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Aristotle tells us that any body of knowledge must start with a fundamental assumption that we can neither prove nor disprove. Einstein, coming at this same notion from a different direction has pointed out that the way we address a problem embodies the solution. We cannot, find a solution that is not in accord with the fundamental assumption we have made to begin with.

This idea of an unproven assumption as our starting point may seem unreasonable, since it requires that we start out at a random point and somehow are enabled to make sense out of the world. This is, however, not unlike the growth of an individual consciousness as outlined by Hofstadter in his process of seeking to develop an artificial intelligence. Hofstadter posits that the person starts only with basic epigenetic rules, such as pattern making, and from this base experiences the world in a random, data driven, ‘bottom up’ fashion, experiencing each event as it is. Because of the epigenetic rule of pattern making, however, s/he quickly begins to note similarities and differences, to group experiences and make generalizations, to appraise them as pleasant or unpleasant. Gradually, s/he takes these generalizations and forms a model of the world, or a ‘theory of meaning’ about why things happen in the way the do. Somewhere between four and eight years of age, s/he has created a naive, but salient theory of meaning, which begins to drive the appraisals of the next experience. This new ‘top down’ approach now views each experience from the perspective of the personal theory of meaning and adjusts the theory only reluctantly if novel information demands.

So too, apparently do societies or cultures develop assumptions from which to explore experiences, and the fundamental assumption of either the individual or the culture is based on nothing other than epigenetic rule following, combined with individual appraisal of experience.

Thus the whole of reality is simply a consensus point of view both for the individual and for humankind as a whole, coordinated by a selection apparatus. It is remarkable that these epigenetic rules allow human beings to arrive through this random process, at very similar status and ‘atypical’ behavior is rare enough to allow for the fact that a concept of ‘typical’ behavior exists. Bateson puts it this way, “in stochastic processes either of evolution or of thought, the new can be plucked from nowhere but the random. And to pluck the new from the random, if and when it happens to show itself, requires some sort of selective machinery to account for the ongoing persistence of new ideas”. The selective apparatus is the set of epigenetic rules that help the individual and the society to shape the data into comprehensible information.

There are differences, however, in the way that various cultures see reality. It is not unusual for both sides in an armed conflict, for example, to believe that God is on their side; even if both worship the same God. Abraham Lincoln offers an interesting shift of focus, when he asks the question “but are we on the side of God?”. It is these shifts of perspective, both individually and collectively, which are powerful tools for creating a future reality, which is more beneficial than the present one.

For ‘communities of interest’, a standard point of view is called a paradigm. A paradigm is a set of assumptions [theory of meaning] about the nature of reality. Thomas Kuhn introduced the notion in 1962, with the publication of his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The scientific paradigms he described were highly rational: they had explicit rules, recorded in scientific literature. Personal theories of meaning and cultural paradigms are different: they are often unwritten, unspoken, and even unconscious.

A paradigm is then a complex way of collectively looking at things or perceiving things. This construct of perspective and the reframing of perspective will, as we will pursue later, have significance in our attempt to follow the cognitive path. The fact that we can have a perspective on how we ‘see’ both internal and external ‘facts’ can change dramatically our interpretation of them.

We will explore that further later, but now to return to our immediate concern, we must start with a question that will help us explore how and why people are who they are and behave in the ways that they do. That question is: “What is our fundamental assumption about behavior?” If one reviews the literature of abnormal psychology, one will find several basic approaches to atypical human behavior including biomedical, psychodynamic, behavioral, cognitive, humanistic and existential. Adherents to each of these differing models often vigorously pursue and defend their selected position without even consciously addressing the fundamental assumption that underpins it. It is as though they have simply built up a pattern over time and will defend it without consideration of other ways of looking at the world.

Those who advocate for the biomedical model will, for example, search for a germ, a gene or a chemical event to explain the atypical behavior, since the fundamental assumption is that there is pathology in the biological functioning or tissue that causes the behavior to occur. Having established this fundamental assumption, the adherent, if clinically disposed, would need to decide how to correct the atypical behavior. In the case of the biomedical model, the intervention must ‘cure’ the pathology if change is to occur. The manner in which intervention is thought to be related to intended outcomes is considered a theory of change.

Biomedical Model

Thus the fundamental assumption regarding atypical behavior for the biomedical model is pathology and the theory of change requires a medical intervention [chemical or surgical] to effect typical behavior assuming that typical behavior is the intended outcome. This assumption however, is unclear, since no known pathology has been scientifically defined for most atypical behavior and therefore the actual practice has been focused on diminishing disruptive symptoms without apparent hope of actually restoring typical behavior.

