What if we put the VERB back into “LOGICAL LEVELS”?

L.  Michael Hall, Ph.D.

In the past seven or eight years, while traveling internationally and training Meta-States, I have been asked scores of questions about “logical levels.” It comes up naturally because a meta-state is a higher “logical level” than a primary state.  The questions emerge also because to understand and effectively work with our meta-state structures, we have to understand how “logical levels” work and the mechanisms that drive them.  There’s lots of questions also because muddled confusion abounds about the so-called “logical levels.”

What is a “logical level” and why do you put “logical levels” in quotes?

Before defining it, consider the kind of linguistic distinction we have in the phrase “logical levels.” What do we have?  Two nominalizations that have been strung together.  We have a nominalization phrase.   What we are in reference to is not a thing, but an action, or two actions.   But what actions?  Both terms, “logical” and “level,” are nominalizations, that is, noun-like terms that freeze some process and seduce us to imagine something static and objective.

So what are the processes to which we refer?

Answer: the activity is that of layering level of thought-and-emotion (or state) upon our thinking.   As we do this mental layering., we are creating a “logical” system of classification.   The “logics” of our reasoning is framing a way of organizing our world.

It’s seductive and deceptive to use this phrase as if we’re talking about an actual thing when we are not.   There are no such things as “logical levels.” You have never stumbled across a “logical level” that someone left at work or in the living room.   You can’t put a “logical level” in a wheelbarrow, or the refrigerator.   It’s not empirical.   It is not that kind of thing.

About “things,” we can distinction actual empirical things that we can see, hear, feel, taste, and touch; things that the tools of science can measure and quantify.   And then there are “things” of the mind—concepts, ideas, theories, models, and maps.   “Things” of the mind involve the processes of our thinking, mapping, and punctuating.

What is the referent for “logical levels”?

Answer: our mental-emotional activity of selecting elements and classifying them for a particular category, a way of naming and typing, of sorting out what’s in the world.

When asked what a “logical level or type” is, Gregory Bateson said, “The name is not the thing named, but is of different logical type, higher than the thing named; the class is of different logical type, higher than that of its members.”

I don’t understand.   What do you mean there are no such things as “logical levels”?

I mean they are not actual empirical facts that you can see, hear or feel.  They refer to how we think about things.  When we use the phrases, “logical level” or “logical type” we are using a generalization, a concept, and a theory to talk about how we layer our thoughts and feelings level upon level.  It’s something we do, what we mentally do, in our mind-body-emotion system.  It’s just a way of thinking and modeling the structure of our thinking-feeling system.

Is there a difference between “logical levels” and “logical types”?

No.  Throughout his classic work, Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972) Bateson used the phrases interchangeably.  The typing (“type” used as a verb) is what we mentally do as we punctuate and classify various elements and collect them as members of a group.  We type the elements as members of a classification that we invent.  In this way we categorize the world.  And inasmuch as we have to step aside or step back and name the entire group of elements, we move up to a higher level.  Watzlawick similarly uses the phrases interchangeably.

What does “logical levels” refer to, and how does the hidden process work?

In “logical levels,” mind replicates brain.  In our brain structure, we have various brain structures from lower to higher which process information and then send its transforms to the next level.  We have lower, middle, and top brain structures working over the information as it is transformed and transduced in the system.  So with mind.  After we think and feel something, we then entertain additional thoughts-and-feelings about the previous experience.  We reflexively think about our thinking, feel about our feeling, feel about our thinking, etc.

It is this self-reflexive consciousness that allows us to step back, as it were, from ourselves and re-think, re-feel and to do so repeatedly and without end.  This is the “infinite regress” that philosophers speak about.  We can operate at multiple levels of awareness.  As an infinite process, it never ends.  Whatever we think or feel at any level, we can always step aside, and engage the thinking-feeling process again.

Reflexivity as the infinite progress allows us to abstract about our abstractions, generalize about our generalizations, believe about our beliefs, value our values, decide about our decisions, etc.  This is the structure of mindfulness, higher level awareness, the transcendence of the human spirit.  In cognitive psychology, it has generated the field of Meta-Cognition and has much influence in the modeling and structuring of A.I.  (Artificial Intelligence).

