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April 2018 - Year 20; Issue 2

ISSN 1755-9715

The Map Is Not the Territory. The Cartographers, the Humans’ Territories, and the Dragons’ Territories

Gabriel R. Suciu is a sociologist. He is interested in NLP and creativity. He has written two books – “Erving Goffman and the Organizing Theories” (2010) and “Introduction to Neuro-Linguistic Programming” (2015) – and some articles, like: “Multiple Intelligences” (2011). E-mail:,


NLP put its foundations on two main principles, principles from which other and other principles were derived. The two principles are:

  • the map is not the territory
  • the body and the mind are systemic processes

These two principles are stating the relationship between 1) the body, 2) the mind, and 3) the environment. Their metaphorical expression is misleading: the relationships between these three entities had different names described by different approaches in the less or more remote psychological past.

So, the difference between NLP and other psychological approach is where the line separating these entities is drawn, and where the borders between inside and outside are established.

Of the two NLP principles, below I’ll present only the relationship between the map and the territory, leaving for other times the explanation of the relationship between the body and the mind.

The map and the territory

The map pertains to the „gnoseology” (or the science dealing with the knowledge), while the territory pertains to the „ontology” (or the science dealing with the existence). Saying map, gnoseolgy, is saying ideas or representations. Saying territory, ontology, is saying things or objects.

The relationship between the map and the territory has been much disputed. As the map is not the territory, also the territory is not the map. For the map is only the map, as the territory is only the territory.

There are cases when only the map is given without representing any territory. And I’m thinking of such cases as the famous book “Alice in Wonderland”, or the other famous masterpiece “Alice in the Looking Glass”. These books establish the true values of a map without any relationship with a certain territory.

Also, there are cases where only the territory is given without being drawn on any map. The most familiar example is the kangaroo, and its natural environment in Australia. In ancient Greece, Aristotle defined the man as “a two-legged animal without feathers”, not knowing that somewhere to the further south there was a continent – Australia – where was living a two-legged animal without feathers – namely the kangaroo.

These cases are mentioned particularly in the postmodern writings. While for the modern writings the phrase “the map is not the territory” or the phrase “the territory is not the map” is common. The difference between these two modern phrases is of accent, of what is more real, or more defining, the map and the knowledge, or the territory and the existence?

Let’s, for a moment, consider the two phrases – the territory is not the map, and the map is not the territory – to be interchangeable. In this case, three situations are gaining central stage. First, the map is smaller than the territory. This is the classic case of maps found in geography books or encyclopedias.

Secondly, there are situations where the map is equal to the territory. In these situations, one can easily mistake the territory for the map, and I’m also thinking of the funny circumstance when the anatomy skeleton is dressed and made up to look like a teacher.

Thirdly, there are situations when the map is larger than the territory, situations to be found all over the places. There are schools where the students are amusing with the saying that all fools are met all over the fences, while they can send you in a certain laboratory, when asked about this or that celebrity, where the celebrity is patronizing the lessons from the frame of a painting made purposely larger than the original.

As I said, the obvious implication of these differences is where the line is drawn, or where the boundaries are established. For the relationships between the map and the territory also apply to such areas as the school, the labor and the leisure.

For some employers, the school provides some maps without territory, or – in other words – the school is, at best, a waste of time.

Also, for some school principals, certain organizations are yet unmapped territories and the objectives of the curriculum are to provide the necessary tools for future cartographers that will explore these territories.

Keep in mind that I provided some examples mentioning only the relationship between school and labor, leaving aside the leisure situations.

In conclusion, in the following pages I’ll present the ideas of three NLP authors – Richard Bandler, John Grinder, and Robert Dilts – ideas presenting the relationship between map and territory.

After their ideas will be presented, I’ll investigate two areas related to the method and the tools available in science. And these will allow me to draw two conclusions:

First, the principle that “the map is not the territory” is a reformulation of the principle of “the identity”, even if some authors thought that the two are contradictory, and even if they believed that the first principle (the map is not the territory) replaces the second principle (the identity)

Secondly, I’ll show that the NLP approach has – at least a part of its – foundations that are not psychological, but logical. The logical foundation of this psychological approach is expressed by “the map is not the territory” principle. For, the initial plans of all sciences are indicating that the foundations of them are neither the mathematics and the physics, nor the literature and the history, but… the logic!