More importantly perhaps, behavior is not a traditional perspective of biomedical intention. The medical intention is to reduce or eliminate the symptoms that are found to be disturbing. While modern medicine has taken a more rehabilitative perspective to physical behavior, attempting to restore physical functioning when this functioning has been disturbed, there is little tradition to deal with psychic functioning and behavior. Generally speaking, the ‘dead man’ test is an effective measure for medical intervention in behavioral issues. Since the mental ‘illness’ is demonstrated only by the existence of unwanted and disruptive actions, a lessening of such behaviors becomes the goal of this paradigm. If the behaviors did not exist, the presumption of ‘illness’ would not exist. Since a dead man has no behaviors at all, the more the client acts like a dead man, the better the intervention is believed to have worked.

If psychosocial rehabilitation is to occur, it is considered to be subsidiary to the primary purpose, rather than as a means to increase typical behavior as well as diminishing atypical behaviors. Yet, every evidence exists to suggest that, in fact, such rehabilitation not only increases positive behaviors, it reduces negative behaviors at a rate unmet by biomedical techniques. However, medical people are rarely able to ‘see’ this paradox. In fact, there is clear evidence to suggest that participation in real world activities, with a role of responsibility, is significantly more powerful in reducing the target behaviors than any medical intervention, yet this fact is consistently ignored.

Psychodynamic Model

The fundamental assumption of the psychodynamic model seems to be historically based on the premise that unconscious psychological forces influence the mind and subsequent behavior. These inner forces [desires and motives] are believed to come into conflict in which a clear choice is undecidable; and it is this conflict that creates anxiety and unhappiness against which the person tries to defend him/herself. The theory of change, therefore, would be oriented towards a review of the desires and motives and resolution of conflict; although how this resolution takes place is not clearly defined. In fact, the entire psychodynamic model is, in the words of Eysenck quite chaotic. The ‘theories’ are “vague notions, stated imprecisely, derived from ill-defined, obscure and nebulous observations, difficult or even impossible to test, and resting ultimately on their ability, seldom properly tested, to suggest methods of treatment hopefully giving better results than placebo treatment, or other methods equally vague, deriving from other ‘theories’ equally ill defined”. He goes on to suggest that any empirical evidence speaks negatively about the model.

Further complications exist in the fact that the psychodynamic model has taken on all of the trappings of the biomedical model, speaking of illness, doctors and treatment as though such existed. Finally, since all people have conflicts and the psychodynamic forces the model is concerned with are quite complex and recovery is unlikely to ever be complete. ‘Typical’ behavior is, to psychodynamic practitioners, somewhat of a misnomer. The contention is that the individual never resolves the conflict, but can only progress to an improved status over a lifetime, – which leads to the rather uncomplimentary position put forth by Gutheil, which posits that “One of the more common illusions of Freudian orthodoxy is that the durability of results corresponds to the length of therapy”. Outcome expectations, therefore, are limited to progress, not a return to typical behavior.

Cognitive Behavior Model

These examples should be, for our purposes, sufficient to articulate the notions of fundamental assumption and theory of change. We might, however, since we have already visited Eysenck, expound on his belief that the cognitive model and the behavioral model are one in the same. As he states: “the conditioning theories underlying behavior therapy implicitly and explicitly contain cognitive elements (as indeed did Pavlov’s original work). The old fashioned and largely irrelevant theories of Watson and Skinner tried to exclude cognition, but modern learning theory has refused to adopt such non-senseical restrictions, and cognitive factors play a very prominent part in recent (and not so recent) theories in the field of conditioning and learning (e.g., Mackintosh, 1984)”.

While we would agree, we would suggest that the practitioner in the field is less well informed than Eysenck, and that despite the fact that the term cognitive behavior constitutes a redundancy, since cognition (thinking) is a behavior, it is an important addition in the field of practice for it makes cognition an inclusive part of the process. It also usefully defines when cognitions are modified directly or indirectly through behavioral exposure. This does not dispute Eysenck’s contention that cognitions are behaviors as indicated by the inevitable physiological and hormonal accompaniment of thought and emotions. But cognitive science has expanded our understanding exponentially, extending the behavioral context into new techniques and procedures which have a sense of newness. This growth merits a new recognition.

In fact, research has indicated that ideas are not just responses of the brain, but can be used to ‘trigger’ brain activity as well. Neuroscientists have learned that thoughts are electrical impulses that trigger electrical and chemical switches in the brain. Thoughts are not just psychological in nature, they are physiological – electrochemical triggers that direct and affect the chemical activities of the brain. When given an electrical command – a thought – the brain immediately does several things: it responds (to the thought) by releasing appropriate control chemicals into the body and it alerts the central nervous system to any required response or action [Helmstetter – 1987].

Finally, there is some indication that cognition has some power to reprogram the brain on its own as demonstrated anecdotally by the NeuroLinguistic P Program (NLP) approaches. Because the founders were a linguist and an information specialist, they were not bound to the traditional boundaries of behavioral approaches and have opened up new territory that is worth exploring further.

