Is there Any Difference Between Logical Levels and Logical Types?

Exploring what we mean by
“Logical Levels”

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.

I have recently been criticized as not knowing the difference between logical levels and logical types. Some in this field have taken me to task that Meta-States is inadequate and say that doesn’t work because it fails to distinguish logical types from logical levels. This raises numerous questions, questions that I will address in this article.

Is there a difference between logical levels and logical types?
Would such a distinction actually make any real difference?
How would it affect the Model of Meta-States?
Why would someone invent such a difference if it doesn’t exist?

Thesis of this Article

As an overview of this article, I have reviewed much of Bateson’s work on logical types and logical levels and I have found that Bateson did not make such a distinction but repeatedly used the terms interchangeably as I will show. Taking Russell and Whitehead’s work on logical types, Bateson spoke about the various levels at which messages, information, and communication occur.

The way we define logical types from the mathematical model of Russell and Whitehead lead to the acceptable definition of logical levels as given by Dilts, Woodsmall, myself and others. There can be no logical levels if the higher levels are not the classes and classification categories for the lower levels.

Where did this supposed distinction come from? Who created it? I do not know. My best guess at this moment is that it was a conclusion drawn based on assuming that the NLP “Neuro-Logical Levels” created by Robert Dilts is a true reflection of “Logical Levels” and since it does not fit the criteria for being a “Logical Type” system, there must be a difference between logical types and logical levels. Over the years, many trainers and theorists in NLP have showed that it is not a logical level system because it does not fit the logical type definitions that even Robert quotes from Bateson and argues for persuasively in many of his works. You will find this in NLP: Going Meta 2001) and in several articles on the Neuro-Semantics website (See References).

Definitions of Logical Types

In the index of Bateson’s book Mind and Nature (1979), he writes this under the list of “Logical Types.” A series of examines is in order:

  1. The name is not the thing named but is of different logical type, higher than the thing named.
  2. The class is of different logical type, higher than that of its members.
  3. The injunctions issues by, or control emanating from, the bias of the house thermostat is of higher logical type than the control issued by the thermometer.
  4. The word “tumbleweed” is of the same logical type as “bush” or “tree.” It is not the name of a species or genus of plants; rather, it is the name of a class of plants whose members share a particular style of growth and dissemination.
  5. “Acceleration” is of a higher logical type than “velocity.”

In another place Bateson defined logical types in the following way:

Logical Type: 1) The name is not the thing named but is of different logical type, higher than the thing named. 2) The class is of different logical type, higher than that of its members. (Mary Catherine Bateson, 1987, pp. 209-210).

Robert Dilts on Levels and Types

In his writings, Robert Dilts speaks mostly about logical levels. This is the term that he most often uses just like Bateson most often uses logical types. In the following quotes, here is what Dilts says first about logical levels and then about logical types.

“In our brain structure, language, and perceptual systems there are natural hierarchies or levels of experiences. The effect of each level is to organize and control the information on the level below it. Changing something on an upper level would necessarily change things on the lower levels; changing something on a lower level could but would not necessarily affect the upper levels.” (Dilts, Epstein, Dilts, 1991, p. 26, added). italics

“Logical Levels: an internal hierarchy in which each level is progressively more psychologically encompassing and impactful” (1990: 217, italics added).

“Logical typing occurs where there is a discontinuity (as opposed to a continuity, as with the hierarchies) between levels of classification. This kind of discontinuity is exemplified:

  1. in mathematic, by the restriction that a class cannot be a member of itself nor can one of the members be the class.
  2. in logic, by the solution to the classic logical paradox, ‘This statement is false.’ (If the statement is true, it is false, and if it is false, then it is true, and so on.) The actual truth value of the statement is of a different logical type than the statement itself.
  3. in behavior, by the fact that the reinforcement rules for exploration in animals is of a completely different nature than those for the process of testing that occurs in the act of exploration.” (1983: 24).