Below, there is a tree with the ideas that I’m following all along this article, hoping my language be crystal clear in doing so…

Richard Bandler, John Grinder and Robert Dilts

The three gurus of NLP approach – Richard Bandler, John Grinder, and Robert Dilts – drew the distinction between two realities, between two worlds: 1) the map and 2) the territory. In fact, the “map” has another three names such as “experience”, “representations” and “model”.

Any human living explore the two worlds, the two realities using two devices: the device called “neuro” designed for the relationship between a map and its territory; and the device called “linguistic” designed for the relationship between a map and other maps. In fact, those two devices – the neuro and the linguistic – are present in the name of the psychological approach: the NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP)!

Like “the body and the mind are systemic processes” principle, “the map is not the territory” principle is a primary principle. From it, there are several other secondary principles that are derived, as shown by the following snapshot.

Specifically, these are the ideas presented by the three gurus:

  • the map is not the territory – Bandler & Grinder („The structure of magic”, vol. I, pp. 7-8, and „Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D.”, vol. I, p. 11) and Dilts („Applications of NLP”, pp. 6-9)
  • my map is different from other people’s maps – Bandler & Grinder („The structure of magic”, vol. I, pp. 7-8, and „Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H.Erickson, M.D.”, vol. I, p. 11)
  • the device „neurology” is designed for the relationship between a map and its territory; while the device „language” is designed for the relationship between my map and the maps of other people – Dilts („Applications of NLP”, pp. 6-9)
  • the principle „the map is not the territory” is a primary principle at the foundations of at least seven other principles – Dilts („Strategies of genius”, vol. II, p. 221)

Even if it is impossible to draw a clear picture of all the sources of inspiration of the three gurus, it’s a guess that some forerunners had more influence than others over Bandler, Grinder, and Dilts concerning the distinction of these two realities, these two worlds. On the one hand, Bandler and Grinder acknowledge that they borrowed the principle of „the map is not the territory” from Vaihinger (see his book „The philosophy of as if” – 1935) and from Korzybski (see his book „Science and sanity” – 1958). On the other hand, although Dilts is saying nothing about the origins of „the map is not the territory” principle, it is almost certain that Bateson played a major role with his writings „Steps to an ecology of mind” (1972), and „Mind and nature” (1979).

And these will give me sufficient reasons to investigate more closely the ideas of Gregory Bateson and Alfred Korzybski (leaving aside, only for this article, the ideas of Hans Vaihinger). After that, I’ll answer three questions: „what is the meaning of , the word that is linking the map to the territory?”, „where are the boundaries drew between the map and the territory: where the map ends, and where the territory begins?”, and „the relationship between the map and the territory is of an equal ratio, or of an unequal one?”.

The map is not the territory

Two of the most influential forerunners of the NLP authors mentioned above are: Gregory Bateson and Alfred Korzybski.

Gregory Bateson

In the first instance, Bateson recognized that the phrase „the map is not the territory” is borrowed from Alfred Korzybski (1972: 180 and 449; 1979: 30). In the second instance, he stated that „the map” and „the territory” had different names throughout history since the Antiquity. For instance, the ancient Greeks spoke about „the form” (and not about „the map”), or about „the substance” (instead about „the territory”) (1972: 449-451)


  • „the map is not the territory” is a phrase used by Alfred Korzybski, phrase that can be restated as:
  • „the form is not the substance” – the ancient Greeks presented their vision of the world using this distinction;
  • these two distinctions could be spelled in many more ways, like: „the phenomenon is not the noumenon” (Immanuel Kant), „the creatura is not the pleroma” (Carl Gustav Jung), „the information is not the energy” (Gregory Bateson), etc...

