What is the Experience of “Meta”?
A dialogue between Steve Andreas and Michael Hall

Some time ago, I (Steve) made the following general proposal to Michael for a dialogue to exemplify a respectful exchange of views in the field:

In the past, you and I have had significantly different fundamental understandings on a number of issues that could be the basis for a public dialogue between us, such as:

1. Whether or not it is important to distinguish between two uses of “meta” to refer to large scope (“the big picture”) or general category — a topic I explored at length in my Six Blind Elephants books.

2. My description of your concept of “layering” as the reverse of nested categories in the logical levels of naïve set theory, as set forth in Elephants, pp. 114-116

3. Whether Submodalities are meta or subdivisions of scopes of experience.

Of course you may have changed your views on one or more of these issues, or you might prefer to choose others. Assuming we could agree on an interesting issue on which we have differing views, I have some fairly specific ideas about how to create a respectful dialogue to avoid misunderstandings, side issues, etc.

Privately one of us would write up a position statement on the selected issue, and the other would respond to it in writing. Then we would each edit or revise our positions until we are both satisfied that we have had an opportunity to present our position fully, respond fully to the other’s position, and that we each understand the other clearly, to avoid problems like, “Well, that’s not what I said,” or “That’s what I said, but what I really meant was—” etc. This would also be an opportunity for each of us to notice any “ad hominem” arguments or other logical fallacies, and remove them.

After we are both satisfied with the result of this process, we would jointly offer this to the public (the summit group, your and my blogs) and invite comments from others.

I think this could serve as an example of working toward clarification or resolution of important issues that currently divide or confuse the field. Please let me know if you might be interested in joining with me on this, and/or if you have other views on how we could better accomplish the goal of presenting contrasting views in a way that could provide a productive dialogue.

Michael agreed in principle, and sent me a number of different extensive position statements on the meaning of “Meta,” and I take this as an invitation to focus on this topic. I prefer to begin with a more concise statement for our dialogue, but other writing projects (and my struggle with greatly diminished energy due to Parkinson’s disease) have delayed me until now.


What is the experience called “Meta”?

Steve Andreas

I want to start with a brief exploration of how prepositions work, because this provides a basis for understanding the experience of the word “meta.” Notice your image in response to the sentence, “She is on the bed,” and compare that with your images for the same sentence, but replacing the word “on” with “off,” “in,” “under,” “beside,” or “behind.” . . .

Next, notice your image of the sentence, “Buy some groceries before you drive home,” and compare that with your images for the same sentence, but replacing “before” with “after,” “when,” or “as.”

A “pre position” positions two things (“she” and “bed”) with respect to each other in space, or two activities (buying groceries” and “driving home”) with respect to each other in time.

In NLP generally, and in Michael’s writing, the prefix “meta” is used for many different experiences, with the general meaning of “about,” such as “meta-position,” “meta-model,” “meta-communication.” If you look up synonyms for “meta,” the most common is “about,” a preposition.

“About” has one meaning that is explicitly about location, as in “She looked about the room,” or “His things were scattered about.” A second, more general meaning is “on the subject of” or “concerning,” as in, “I was thinking about you,” in which some thing or event is described from a different position in space or time.

In one very interesting subset of uses the prefix “meta-” is self-referential, “about its own category,” “an X about X.” Meta-cognition is cognition about cognition, “meta-emotion” is emotion about emotion, “meta-discussion” is a discussion about discussion.

In the early days of NLP the prefix “meta” served a useful purpose, directing attention to important elements of communication that had been ignored. However there are now so many different meanings of the word “meta” that it has become almost meaningless.

I want to explore three very different kinds of experiences of “meta” or “about,” each of which has specific, but very different therapeutic uses. (There may be a number of other kinds of meta experiences, but three are adequate for my purpose, which is to demonstrate how ambiguous the word is.)

  1. One kind of meta is changing the point of view to some other point in space than seeing out of the eyes, a pure process intervention that usually changes the content attended to. Examples are the V/K dissociation for phobias, seeing an image of your future self, as in the swish pattern, “reviewing a past behavior,” taking “other” or “observer” perceptual position, etc.
  2. A second kind of meta is changing the categorization of an experience. The new category could be at the same logical level of abstraction, or could be at a more specific or more general level. Changing a category is not a pure process intervention, because it introduces the content contained in the new category. Examples are “redescription,” content reframing, eliciting the positive intent of a troublesome behavior, any negation, any emotional response, etc.
  3. A third kind of meta is viewing an experience while changing only the scope of what is seen in space or time, a pure process intervention. Examples are “seeing the big picture,” context reframing, “seeing something in perspective,” “focusing in on what’s relevant,” etc.


