What is Neuro-Semantics and Where did it Come From?

Neuro-Semantics began in 1996 as the brain-child of Michael Hall and Bobby Bodenhamer as we engaged in various conversations about Meta-States, NLP, and General Semantics.  Out of those conversations we wrote several articles regarding the current state of affairs in NLP.  The first one we entitled, “The Downside of NLP.” This article, as well as some follow up articles about the state of disarray, bad P.R., the Bandler lawsuit, the over-emphasis and vague emphasis on “installing learnings unconsciously,” etc. were published in Anchor Point.  Nelson Penaylillo (NLP Trainer in Australia), Peter Kean (NLP Trainer, Washington DC), and Robert Olic (NLP Trainer, Philadelphia, PA) were the first to thereafter joined in the conversation.

In extending, expanding, and enriching both NLP and GS, we (Hall and Bodenhamer) first sought simply to unite and synthesize the best pieces from Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and General Semantics.   Our passion was to get more credibility and validity for the field that seemed so disorganized and torn by competition in the USA.   Simultaneously, we were developing numerous new patterns using the Meta-States Model.   This was beginning to revolutionize things and it was Dr. Bodenhamer who first saw this vision in the Meta-States model.  Consequently we choose the term Neuro-Semantics to designate the new enriched field.

Now the term Neuro-Semantics goes back to Alfred Korzybski.  The father of General Semantics introduced both phrases, “neuro-linguistic” and “neuro-semantic,” in 1936 in some of his papers.  Later, they showed up in his 1941 Preface to his classic work, Science and Sanity. In Korzybski’s writings, you will find both terms used pretty much synonymously.  Here, however, following the Meta-States Model®we have arbitrary chosen to use Neuro-Linguistics to refer to the Modeling, Methodology, and Technology that has grown out of the field of NLP andNeuro-Semantics to refer to the newer and more extensive Modeling, Patterning, Methodology, and Technology that has resulted from the Meta-States Model.  In the next section you will find a fuller discrimination between NLP and Neuro-Semantics.


How does Neuro-Semantics differ from Neuro-Linguistic Programming?

NLP emerged as a happen-chance from a modeling project of Fritz Perls and Virginia Satir.  This happened as the young college student, Richard Bandler, discovered his genius of imitation of their language patterns.   Linguistics Professor, John Grinder, began working with Richard to model the structure of the therapeutic wizards.  This brought them into relationship with Dr. Robert Spitzer, who became their first publisher (Science and Behavior Books).  And that, in turn, led to their association with the genius of Gregory Bateson (anthropologist, linguist, cybernetician) when Spitzer moved them onto his property.  They became neighbors of Bateson.  And that connection, in turn, then led them to Milton Erickson and hypnosis.

Using the new formulations of the then-emerging Cognitive Psychology Models, Bandler and Grinder tapped into the elegance of the TOTE Model of Miller, Galanter, and Pribram.  This gave them a linear way to track the processes within “the black box” that Behaviorism had always avoided.  Out of this came the NLP Strategy Model— a Model for Modeling Excellence.  This model primarily operates like a flow chart of consciousness, tracking “mind” linearly.  In Neuro-Semantics, we add the vertical dimension and so tease out the hidden meta-levels within the structure of subjectivity.

In the beginning, NLP sought to avoid all theory, explanatory models, and “the why” question by presenting itself as strictly focused on how do you do that? Accordingly, NLP arose first and foremost as a Communication Model.  It explored how the body (Neuro, e.g. the nervous system, physiology, neurology, etc.) gets Programmed by the use of various Languages (linguistics).

By way of contrast, Neuro-Semantics goes beyond the linear “flow chart” analysis of the Structure of Subjective Experience by focusing more fully on the Meta-Levels that support and drive the movement of consciousness along its TOTEs.  By tracking the vertical dimensions of human processing, it moves into higher level Meanings much more fully.  Accordingly, it tracks and models the neuro-semantic structures of meanings at higher (and typically, unconscious) levels.

Both Neuro-Semantics and NLP operate as interdisciplinary approaches, utilizing models from many psychologies.  This includes cybernetics, computer science, neuro-biology, family systems, anthropology, etc.

Neuro-Semantics highlights much more fully and extensively the existence of multiple meta-levels and logical levels than does NLP.   Korzybski (1933/1994) labeled the higher level abstractions as “second order” and “third order” abstractions.  He suggested that much study and exploration needs to be done in this area of reflexivity about how we evaluate and then evaluate our evaluations and by that create higher levels of “mind.”

