When we read a "word", we don't see "marks" on paper, unless it's in a foreign language that uses letters we don't know. To me the various Arabic and Hebrew letters are just mark, except the symbol I know as "aleph".  Similarly, all the Chinese characters, with the exception of a couple, are just, to me, marks on paper. I cannot recognize or "identify" any of these markings as specific symbols.

When we read a "word", we don't normally (consciously) see "letters", unless it's a word we don't know, and which has no "part" that we do know. If we can recognize or "identify" a prefix, suffix, or root, then we can try to "make sense" of the word using the meanings we have associated with those parts, but it is only when we do not recognize any prefix, suffix, root, or syllable, that we actually consciously look at the letters themselves and try to sound out the word with the sounds we have associated (identified) with the letters.

These are both examples of "non-identification" in the visual system.

When we are reading in our native language, reading words we know the meaning of, we simply don't see the marks or letters, and we may not even "see" the words themselves.  It's a very slow reader who sees the marks, has to "identify" which marks are what letters, has to "identify" which letter combinations are what words, and then has to look up the dictionary definition of the words in order to "get" any meanings for the written words.  Each of these steps, marks-to-letters, combined letters-to-words, words-to-definitions, combined definitions to constructed "meaning" of sentences, etc., represents a level of the abstraction process involved in simple reading, and consciousness of this abstraction process severely reduces the efficiency and effectiveness of the process.

Identification in general semantics can be defined as reacting to one level of abstraction as if it were another level, the most common example given being reacting to inferences or assumptions as if they were observations or fact.  However, reacting to marks as if they were letters, reacting to combinations of letters as if they were words, reacting to words as if they were definitions, reacting to combined definitions as if they were meanings is also identification - reacting to one level as if it were another.  The fastest readers react to the "marks on paper" as if they were the constructed meaning the person associates with the combined "meanings" of the words in the sentences made of of words, made up of letters, made up of marks. For reading to be effective and efficient, the "identification" across these several levels of abstraction must be fast, efficient, and immediate.

Here is an exercise in non-identification.

An exercise in non-identificationThe difficulty of this task illustrates how pervasive our semantic reactions and verbal identifications are. The meaning of a word (our semantic reaction) is much more relevant to our daily experiences, because we are always reading and responding to the meanings of words, so this response is much more "predictive" of our normal needs. "Identifying" and speaking the color of something we see is not as common an experience, except possibly among artists, painters, etc., as reading the words. I would be interested to learn if research broken down by profession would show that such professions find the task much easier.


Annotated bibliography of general semantics papers
General Semantics and Related Topics

This page was updated by Ralph Kenyon on 2009/11/16 at 00:27 and has been accessed 5980 times at 25 hits per month.