‘I venture that we cannot fathom our situation in space-time if we habitually confuse ourselves by mixing type [A] statements with type [B] statements.’* – RAW (brackets in original)
Robert Anton Wilson often contrasts two broad classes of statements (let’s call them Class A and Class B, as RAW has done): A, those one can confirm or refute by experience “in the sensory-sensual continuum” – and B, those one can’t. He also reformulates in several ways – as if to alert readers to the paradoxes posed by any one simplistic formulation. This results in somewhat different dichotomies depending on the context:
meaningful (A) — meaningless (B)
information (A) — noise (B)
No-BS (A) — BS (B)
verifiable or falsifiable (A) — not verifiable or falsifiable (B)
denotation (A) — connotation (B)
tangible/specific (A) — spook/abstraction (B)
(One amusing Class A/Class B distinction appears in RAW’s satirical take on the Thomist Aristotelianism of the Vatican, in which the “essence” or Metaphysical Truth, ie Class B, of what has the appearance, ie Class A, of a piece of bread, “is” the body of a Jew who lived 2,000 years ago.)
In many contexts (eg “scientific” or socio-political matters) Class A statements seem preferable to Class B – to put it mildly. RAW provides many examples of the horrific results of some Class B pronouncements (bigotries, inquisitions, etc), but his writings on this usually seem, to me, overtly context-dependent, and aimed at increasing the reader’s sensitivity to the differences between Class A and B statements for a given context.
One good reason for this: Class A and Class B statements often look exactly the same – with identical linguistic structure. Confusion might then result, and context becomes even more important (more on this below).
‘The people who released poison gas in the Tokyo subways, the Nazis, the Marxists, nut-cults like Objectivism, Heaven’s Gate, Scientology, CSICOP, etc. represent some of the horrors and curses unleashed by mixing Class [A] statements with Class [B] statements.’– RAW, Email to the Universe* (brackets in original)
Class B as Philosopher’s Stone
On the other hand, a significant portion of RAW’s writing deals with the “healing” or salvific or liberating effects of certain types of Class B statements.
“What…?”, you might ask, “…healing occurs from noise, meaningless abstractions and bullshit?!”
Bob seems quite explicit on this point when he addresses the Meta-model and the Milton Model in terms of Class A and Class B. (Note: the “Meta-model” refers to a model of language prominent in Neuro-Linguistic Programming. The “Milton Model” refers to aspects of the work of Dr Milton H. Erickson, also prominent in NLP).
To put it simplistically:
Meta-model = Class A
Milton Model = Class B (with neuroactive effects)
Here’s how RAW puts it, in a talk (part of a Richard Bandler seminar):
‘I will now define the Meta-model in my own way – see how close it is to your understanding or Richard’s way of defining it. The Meta-model consists of all those statements which can be scientifically confirmed or disproven, or can be checked by ordinary experience. For instance, if I say there is coffee in this cup with some milk in it, and I test it, it sure tastes like coffee with some milk in it… That type of statement belongs to the Meta-model. And according to Alfred Korzybski in Science and Sanity, we should try to restrict ourselves entirely to the Meta-model – the statements that can be proven or disproven by ordinary experience, or by the type of extraordinary experience known as scientific investigation.’– RAW, Bandler seminar, first lecture, 2000
In Email to the Universe, RAW gives a shorter version: ‘The meta-model, continually revised, updated and expanded, consists of the class of all scientifically meaningful statements available at this date.’
He then describes the Milton model:
‘The “Milton model,” on the other hand, named after Dr. Milton Erickson, “the greatest hypnotist of the 20th Century,” consists of the class of all scientifically meaningless statements that “magically” make us feel much better, or much worse — or, in occult language, the class of all blessings and all curses.’– RAW, Email to the Universe
New Age Milton / New Age Bob?
In a couple of talks by RAW that I attended in the 1990s, people in the audience asked what he thought of “the New Age”. In both cases his answer came back the same: “Ten percent good ideas, ninety percent bullshit”.
Some of the 10% of “good” New Age ideas that RAW had in mind relate, I suspect, to the “blessings” aspect of the Milton model – those Class B statements that have healing or liberating effects. And looking through RAW’s works, one can find many examples of this. He writes favorably, for example, of some practical healing effects of Christian Science, which he experienced personally. And in the Bandler seminar, he makes this comment:
‘If you regard Christian Science not as a mystical revelation, as she [Mrs Eddy] did, but as a practical, rather low-brow but effective form of neuro-linguistic programming, nothing she did was really all that astonishing.’