  1. Changing the Point of View

         Experiment 1

Start by noticing what you see now, looking out of your own eyes. . . . Now move your head two feet to the left or right, and notice how that changes what you see. . . . Probably most of what you see is the same, but this new point of view will be somewhat different; you will see parts that you couldn’t see before, and no longer see parts of what you saw before. Next imagine moving your head two feet to the left or right, but without actually moving your head, in order to change your view point. . . .

Next imagine moving your head two feet up or down, but again without actually moving your head, and notice what you see from this different point of view. . . .

Next pick a point on the ceiling, floor, or corner of the room, and imagine what you would see if you were looking from this point of view. . . .


There is an infinite number of different points of view that you could take. Each of them will include somewhat different content, but each one will be a more or less accurate sensory-based image of what you would actually see from that viewpoint.


  1. Changing the Categorization

         Experiment 2

Begin by thinking of someone you have strong feelings about — either positive or negative. . . .

Now imagine that person fairly close to you in a specific context, and notice both what your image of this person looks like, and your feelings toward them. . . .

Now describe that person with a more general word such as “man,” or “woman,” or a word that describes that person’s occupation, and notice how that image changes, and how you feel toward that changed image. . . .

Now use an even more general word, such as “mammal,” and notice how the image, and your response to the image changes. . . .

Next use the word “vertebrate” and notice how your image and response changes. . . .

Next use the word “animal,” and notice the changes. . . .

Next use “organism,” and notice the changes. . . .

Finally, notice what image and response you have to a “flow of energy and information.” . . .


As you went through this process of going from a very specific and “concrete” image to a much more abstract and general one, I want to point out three things:

  1. Each successive image became less sensory-based and detailed, more fuzzy, vaporous, and indistinct. Typically the only relatively distinct part of the image is the part that represents the key criterion for the category, for instance the breasts for the category “mammal,” or the spinal column for “vertebrate.”
  2. The context soon vanished, making it impossible to identify a specific time or place for your experience.
  3. Your feelings became less intense, perhaps dwindling to near zero with “flow of energy and information.”


  1. Changing the Scope

         Experiment 3a, space

Look out a window, and notice something relatively small, roughly an inch or so across, and notice your response to this . . .

Then expand the scope of what you notice slightly, so that your field of view is perhaps 4” x 4,” and notice any change in your response. . . .

Then expand your field of view to be about a foot square, and notice any change in response. . . .

Continue to enlarge the scope of your experience, stepwise, pausing each time to notice your response, . . . until you finally reach a panoramic scope in which you are completely surrounded, imagining the scope behind you, above you, and beneath you, where you can’t actually see unless you move your head.


In this experiment, the scope of space attended to is gradually increased, while maintaining the same point of view. You could also start with a large scope of space, and then gradually diminish it, or you could “change frame” by attending to a completely different scope of space that doesn’t overlap at all.

When you change the scope of what you observe, that usually changes the content of what is attended to, and that often changes your response to what you see. Your experience of a larger scope will tend to be less detailed than a smaller one. However, all of these different scopes will be more or less sensory-based images of the content in the scope.

The same kind of experiment can be easily done in the auditory or kinesthetic modality, but only with some difficulty with taste and smell, because of our limitations in those modalities.


         Experiment 3b, time

Start with the present moment, or a moment from some time in the past, and notice your response to this very short segment of time. . . .

Now make a very short movie by adding a few seconds that occurred before that moment, and adding a few seconds that follow that moment (real or imagined), and notice any change in your response. . . .

Now make that short movie a little longer, by adding a few minutes that occurred before that moment, and adding a few minutes that follow that moment (real or imagined), and notice any change in your response. . . .

Now make that movie even longer by adding the half-hour that occurred before that moment, and adding the half-hour that follow that moment (real or imagined), and notice any change in your response. . . .

Continue to gradually lengthen this movie, stepwise, pausing each time to notice your response, . . .by adding days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, millennia, until your movie is as long as the age of the universe before and after this moment. . . .


In this experiment, the scope of time attended to is gradually increased. You could also start with a large scope of time, and then gradually diminish the length of the movie, or you could “change frame” by attending to a completely different scope of time that doesn’t overlap at all.

When you change the scope of what you observe, that usually changes the content of what is attended to, and that often changes your response to the scope of what you see. Your experience of a longer scope of time will tend to be less detailed than a shorter one. However, all of these different scopes will be more or less sensory-based images of what you see.

The same kind of experiment can be easily done in the auditory or kinesthetic modality, but only with some difficulty with taste and smell, because of our limitations in those modalities.



“Meta” is a very general term, one that could indicate any of the three very different kinds of experience described above — and potentially many others. Unless further specified, the instruction to “go meta” could indicate any of them. Although each kind of intervention has useful effects, they are also very different, so some of them will be much more useful for a given client’s problem or outcome.

