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Institute of Semantic Restructuring

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Semantic Restructuring is the pursuit of enlightenment, enlivenment, empowerment through the creative re-arranging of the building blocks of meaning. For a better description, Start Here.


Spin Cycle

Semantic Overload

What is Semantic Restructuring? Elsewhere I've stated Semantic Restructuring is:

Literally, "Semantic Restructuring is the re-arranging of the building blocks of meaning. Pragmatically it is the pursuit of behavioral change, behavioral excellence via perceptual and conceptual flexibility and agility.

That definition, from Brief Therapy with Achilles, is not all bad, at least not in context as part of the conclusion of my story of Achilles. Still, there's something missing.

Consider what it's like when you repeat a word, over and over and over and over and over and before long you wonder if it's even the word you thought it was or if it's a word at all. Most of us have had this experience; it's akin to the childhood pleasure of spinning around and around until we collapse in dizzy delight on the living room floor.

What's at action here is by "repeating the word" we eventually get to a place where we become conscious of the arbitrariness of the relationship of the sounds of the word with the meaning of the word. Those relationships are exactly that, arbitrary. As are most of the meaningful relationships of concepts and ideas we walk around with. Not random, not lacking in pattern, but having a pattern that was created in a completely arbitrary fashion, with the exception of bits here and there, perhaps in school, perhaps in learning to solve problems and do things. But by and large the concepts and ideas and sensory experiences we walk around with are related as arbitrarily, as tenuously, as the connection between the sound of the word "amoeba" and the actual sound of an amoeba.

Turns out that many times when we are unhappy with things in our life it isn't us or our life that needs changing, it is often enough to simply update some of these arbitrary relationships between the ideas and concepts and sensory experiences we walk around with. And one way to do this is with semantic overload, purposely working an idea or concept or relationship or representation over and over and over until the chains of association are weakened, loosened, made pliable and flexible so they can be re-arranged to allow for new, less arbitrary, more useful associations.

There are two fields of therapy that helped create this idea of semantic overload. First is Feldenkrais techniques. The opening exercises of "Awareness Through Movement," are very much like repeating a word over and over and over, except instead of a word you are repeating an otherwise trivial movement. Through the repetitions there is a re-coding of the movement, it's meaning, and, cumulatively (according to Feldenkrais proponents) an increase in awareness. The other well known example of therapeutic semantic overload is the use of mantra or chanting in many religious practices. Indeed an altered state can be reached through the simple expedient of repeating a phrase or holy-word over and over and over and over and over and over, all the while pointing the internal sensory circuits toward representations of a better life, a better being, a better world.

Now, the preceding paragraph should not be taken as an endorsement of either method, nor should this sentence be taken as a challenge. I mention these examples because they share something with the common experience we've all had. That experience, the loosening of the bonds of meaning, is at the heart of semantic restructuring.

Of course this is not always a welcome experience for all. Some folks take a dim view indeed of having the bonds of their meanings diddled with in any fashion. There are methods for them too, elsewhere on the site.



Email: rl (at) robertlink (dot) org.

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