Biofeedback and meditation are other circumstances that have shown the power of thought to impact on the physiology of the body in that both have shown that they can substantially alter the brain wave patterns and thus influence the electrochemical balances therein.

Given the power of cognition, the cognitive path is one which we have chosen to pursue and in doing so, we suggest that the fundamental assumption was best articulated by James Allen in his book, As A Man Thinketh, where he states: “A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the sum total of all of his thoughts”. Rephrasing this in politically correct language, we suggest that the fundamental assumption of cognitive behavior management is:

People are the sum total of what they think.

Further, we would state that a person cannot act differently than how s/he thinks unless of course, s/he is ‘acting’. If we think that the sky is falling, we must act as if the sky was falling. Whether or not the sky is actually falling. In fact, we would suggest that if we think the sky is falling, the sky is falling – this is our reality. This ‘inner logic’ of what we think is what is real whether it is coherent with what other people think or not. And it is this inner logic that must be addressed if our behavior is ‘atypical’ and we want to change. The theory of change of cognitive behavior management follows rather handily:

Change occurs only when the person learns to think differently.

This is a profoundly different order of change than the biomedical or psychodynamic models provide. First of all, neither the fundamental assumption nor theory of change really identifies ‘atypical’ behavior. Because of this, the approach is oriented toward self-change, not other change. The cognitive path is one of self-change. Only as the person believes that s/he wants to change, does change occur. Because of this change in perspective, the helping person is not the change agent, but the enabler of change. The helping person, or change worker is a person who helps the individual identify his/her own problems in living and then enables him/her to collect information in a manner which will help him/her to decide whether or not the status quo is more painful than pleasant; and if so, choose to change.

People who manifest problems in living are often trapped in thoughts that are self-destructive and inhibit the successful achievement of their personal goals, while creating a deterioration of the goals themselves. The operational goal may become avoidance, or destruction, rather than achievement. A change worker must be able to bring this person to some basic understanding of his/her own ‘inner logic’ before change can be pursued.

…it does not make sense to try to convince a paranoid schizophrenic not to be paranoid because he is crazy. Instead, it might be more constructive to try to understand his map of the world, and to help him to change it from within, gradually leading the client to conclude for himself that the world is not out to get him. [Hedberg, 2000]

A major focus of the cognitive behavior management then, is the process of eliciting and inferring the ‘inner logic’ sufficiently to help the individual determine for him/herself whether it is valid and effective.


Since our concern is with how people think, our primary approach deals with metacognition. Meta, in this sense, means beyond, over or transcending. Thus, we would define meta as thinking about thinking, or as the Buddha would say, we are concerned with mindfulness.

Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

The Sanskrit word for mindfulness, smriti means ‘to remember’. If we want to follow the cognitive path, we must be mindful of, and remember our thoughts and the way those thoughts are communicated. We must discover how we think and make some decisions about our thinking habits. We must become conscious of those nonconscious events that control our reality. Mindfulness is a means of awakening our awareness, attentiveness to thoughts as they are, in and of themselves. Being aware of our awareness is metacognition. At any given time, whatever the person is doing, s/he can do so ‘mindfully’, without judgement, and with a sense of observation and data collection. This is similar to the ‘bottom up’ data collection of the infant – it predisposes the individual to a re-construction of theories. The mind of the beginner is empty, free of the habits of the expert, ready to accept, to doubt, and open to all the possibilities.

The overriding construct of cognitive behavior management is to help the client become mindful of his/her own thoughts, feelings and behaviors and to evaluate these objectively, with a beginner’s mind, using the scientific method across the ‘cutting edge’ of utility.

Implementation of interventions aimed at helping people change the way they think is a simple, but not easy task. It is simple in its description and implementation; it is not easy in that it requires that the practitioner be immensely aware [mindful] of how s/he communicates with the client. This is so, because language is a vital method of creating reality for others.

… You and I belong to a species with a remarkable ability: we can shape events in each other’s brains with exquisite precision. Simply by making noises with our mouths, we can reliably cause precise new combinations of ideas to arise in each other’s minds. Steven Pinker [1994]

The learning and implementations of specific techniques requires mere common sense. However, understanding the reasons that these approaches are effective requires considerable study. Theoretical questions abound:

  • What do we mean by think?
  • How did we learn to think the way we do?
  • How can we learn new ways to think?


When we talk about thinking we might think we know what we mean. However, there are many dimensions of thought. Is emotion thinking? How about hallucinations? A Glossary created by Dale Kirby for Neuro Linguistic Programming, can perhaps clarify some of the major dimensions of thought.

Beliefs are closely held generalizations about (1) cause, (2) meaning, and (3) boundaries in (a) the world around us, (b) our behavior, (c) our capabilities, and (d) our identity. Beliefs function at a different level than concrete reality and serve to guide and interpret our perceptions of reality, often by connecting them to our criteria or value systems. Beliefs are notoriously difficult to change through typical rules of logic or rational thinking. The core beliefs, which are the essence of who we are, include beliefs about oneself, other people and future prospects.