Furthermore, some kinds of client problem already involve one or more of the kinds of meta described above, so any kind of “going meta” will either make no difference, or will make the problem worse.

For instance, a client who is grieving over a loss is already seeing the lost person from a distant point of view, which is what creates the feeling of absence/loss. Additional distance, or taking a different point of view will only increase the feeling of emptiness/loss. Recategorizing the loss as “inevitable,” or as something that “everyone experiences” may normalize it, but that won’t change the feeling of loss itself. In the resolving grief process the key intervention is to “un-meta” what they are doing by seeing the lost person out of your own eyes, close enough to touch, so that they are experienced as present, no longer absent.

Some very “mental” or “intellectual” clients already live in a vague, shadowy meta-world of abstraction, with very little direct sensory-based experience. These clients don’t need any form of meta; they need the opposite — how to find specific sensory-based examples of their lofty generalizations, so that they can change their experience in useful ways. The best-known way to do this is by asking the questions in the meta-model “Who/what/where/when/how specifically?” etc. (The meta-model is appropriately named — it’s a language model of language, an example of recursive meta-categorization. However, the result of using the meta-model is the opposite of going “meta.”)



Since the word “trauma” can mean almost any kind of unpleasantness, from life-threatening terror to being ignored at a party, it’s not very useful in understanding an experience, or in deciding what kind of intervention to make. Likewise “meta” or “going meta” are vague terms that can indicate one or more of several different ways to change experience. Because of this ambiguity, it’s impossible to know in advance how a “meta” intervention will change a client’s experience, and whether the change will be useful or not.

Although each of the different kinds of meta can be useful in changing a client’s experience of a problem or outcome, there are also clients whose problem is a result of already going meta in one or more of the ways described; for them a meta intervention will either make no difference, or make their problem worse. What they need is some kind of experience of “un-meta,” but the word “meta” is so vague that’s not clear what kind of “un-meta” will be a useful intervention.

Accordingly I advocate eliminating the use of the word “meta” altogether, and replace it with a specific VAK description of a client’s experience. “So you are looking back at that event and wishing it hadn’t happened,” “When you think about that event, it makes you angry,” “It’s as if you are seeing that event from her point of view,” etc.

Likewise any intervention can be an equally specific description of a change in that experience such as, “Look at that event from a point on the ceiling,” “How else could you describe that event?” “Can you see the larger context around that event,” etc.

This kind of specificity tells you exactly what a client is experiencing, and how an intervention will change it in a useful way. Nothing is lost by replacing the vague word “meta” with a more specific description.

At the very least, realize that when you use the word “meta” (as with the words “trauma,” “problem,” or “state,”) that is really only a sort of “placeholder” for a package of ignorance unless it is specified in much greater detail.


Michael Hall, Ph.D. Response

Steve Andreas has asked that I write a statement about my use of the term “meta.” I have done that in the following pages. My understanding of our differences is that Steve limits the term and processes it solely in of primary states. On the other hand, I follow the idea of self-reflexivity as Korzybski developed it and the unlimited iterations that can occur so that I see and use meta in many other ways. For me meta leads to the meta-levels that we call “logical levels,” to the theory of multiordinality (as Korzybski used the term), to meta-states (as I developed in the Meta-States Model), to the process of meta-detailing, and to many applications.



 In NLP, meta has always been a central concept and term. And no wonder, from the beginning NLP has been recognized as a meta-discipline — one focused on the structure of experience. Accordingly in the early years (1972-1976), before the name “Neuro-Linguistic Programming” was chosen, NLP was called “Meta.”

Similarly, in the first books of NLP, The Structure of Magic, I and II (1975, 1976) meta occurs all over the place. There you will find such expressions as — meta-models, meta-representational systems, meta-tactics, meta-form, meta-distinctions, meta-messages, meta-questions, meta-position, meta-commenting, etc.

“The representational system which is presupposed by your clients’ predicates is what we call a Meta-form.” (1976, p. 16)

“The Meta-Tactic of switching representational systems allows the client to overcome the pain or the block to further growth and change.” (1976, p. 19)

“Retaining the meta distinction is useful for us in our work.” (p. 41)


The Term “Meta”

The Greek term “meta” literally refers to something “above, beyond, or about” something else. As a relational term meta speaks about a thought about a thought, a feeling about a feeling. In meta-communication we communicate about our communications. In meta-linguistics, we use and/or develop language so we can talk about our language.

