Alfred Korzybski’s structural differential represents the process of abstraction that is occurring at any given moment as we perceive reality. Korzybski utilises the word “abstraction” because as we move from the event, or happening, up to the point that we can communicate it (to others, or to ourselves linguistically and form inferences) there is a chain of abstraction occurring. That is to say, that the word is not the thing it represents. Furthermore, our knowledge of anything should always be viewed as somewhat incomplete; there are many complex processes occurring that are beyond what we can actually perceive. Our perception involves the brain making a representation. The objects you perceive look how they do because of your nervous system; so there is no “true” way anything can appear, only your representation, how it appears to you (or to clarify, how it appears to a human nervous system). “Science and Sanity”(1933) is a unforgiving 900 pages, and not the easiest thing you’ll ever read, however Korzybski’s concepts are fascinating. Here is my own (crude!) guide to the structural differential.
This is my interpretation; I do not claim to be in anyway proficient at general semantics. I just wanted to share the viewpoint.
To fully appreciate this, try reading:
Event process level (Reality)
Quantum processes* / Cellular & Molecular processes. With the correct instruments we can detect these processes, but our nervous systems without these instruments cannot. However these processes are occurring all the time. *Our present model dictates there is a limit to how much we can know at this level; as per Bohm’s interpretation; it is not inconceivable that there is a level beyond this (hidden variables).
Object level (experience)
This is what we perceive (abstract) through our nervous system. Note: This is still on a silent level; we have not “said” anything yet, internally or externally. We have abstracted from a previous level. External energies (quanta) to biological/neurological processes (e.g transduction) to the perception of the object itself.
An “Apple”; the word – apple. Linguistically, we have given a description to our perception; this in turn is a further level of abstraction. The word is not the same as the thing it describes.
Inference level (etc.)
We make inferences about objects / beliefs /events contained in the world. E.g “All apples taste sweet” or “I think all apples are horrible”. These inferences continue to form lower/higher inferences; E.g “People that eat apples are great to be around” based on anything we wish to consider true/false. Our inferences are infinite. These inferences connect back to the descriptive level, back to the objective level, back to the event level. We see then that all levels are contained in the event level.