Bateson (1972) picked up on this in how he used meta-levels and logical types in his theories of schizophrenia, play, humor, aesthetics, etc.   He and the Mental Research Institute (MRI) in Palo Alto laid so much of the foundation for NLP (especially in the 1974 book, Change by Watzlawick, Weakland, & Fisch).

NLP, as a meta-discipline itself, certainly has meta-levels (the Meta-Model, Meta-Programs).  And co-developer, Robert Dilts has contributed numerous meta-level models.   But nowhere in NLP had a fully descriptive and comprehensive model about Meta-Levels emerged until the development of the Meta-States® Model (Hall 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998).  This was recognized by the International NLP Trainer’s Association in 1995 in their award for Meta-States as “the most significant contribution to NLP in 1994—1995.”

In many ways, the Meta-States Model has turned NLP upside down.  And it has done so in such a simple way.  By merely changing the operational metaphor of “depth” inherited from Transformational Grammar, and adopting the “height” metaphor, Meta-States reformulated NLP.  Dr. Graham Dawes noted this in his early reviews of Meta-States and Dragon Slayingcommenting that Meta-States will be the model that “ate NLP.”  Others have commented that Meta-States outframes NLP as it sets up higher frames for the processes of NLP.  If this sounds like we think Neuro-Semantics will replace NLP, we would like to add that we see it in a different function, namely, as extending, continuing, and evolving the development that began with Korzybski, Bateson, Bandler, Grinder, Dilts, etc.

In the Meta-States Model, the nature of self-reflexivity has finally been given its full due.  In this way, the model provides a way to track thoughts-about-thoughts, feelings-about-feelings, as our inevitable and inescapable meta-thinking, meta-feeling, and meta-responding generates layers upon layers of cognition.  This flexible model provides a way to identify the ever-changing hierarchy of human consciousness, without becoming a rigid way.  The levels themselves shift and change.  And true enough, while this makes for seeming complexity in human “mind” and experience, the ordering of the Meta-Level Principles formats and structures that complexity.  This means that the plastic and flexible nature of meta-levels whereby any thought can reflect back onto itself or onto another thought at any level does not have to create confusion or chaos.  We can track it.  We can model it as a system.

While the recursive nature of thought-feeling does create complexity, it does not create chaos.  Systemic complexity contains structure.  So even though it may at first appear as the complexity of chaos, with a meta-level model like Meta-States we can easily discover an ordering at a higher level.  And as this distinguishes different levels of “thought”— this provides a new and profound understanding in NLP.  We have designated this as the beginning of Neuro-Semantics. This Meta-Level Model thus provides a way of distinguishing such mental phenomena as:

∙     Beliefs — Validated Thoughts-about-Thoughts

∙     Values — Valued Thoughts-about-Thoughts

∙    Understandings— Extensive systems of Thoughts-about-Thoughts

∙     Decisions — Choiced Thoughts-about-Thoughts

∙     Identity — Beliefs about Thoughts-about-”Self” Concepts

∙    Concepts — Extensive (simple or complex) Understandings about Domains of Understandings

∙     Categories — conceptual sorting of Concepts

∙    Reasons —higher level structures used as explanatory constructs

∙     Etc.

As an aside, I should here mention the extreme limitation of the term “thought.”  By itself, the term reflects a very limited, Aristotelian, and primitive term—an Elementalism.  Using the principles of General Semantics, we know that “thought” includes “emotion,” hence the awkward yet more sane mapping of “thought-feeling.” So to use “thought” sanely we have to do so from a non-elementalistic perspective.  For people in NLP, this provides a new piece straight from GS that was not in the original Meta-Model.  You will find it in the expanded Meta-Model in The Secrets of Magic.

With the systemic nature of self-reflexive thought-feeling looping recursively back onto itself creating layers of consciousness and the higher level structures (the “mental” phenomena), we have states-about-states or Meta-States.  This sets up systemic processing.  It generates logical levels in our “thinking-emoting.”  It sets up attractors in a self-organizing system.  And these run by certain higher level principles— all articulated as the Meta-Stating Principles.

Now we can begin to sort out different kinds of meanings. We can sort out linkage “meaning,”previously known as Pavlovian conditioning or Associative Meanings. It goes further.  It introduces Contextual Meanings— the meanings that arise from higher mental contexts.  These higher level abstractions of “meanings” into which we categorize and attribute significance to things thereby generates our Semantic or Conceptual States. And with this, we introduce yet another new distinction in NLP.