“The ability to communicate about communication, to comment upon the meaningful actions of oneself and others, is essential for successful social intercourse. In any normal relationship there is a constant interchange of meta-communicative messages such as ‘What do you mean?’ or ‘Why did you do that?’ or ‘Are you kidding me?’ and so on.” (Bateson, 1972, p. 215)

In the NLP Strategy Model, the meta-move is a move along a set of representational steps in which a person as it were “steps back” or “reflects back” onto a previous step or response and responds to that response. (NLP, Volume I, pp. 90, 91-92, 96, 109-110)

Steve has identified three definitions of “meta” and detailed them with some thought experiments.  I fully agree with those and then see several additional definitions of “meta,” especially the role of self-reflexive consciousness.  My guess is that this is the source of our differences, hence the emphasis (below) on self-reflexivity.

Relying on both Korzybski and Bateson, I have relied on and run with the idea that Korzybski put forward about “the theory of multi-ordinality” as the source of so many human disasters. “Going meta” for him meant that the ability for an infinite regress of responses explained how the same word at different logical levels would have very different meanings, his introduction of multi-ordinality as an important linguistic distinction.

From that I developed the Meta-States Model as one expression of delving into a theory of multi-ordinality. When Richard Bandler asked me to review the history of the Meta-Model and write a book that we would jointly author, I added “multi-ordinality” to the extended Meta-Model (Communication Magic, 2001).


The “Meta” Source

In the human experience, the meta-function operates due to the kind of mind that we have — our self-reflexive consciousness. That is, as we think-and-feel in regard to something “out there” in the world (a primary state), perhaps experiencing joy, fear, love, anger, stress, etc., we can then as it were “step back” from ourselves and entertain additional (secondary) thoughts-and-feelings about our experience. When we fear our state of fear, we construct a meta-state. We can love our joy, fear our anger, feel ashamed of our fear, feel sad about our misunderstanding. The second state is about the first state. Here consciousness becomes richly complex. Here we do not just add another thought or feeling so that we have more thoughts and feelings in reference to something. Here we multiply.



Nor does it stop at one level. Korzybski said that humans can “go meta” infinitely, that is, it is a process without end. With animals, the reflecting back onto one’s experience ends, not so with humans. With the reflexive consciousness of humans, whatever you think and/or feel, you can step back and think yet another thought/feeling about that.


Levels as Hierarchical

Bateson noted that the term meta creates a hierarchic series whether we are speaking about “change,” “learning,” “contexts,” etc.

“Within the field of pure communication theory, the steps of an hierarchic series may be constructed by successive use of the word ‘about,’ or ‘meta.’ Our hierarchical series will consist of message, meta-message, meta-meta-message, and so on.” (1972, p. 247-8)

He also noted that with the meta level structures that’s within communication and consciousness there are inherent complications.

“Further complications are added … by noting that message may be about (or ‘meta’ to) the relationship between messages of different levels. …   In human relations another sort of complexity may be generated; e.g., message may be emitted forbidding the subject to make the meta connection. … The hierarchy of messages and contexts thus becomes a complex branching structure.” (1972, p. 248)


Teasing Out the Levels

Given that we can create communication-about-communication, and states-about-states, and these states merge and permeate to generate gestalt states (or experiences). What was meta or higher does not stay higher because, as the system operates, it eventually becomes incorporated within the state. When you transcend and include, you apply higher levels to the lower levels and eventually the higher levels permeate the lower levels — they coalesce.

Responsibility coalesces into commitment to a goal in a situation of fear and so “courage” then emerges as a gestalt state — more than and different from the sum of the parts.

Conversely, we can tease out the higher levels by simply inquiring about the quality of a state.

What’s the quality of your anger? That is,when you feel anger, what is that like for you? Do you like yourself when you are angry? Are you respectful and thoughtful when you’re angry? Do you lose your head and go ballistic when you get angry? Can you maintain civility and patience when you’re feeling upset or angry? Or do you become impatient and insulting?

Asking about the quality of a state flushes out the higher level frame that’s governing the state. Inside that “frame” are thoughts, understandings, beliefs, identifications, decisions, memories, imaginations, etc. These meta-states are the states that you have previously brought to the experience, the experience now is a member of these frames.


The Multiple and Rich Significance of Meta-Levels

Given all of this, when you move to, or create, a meta-level, you are doing multiple things simultaneously. You are creating a frame that classifies the experience, setting an internal context that controls the meaning of the test, establishing a “game” that has inner rules, etc.

Start with a second thought about a first thought. This creates a frame-of-reference for the first thought and within that frame are multiple understandings. We call them by various meta-terms: beliefs, understandings, identity, memories, imaginations, permissions, etc.

An example: Access a thought-emotion of joy (delight, fun, playfulness) about learning. This joy (second thought or emotion) is about the state of learning (being receptive, changing perception, etc.). In doing this, you set a frame of joy about learning. The joy also becomes your inner context about learning. Learning now becomes a member of the class of Joyful things. Now you probably believe in learning as being fun. You might even define yourself as a joyful learner.