Alfred Korzybski

Korzybski fought against Aristotle. For Aristotle was the one who established the three principles of logic: a) the principle of identity (stated as „whatever is, is”), b) the principle of contradiction (expressed as „nothing can both be, and not be”), and c) the principle of excluded middle (formulated as „everything must either be, or not be”) (1995: 749).

However, Korzybski believed that these principles should be replaced with the following laws. The first Aristotelian principle should be restated as the „the law of non-identity”. This law specifies that „the map is not the territory”, and „the words are not the things they represent” (1995: 750 and 751). In this way, it is very important how the verb „to be” is used.

The second Aristotelian principle should be reformulated as „the law of non-allness”. According to this law, the map is not all the territory”, meaning that the map is less, or smaller, than the territory. Following this law, Korzybski recommended to eliminate from the everyday usage the word „all” (1995: 429-430).

The third Aristotelian principle should be redefined as „the law of self-reflexivity”. This law is summed up as „the ideal map [contains] the map of the map, the map of the map of the map, endlessly” (1995: 751). This law is necessary for the usage of words like „yes”, „no”, „true”, „false”, „all”, „is”... etc, words that are meaningful only in relationship with other words (1995: 753)


  • instead of using the three principles established by Aristotle: the principle of identity, the principle of contradiction, and the principle of excluded middle
  • Korzybski advised us to use another three laws: the law of non-identity, the law of non-allness, and the law of self-reflexivity’

The cartographers’, the humans’ territories and the dragons’ territories

In this section, I’ll present three topics: the cartographers, the territories belonging to humans, and the territories belonging to dragons. In other words, I’ll present the dispute between Korzybski and Aristotle – two cartographers, and then I’ll go on to humans’ territories (the territories mapped), and dragons’ territories (the territories unmapped). The NLP authors specify over and over again where the maps end, and where the territories begin. Less clear are about the unmapped territories where allegedly dragons live. In fact, these unmapped territories by the NLP authors are mapped territories by other scholars.

The cartographers

Korzybski doesn’t contradict Aristotle, but completes him. If Aristotle would spoke in terms of „map” and „territory”, he would said that „the map is the map”, and „the territory is the territory”. And to these two statements it could be added that „the map is not the territory” – this being the expression liked by Korzybski, and „the territory is not the map”.

For what is the meaning of the word „is”? It can be found in expressions like „is identical”, or „is equal”. However, one thing can be identical only with itself, and it can be more or less equal with many more other things. And, specifically this is the meaning used by both Aristotle, and Korzybski: is identical. Aristotle said one thing is identical only with itself, while Korzybski said one thing is not identical with all the other things except itself. So, the formulae of the two authors are not contradictory, but complementary!

The humans’ territories

That said, one of two things remained to be discussed, namely „where is the border between the map and the territory: where the map ends, and where the territory begins?”

For instance, René Descartes considered that the pineal gland in the brain is where the boundary is to be found. To the territory belong my body, the bodies of the other people, and the environment. While my soul and the souls of the others belong to the map. So, the soul is somehow anchored in the pineal gland to the body.

To his turn, Gregory Bateson redrew these borders. For him, the territory (or the outside world) belongs to minerals, plants and animals; and the map (or the inside world) belongs to souls (of humans) and spirits (as angels, demons and God, whatever their names).

I can open here a footnote mentioning that the borders could be drawn in many ways. However I’m fascinated by the idea that everything in this world has a dual status of map and territory. I am, in the same time, and in the same place, both map and territory: my mind is, and being in a way or another, I can know myself. In the same way, my body is somewhen and somewhere, and for this reason I sense, perceive and represent the world around me. And this applies, too, to minerals, plants, animals, souls and spirits.

The dragons’ territories

The second thing that remained to be discussed is „what is the ratio of map and territory: they are equal, or unequal?”

Three answers were given to this question...