I trust that by now you can recognize that in these ways, Neuro-Semantics incorporates higher level “meanings” into the structure of subjectivity.  Our “states” involve the primary level neuro-linguistic thoughts-and-feelings in response to something out there in the world.  That defines a Primary State.  A Meta-State involves more.  It involves our thoughts-feeling about our thoughts, emotions, states, memories, imaginations, concepts, etc.  It involves our meta-responses to previous responses.

There is a lot more to Neuro-Semantics than this (and more being developed every week), but this does begin to offer a set of distinctions.  In summary, notice the following chart.

NLP Neuro-Semantics
  • Linear Processing of the Structure of Experience
  • TOTE Strategy Analysis
  • Linear Flow Chart Tracking Consciousness
  • Separate Models for various meta-phenomena   (i.e. Values, Beliefs, etc.)
  • Confusion of All “States” as the Same
  • Lack of how Meta-Model & Meta-Programs  Relate & Interface
  • “Sleight of Mouth” Patterns
  • Confusion of Orientational Metaphor— up and down: depth (core) and height
  • “Submodalities” — Patterns, Technologies, etc.
  • Meta-Level Processing
  • Vertical Logical Levels Analysis
  • Recursiveness/ Reflexivity
  • Systemic & Holistic Model embracing all of the Meta-Phenomena
  • Distinction between Primary States, Meta-States, Gestalt States
  • Clarification about the three Meta-Domains as
  • Interactive & Redundant — The Systemic 3 Model.
  • Mind-Lines— Conversational Reframing ordered in a logical level format that includes deframing, reframing, outframing, etc.
  • Clarity about the Orientational Metaphors— Recognition of the representational distinctions as actually Meta-Modalities
  • Introduction of Meta-Detailing as the heart of genius
  • Meta-Programs revitalized as early formations of Meta-States
  • Canopies of Consciousness and Attractors of Self-Organizing Systems


How does Neuro-Semantics differ from General Semantics?

General Semantics began with Alfred Korzybski (1933) and continues today as a viable discipline and field in its own right.  As an engineer, Korzybski sought to redesign the old Aristotelian language as our primary way of mapping the territory.  He wanted to do this to increase our ability at effective adjustment to increase humanity’s sanity.  The old mapping involved several unsane factors: identification, elementalism, confusion of levels, etc.

NLP brought over many of the features of General Semantics into its Meta-Model of language.  More recently, we have identified many of the Korzybskian linguistic distinctions not brought over and have added them to the Meta-Model (Hall, Secrets of Magic, 1998).

Neuro-Semantics differs from General Semantics by its NLP emphasis on modeling excellence and designing patterns, technologies, and new methodologies for human design engineering (a phrase, by the way, originated by Korzybski, 1921).  In Neuro-Semantics we have begun to create a Merging of the Models (NLP and GS).  What we began in November 1998 in London as a three-day training program under the title, The Merging of the Models, will eventually result in a second modeling — or Engineering Training using other as-of-yet unmined treasures of Korzybski.

What Uniquely Distinguishes this new field?

Neuro-Semantics stands out as both “enriched” NLP and “enriched” General Semantics.  Returning to the sources of NLP, General Semantics, Bateson’s works in anthropology, schizophrenia, Levels of Learning, and cybernetics, MRI Institute, Cognitive Psychology (Miller, Galanter, Pribram), etc., we have sought to establish Neuro-Semantics on solid, scientific, and highly researched studies.

NLP, for a variety of reasons, has seemed to have received lots of negative and harmful Public Relations and General Semantics has seemed to locate itself in a small and isolated community.  For these (and other reasons), we have sought to step aside just enough from NLP and GS so that we can both continue the adventure of modeling and engineering human excellence but not tied down to the limitations of the two source disciplines.

I should mention here that we in the Institute of Neuro-Semantics are not the only ones who have been moving in this direction.  Canadian Dennis Chong, M.D. and Roye Fraser of Blue Dell Systems, both NLP trainers, have in recent years written about Neuro-Semantic Programming (NSP).  As noted on our web site (www.neurosemantics.com), Dr. Chong has written several books mentioned NSP, Don’t Ask Why, Language Elegance, and Knife Without Pain. While we have some differences with these gentlemen, the basic thrust and emphasis corresponds to an amazing degree.

Neuro-Semantics has also found new life and excitement in Chaos theory, Self-Organization Theory, the newer developments in Cognitive Psychology, Performance Coaching, Brief Psychotherapy, REBT, Glasser’s Reality Therapy/ Control Theory, and many other fields.


What Central Principles govern this domain?