This is where terminology, critically important becomes challenging. Because the abstractions we use are reified (treated as a real thing and coded as nominalizations). This terminology itself makes understanding and clarity difficult. Bateson note how much language restrains us and creates problems for clear thinking when we move to this realm.

“These signals are evidently of higher Logical Type than the messages they classify. Among human beings this framing and labeling of messages and meaningful actions reaches considerable complexity, with the peculiarity that our vocabulary for such discrimination is still very poorly developed…” (Bateson, 1972, p. 203).

Speaking about abstractions in language such as “hostility,” “love,” “dependence,” etc. as if real things, he noted that “this is epistemology backwards,” and says—

“We are so befuddled by language that we cannot think straight…” (p. 275)


The Meta Functions

Lots of things happen simultaneously in the meta process. By “going meta” you 1) classify an item. You put it in a certain category and this delimits what’s in that category. 2) Qualify or texture the items in that classification. 3) Govern the experience as it sets up the “rules” for how the experience now operates.

1) Classify. “The context (or meta-message) classifies the message…” (Bateson, 1972, p. 247). “In human life … there occur signals whose major function is to classify contexts” … context markers (Bateson, 1972, p. 289). With each new frame we simultaneously set an internal context for our experience. Each meta-level is simultaneously a meta-state, named by some meta-term, a frame, an inner context.

2) Qualify. “All messages and parts of messages are like phrases or segments of equations which a mathematician puts in brackets. Outside the brackets there may always be a qualifier or multiplier which will alter the whole tenor of the phrase.” (Bateson, 1972, p. 232). As a higher level is set to classify members of the set, it modulates and qualifies their members.

3) Govern. “… in the process of therapy, there must have been communication at a level meta to these rules. There must have been communication about a change in rules.” (Bateson, 1972, p. 191). The higher modulates the lower as the bias set in a thermostat controls the range of flexibility of temperature in a room.

4) Expand Perspective. The process of moving up to a meta or higher level simultaneously expands one’s perspective. When a person moves from a particular to more general and abstract level (the class or category), the person at the same time gains a broader perspective of a large horizon.

5) Gestalt and Emergence. The process of “going meta” is not always additive, in fact, it is more typically exponential. It multiples things so that a gestalt experience arises. Then something “more than and different from the sum of the parts” arise. This is an emergent property in a system of multiple variables. Many complex states (courage, forgiveness, self-esteem, seeing opportunity, etc.) are gestalt states.


Two Worlds: Newtonian (Substance) and Communication (Form)

Bateson constantly spoke about two worlds which operate by different principles and “dynamics.” He emphasized that while the term “dynamics” can be used literally for the Newtonian wolrd, it can only be used metaphorically for the inner world of communication.

“The difference between the Newtonian world and the world of communication is simply this: that the Newtonian world ascribes reality to objects and achieves its simplicity by excluding the context of the context — excluding indeed all meta-relationships —a fortiori excluding an infinite regress of such relations.” (Bateson, 1972, p. 250, italics added)

“The explanatory world of substance can invoke no differences and no ideas but only forces and impacts. And per contra, the world of form and communication invokes no things, forces, or impacts but only differences and ideas.” (Bateson, 1972, p. 271, also p. 489)


For the world of communication, we use our self-reflexivity to move up a logical level to set a frame-of-reference about our experience in the Newtonian world. Doing this creates a meta-level state, an inner context of understanding, which then defines the pattern — “a contextual structure, a set of rules for how to put the information together” (Bateson, p. 276). Together all of these variables make up the human mind-body-emotion system. This gives us a holistic system with feedback and feed-forward communication loops.


The Meta of Meta-States

Structurally, a meta-state stands in special relationship to a state. The second state relates to the primary state as a higher awareness about the lower state. The junior state functions as a member of the class defined by the higher state. The higher or meta-state functions as a category for understanding and feeling about the lower.

That’s why “fear of our anger” (fearful anger) differs in texture so much from “respect of our anger” (respectful anger).

That’s why “shame about getting angry because it only turns things nasty” differs so much in texture to “appreciation of my powers to get angry because it informs me that some perceived value or understanding feels violated and allows me to respectfully explore the situation anger.”

As a higher logical level, the mental and emotional frames that we bring to our primary experiences represent the governing influences of beliefs, decisions, identities, etc. The higher frame, as a message about the lower experience, modulates, organizes, and governs it. It functions like a self-organizing attractor in the mind-body system. In your meta-states, you will find values, beliefs, expectations, understandings, identifications, etc. Some will be obvious and explicit, others will be hidden and convert.