You speak about our “psycho-logics”, is that the same as “logical levels”?

Yes.  Korzybski hyphenated “psychology” to speak about our psycho-logics and of psychologists as psycho-logisticians.  The inner “logics” or reasonings of our belief systems or embedded frames within frames within frames (the matrix of our frames) is “logical” only to the extent that we classify one thing as a member of some class.  Whatever results from this “makes sense,” and is “logical” within those psycho-logics.

How have you classified “an action that doesn’t reach its goal”?  Is that “failure”?  What category do you put it in?  Whatever classification or category, you have stepped aside from the first variable and put it in some category.  You have typed it as a member of some class.  In this way we create our psycho-logics.  The person who puts the activity in the category of “feedback” will have a different experience to the first person.  And the person who classifies it as a member of the class of “curiosity” —something to feel curious about and to explore, will have yet again another experience.

Doing these things create “logical levels.” We have rise up —in our mind—and created a structure that frames the class.  We transcend the first thought to a second thought.  We make a meta-move to think about the first.  We move above and beyond (“meta”) the first and set a frame-of-reference.  All of these terms describes the “logical leveling” that makes up the nominalization phrase that we call “logical levels.”

So is a “logical level” the same thing as a meta-level?

Yes.  When we set one thought or feeling in a meta-relationship to another, we simultaneously set a frame.  This means that the scope of the frame is higher and greater than the members of the class, that is, the elements within the lower state.

As we move up the scale from details to generalities (inductive thinking), the scope of our awareness enlarges.  We create summaries of things, classifications, generalizations, frames, frames-within-frames, etc.  This is feedback to ourselves.  When we take one of these belief frames and move down with it (deductive thinking), we meta-detail.  We feed the information and knowledge forward through ourselves, through the levels of our mind-body-emotion system.

Thinking systemically about “logical levels” enables us to see all of the moving parts of the mind-body-emotion system.  This allows us to see the “logical levels” as a system, and as fluid and moving, as dynamic.  And from that, we can then see emergent properties in the system.

How many “logical levels” are there?

There are as many as we have words and synonyms for these meta-level facets of our awareness.  In Neuro-Semantics we have a list of 26 of the most frequent “logical levels.” There are the Other “Logical Levels” beyond the first few identified by Dilts (see article on web site by this title).

What do you mean that all “logical levels” are at the same time all of the other “logical levels”?

We do better to think about these mental-emotional layerings as facets of the same thing.  That is, there is not “belief” as a “logical level” and then there is “values” or “understandings,” or “decisions,” or “identity,” etc.  Rather, every “logical level” is at the same time a belief, a value, an understanding, etc.

Do you believe that learning is valuable?  Then from one perspective that’s a belief, from another it is a value.  It may also from yet another be a decision, an understanding, a pleasure, an intention, etc.  These meta-terms offer us many everyday terms for the multi-faceted nature of “logical levels.” What we call it depends on how we look at it.

Since the layering of the mind is a process, we need fluid metaphors rather than static ones.  The dynamic structure of a tornado is much better for convey this energy and movement than steps, stairs, ladders, or pyramids.  There is a “hierarchy” but it is not a rigid one, it is more like a holoarchy (from a hologram), ever moving, and “alive.”

Hasn’t Steve Andreas or others proven “logical levels” are “brain dead”?

In Anchor Point Steve wrote the following:

“The theory of logical types (and any conclusions derived from it by Bateson, Dilts, Hall, and others) was declared ‘brain-dead’ by Bertrand Russell himself in 1967, as reported by G.  Spencer Brown.  …  Please let us hear no more about the ‘Theory of Logical Types.’” (March 2003, p.  11)

Actually Steve’s argument against using and working with “logical levels” is a particularly creative one, even though spacious.  In essence it amounts to this.

“Since mathematicians have stopped using the Theory of Logical Types to deal with mathematical concepts and paradoxes, and since the Theory would eliminate the branch of mathematics known as imaginary numbers, therefore it is ‘brain dead,’ totally worthless, and should not be used at all.”

Yes, I know that sounds pretty fantastic.  And yes, I know it is as if Steve forgot to meta-model his own argument and so violated the well-formed specifications for speaking with precision.  But I’m not making this up.  This is what he wrote.