First and foremost of the principles that govern Neuro-Semantics is the Bateson principle that“The higher levels govern (modulate, drive, organize) the lower levels.”   Meta-levels serve asthe frame-of-reference for the activity (thinking, feeling, responding) that occurs at the levels lower to the frame.  The meta-level thus operates as an attractor in a self-organizing system.  From this we have identified numerous other principles.

Someone (or something) will always set the frame of reference. The question becomes, “Whoset the frame?”  Count on your Meta-State becoming your unconscious frames— your “way of being in the world,” your attitude

Whoever sets the frame will govern the experience (run the game!). Since higher frames govern—and since somebody also sets it, the person who sets the frame thereby takes charge of the subsequent experiences.  The resulting thoughts, ideas, concepts, beliefs, emotions, behaviors, language, problems, solutions, and experiences derive their existence from the frame.  Frames govern.

The whole determines the parts and from the parts, the whole emerges. This speaks about the systemic nature of the mind-body system.  It speaks about the gestalt nature of our neuro-linguistics processes.  The system that emerges from the meta-levels that govern the lower levels brings about an overall gestalt (or configuration of interactive parts) which in turn, define the character of the whole.

In outframing, we set up a higher level frame-of-reference that will take over. The power to identify a frame enables us to step aside from a frame and to set a whole new frame.  Doing this transforms everything.  It performs meta-level “magic” in that it installs a new self-organizing attractor at the top of the semantic system.

What we call “experience” differs radically and significantly at each level. Korzbyski described these in his “levels of abstraction” model regarding how the nervous system abstracts at different levels.  We can use the same word/s at the different levels as multiordinal terms —terms that have no specific meaning until we specify at which level we refer.

Reflexivity endows consciousness with systemic processes and characteristics. Reflexivity describes the mechanism that drives these levels of abstraction and these meta-level experience.  This refers to the fact that our consciousness can reflect back onto itself or its products (thoughts, emotions, beliefs, values, decisions, specific concepts, etc.).  As it does, it sets up feed-back and feed-forward processes and thereby creates a circular system.

Meta-level disorientation and conflict can create living hells. Generally speaking (numerous exceptions do exist), whenever we bring negative thoughts-and-feelings (states) against ourselves or any facet of ourselves, we put ourselves at odds with ourselves.  And when our self-relationships (relation to ourselves) become disturbed, we begin to loop around in vicious downward self-reinforcing cycles.  And when self-disturbed (self-condemning, self-contempting, self-repressing, self-hating, etc.), this then creates a disturbance for all of our relationships with others.  This creates neurosis, psychosis, personality disorders, character disorders, etc.

Paradox frequently governs meta-level solutions for health, integration, balance, and empowerment. The only way to rid ourselves of unwanted thoughts, emotions, behaviors, habits, etc. involves, paradoxically, welcoming, accepting, appreciating, and celebrating that very thought, emotion, behavior, etc.  By welcoming it into consciousness we can take counsel of it, reality check it, learn from it, etc.  To not reckon with it leads to unuseful suppression, repression, self-rejection, etc.

Setting a frame necessitates neuro-linguistic energy & repetition. How do we actually set a frame or establish a meta-level State?  Merely “thinking” or even “feeling” will not do it.  We can think, know, feel, and have awarenesses that do not establish a higher level frame-of-reference.  Here we need to utilize the natural processes of how our brains operate—we need to use drama, energy, repetition, etc.

Altering higher level frames alters Identity and Destiny. You can’t change what you do (so that it lasts in a pervasive and generative way), without also changing who you are. Does your higher frame of self-definition support the change?  Your behavior is like a printout of your Operating Programs.

What are some of the New Techniques & Patterns that have already emerged from Neuro-Semantics?

At this point in time we have not made a full account of the scores of pattens and technologies that have arisen.  Every month in Meta-States Journal we have published at least one new or adapted pattern.  There you will find more than twenty fully described patterns.  (We also have most of those in outline form in Secrets of Meta-States, the Training Manual).  You can locate 16 new Time-Lining Patterns in the book by that title, and technologies in the remaking of Meta-Programs (Figuring Out People).

∙     Conceptual Positions (the Perceptual Positions reformatted as a Logical Level System and incorporating Semantics.

∙      Meta-Yesing: A Ten-Minute Belief Change Pattern.

∙      Inserting Resources Pattern

∙      Meta-Detailing: The heart of Genius (see Meta-Stating Genius)

∙     Modeling with Meta-Levels (see NLP: Going Meta)

What is The Institute of Neuro-Semantics®?