A word that is a close synonym of meta is frame. A frame is a perceptual filter, it sets a category or a class, it is an interpretative schema as a structure whereby we attribute meaning to things. And similar to meta, it does many things simultaneously. As such it manages meaning, governs attention, controls responses, creates an orientation, orders (organizes) perception, punctuates a series of events, etc.

“Within dream or fantasy the dreamer does not operate with the concept ‘untrue.’ He operates with all sorts of statements but with a curious inabiity to achieve meta-statements. He cannot … dream a statement referring to (i.e., framing) his dream.” (Bateson, 1972, p. 185)

“The first step in defining a psychological frame might be to say that it is (or delimits) a class or set of messages.” (p. 186)

“While the analogy of the mathematical set is perhaps over abstract, the analogy of the picture frame is excessively concrete. The psychological concept which we are trying to define is neither physical nor logical. … Psychological frames are exclusive, i.e., by including certain messages within a frame, certain other messages are excluded. Psychological frames are inclusive, i.e., by excluding certain messages certain others are included. …” (187)

“A frame is meta-communicative. Any message, which either explicitly or implicitly defines a frame, ipso facto gives the receiver instructions or aids in his attempt to understand the messages included within the frame.” (188)


When Meta becomes Systemic

When we tease apart the structure of our higher frames-of-references (or meta-states) from the primary experiences we do so to create clarity about the inherent structure within complex states. In actual practice, however, primary and meta levels of experiences or states merge into one unit. Research scientist Arthur Koestler introduced the term “holons” to describe reality as composed of “whole/parts.” These whole/parts holons refer to any “entity” that is itself a whole and yet simultaneously a part of some other whole.

“To explain the observed phenomena we always have to consider the wider context of the learning experiment.” Why? “The larger context may change the sign of the reinforcement proposed by a given message, and evidently the larger context may also change the mnode – may place the message in the category of humor, metaphor, etc. … The context (or meta-message) classifies the message, but can never meet it on equal terms.” (Bateson, 1972, p. 246-247)

This means several things. First as holons, we experience our “states” as a whole. We experience confidence, courage, commitment, playfulness, joy, flow, etc. as a whole experience and not as the various variables that make up the experience. Yet second, each exists as a part of some larger whole. Within the holistic experience there is a part/whole structured experience — inner contexts and contexts-of-contexts.

As a system, we now have systemic properties arising. We have the emergence of new qualities. By transcending the current state or experience and including it, we put the experience within a higher frame.

In systems, the new gestalt is “more than and different from the sum of the parts.” Merely adding all of the parts together does not, and cannot, explain what emerges. Emergence occurs as new properties arise and there is a leap upward to a higher form of organization.

“So there are both discontinuties in evolution —mind cannot be reduced to life, and life cannot be reduced to matter; and there are continuities ..” (Ken Wilber, 1996, p. 24)

Each higher level embraces and engulfs the lower. When you take a primary state like anger or confidence and set various frames on it, you create the possibility for new emergent properties to emerge.

Imagine embracing your anger with acceptance, appreciation, and then wonder. Imagine engulfing it in love, respect, and honor. Imagine applying mindfulness, values, and patience to it. Imagine bringing ecology concerns, moral uprightness, and honor to it. Mix well. Put into the oven of your mind, let it bake for awhile…

Imagine embracing your power to take action in the world with acceptance and appreciation. Imagine engulfing it with ownership, excitement, and joy. Imagine applying hope, desired outcomes, willingness to take intelligent risks, love, and concern for others, to it. Mix all of these well in a state of contemplative relaxation. Let it bake as you learn and explore and develop…

Do this and you will texture your state. You can now create calm respectful anger. If you take charge of the process, you can design the kind of quality states that will enhance your life. To transcend an everyday state, begin with the primary level of consciousness, notice your thoughts and feelings about something. As your primary state, your awareness focuses on something external to yourself. You fear driving fast, closed in places, particular tones of voices. You get angry at insults. You delight in and enjoy the beauty of a scene or a piece of music.

You then transcend this experience including it as you move up to a chose meta-awareness. This creates a new level of organization. You now have something higher that still contains the essentials of the lower plus something else.

In respect, considerate, and patient anger — you still have anger. You still have the sense of threat or danger to your person, yet the anger is now textured in larger levels of mind and emotion causing something new to emerge. You have the anger state plus something that transcends the anger. Perhaps you have thoughtful anger or respectful anger.

By transcending the lower, you add new features, qualities, properties, and characteristics. You now have the ability to engineer new emergent properties for your states. It gives us the key to the structure of subjectivity as experiences become more complex and layered.