Values are those things that are important to us and are driving our actions. Values are usually representations of emotions rather than judgement.

Attitudes are a collection of values and beliefs around a certain subject. Our attitudes are choices we have made.

While the glossary does not do so, one could describe a person’s personality as a collection of attitudes that create certain presuppositions or basic underlying assumptions that are necessary for a representation to make sense.

Representational Systems are based upon the five senses: seeing, hearing, touching (feeling), smelling, and tasting. Internal representations are patterns of information we create and store in our minds in combinations of words, images, sounds, feelings, smells and tastes. This is the way we store and encode our memories. Each of these representational systems has submodalities, or quality characteristics, which may be the way that thoughts are encoded in the brain.

Visual qualitative characteristics might include shape, color/black-and white, movement, brightness/dimness, depth, distance, location…

Auditory qualitative characteristics might include volume, tempo, pitch, frequency…

Kinesthetic qualitative characteristics might include temperature, pressure, texture, location, moisture, pain, pleasure…relating to body sensations. The term kinesthetic is used to encompass all kinds of feelings including tactile, visceral and emotional.

These qualitative characteristics or submodalities are theorized to be coding elements for memory storage. Thus a memory can bring to consciousness the physical sensations that are expressed as emotions.

People develop certain representational system primacy, which means that an individual systematically uses one sense over the others to process and organize his or her experience. A primary representational system will determine many personality traits as well as learning capabilities and is often indicated by the way the person speaks. (I see, I hear that, it feels bad, etc.) This preferred system or representational system is the one an individual typically uses most to think consciously and organize his or her experience.

These processes develop into a deep structure which creates the sensory maps (both conscious and sub-conscious) that people use to organize and guide their behavior and create perceptual filters or unique ideas, experiences, beliefs and language that shape our model of the world.

So far, we have not even touched on intention, the purpose or desired outcome of any behavior which represent the goals or desired states that a person or organization aspires to achieve; much less the gestalts or collection of memories, where the memories are linked together or grouped together around a certain subject. We could also include intuition, which might be defined as the consistent judgements made by people (typically, without an explanation of how these judgements are made). Within language systems, the ability of native speakers of a language to make consistent judgements about the sentences of their language; for example, the ability to decide which sentence of words in their language are well-formed.

There are also qualities of thinking such as congruence which occurs when all of a person’s internal beliefs, strategies, and behaviors are fully in agreement and oriented toward securing a desired outcome. Words, voice and body language – give the same message. Or the quality of integrity, which combines congruence and honesty, allowing for personal integrity and ethical action.

Finally, we can talk about the functions of thinking. For example, the human thought stream is constantly appraising objects and events, comparing the self to others or this situation with that. Such appraisals constitute the first step in the pattern making which leads to theory building about the meaning of the world. But we also have a need to explain WHY things happen – to attribute causes. It has been suggested that human beings are better described as the rationalizing animal, rather than the rational animal because of this propensity. And these appraisal and attributions lead us to a state of expectancy. Having used them to predict the future, we now determine that we can [or can’t] perform some act based on the prior analysis.

But you get the point. Thinking is an elaborate process of which up to 95% is nonconscious. And because it is nonconscious, we act on these thoughts without really being fully aware [although we may have some surface reasoning] of why we behave the way we do; particularly when such behaviors are self-destructive.


In essence, the Central Nervous System learns how to think and can relearn this process. How we learn to think is something else again.

Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own action to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action. A. Bandura [1997]

If we become who we are through learning, it is fair to ask, how such learning takes place and to identify the origins for positive social adjustment. It is important to disclaim any single factor or system of learning through social experience. Such singularity would be possible only if human beings operated on an imitative or first order mental plane. However, human beings are active participants in the learning process and operate on an imaginative plane. Thus, any material presented to them has at minimum, eight [08] optional impacts that then can be exponentially expanded: It is believed [true]/not believed [false]; it is understood as meant/ not understood as meant; or it is valued [given emotional status ]/not valued [ignored].

Thus a new proposition can be considered by any human recipient as:

  • true, understood and valued
  • true, understood and not valued
  • true, misunderstood and valued
  • true, misunderstood and not valued
  • false, understood and valued
  • false, misunderstood and valued
  • false, understood and not valued
  • false, misunderstood and not valued

Such variation is enhanced by two basic variables: first, the ambiguity of words and their usage. “You are a bad boy – meaning – you acted inappropriately OR you are not a good person”.

“…Ambiguity is pervasive; but the conscious experience of ambiguity is quite rare” – [Baar]

The second is the transcendent ability of imagination.