“The informational effects between levels and types is called feedback and is probably the major distinguishing feature of cybernetic systems.” (1983: 39)

“Differences of the same or different logical type interacting at different levels (hierarchical or logical respectively) will result in the modulation of the difference on the lower level.” (1983: 49)

Michael Hall on Meta-States and Meta-Levels

As a theoretical definition of logical levels and meta-levels used in defining meta-states, the following comes from the Meta-States Training Manual, Accessing Personal Genius.

  1. Hierarchies of experience.
  2. Higher levels organize and control information on lower levels.
  3. The modulation effect of the system necessarily works downward.
  4. The modulation effect of the system does not necessarily work upward.
  5. Higher levels operate more encompassing and impactful than the lower levels.
  6. There exists a discontinuity between the levelsC a break.
  7. The relationship of logic between levels creates “paradox” if we don’t sort phenomena on different levels.
  8. Hierarchical logical levels function as a system, the higher levels arise out of the lower and feed back information into the system to influence the lower levels. This creates recursiveness within logical levels.
  9. As a cybernetic system, as information moves up logical levels new features emerge that does not exist at the lower levels. This emergence at higher levels involve, in systems language, summitivity. In other words, the emergent property does not exist only as the sum of the parts, but new properties and qualities arise over “time” within the system.
  10. Reflexivity describes one of the new features that emerge in logical levels. In living organisms this results in self-reflexiveness or self-consciousness.
  11. As a system with feedback properties, logical levels operates by self-reflexiveness, the whole system becomes cybernetic. It becomes a “system that feeds back onto and changes itself” (Dilts, 1990, 33). This makes it self-organizing.

Meta-States as Logical Types and Logical Levels

Operationally, the meta-stating process works as a logical type system so that each higher level classifies the previous level and thereby establishes a self-organizing system. When we go meta from one state of mind-body-emotion to another and set the first state as a frame for the second, something wild and wonderful happens. We create a meta-state and a neuro-semantic system of feedback and feed forward loops. This means that as we relate one state to other state our self-reflexive consciousness sets up a meta-relationship so that the first is about the second and classifies the second. We transcend one state and then include it inside of a higher level state. The state in a higher position is meta (above, beyond) the second and so operates as a higher Logical Level.

When we transcend from one state (anger or joy) to another state (calmness or respect) we set the second state as a frame over the first and include it inside it. This gives us “calm anger,” respectful joy, joyful learning, etc. It makes the first state a member of the class of the second.

“But that’s not logical.”

That’s right, it is not. It is psycho-logical.

“And what’s does that mean? What difference does that create?”

When we put a state like anger or fear inside another state (calmness, respect, gentleness, courage, etc.), we change the internal logic of our nervous system and way of thinking. Anger now becomes a member of the class of calmness, or the class of respect, or solution oriented thinking. This is new and different. Anger for most people would be a member of the class of threat, or insult, or “at threshold,” or something. This creates a new psycho-logic of our state and experience.

The Invisible nature of logical levels

One level becomes the higher “logical” level of another level of thinking, feeling, awareness, physiology when it operates in a meta-relationship to the lower level. This is what we mean by both “logical types” and “logical levels.” When we put one state in a “logical” relationship to another state so that one is at a higher level then the higher one is about the other. This about-relationship establishes the “logic.”

In the world, there are no such “things” as logical levels. They do not exist “out there.” You have never tripped over a “logical level” that someone left in your living room. They do not exist at the sensory-based or empirical level. If you go hunting for “logical types or levels” you have to look at how a mind is classifying, categorizing, or punctuating things. That’s where a “logical type or level” exists __in a mind that represents categories and levels or orders of abstractions.

Logical Levels as fluid processes of thinking-emoting

Logical levels are so not static, rigid, or solid. They are fluid. As processes of our thinking-feeling states, they move. So to understand meta-states we have to shift from thinking about rigid hierarchical levels to fluid levels … levels that are ever in flux, ever moving, changing, and in process. They are not things. They are mental and emotional energy expressions that result from how we represent and frame things. This means that the “logical levels” appear and vanish according to our thinking. That’s why they are so fluid and plastic.

