987, Motivation and Personality. HarperCollins

(7) Ashley Montagu, 1981. Growing Young, McGraw Hill

(8) Stephen Jay Gould, ____ Ontogeny & Phylogeny. The Harvard University Press

(9) Marvin Solit, 2006. Geometry and Physics of Transformation. DVD, Foundation for New Directions, Cambridge, MA


A Word about General Semantics 1

Since GS permeates the Work, and also underlies Rolfing/Structural Integration, I will reference here a few of its basic principles, which, as Korzybski said, are "simple but not easy". They seem almost self-evident, yet one need only look around at family disputes, religious and political dogmas, educational, childrearing and health conflicts, etc. to know that they are indeed "simple, but not easy".


  • Non-Allness: We cannot perceive all about anything; our perceptions are finite, while what’s going on is endless, ever changing. Even at the experiential level, or the level of perception - even before we say a word, we are abstracting.


  • Silent Level: The most direct level of experience, with minimal abstraction.


  • Change is constant: Today’s person or event has changed from yesterday, or last year. The same name tends to make us react towards them as though they were the same.


  • The Map is Not the Territory: What we call something is a label we apply; not what IT IS. Like maps, language refers to something; it is NOT the thing referred to. It is also static, while the territory is dynamic. And like maps, it’s partial; it can’t possibly cover everything.


  • Projection: You can’t separate the observer from the observed; hence, observations are always a combination of "what’s out there" and our way of "seeing". If we don’t realize this, we "identify" our perceptions with "reality", and react to them, often with "Pavlovian" speed.


  • Abstraction: Since we leave things out when we perceive, and leave more out when we speak, our language puts what we notice into categories based on similarities. The more categories, the more uniqueness gets left out. The shorthand of words tends to make us unconscious of abstracting.


  • Selection: What we notice, or abstract, from "the territory", and also what we leave out, is in accordance with our learned system of perception and projection.


  • Multi-Ordinality. When we communicate, each of us uses similar words, but may be at a different level of abstraction. The words "love" and "democracy", for instance, can be used at many different levels in the same conversation, and mean very different things to people with different histories, yet they may assume they mean the same thing when they talk to each other.


  • Non-Identity & Logic: No two things are the same – everything is unique. Logic, however, though it works well in abstract math, tries to equate things, and derives proofs from their equations, blurring their differences and creating false equations.


Korzybski created a number of devices to help internalize these principles. He used quotation marks to indicate that the word was only an approximation. He used "etc" as a reminder that there was always more than what was being described. He used subscripts to differentiate Thing 1 from Thing 2. He created a "ladder of abstraction", which showed how much we leave out with our perceptions and language. And he used endlessly reflecting mirrors to show "self-reflexiveness" - how language builds on the reflection of its own abstractions. He used subscripts to indicate change over time: Tom 08 is not Tom 07.