Ric Amurrio
15 min readMay 15, 2021



Every word or concept, clear as it may seem to be, has only a limited range of applicability.

— Werner Heisenberg

If territory is a concept, the question would be: what is the problem to which it answers? Territory: An area of of phase space under the jurisdiction of a certain temporality. A concept is a way to organize a set of patterns that would otherwise remain chaotic. Concepts are not given as part of the universe, nor are they sitting waiting to be discovered in some Platonic world of Ideas. Rather, they are invented and maybe later ossify into “common sense”

“On Exactitude in Science” Borges writes about a fictional empire so adept at cartography that they are able to make a map of the exact size and dimensions of the Empire but when but when future generations lose interest in mapmaking the massive maps decay and litter the empire. Jean Baudrillard used Borge’s fable to illustrate what he saw as the inversion of the relationship between models (copies) and reality.

The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it. It is nevertheless the map that precedes the territory. Territorial refers to the issue of individuality as an entity, identity, be it a person or a location or something else. If the territory you are familiar with is crossed by other people, the space would be crossed by different maps. There is not one map that stands out and defines space. Or is there?

We are all accustomed to believe that maps and reality are necessarily related, or that if they are not. Scribbling on the map does not change the territory: If you change what you believe about something that is a change in the pattern of neurons in your brain. The real thing will not change because of this.

“The map had been the first form of misdirection, for what is a map but a way of emphasizing some things and making other things invisible?”

~ Jeff VanderMeer

Korzybski’s Quest

Alfred Korzybski was a Polish-Polish engineer and war veteran. He wrote the source book for the field of study we know as General Semantics. He was haunted by his war experiences and asked how it is that humans have progressed so far but still fight wars. He believed that the progress of the sciences has not kept pace with the pace of human progress. His work is concerned with the role of language and language habits in human behavior.

Korzybski’s quest: What makes the human species human? What are the similarities among humans that differentiate us from other species? What accounts for the vast differences in behaviors that are exhibited among humans? Is it possible to characterize these vast differences such that we can more rapidly increase behaviors that advance and progress humanity?

What makes humans human? Time-binding

Plants as Chemistry-binders

Plants absorb, or bind, specific chemicals in their immediate environment. They reproduce cells and produce growth. Growth and reproduction are influenced by other environmental factors such as climate, gravity, and (of course) plant-eating animals and pollinating insects.

Animals as Space-binders

Animals possess (to varying degrees) the ability to move about in their environment. If the source of its food or water depletes, an animal can move to another place. Korzybski referred to animals as space-binders in that they ‘bind’ the spaces within their living territory.


The Ritournelle has been translated in fact in English by refrain Deleuze, as, use an onomatopoeia in order to explain this word: “Tra la la” as a kid would hum.

When do I do Tralala ? When do I hum? I hum when I go around my territory…and that I clean up my furniture with a radiophonic background…meaning when I am at home. I also hum when I am not at home and that I am trying to reach back my home…when the night is falling, anxiety time…I look for my way and I give myself some courage by singing tralala. And, I hum when I say “Farewell, I am leaving and in my heart I will bring…”. The ritournelle (refrain), for me, is absolutely linked to the problem of territory, and of processes of entrance or exit of the territory. I enter in my territory, I try, or I deterritorialize myself, meaning I leave my territory.

The Ritournelle is therefore a form of incantation for a claimed spatiality,

Humans as Time-binders

The most critical difference between humans and animals is our ability to create, manipulate, record, and transform symbols. The ability to transfer knowledge from human to human, within and across generations, is called time-binding. Languages and other symbol systems provide humans with the means to document experiences, observations, tips, descriptions. Knowledge among the human species can therefore accumulate and advance as a body, not as random lessons taught and learned by copying, mimicking, or experience. All human achievements are cumulative; no one of us can claim any achievement exclusively as his own.

We all must use consciously or unconsciously the achievements of others, some of them living but most of them dead, to do greater things by help of things already done by others. It is this ability to ‘bind’ time that makes humans human, and is the defining capability of human time-binders. The capacity for accumulating experience, enlarging it, and transmitting it for future expansion is the peculiar power, the characteristic energy, the definitive nature, the defining mark, of man.