“People, by and large, are astonishingly attracted to the catastrophic interpretation of things” – [Seligman]

When one talks about causes in this context, one must be cautious to understand that it is not simply that one action results in another action, such as the reciprocal action described in Newtonian physics. An action regarding human beings is more comparable to the ‘probability shells’ of particle or quantum physics. We can expect that if certain events occur, there will be a higher probability of positive social adjustment, but we cannot know that it exists until we observe it.

We are talking about a self-transformation process by which we turn ourselves into different beings. The paradox is that while this is a solitary effort, the individual is dependent in the most crucial ways on the help of others – and others may hinder or constrain as well.


Our experience of the world is an interpretation. Interpretations [appraisals, attributions, estimates, calculations, evaluations and judgements (conclusions, decisions) may be better or worse. We have certain strategies for deciding. These strategies may be to some extent based genetically through standing epigenetic rules. In tests with babies it is found that certain patterns are more attractive or in some sense more rewarding than others; this may be what scientist call elegance when describing a theory that is somehow more satisfactory than others. One interpretation is that babies are not so much choosing a pattern as being ‘captured’ by it. This argument rests on the idea that infants are drawn automatically to certain features of the world; those perhaps that are specially effective, in stimulating their nervous systems, such as saturated colors, horizontal and vertical lines versus oblique ones. These attractors, which may be necessary elements of formulating the world as reality and thus have evolutionary value, become the aspects upon which patterns or mental representations are built.

If a baby gets satisfaction from learning to predict events in the world and to control them, then presumable s/he has some conception of a world ‘out there’ to be controlled. And by the same token presumably s/he has some conception of him/herself as a controlling agent. Our fondness for shaping things is balanced by the aim of understanding. Thus the patterns we find are the products both of a ‘bottom-up’ process of perception, perhaps, mediated by attractors which are genetically set, and a ‘top down’ process which gradually develops an emerging organization of self, which stems from conceptions of self as controlling agent.

As this emerging organization occurs, generalization becomes conceptualized as mental representation. ‘Generalization’ is a primitive and widespread feature of animal behavior. Another way of putting this is to say that when an animal – even a very simple organism – has learned to make a response to one stimulus, the behavior tends to occur subsequently in response to others that are like the first one in some way. It generalizes or spreads. Thus we may say that the perception of likeness is pervasive and fundamental.

Conceptual thinking [the development of mental representations] entails the recognition of points of likeness and at the same time¬ of points of unlikeness – the simultaneous grasp of the ways in which things resemble one another and of the ways in which they differ. Gradually these organizing patterns become a fabric of ‘top down’ themes or ideologies that make up the personality of the individual. These themes give birth to explanatory styles, and mental schema regarding self, others and prospects. These themes or ideologies alert the individual to certain expectations about what they will perceive in certain scenarios or situations and therefore ‘color’ the way in which they perceive the world.

However, just as the epigenetic attractors cause us to understand elegance in our strategies, they help us identify strategies that do not work. When our strategies don’t work, they result in problems in living. Such a result is likely to make us anxious, angry or sad. These emotional states can be defined as strange attractors. In chaos theory, a strange attractor is a cause of order in a chaotic system. Ongoing sadness, anger or anxiety creates a chaotic system, which to the outside observer seems bizarre, but has a sense of underlying order.

Each person looks through his or her own particular vision tunnel. Depressed people are hypersensitive to loss and blind to gain. For anxious people, the slightest possibility of danger sticks out like a barb in a scene that might otherwise be safe and secure. People who experience chronic anger look through a tunnel that highlights evidence of injustice and screens out fairness and equity.

The overt behaviors (and the covert behavior of thinking) tend to reflect this state of anxiety, sadness or anger and the people in our ecosystem tend to respond to these behaviors in ways that enable these negative states to continue. Internally, there is a problem solving process going on which becomes equally circular. Since the person does not know how to capture his/her nonconscious thought, there is a tendency to come to believe that the problem is external and to believe that you are being manipulated, oppressed and/or victimized by others. The externalization of these issues creates increased tension between the individual and his/her society, since s/he can neither control the others nor find effective ways to respond differently him/herself. In an orderly fashion, the chaos of continued sadness, anxiety or anger develops into a way of life for the individual so disposed and those around him/her. All parties contribute to the maintenance of the existing order which becomes an ‘intimate dance’, repeated over and over, just as water in the creek ebbs and circles over and over despite the random action of each molecule.

Human Attachment

Breakthroughs in methodology for assessing infants’ perceptual abilities have shown that even newborns are quite perceptive, active, and responsive during physical and social interactions. Increasingly, an infant will engage in social exchanges by a ‘reciprocal matching’ process in which both the infant and adult attempt to match or copy each other by approximation of each other’s gaze, use of tongue, sounds, and smiles. Infants’ physical requirements are best met when delivered along with social contact and interaction. Babies who lack human interaction may ‘fail to thrive’. Such infants will fail to gain sufficient weight and will become indifferent, listless, withdrawn and/or depressed, and in some cases will not survive [Clarke-Stewart & Koch, 1983 as reported by Oden, 1998]. It is interesting, perhaps, that the abused child who is in an interactive relationship does not ‘fail to thrive’; but may not survive the abuse.