THE MAP IS LESS THAN THE TERRITORY. This answer was given, also, by Jules Verne who, according to the spirit of his time, claimed that starting from a certain territory the cartographers could draw many maps. A fact also found in two of his book, named here only by the sake of exemplification: the Lincon Island from the book „The mysterious island”, and the Charman Island from the book „Two years holidays”. Even if both the territories and the maps are imaginary, the relationship between these two is such that the maps are, always, less than territories.

THE MAPS IS EQUAL AS THE TERRITORY. Lewis Carroll, the author of „Sylvie and Bruno concluded” (1893), and Jorge Louis Borges, the writer of „Of exactitude in science” (1973), sustaining a different approach than Jules Verne, noticed the equality of map and territory. So, according to them, the ration between the map and the territory is 1 to 1.

THE MAP IS MORE THAN THE TERRITORY. Finally, closer to our times, some authors consider the map more important than the territory, the latter always remaining a pale copy of the former. These authors (for instance, David Turnbull, 1994; or Sharon Daniel & Karen O’Rourke, 2004) exemplify with the Aborigines of Australia and their mental maps built on myths, stories, dreams and songs, and – nevertheless – very accurate in predicting where and when the rains will fall. It’s worth to mention that the water is the most precious resource of this environment. Also, it’s worth to mention that these predictions are impossible to be made by any modern scientific device.


So far I’ve presented the principle „the map is not the territory” as it was stated by the NLP authors (namely Richard Bandler, John Grinder and Robert Dilts), and by the NLP forerunners (especially Gregory Bateson and Alfred Korzybski). In the following pages I’ll investigate the method used in sciences – on the one hand, and the tools that this method imposes – on the other hand.

The method

As I said, the NLP authors were influenced by the NLP forerunners. These last ones, too, were influenced by Bertrand Russell (in the case of Gregory Bateson) and Aristotle (in the case of Alfred Korzybski). And both of them asked questions about the method used in sciences, questions such as „what are the rules that every science must follow?”

These questions were asked many times throughout the history. For instance, not so long ago, scientists such as Max Weber, or Wilhelm Windelband, wondered what are the standards to be use in the sciences: the nomothetic standards (used in mathematics or physics), or the ideographic standards (used in literature or history)?

Living in different historical times, Russell (in “Introduction to mathematical philosophy”, 1993: 2 and 4; and in “The principles of mathematics”, 2010: xliii) and Aristotle (in “Metaphysics”, 2016: 52) claimed that the standards that every science must follow are the logic ones: the logic must provide the rules all science must follow.

In conclusion, NLP as a psychological (so, a scientific) endeavor, follow neither the standards used in mathematics and physics, nor the standards used in literature and history, but the rules…. of logic!

The tools

The last thing left to be investigated are the laws of logic. So, what are the laws on which the logic is built?

Bertrand Russell stated four laws, in his book „The problems of philosophy” (2001: 40):

  • the law of identity („whatever is, is”)
  • the law of contradiction („nothing can both be, and not be”)
  • the law of excluded middle („everything must either be, or not be”)
  • and the law of inference („anything implied by a true proposition is true”)

These laws were first formulated by Aristotle – namely, the law of identity (2016: 54), the law of contradiction (2016: 55), and the law of excluded middle (2016: 66); and Leibniz – see the law of sufficient reason, or what Russell called the law of inference (“The monadology”, in “Philosophical papers and letters”, 1989: 646)

The mathematical formulae of these four laws are:

A=A ... which means „A is A”: this is the formula of the law of identity

¬(A&¬A) ... which means „it is false both A and not A”: this is the formula of the law of contradiction

A∨¬A ... which means „either A or not A”: this is the formula of the law of excluded middle

A→B ... which means „if A, then B”, or „A implies B”: this is the formula of the law of sufficient reason, or the law of inference

Now, it becomes clearer that when Aristotle said that „the map is the map” (A=A), and „the territory is the territory” (B=B), he was saying the same thing as „the map is not the territory” (A≠B) – the principle stated by Korzybksi, and as „the territory is not the map” (B≠A). These four expressions are the expressions of the law of identity.

In conclusion, one of the NLP principles is „the map is not the territory”. This is the expression not of a psychological principle, but of a logical principle – namely the law of identity.