The definition of’ territory’ evades simple categorization because it continuously transforms into something else. It does not privilege or preserve any particular homeland’s nostalgic or xenophobic protection.

The territorial codings between and across certain bird species and their environments are carried over into the music in the use of birdsong. In response to these pressures, musicians have tried to open a space releasing “lines of flight” from the interdisciplinary territories in the hope of connections and new productions. The work of Olivier Messiaen, who used birdsong in his works from about 1955 onwards, linked birdsong to the piano in a way that transformed the domain of the musical instrument

The evolution of life is not about the survival of the fittest through cutthroat competition in conditions of ecological scarcity, but about self differentiating life overflowing with experimental self-organizing forms. For Deleuze, contracting habits was a way of creating order out of chaos. Habits are constitutive of the subject, not expressions of it.

A truly human existence involves overcoming habit, moving from mechanical repetition to creative repetition. Repetition is either conservative or is it creative, he says. In jazz, improvisational jazz, one hazards an improvisation, to join with the world. The idea of repeating with a difference is one of the defining features of improvisation in jazz.

Repetition is in one case a reparative reaction to trauma, a compulsive repetition of the same while the other repetition is a creative response to some of life’s little complexities. What Deleuze would call creative repetition or repetition with a difference

The territory is a multiplicity of partial objects that must be brought together or combined in order to create something that will never be completely stable in itself. To improvise is to join with the World, or meld with it. It is only through the expansion of territory that an identity takes form. Without it, one would be in a static milieu, crystallized:

Territory is a part of phase space and is not granted, but created, the territory itself is structured by some kind of repetition of forms of behavior and their function. In both situations it will be a sequence in of markings, or signs, postures, gestures etc. which will be in both situations.

Multi-territoriality is based on deterritorialization. It disrupts existing modes of meaning, wiping out crystallised individuals, de-substantializing jobs and rewriting history. The territory must have an outside, and there must be a way out of it. This creates an illusion of autonomy where the laws become flexible, but this redistribution of power also puts us all the more under the influence of other territorialities rather than only liberating us. TERRITORIALIZATION

The word ‘ territorialization’ was inspired by the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. For Lacan,’ territorialization’ refers to the way an infant’s body is structured around and defined by erogenous zones and their relations with part-objects. As the infant undergoes a process of territorialisation its orifices and organs are conjugated. In the psychoanalytic sense, to deterritorialise is to free desire from libidinal investment.

This reconfiguration of Lacanian ‘territorialisation’ is that the subject is exposed to new organisations; the principal insight being: deterritorialisation shatters the subject.


Deleuze and Guattari would rather consider things not as objects, but as groups or multiplicities, concentrating on events rather than static essences. Music’s purpose is to facilitate a’ phase’ in which flight lines can be released within these numerous interdisciplinary territories to communicate with each other. The capitalist class attempts to control and submit to the reproduction of capital all of the mechanisms of deterritorialization in the order of production and social relations.

In this respect it must not be viewed in a negative way, it is not the polar opposite of territorialization or reterritorialized. It is not a reversal of the territorialization of the territory, but the formation of new combinations of the elements that made up the original territory. It can best be understood as a movement producing change, in so far as it operates as a line of flight, and indicates the creative potential of an assemblage. Philosophy is an example of absolute Deterritorialization, capital is a relative example.


What accounts for the differences in mapping: Evaluating

Korzybski knew from first-hand experience in World War I that human mapping did not always result in “improvement” or “greater things” Because people can expect to experience the ‘same’ event or situation differently, their reactions to the experience will inevitably be different. So in assessing the differences in human behaviors, Korzybski theorized that these differences were matters of evaluation, that is mapping, due to the different meanings that individuals attached to events and experiences, based on their own individual values.

Korzybski published his time-binding theory in Manhood of Humanity in 1921. For two years he observed patients at St. Elizabeth’s mental hospital in Washinton, D.C. He observed the language of the mentally ill, specifically how in many instances their language (maps) did not match the ‘real’ world (territory), which reflected pathological cases of misevaluation. He specifically sought a way to articulate and communicate how a misevaluation differed operationally from an appropriate evaluation.