The social infant needs to have an experience of attachment to another human being. The etymological meaning of attach is to seize – an appropriate description of the need for the child to seize and fasten onto a significant adult, but one that has also been described elsewhere as one which seizes the interest of the child. The process of attachment can also be examined, and it starts with attraction – which etymological meant literally to ‘pull towards oneself’. The infant pulls towards him/herself in a patterned way as mediated by the epigenetic rules.

Related to these childhood experience, of course, is the parental method of family management, which is usually based upon the parent’s own experiences both in family and culture. If bonding and other interpersonal experience are critical to either help or hinder the development of self, such family management methods are of importance. Oden suggests that child management processes of parents fall into more or less predictable categories:

  • authoritarian [high control]
  • authoritative [through knowledge and providing direction]
  • permissive [low control]
  • some combination of the above.

It is the last, of course, which is most problematic, since it has the potential of the unknown, and unknowing creates anxiety. If the internal logic is to pursue pleasure and avoid pain, but if the family management is inconsistent, the child may then be unable to implement the logic. The child is then ‘at the mercy’ of the adult and is unable to predict and control events and experiences.

Another factor of child management that is particularly difficult for growth and development is the issue of a double bind. According to Carlos Sluzki, as reported by Patrice Guillaume, the double bind has the following characteristics: (1) two or more persons; (2) repeated experience; (3) a primary negative injunction; (4) a secondary injunction conflicting with the first at a more abstract level, and like the first enforced by punishments or signals which threaten survival; (5) a tertiary negative injunction prohibiting the victim from escaping from the field; (6) finally, the complete set of ingredients is no longer necessary when the victim has learned to perceive his universe in double bind patterns.

Guillaume, looking more closely at the double bind, describes the four variations on the theme posited by Paul Watzlawick. The first and probably the most frequently used is what he calls the ‘Be spontaneous’ paradox. The wife who wants her husband to surprise her with flowers is experiencing this sort of dilemma. She is asking him to do something that by its nature must be spontaneous. “It is one of the shortcomings of human communication that there is no way in which the spontaneous fulfillment of a need can be elicited from another person without creating this kind of self-defeating paradox’, says Watzlawick.

A second variation of the double bind involves a situation in which a person is chastised for a correct perception of the outside world. In this situation the child will learn to distrust his/her own sensory awareness in favor of the parent’s assessment of the situation. One example would be the child who is raised in a violent household but is expected to see his/her parents as loving and peaceful. In later life this child may have a difficult time determining how to behave appropriately in a variety of situations. Indeed, this person may spend an inordinate amount of energy trying to decipher exactly how s/he ‘should’ interpret the situation.

The third variation on the theme is one in which a person is expected to have feelings other than those s/he actually experiences. The mother who wants her child to ‘want’ to do his/her homework falls into this category. The child will often end up feeling guilty when s/he cannot achieve the ‘proper’ feelings.

The fourth variation, according to Watzlawick, occurs when we demand and prohibit at the same time. The parent who demands honesty while encouraging winning at any cost is placing the child in this kind of bind. The child is placed in a position of having to disobey in order to obey.

How will a child be affected by growing up in an environment where s/he cannot comment on these perceived discrepancies? Does s/he eventually learn to trust only one part of his/her experience and to deny or distrust the rest? And what does this distortion bring in terms of social relationships outside the home?

The relationship with peers is equally a critical factor in ‘socialization’- the process of forming mutually satisfying and gratifying relationships. These relationships tend to increase right after the individual child’s naive ‘theory of meaning’ is formed and is a major testing ground for this theory. If the child is rejected by, or rejects peers, due to his/her theory of meaning and the behaviors that such a theory engenders, a major learning experience is deprived. Equally debilitating is the interference of adults in the socialization process, which include ‘rough house’ play. When this occurs, the socialization process is diminished. Even further, the medical profession, having a perverted attitude towards ‘atypical’ behavior may see ‘rough house’ play as ‘dangerous’ and isolate the child from typical peers and house them with equally ‘dangerous’ children adding additional paradox to the learning experience.

Developing a personality

In looking specifically at the development of individual thinking and the resultant individualization of personality, we use as our guide, the theoretical framework developed for Artificial Intelligence by Douglas Hofstadter [1995] in his book Fluid Concepts & Creative Analogies. The development starts with pattern sensitivity.