When your learning is taken up into playfulness and appreciation, when you engulf it with passion and the intention to improve the quality of life — something new emerges. You have a passionate and accelerated learning state.


Psycho-Logical Levels and States

When we put a state like anger or fear inside another state (i.e., calmness, respect, gentleness, courage, etc.), we change the internal logic of our nervous system. And in doing this we also change our way of thinking. We create what Alfred Korzybski called “psycho-logic.”

Anger now becomes a member of the class of calmness. Or it could become a member of the class of respect. This completely re-creates one’s “logic,” way of reasoning and generates a very new and different way of responding. Normally (what’s the norm in most cultures) anger is a member of the class of threatening things or personal insult. To put it into a new classification re-creates a new psycho-logic for a person’s state and experience.


“Levels” and “Types” as Synonyms

When we move from one level to the next higher “logical” level, to its classification, it is simultaneously at a higher logical type. In this the terminology of level and type are synonyms of each other. When you put one thought-feeling at a meta-relationship to another, the higher level operates as a category of the lower level. This is what we mean by both “logical types” and “logical levels.” One state is a “logical” relationship to another so it is at a higher level and is about the other.

The phrase “logical level” is comprised of two abstractions or nominalizations. For “logical” we have logic, logos, so the hidden verb is reasoning, a way of computing information. For “level” we have layers and the hidden verb layering. So with a “logical level” we refer to the process of reasoning that layers one thing upon another. When you hunt for a “logical type or level” you look at how a mind is classifying, categorizing, or punctuating things. That’s where a “logical type or level” exists — in a mind that represents categories and levels or orders of abstractions.

What is a logical level?

“In our brain structure, language, and perceptual systems there are natural hierarchies or levels of experiences. The effect of each level is to organize and control the information on the level below it. Changing something on an upper level would necessarily change things on the lower levels; changing something on a lower level could but would not necessarily affect the upper levels.” (Dilts, Epstein, Dilts, 1991, p. 26, italics added).

“Logical Levels: an internal hierarchy in which each level is progressively more psychologically encompassing and impactful” (1990: 217, italics added).

Logical typing occurs where there is a discontinuity (as opposed to a continuity, as with the hierarchies) between levels of classification. This kind of discontinuity is exemplified:

  1. a) in mathematic, by the restriction that a class cannot be a member of itself nor can one of the members be the class.
  2. b) in logic, by the solution to the classic logical paradox, ‘This statement is false.’ (If the statement is true, it is false, and if it is false, then it is true, and so on.) The actual truth value of the statement is of a different logical type than the statement itself.
  3. c) in behavior, by the fact that the reinforcement rules for exploration in animals is of a completely different nature than those for the process of testing that occurs in the act of exploration.” (1983: 24).

“The informational effects between levels and types is called feedback and is probably the major distinguishing feature of cybernetic systems.” (1983: 39)

“Differences of the same or different logical type interacting at different levels (hierarchical or logical respectively) will result in the modulation of the difference on the lower level.” (1983: 49)


Gregory Bateson:

A Logical Type: 1) The name is not the thing named but is of different logical type, higher than the thing named. 2) The class is of different logical type, higher than that of its members. (Mary Catherine Bateson, 1987, pp. 209-210).


Criteria for “logical levels:”

  1. Hierarchies of experience.
  2. Higher levels organize and control information on lower levels.
  3. The modulation effect of the system necessarily works downward.
  4. The modulation effect of the system does not necessarily work upward.
  5. Higher levels operate more encompassing and impactful than the lower levels.
  6. There exists a discontinuity between the levels — a break.
  7. The relationship of logic between levels creates “paradox” if we don’t sort phenomena on different levels.
  8. Hierarchical logical levels function as a system, the higher levels arise out of the lower and feed back information into the system to influence the lower levels. This creates recursiveness within logical levels.
  9. As a cybernetic system, as information moves up logical levels new features emerge that does not exist at the lower levels. This emergence at higher levels involve, in systems language, summitivity. In other words, the emergent property does not exist only as the sum of the parts, but new properties and qualities arise over “time” within the system.
  10. Reflexivity describes one of the new features that emerge in logical levels. In living organisms this results in self-reflexiveness or self-consciousness.
  11. As a system with feedback properties, logical levels operates by self-reflexiveness, the whole system becomes cybernetic. It becomes a “system that feeds back onto and changes itself” (Dilts, 1990, 33). This makes it self-organizing.

In the index of Bateson’s book Mind and Nature (1979)he writes this under the list of “Logical Types.” A series of examines is in order:

  1. The name is not the thing named but is of different logical type, higher than the thing named.
  2. The class is of different logical type, higher than that of its members.
  3. The injunctions issues by, or control emanating from, the bias of the house thermostat is of higher logical type than the control issued by the thermometer.
  4. The word “tumbleweed” is of the same logical type as “bush” or “tree.” It is not the name of a species or genus of plants; rather, it is the name of a class of plants whose members share a particular style of growth and dissemination.
  5. “Acceleration” is of a higher logical type than “velocity.”