The Map|Territory Analogy

Two important characteristics of maps should be noticed. A map is not the territory it represents, but, if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness. If the map could be ideally correct, it would include, in a reduced scale, the map of the map; the map of the map, of the map; and so on, endlessly, a fact first noticed by [Josiah] Royce (Korzybski, 1994, p. 58).

1. The map is not the territory.

A map depicts only limited aspects of the territory it represents or symbolizes. For a map to be useful, it must accurately reflect the relative structure or relationships of the key features of the territory. Similarly, our language behaviors can be thought of as maps of our actual life experiences. These verbal expressions of how and what we think, feel, react, judge, assume, etc., should be in accordance with the ‘territory’ . And on a pre-verbal level, we can use the metaphor to remember that even our lived experiences — what we see, hear, feel, smell, taste, etc. — are neurological constructs (‘maps’) of whatever it is in the ‘real’ world outside ourselves.

  • The word is not the thing.
  • The symbol is not the thing symbolized.
  • The name is not the thing named.
  • The referent is not the thing referenced.

In other words, a particular type of distinction is expressed: one thing is not the same thing as another thing which the one thing is represented by. More generally, an abstraction is not that from which the abstraction is abstracted. The map (an abstraction) is not the territory ( whatever is not an abstraction; but hold that thought until the summary of this page).

2. The map cannot show all of the territory.

Maps are limited in size and detail. They can only depict selected items of interest or importance. Our language behaviors are limited and cannot include or comprehend all of whatever we are trying to describe or understand. On a pre-verbal level, the maps of what we are seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting and smelling account for only a fraction of what exists in the territory of the ‘real’ world.

3. A map is self-reflexive and made by a map-maker.

A human being makes a map by deciding the purpose of the map, the size, the scale, the features to be included, how many copies will be made, who will use it, the colors, etc. We are making our own maps (evaluations) of our experiences, and we can also then evaluate our evaluations. In language, since we can almost endlessly talk about our talking, we are in a sense making maps of maps, of maps of Maps, etc..

In deciding all those details, the human map maker must also determine which features will not be included, which might be exaggerated or emphasized for importance, what descriptive annotations might be helpful. And if the map-maker were constructing a map of the territory which surrounded the map-maker herself, then a theoretically-complete map would include both the map itself and the map-maker.


Abstracting, in the context of Korzybski’s model, refers to physio-neurological processes that occur on non-verbal and verbal levels. From the world of energy stimulations that envelope us, our nervous systems abstract (or select, choose, pay attention to, etc.) only a fraction. From these partial, incomplete, and fleeting sensations, the nervous system must construct our conscious or aware experiences by matching patterns of stimuli with the brain’s ‘database’ of previous experiences.

Evaluating is used in much the same way as abstracting, although you could consider it a higher-level, more generalized term in that we can cognitively evaluate the abstractions that result from our abstracting.

Abstracting by necessity involves evaluating, whether conscious or not, and so the process of abstracting may be considered as a process of evaluating stimuli, whether it be a “toothache,” “an attack of migraine,” or the reading of a “philosophical treatise.” A great many factors enter into “perceiving” … (Korzybski, 1990b, pp. 686–687)

Abstraction process: Structural Differential

Alfred Korzybski developed this diagram in the 1920’s as a means to visualize the abstracting process. The parabola represents an environment (the world around us) consisting of innumerable characteristics or events. Only some of these characteristics can be detected by human senses. These initial sensory data are further abstracted and transformed as the nervous system/brain recognizes and associates the data with a word or label. The tag below the circle represents the Descriptive (verbal) level of abstracting.

From descriptions of events we form inferences, assumptions, opinions, beliefs, etc., by generalizing this experience with our past experiences. And we can continue, indefinitely, to forming ferences from inferences,. which may then be subsequently recalled in future experiences.


Something happens (Event);

I sense what happens (Object);

I recognize what happens (Description);

I generate meanings for what happens. (Inferences)

Abstracting refers to ongoing physio-neurological processes that occur on non-verbal levels. EVENT is not OBJECT is not DESCRIPTION is not INFERENCE, etc. We can verbally differentiate certain phases, or levels or orders, of the abstracting process to analyze our behaviors and reactions. What we experience is a function of the unique capabilities and limitations of our own individual nervous system.