  • Noticing sameness [e.g. These two are alike];
  • Noticing simple relationships [e.g., this has the similar qualities to that];
  • Noticing analogies [e.g., this pattern-fragment looks like that one];
  • Imposing consistency [e.g., let me alter this pattern fragment so it looks more like that one];
  • Building abstractions [e.g., this shared pattern fragment can be summarized in a template];
  • Shifting boundaries [e.g., this might better grouped with this rather than that];
  • Driving towards beauty [e.g., let met alter this pattern-fragment because it would be more balanced this way].

This activity of building up a coherent stream of packets from an unpunctuated, structured sequence, and coming to understand their interrelations, is thus a nontrivial task. It should be clear also that these pattern-forming mechanisms operate at higher and higher orders of intelligence. This should not be interpreted, however, to mean that infants do not utilize them in some naive form. It should also be noted that no two people – even if they had exactly the same experiences – would have the same interpretation of objects, events and judgements. The old adage of two children growing up in “Hell’s Kitchen” and one becoming a priest and the other a thief references this capacity for differing perspectives.

Hofstadter suggests that the growth processes involves segmentation – that is, figuring out where the boundaries of packets ought to lie and, unification – that is, figuring out how the packets are related to one another. This requires an internal logic. It seems apparent that the first logic is pursuit of utility. The most basic definition of utility as reported by Fukuyama is the narrow one associated with the nineteenth-century utilitarian, Jeremy Bentham: that utility is the pursuit of pleasure or the avoidance of pain. An internal logic of utility perhaps becomes for each of us the starting point of lifelong decision-making.

What Hofstadter suggests in pattern or schema building is that the emerging individual would need to find types of structures that are echoed throughout the experience, and hopefully at regular intervals. Thus it makes more sense to let different types of attributions ‘bubble up’ independently here and there in the experience, and then see if there are correlations. The stronger the correlations, the more one will feel on the right track. Thus, for the sake of efficient picking-up of multiple ideas, one wants to encourage diversity in the types of experiences being built up, rather than uniformity. On the other hand, too much diversity will simply turn the experience into a jumble of random, uncorrelated events, completely blocking the discovery of patterns, which, after all involve uniformity, by definition. So there has to be a balance between the overly chaotic strategy of encouraging different kinds of experiences to bubble up completely randomly and the overly rigid strategy of always trying one type first throughout, then another type, and so on.

This kind of subtle balance, Hofstadter suggests, can be struck by employing parallel processing with probabilistic biases. The way this works is to let perceptual glue of various sorts bubble up in parallel in different regions of the experience, with a tendency but not a rule for sameness to emerge the fastest, …each dab of glue then acts as a small local pressure towards building a particular type of island of order in a particular location. This way, natural perceptual biases can be respected but not slavishly so, and diverse ideas – ‘hunches’ …- can arise independently and be explored simultaneously in different regions of the experience.

Glue alone does not make an attribution come into existence; it merely serves as a hint or suggestion to build an attribution of a certain sort in a certain region. Attributions, being larger and more global, are the next stage of perception beyond dabs of glue, and any actually-built attributions represents much more commitment to a particularly theory of what is going on. However, Hofstadter points out that even a fully-built explanation can be sacrificed, under pressure for the greater good and destroyed, releasing its constituents so that they can be perceptually reinterpreted and incorporated into different attributions that hopefully will fit more coherently into the emerging global order. The process of developing a pressure for the greater good – i.e. an increased utility in every day experience – is part of the cognitive restructuring process. Further, it is the sacrifice of fully built attributions or schemas that is required for change.

A second tier of exploratory process can be going on as well – namely, perception of regularities among the attributions themselves, leading to multilevel packets and ultimately to templates, or as we would name them scenarios or schema…. However, this level of perception is considerably trickier because an attribution of order is a more complex entity than a mere event.


An attribution of order is a little structure that can be characterized by a name and one or more parameters, with the parameters themselves having different degrees of interest to people and therefore different probabilities of being perceived. The ability to use words to describe a proposition moves it from an intuition to knowledge; what we can name becomes known.

Searching on the second tier of abstraction therefore involves two intertwined activities; perceiving each attribution on its own, and perceiving relationships between different attributions. Each activity necessitates the other. It is very important to understand that these two intertwined activities on the second tier of abstraction are also intertwined with the perceptual activities on the first tier of abstraction – the two tiers of perception are not serially separated. Many things are going on at once and affecting each other.

The act of connecting up two different explanations in one’s mind uses what appears to be another epigenetic rule of analogy making . Analogies vary not only in their degree of salience [i.e., obviousness] but also their degree of strength. What would it mean for some perception to exert influence on the perceptual process? The only reasonable idea would be for it to enhance the likelihood of similar perceptions to be made, and simultaneously to weaken the commitment to dissimilar perceptual structures. Thus an obvious or powerful analogy is required to weaken the commitment to schemata that are highly valued. This means that the probabilistic biases [perceptual filters] guiding the search for regularities are altered on the basis of discoveries already made and can only be overcome through powerful intrusions which hold the potential for better utility. Gergen, Hoffman & Anderson add – “Every time you build a world of ideas or join one, it is like a screening device that limits you from seeing other worlds. There is also a gathering coherence that seems to go with the territory. As time passes, this coherence may become increasingly well defined and more fully knit.” Be clear, the child, in making such choices is creating his or her future. Once the choice is made to believe A, B becomes less and less available.