“G.  Spencer Brown in the preface of Laws of Form (1974) has shown that Russell’s theory of logical types is not only unnecessary, but if accepted, would deprive us of the branch of mathematics dealing with imaginary numbers, which is very useful in electronics and in calculations involving sine waves and other trigonometric functions!” (Anchor Point, March 2003, p.  11)

Well that does it.  Now I have to make a choice, if I use the meta or logical level distinctions for modeling an experience I have to give up imaginary numbers.  What shall I do?  Giving up the mathematical field of imaginary numbers is going to be a tough choice since it is so much of NLP! If I use classes and categories and thinking in terms of meta-cognitive structures of frames to model the meta-levels of abstraction and mind, but have to recognize that it doesn’t work in mathematical imaginary numbers…  hmmmmm, what shall I choose?

As if that wasn’t enough, he adds more to his spacious reasoning:

“The theory of logical types would make impossible the many useful self-referential (and sometimes paradoxical) messages which people do, in fact, make and respond to.  It would also outlaw important and interesting phenomena such as the self-concepts, which describes itself recursively, including itself in its description.”

Let me see if I get this right.  The Theory of Logical Types “outlaws” various concepts?  That’s interesting.  This theory somehow sets up a regime and declares certain meta-level classifications “legal” and others are “against the law”?  I wonder how a theory does that?  Steve, of course, doesn’t explain, he just declares this as a fact.  He declares it so, so it must be that way, right?

Obviously I hold a different view.  The theory of “logical types” indicates that when we do not clearly distinguish levels, when we engage in a “typing error,” then we create paradox.  Simple.  There’s no need for laws or out-lawing of things here.  There’s only the failure to make critical distinctions.  Of course, that’s what Bateson noted as well with schizophrenia.  It creates double-binds—some malevolent, some benevolent.

As far as recursion goes, self-referencing, etc., this is precisely what Korzybski meant by the levels of abstracting, and multi-ordinality.  We can legitimately use a nominalization like “self” on itself.  When we do, we can operate at different levels of “self” with different levels of awareness.  “Self” at the primary state is just being a living breathing organism.  When we are aware of self, we have self-awareness.  Can we be aware of ourselves as a self?  Yes.  I have written about this in The Structure of Personality, Meta-States, and The Secrets of Personal Mastery.

So what’s the story about imaginary numbers and “logical types”?

Let me let Paul Watzlawick in his book, The Invented Reality speak to this.

“All numbers are either positive, negative, or zero.  Consequently, any number that is neither positive nor zero is negative; and any number that is neither negative nor zero must be positive.  Now what about the seemingly harmless equation x2+1=0?  If we transpose the 1 to the other side of the equation, we obtain x2 = -1 and, further, that x = % -1.

“But in a conceptual universe that is constructed such that any number can only be positive, negative, or zero, this result in unimaginable.  For what number multiplied by itself (raised to its square) can possibly yield -1?

“The analogy of this impasse with the above-mentioned paradoxical dilemma arising in a world based on the concept of truth, falsehood, and the excluded middle is obvious.  But, imaginable or unimaginable as the square root of -1 may be, mathematicians, physicists, and engineers have long since accepted it with equanimity, have assigned to it the symbol i (meaning imaginary), and included it in their computations just as the other three (imaginable) number categories (positive, negative, and zero), and have obtained practical, concrete, and perfectly imaginable results from it.  But for our lay thinking, the imaginary number i remains of a fantastic irreality.” (p.  253)

There you have it.  In the field of mathematics, and specifically in the specialized field of imaginary numbers, and what mathematicians do with the square root of -1, the theory of “logical types” is not all that useful.  Okay.  But what in the world does that have to do with the psycho-logics of the human meaning making brain that defines, evaluates, frames, classifies, categorizes, use metaphors, etc.?  That it may not be useful for one thing does not discount all of the other ways it may be useful, does it?  I think not.

Declaring the theory “brain dead” for the mathematical field of imaginary numbers, and solving the paradoxes around unimaginable numbers like the square root of -1, does not automatically exclude “logical types” from being very useful in other areas and domains, does it?  Of course not.

Where did the theory of “logical types” come from?