Two Worlds

As a consequence of our abstracting-evaluating processes, you can say we live in two worlds — the world that exists out there beyond our skin, and the world in here within our skin. What each of us knows about the world out there is constructed by our in here nervous systems based on our individual sensory interactions with the world out there.


A. We need to acknowledge and take into account the characteristics of these two worlds.

B. We need to understand that even our most basic sense experiences of the out-there world are created by our brains.

C. We need to maintain awareness, and take responsibility, for the neurological fact of this foundational distinction — what we experience in here is not what’s out there to be experienced.

In Korzybski’s terminology, we need to maintain a consciousness of abstracting, beginning with the understanding that everything we experience represents an abstraction of something else. In a very real sense, all we can ‘know’ are abstractions and associated neurological constructions.

… we used and still use a terminology of ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’, both extremely confusing, as the so-called ‘objective’ must be considered a construct made by our nervous system, and what we call ‘subjective’ may also be considered ‘objective’ for the same reasons (Korzybski, 1990c, p.650).


In General Semantics, the behavior we label identification is normally to be avoided, or at least recognized. We allow the stimulus to determine our response, without deliberately or conditionally evaluating the stimulus. Examples of identification include: mistaking the word as the thing, or the map as the territory. An extreme example would be someone eating a menu because the pictures of the food look so tasty. Someone who eats an unfamiliar food, then later has a rather upsetting reaction when informed what the food was, isn’t reacting to the food. The person is reacting to the sound of the name of the food. The verbalized name is associated (identified) with a previous or imagined terrible experience and that drives the reaction. The author was responding to a negative review on of a plastic product made by a company called Steelmaster. This, even though the reader acknowledged the product was described as being made of plastic.


If we approach territoriality from the perspective of biology, we can use the understanding of territory advanced by the ethologist Jakob von Uexküll. Von Uexküll proposed that there is no meaning outside of a milieu (Umwelt). For him a ‘territory’ refers to a specific milieu that cannot be separated from the living thing occupying and creating the milieu, so that the meaning of a milieu for Von Uexküll is affective.


The origin of the word ‘nomad’ is not, as many have assumed, a romanticized image of actual nomadic peoples, such as the Bedouins, but rather Immanuel Kant’s disparaging claim that the outside of philosophy is a wasteland fit only for nomads. The immediate origin of the concept would seem to be Deleuze and Guattari’s discussion of the despot in L’Anti-Oedipe (1972), translated as Anti-Oedipus (1977). The despot is an intermediate figure between the primitive society without a state on the one hand and the so-called civilized imperial state on the other.

What is crucial about the concept , however, is the fact that in Deleuze and Guattari’s description it refers to a latent state of being, meaning it is virtual and presupposed, but never actual. The figure of the nomad stands for the power of the virtual, or what they call the war machine. The nomad is a tendency towards deterritorialization, Deleuze and Guattari argue, that can be found to some degree in all phenomena. Their project consists in identifying this tendency wherever it can be located and finding ways of amplifying it. A philosophy would be a great philosophy, not if it could be placed within a specific and limited territory of reason (such as a correct and consistent logic) but if it maximized what philosophy could do and created a territory: creating concepts and styles of thought that opened up new differences and paths of thinking.

The signifier holds no sovereignty over interpretation in this account, for intensity of experience is more important than meaning. The signifier is not the determinant of what is signified, for the significations of the text change with the placement of the text in context.

In this sense, nomadic space is smooth-not because it is undifferentiated, but because its differences are not those of a chessboard (cut in advance, with defined movements); the differences establish positions and lines by movement.

A tribe dreams about, crosses and dances a space and thus fills the territory from within; the real territory — the material extension held by this tribe which could then be measured and quantified — would be different from (and dependent on) the abstract, nomadic territory, for if the tribe went on, danced and dreamed elsewhere, the original territory would have been already there.

And if the first territory was crossed by other people, the space would be crossed by different maps. There is not one map that stands out and defines space. Or is there?