Conclusions: Two cultural patterns

In short, the following three ideas deserve to be remembered. First, „the map is the map”, „the territory is the territory”, „the map is not the territory” and „the territory is not the map”. All these are expressions of the law of identity

Secondly, there is always someone who draws the boundaries between the map and the territory. When it is not me who draw them, the others would certainly do it for me.

Finally, once the boundaries are drawn, the one who drew them (regardless his/ her name, as the wordsmith or the mapmaker) must specify if them are equal or not.

These three ideas are obvious in two cultural patterns. Each of these two patterns states the roles and status to be found in school, labor, and leisure.

The first pattern

In this pattern, teachers and students, employers and employees agree that „the school is no longer as once used to be”, that „there is a decline of values”, and that „the school is a different thing from the labor and the leisure: each of them must be set apart with much care, and knowing the real value of each”.

In this pattern, the student learns only in the night before the exams. In the rest of his/ her time, he/ she is doing anything but not learning: goes outside to drink with acquaintances, plans for trips on the mountains, earns the existence working, etc. Once the school is over, the student enters the labor market: he is employed not for what he/ she knows, but for what he/ she is – namely, the son of his mother, or the daughter of her father. A large clan, or if you want it – a large party, formed from the family, the friends and the acquaintances help the student to become a good worker, a good manager, or a good owner!

The only authentic area remains the leisure. This is the reason it has a major influence over the other two areas: the school and the labor. For spending your free time with someone has many invisible consequences to the spending of your paid time...

The second pattern

The second pattern has its mantras, also: „the best practice is a good theory”, „everyone is the architect of his/ her own life”, „the school has continuity with the work, and the free time is as authentic as the time spent in school, or at work”.

Now and here, the accumulation of knowledge is all along one’s life. You prepare, for instance, for exams all along the year. In fact, at school you rehearse the roles and situations you’ll meet at work. Just because the school gives you the tools and the methods you’ll need at work, later.

Finally, when spending your free time, in leisure, you are no longer concerned about the school standards, or the organization objectives. Now and here you get involved in those activities you haven’t time to develop at school, or at work. So, the leisure is a time of increasing your value, an equal important time as the time used in school, or at work!


Aristotle (2016): „Metaphysics”, Hackett Publishing Company, INC

Bandler, Richard & John Grinder (1975): „The structure of magic”, vol. I, Science and Behavior Books

Bandler, Richard & John Grinder (1977): „Patterns of the hypnotic techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D”, vol. I, Meta Publications

Bateson, Gregory (1972): „Steps to an ecology of mind”, Chandler Publishing Company

Bateson, Gregory (1979): „Mind and nature”, E. P. Dutton

Borges, Jorge Louis (1983): „Of exactitude in science”, in „A universal history of infamy”,

Carroll, Lewis (1893): „Sylvie and Bruno concluded”, Macmillan and CO

Daniel, Sharon & Karen O’Rourke (2004): „Mapping the database: trajectories and perspectives”, Leonardo, Vol. 37, No. 4, pp. 286-296

Dilts, Robert (1983): „Applications of neuro-linguistic programming”, Meta Publications

Dilts, Robert (1994): „Strategies of genius”, vol. II, Meta Publications

Korzybski, Alfred (1995): „Science and sanity”, Institute of General Semantics

Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm (1989): „Philosophical papers and letters”, Kluwer Academic Publishers

Russell, Bertrand (1993): „Introduction to mathematical philosophy”, Dover Publications, INC

Russell, Bertrand (2001): „The problems of philosophy”, Oxford University Press

Russell, Bertrand (2010): „Principles of mathematics”, Routledge Classics

Turnbull, David (1994): „Maps are territories”, The University of Chicago Press

Vaihinger, Hans (1935): „The philosophy of as if”, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co, LTD

Verne, Jules (2011): „Complete works of Jules Verne.”, Delphi Classics

Verne, Jules (2013): „Oeuvres completes entierement ilustrées”, Arvensa Editions

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