Several New Age “positive thinking” and affirmation manuals that I’ve read seemed similar to Christian Science – at least in terms of the “positive” “hypnotic” way they appeared to work (if not in terminology or religious belief). On that connection, here’s a relevant and interesting passage (footnote, actually) from Cosmic Trigger II, in which RAW writes of his experiments with New Age and “Positive Thinking” type material:
‘Some people disapprove of this type of auto-suggestion. The same people often give themselves continuous negative suggestions all day long (“You can’t win…the big boys have it all rigged against us…I always fuck up”) and accordingly they live in misery. I have stolen Highly Positive programs from Christian Science, the Course in Miracles, How to be Popular, How to Get Rich etc etc and some of them worked wonderfully and some still need more effort. In general, I am much happier than before starting those experiments.’– RAW, Cosmic Trigger II, ‘And how are you tonight, Mr Wilson?’ (my bold emphasis)
‘Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists.’ – A Course in Miracles
‘Matter cannot be sick, and Mind is immortal. The mortal body is only an erroneous mortal belief of mind in matter.’
– Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health
In the main text (same chapter, Cosmic Trigger II), RAW writes that he combined Acid with Positive Thinking and traditional Cabalistic Magick. He reports that “The major beneficial effect of these experiments was that I erased several (not all) of the neurotic compulsions that have been with me since childhood. I lost my anxieties.”
We’re mostly in the realm of Class B, here – the class of statements that in a different (more “rational”, “scientific”) context we might evaluate as “meaningless”, “noise” or “bullshit”. Which isn’t to say the meta-model (Class A) has no use here – quite the contrary, fairly obviously (although RAW cites several cases of both “regular” and “psychosomatic” diseases which “Positive Thinking”/”blessing” approaches appeared to cure where standard “official” medical treatment failed).
Confusing & confounding Classes A and B
I find that contextual cues don’t always seem as obvious as a science lab or hypnotist’s swinging watch. And a variety of “regular politicians”, sub-editors & hacks, think-tanks, spin doctors, advertisers, PR teams and even “ordinary people” occasionally – or maybe often – craft phrases to sound very much like “plain-speaking truth” about a situation. Orwell said that “pretentious diction”, “euphemism” and “sheer cloudy vagueness” debased political language, but those attributes seem relatively easy to spot. What worries me far more tends to pass itself off as “no-nonsense straight talking” – the demagogue’s Class B or BS.
And to make things worse, pronouncements, slogans and credos that may have exhilarating “subjective” effects for an individual (Milton model) may also have disastrous effects when understood (and implemented) as “objective” political agenda or social order (Meta-model).
Some metaphors for change that may seem positive for a person (Red Pill, anyone? Cleanse your doors of perception?) can have sinister consequences when “read” on a social level (QAnon in Congress? Cleanse society?). Also, Guerilla Ontology – not to mention basic irony – can function equally well as Class A or Class B (and it might not be recognised according to the context it arose from).
Relating to this confusion, RAW has the following to say:
‘Our major problem, in the elementary blessing and cursing game called social conversation, lies in the fact that quite often – very, very often – the same word may have “objective” denotations in the scientific meta-model but also have “emotive” neurosemantic connotations in the magical Milton model. In other words, we hypnotize ourselves, and one another, with remarkable ease. In only a few minutes, a dedicated dogmatist can have you heatedly shouting something in the form of the Primary Magick Theorem, which declares that any non-verbal incident or event encountered and endured “really” “is” some noise or grunt we choose to label it with.’– RAW, Email to the Universe
In an earlier post, I suggested searching on Twitter for tacit “All” statements (ie over-generalisations) of the kind that RAW tried to combat with “sombunall”. The meta-model has Linguistic Generalisations as a main category – the idea being that generalisations may lack important “referential indices” (specifics on when, where, who, in what context, etc), leading us to treat an abstraction as universal, and thus creating insidious maps (eg regarding classes of people).
If RAW’s own approach on some of these matters seems very similar to the meta-model’s, bear in mind that Alfred Korzybski’s work provides a main source for both. There also appears a significant similarity, or overlap, between the Meta-model and lists of cognitive distortions developed in Cognitive Therapy and Dr Albert Ellis’s Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). Wilson occasionally mentioned Ellis’s influence on his own thinking, and he and Paul Krassner conducted a long (27 pages) interview with Ellis for The Realist. Dr Ellis apparently rewrote some of his books in E-Prime.
Meta-model & metaphor
‘We’re trapped in linguistic constructs. All that is, is metaphor.’ – RAW, ‘Language, Reason & Reality’
If, like RAW, we regard the meta-model as a language model for domains where we have an interest in “scientific” or other consensual “rational” agreements on what seems “to be happening” in the “sensory-sensual continuum” (“experiential or experimental or phenomenological or existential referents in the sensory or sensual or instrumental space-time manifold”, as RAW puts it), then perhaps a more truly “meta-” language model would operate one level above (so to speak), to encompass domains outside that definition – poetic, mathematical, moral, mythical, emotional-state languages, etc.