Russell and Whitehead came up with The Theory of Logical Types in 1904 in their book, in the field of mathematics, Principia Mathematica.  It was not about psychology at all.  It was about members of a group, how to classify groups, and how to work with groups.  It’s about grouping and organizing categories.  That was 1904.  Much later, Gregory Bateson used the basic concepts and axioms of this theory in his modeling of cultures and cultural phenomenon.  As he explored how people learn and the fact that we can learn about our learning, he created what we now call The Levels of Learning.  It was in this way that the Theory of Logical Types was applied to human functioning and to the strange or paradoxical experience arise.  For Bateson, this was central to his theoretical and practical work with schizophrenia.

Fast forward a few years and one of Bateson’s students began using the Logical Types to set forth a particular version of the levels of mind.  It was in this way that Robert Dilts created the NLP model of Neuro-Logical Levels.  While there’s been criticisms of it as a model of “logical levels” because, after all, it is not a “logical level” system, it has led to a great many NLP patterns and processes and has proven highly useful in a great many areas.

Alfred Korzybski similarly set for a model of the Levels of Abstraction to describe the ordered structure of experience.  He spoke of the levels in terms of orders—first-level order, second-order, third-order, etc.  This enabled him to articulate a theory of sanity and science.  He called that multi-ordinality.  This describes human function as multi-dimensional in its layering of ideas upon ideas.

Fast forward to 1994, and it was the combination of these understandings, along with studies in Meta-Cognition, Cognitive Linguistics, Reflexivity, etc.  that led me to organize the Meta-States model as a formalized model for rigorously dealing with our reflexive thoughts and feelings.


  • As a modeling tool, the “logical levels” of our states upon states (i.e., meta-states) offers us a powerful set of distinctions about how our self-reflexive consciousness layers our thinking and feeling.  This process and activity challenges us to be cautious in using nominalizations which gives the impression that we’re talking about something solid and static.  We are not.
  • It is the nominalizing of “logical levels” that begins the muddled thinking and leads to using static metaphors like ladders, steps, and pyramids.  When we put the verb back into the word, we use more dynamic metaphors like layering and swirling of the mind.
  • As we go meta and transcend our own thinking and feeling we set frames and frames within frames and build semantic networks around events, words, ideas, and concepts.  This creates the psycho-logics of our matrix of frames and has to be mapped if we are to model the structure of complex experiences.

1.  Bateson, Gregory.  (1972/ 2000).  Steps to an ecology of mind.    Chicago: The University of Chicago.

2.  Hall, L.  Michael; Bodenhamer, Bobby (1999).   The structure of excellence: Unmasking the meta-levels of “sub-modalities.”  Grand Jct.  CO: E.T.  Publications.

3. Hall.  L.  Michael (2000).  Meta-States: Managing the higher levels of your mind.  Grand Jct.  CO: Neuro-Semantics Publications.

4.  Hall, L.  Michael.  (2000).  Secrets of Personal Mastery: Advanced techniques for accessing your higher levels of consciousness.  Wales, UK: Crown House Publications.

5. Hall, Michael (2002).  The Matrix Model. Clifton, CO: N.S.  Publications.

6. Hall, Michael.  (1997/2001).  NLP: Going Meta — Advance modeling using meta-levels.  Grand Jct.  CO: ET Publications.

7.  Hall, L.  Michael.  (2003).  MovieMind: Directing the cinemas of the mind.  Clifton, CO: Neuro-Semantic Publications.

8. Watzlawick, Paul; Weakland, John H.; Fisch, Richard.  (1974).  Change: Principles of problem formation and problem resolution.  New York: W.W.  Norton and Company.

9.  Watzlawick, Paul.  (1984).  The invented reality: How do we know what we believe we know?  Contributions to constructivism.      New York: W.W.  Norton and Company.


L.  Michael Hall, Ph.D., Psychologist, International Trainer, and Entrepreneur who lives in the Rocky Mountains is the developer of the Meta-States Model, Frame Games, and the Matrix Model, he is the co-founder with Dr.  Bodenhamer of The International Society of Neuro-Semantics.  (P.O.  Box 8, Clifton, CO.  USA Tel: 81520-0008; 970 523-7877).