Who are the Principal Players in the Institutes of Neuro-Semantics?

It began when Michael Hall and Bob Bodenhamer filled for trademarks for Neuro-Semantics and Meta-States in 1997.  The Registration of the Trademarks were finally obtained in 1998 (Registration numbers: 2,210,336 and 2,199,913).   During this time, Dr. Bodenhamer established The First Institute of Neuro-Semantics in Gastonia NC.  Later, Robert Olic (Olic Performance Seminars) began sponsoring Neuro-Semantic Trainings by Michael Hall on the east coast.


We established Meta-States Journal in 1997 as a monthly publication for Neuro-Semantics.  It promotes and markets much of the current research and discoveries, training schedules, responses from around the world, and much more.  We have also created a website atwww.neurosemantics.com.




What is the Agenda, Motivation, and Intentions of those Associated with Neuro-Semantics?

The purpose (agenda and motivation) of The Institute of Neuro-Semantics is to continue the exciting research and modeling into the adventure of human design engineering using the tools of General Semantics, NLP, and Meta-States.

The design of this?  To engineer human excellence by modeling the best, by identifying the structure of Excellence, and by designing afresh new forms of human excellence in all fields.

And the meta-outcome of that?  To enable people to find, discover, and actualize their best — to consciously enter into more experiences of Flow (Czikszentmihalyi), Positive Addiction (Glasser), Genius (Bandler, Grinder, Dilts, etc.), to empower people to run their own brains and to manage their meta-minds, and to achieve high performance whether it be in career, relationships, personal development, spirituality, health, or whatever.

Historical Development of the Meta-States Model

(Compiled by Denis Bridoux, NLP Trainer with Post-Graduate Professional Education, Harragate, England)

1933: Alfred Korzybski coined the phrase neuro-linguistic training, postulated his theory of the levels of abstraction, constructed his theory of second-order abstractions, third-order, etc. in his classic word Science and Sanity.

1972: Gregory Bateson’s classic work Steps to an Ecology of Mind that brought together all his revolutionary studies on double-bind theory, applications of Logical Theory of Types, going meta to meta-levels, the levels of Learning Model, etc.

1975-1983: John Grinder & Richard Bandler utilizing the idea of going meta in their NLP model beginning with the Meta-model—an explicit model about how language and VAK representations work in human experience.  They distinguish sensory-based level from the evaluative level, the importance of meta-parts, and the strategy model for modeling “the structure of subjective experience.”

1994: Michael Hall specifies how meta-levels of mind-body neuro-linguistic states factor into the structure of subjective experience and bring over Korzybski and Bateson ideas into the strategy model.  This arose from modeling resilience and discovering that within it people have embedded numerous layers and levels of consciousness and states.  Awareness by the International Trainers Association of NLP (1995) for the most significant contribution to NLPduring 1994-1995.

ISNS The International Society of Neuro-Semantics

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.

(970) 523-7877

NLP A Model of Communication that empowers people to run their own brains by using the “languages” of the mind, namely, the sensory representational systems — the Visual, Auditory, & Kinesthetics (body sensations).  We think in these see, hear, and feel dimensions or modes.  As we so represent things to ourselves on the inner screen of consciousness which we call “thinking,” so we signal our bodies.  This then puts us in state— that is, in a Mind-Body State of Consciousness.

Developed by two guys fascinated by human excellence.  NLP provides a model, insights, and specific step-by-step techniques for running your own brain, managing your own states, communicating more effectively and elegantly with yourself and others, and replicating human expertise in every field.


A Model of Reflexive Consciousness that details precisely how we reflect back on our thoughts and feelings to create higher levels of thoughts-and-feelings.  In so using our thoughts-and-feelings thoughts-about-our-thoughts, feelings-about-feelings, we thereby create mind-bodystates-about-states or Meta-States.

This differs from a Primary State like fear, anger, joy, relaxed, tense, pleasure, pain, etc. in that a Meta-State has a layering of higher level concepts such as fear of my fear, anger at my fear, shame about being embarrassed, joy of learning, esteem of my self, etc.


A Model of Meaning or Evaluation that utilizes the Meta-States Model for articulating and working with higher levels of states and the Neuro-Linguistic Programming Model for detailing human processing and experiencing.  Neuro-Semantics presents a fuller and richer model that offers a way of thinking about and working with the way our nervous system (neurology) and mind (linguistics) create meaning, evaluate events and experiences, and assigns significances (semantics).

Source: http://www.neurosemantics.com/ns-writings/introducing-neuro-semantics-2