As I mentioned in a previous post, Bob W. continually hints, throughout his writings, at a candidate for such a model: metaphor.
Bob writes that the principle software of the human brain “consists of words, metaphors, disguised metaphors and linguistic structures in general.” Many people probably regard metaphor as relevant only in figurative, literary (etc) matters, and nothing to do with scientific, logical or mathematical languages. But several researchers in cognitive linguistics see metaphor as fundamental to human thought across all kinds of conceptual domains (including science and mathematics) – they argue that we think in metaphor, that metaphors construct our realities. As a New York Times review of Philosophy in the Flesh, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, puts it: “the authors engage in a sort of metaphorical genome project, attempting to delineate the genetic code of human thought.”
‘very few scientists can remember that their favorite models started out as metaphors.’– RAW, Cosmic Trigger II, ‘Accident and Essence’
Hypnotists & demagogues – filling in the gaps
One can view the Milton model as the reverse of the Meta-model, with the former bringing vagueness where the latter brings clarity. So, under the Milton model, one would (for example) artfully increase generalisation and abstraction, removing jarring specifics, and allowing the audience to “fill in the gaps” “internally” (and possibly unconsciously, reflexively, distractedly, etc) according to their own personal maps. That might form part of a beneficial consensual hypnotic induction, or “blessing” – or, on the other hand, it might form a nefarious piece of demagogic rabble-rousing, in which the speaker, let’s say, attacks an ill-defined class of people in terms of “defending our deeply-held values” (without actually specifying those values, beyond further vague abstractions).
I first read about the meta-model around 2002/2003, with George W. Bush and Tony Blair pushing for the invasion of Iraq. For amusement, I tried applying the model to some of Tony Blair’s statements. This was just after mass anti-war demos in London (and across the UK) – Blair embarked on a damage limitation exercise, criticising the demonstrators as misguided and “anti-American”, etc. It seemed like slippery BS to me at the time, but the UK media coverage (that I saw) couldn’t, or wouldn’t, refute Blair’s assertions. Here’s what I came up with (I originally published it as part of a longer article about “propaganda” on my old Anxiety Culture website. Don’t judge me too harshly if you have different views – it was nearly two decades ago!):
For example, consider the following “Blairisms” (Tony Blair quoted or paraphrased) in terms of Meta-Model categories:
1. Simple Deletion
“People” refers to whom exactly? We don’t know – it’s deleted/excluded. Used in the context of criticising anti-war campaigners, the effect of this deletion is to associate campaigners in general with anti-Americanism.
2. Unspecified Adjective (sub-category of Deletion)
“The extreme views of many of the campaigners…”
Extreme in what way? The speaker’s definition of the adjective “extreme” is deleted/excluded.
3. Simple Generalisation
“Without continued threat of force we will never make any progress…”
Never? Does all progress depend on threat of force?
4. Modal Operator (sub-category of Generalisation)
“We have to act now…”
“We must not allow this to continue…”
Terms like “have to” and “must” express internal rules of the speaker’s modus operandi for functioning in the world. The speaker generalises that these rules apply to everyone.
5. Simple Distortion
“Only Saddam can avert this war…”
A basic cause-effect distortion. A war is averted by the aggressors deciding not to attack. Such a decision can be caused by many things – eg a preference for avoiding mass slaughter.
6. Complex Equivalence (sub-category of Distortion)
“They’re always criticising the President – they hate America…”
How does criticism of a President equate with hatred of a country? The equivalence of the two statements appears complex and is unstated by the speaker.
7. Lost Performative (sub-category of Distortion)
“The bombing is unfortunate, but it’s necessary”
“We don’t like doing it, but it’s inevitable”
“We don’t want to kill civilians, but it’s unavoidable”
These phrases assert a type of judgement (eg “necessary”, “inevitable”, “unavoidable”) without taking responsibility for that judgement. Who evaluates it as unavoidable? According to whose criteria is it inevitable?
According to what standard is it necessary?
These questions identify the “performative” (performer or source) of the evaluations, thereby exposing the statements as someone’s opinion rather than unquestionable fact.
“If people knew the true extent of Saddam’s brutality they would not question our decision…”
A presupposition is a silent assumption or unspoken paradigm (either a sub-category of Distortion, or a category in its own right). Such “paradigmatic” assumptions need to be questioned: “How do you know that knowledge of Saddam’s brutality would cause people to stop asking questions?”