In another place Bateson defined logical types in the following way:

Logical Type: 1) The name is not the thing named but is of different logical type, higher than the thing named. 2) The class is of different logical type, higher than that of its members. (Mary Catherine Bateson, 1987, pp. 209-210).


Bateson’s interchangeable use of “Levels” and “Types”

In Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972/2000), Bateson defines “logical types” in terms of levels of abstraction and quotes Korzybski’s map-territory distinction (p. 180). The following highlights his use of levels and types.

“… a frame is meta-communicative. Any message, which either explicitly or implicitly defines a frame, ipso facto gives the receiver instructions or aids in his attempt to understand the message included within the frame.

… Every meta-communicative or meta-linguistic message defines, either explicitly or implicitly, the set of messages about which it communicates, i.e., every meta-communicative message is or defines a psychological frame. (p. 188)

“No class can be a member of itself. The picture frame then, because it delimits a background, is here regarded as an external representation of a very special and important type of psychological frame — namely a frame whose function is to delimit a logical type.” (189)

In his chapter “Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia” Bateson describes “how humans handle communication involving multiple Logical Types” (p. 203). In that section he writes the following:

“Multiple levels of learning and the Logical Typing of signals. These are two inseparable sets of phenomena — inseparable because the ability to handle the multiple types of signals is itself a learned skill and therefore a function of the multiple levels of learning.” (204)

From Mind and Nature (1979), Bateson defines “mind” as involving processes of transformation that discloses “a hierarchy of logical types immanent in the phenomena.” (p. 122).

“I shall try to drive home the importance of this criterion by exhibiting cases in which the discrimination of levels of communication has been so confused or distorted that various sorts of frustration and pathology have been the result.” (122)

He then speaks about signals that we emit and then about another class of information that tells us about the coding of messages or indications from the person. These he calls meta-messages (p. 122-123). In so explaining “logical types” he then says,

“All this is premised on the existence of levels whose nature I am here trying to make clear. We start with a potential differentiation between action in context and action or behavior which defines context or makes context intelligible. … I refer to the latter type of communication as meta-communication… A function, an effect, of the meta-message is in fact to classify the messages that occur within its contexts.” (p. 124).

“The more appropriate question would be: At what level of logical typing does genetic command act in the determining of this characteristic? The answer to this question will always take the form: At one logical level higher than the observed ability of the organism to achieve learning or bodily change by somatic process.” (175)

“In sum, each of these disasters will be found to contain an error in logical typing. In spite of immediate gain at one logical level, the sign is reversed and benefit becomes calamity in some other, larger and longer, context.” (189)

In describing the “levels of control of house temperature” Bateson used arrows to mark the direction of control in the system. It zigzagged from Personal status to Genetics and training to personal threshold, to “too cold” or “too hot” to bias to oscillating temperature. To all of this Bateson commented:

“With each zigzag of the ladder, the sphere of relevance increases. In other words, there is a change in logical typing of the information collected by the sense organ at each level.” (215)

“To jump downward two or more steps in the hierarchy is likewise undesirable … the effect of any such jumping of levels, upward or downward, is that information appropriate as a basis for decision at one level will be used as basis for decision at some other level, a common variety of error in logical typing.” (216)



Bateson, Gregory. (1972/ 2000). Steps to an Ecology of Mind.  Chicago: The University of Chicago.

Bateson, Gregory. (1979). Mind and Nature. Chicago: The University of Chicago.

Dilts, Robert; Bandler, Richard; Grinder, John. (1980). Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Volume I. Cupertino CA: Meta Publications.

Hall, L. Michael (1995/2000). Meta-States: Mastering the Higher Levels of the Mind. Clifton, CO: NSP.

Hall, Michael. (1997). NLP: Going Meta — Advance Modeling Using Meta-Levels. Clifton, CO: NS Publications.

Hall, L. Michael; Bodenhamer, Bobby. (1999/ 2005). Sub-Modalities Going Meta. Clifton, CO: Neuro-Semantic Publications.

Hall, L. Michael (2000). Winning the Inner Games. Clifton, CO: Neuro-Semantic Publications.

Wilber, Ken. (1996). A Brief History of Everything. Boston MA: Shambhal.

Watzlawick, Paul; Weakland, John H.; Fisch, Richard. (1974). Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.

Watzlawick, Paul. (1984). The Invented Reality: How do we know what we believe we know? New York: W.W. Norton and Company.

The discussion is continued on the next blog post here.