These levels or layers of thinking-feeling-and somatizing are made out of the stuff of thoughts-and-feelings. While they are not “real” or solid, we do tend to call them by “names” and so use nominalization to describe them. When we do then we talk about the “logical levels” as beliefs, values, identity, mission, understanding, intentions, etc. Yet we need to remember, these are nominalization that cover up the processes inside.

We also need to remember that there are many, many logical levels, many more than the few listed in Robert Dilts’ original list. There are levels as Decisions, Understandings, Expectations, Domains of Knowledge, Pleasure, Intention, Non-Propositional Symbols, Metaphors, etc.

The simultaneousness of the “logical levels” C  all occurring at the same time

Each of the nominalization that we call the levels of our mind are included inside of each level. If you bring a state of confidence to your self, this operates as a belief, and because you treat this as important, you value it; you understand facets of some knowledge of that area, this leads to expectations, decisions, identifications, intentions, etc. Each level is simultaneously multi-layered with all of these levels.

Bateson’s interchangeable use of “Levels” and “Types”

In Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972/2000), Bateson defines “logical types” in terms of levels of abstraction and quotes Korzybski’s map-territory distinction (p. 180). In all that follows, I have added the bold print to highlight his use of levels and types. He says that

“… a frame is meta-communicative. Any message, which either explicitly or implicitly defines a frame, ipso facto gives the receiver instructions or aids in his attempt to understand the message included within the frame.

… Every meta-communicative or meta-linguistic message defines, either explicitly or implicitly, the set of messages about which it communicates, i.e., every meta-communicative message is or defines a psychological frame. (p. 188)

“No class can be a member of itself. The picture frame then, because it delimits a background, is here regarded as an external representation of a very special and important type of psychological frame C namely a frame whose function is to delimit a logical type.” (189)

In his chapter “Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia” Bateson describes “how humans handle communication involving multiple Logical Types” (p. 203). In that section he writes the following:

“Multiple levels of learning and the Logical Typing of signals. These are two inseparable sets of phenomena C inseparable because the ability to handle the multiple types of signals is itself a learned skill and therefore a function of the multiple levels of learning.” (204)

From Mind and Nature (1979), Bateson defines “mind” as involving processes of transformation that discloses “a hierarchy of logical types immanent in the phenomena.” (p. 122).

“I shall try to drive home the importance of this criterion by exhibiting cases in which the discrimination of levels of communication has been so confused or distorted that various sorts of frustration and pathology have been the result.” (122)

He then speaks about signals that we emit and then about another class of information that tells us about the coding of messages or indications from the person. These he calls meta-messages (p. 122-123). In so explaining “logical types” he then says,

“All this is premised on the existence of levels whose nature I am here trying to make clear. We start with a potential differentiation between action in context and action or behavior which defines context or makes context intelligible. … I refer to the latter type of communication as meta-communication… A function, an effect, of the meta-message is in fact to classify the messages that occur within its contexts.” (p. 124).

“In sum, each of these disasters will be found to contain an error in logical typing. In spite of immediate gain at one logical level, the sign is reversed and benefit becomes calamity in some other, larger and longer, context.” (189)

In describing the “levels of control of house temperature” Bateson used arrows to mark the direction of control in the system. It zigzagged from Personal status to Genetics and training to personal threshold, to “too cold” or “too hot” to bias to oscillating temperature. To all of this Bateson commented:

“With each zigzag of the ladder, the sphere of relevance increases. In other words, there is a change in logical typing of the information collected by the sense organ at each level.” (215)

“To jump downward two or more steps in the hierarchy is likewise undesirable … the effect of any such jumping of levels, upward or downward, is that information appropriate as a basis for decision at one level will be used as basis for decision at some other level, a common variety of error in logical typing.” (216)


What shall we say to all of this?

  • First, there is no difference between logical types, logical levels, or meta-states. These are three different models or descriptions of the same thing. Bateson used types synonymously with levels.
  • Second, by definition, logical levels are an expression of logical types. The higher levels or classes are categories that provide meta-communicative information about the previous level.
  • Meta-States work through the meta-function of transcending one level and including it within a larger classification. In our experience this changes the psycho-logics of our neuro-semantic system.