For Hofstadter, analogy making lies at the heart of pattern perception and extrapolation. Pattern-finding is the core of intelligence, and the implication is clear: analogy-making lies at the heart of intelligence. Analogies are the means of building upon present learning and represent a natural way of thinking as it relies on the human capacity for association. The principal technique is that of ‘changing contexts’ in one of two ways, which separate into learning and innovation. In learning we change contexts by transforming the strange into the familiar. In innovating we change contexts by transforming the familiar into the strange. Analogies are reliant not just on imitation or ‘reciprocal matching’ as occurs with the infant, but upon imagination, which requires a meta analysis of ideas and a projection of the locus of concern into the past or the future.

If, as Hofstadter suggests analogy making is the building block for increased learning, the status he gives it is supported by Myrna Shure [Interpersonal Cognitive Problem Solving] who has learned that alternative-solution thinking relates most strongly to social adjustment in young children, followed by consequential thinking. Creating alternatives may rely on the ability to use analogies in both a learning and innovative manner. What is most exciting, of course, is that such skills can be taught.

Data versus Theory

What Hofstadter is describing is a perceptual process that begins in a pure bottom-up manner but that is gradually invaded by increasing amounts of top-down influence. ‘Bottom-up’ here describes perceptual acts that are made very locally and without any context-dependent expectations; ‘top-down’ pertains to perceptual acts that attempt to bring in concepts, and to extend patterns and contexts, that have been noticed in the experience [and are ipso facto presumed to be relevant to its underlying rule]. Another term for ‘bottom-up’ is thus ‘data-driven’, and ‘top-down’ corresponds to ‘theory-driven’. As the theory or schema becomes valued [given emotional content], it becomes increasingly difficult to displace.

For Hofstadter, progress comes from repeated acts of generalization. The art of choosing the most elegant generalization [remember that elegance indicates some innate level of satisfaction and gratification] for some abstract pattern. Inventing, creating, discovering new concepts by discovering patterns in known concepts. There has to be a tacitly shared sense of worthwhile pathways to follow in the development [via generalization] of a concept; otherwise there would be no coherence. Generalization outward from a conceptual center is an automatic, unconscious process that pervades thought – indeed – it defines thought. Generalization involves the ability to internally reconfigure an idea, by

  • Moving internal boundaries back and forth;
  • Swapping components or shifting substructures from one level to another;
  • Merging two substructures into one or breaking one substructure into two;
  • Lengthening or shortening a given component;
  • Adding new components or new levels of structure;
  • Replacing one concept by a closely related one;
  • Trying out the effect of reversals on various conceptual levels; etc.

It requires the ability to perceive a theme in all sorts of novel ways by bringing in [imagining] unexpected concepts and ‘trying them on’ to see how they fit. Lastly, it requires a sense of naturalness versus forcedness, and a sense of elegance versus primitiveness. Such sense and abilities, which taken together certainly deserve the label intuition, are subtle and elusive. The question of whether such intuition is based on a genetic framework remains to be seen. However, it is clear that all human beings have a sense of elegance, a sense that this proposition is more fit than that one. This sense of elegance provides an ability to dispute less rewarding concepts and presenting more utile [or elegant] ones.

Some of the important themes that Hofstadter sees cropping up over and over again are the following:

  1. The inseparability of perception and high-level cognition, leading to the idea of a perceptual architecture being at the heart of cognition;
  2. The fruits of high-level perceptions being easily reconfigurable multilevel cognitive representations held loosely together by bonds of different types and different strengths;
  3. The idea of subcognitive pressures – namely, that the more ‘important’ a concept or a representation is, the greater an influence it should be allowed to exert, in a probabilistic sense, on the direction of the processing;
  4. The commingling of many pressures, both context-dependent and context-independent, leading to a nondeterministic parallel architecture in which bottom-up and top-down processing coexists gracefully;
  5. The simultaneous feeling-out of many potential pathways at differential rates governed by quickly-made estimates of degree of promise;
  6. The centrality of the making of analogies and variations on a theme in high-level cognition;
  7. The possession, by cognitive representation, of deeper and shallower aspects, with the former remaining relatively immune to contextual pressures; and the later being more likely to yield under pressure [to ‘slip’];
  8. The crucial role played by the inner structure of concepts and conceptual neighborhoods in all these goals, particularly context-dependent conceptual overlap and proximity, and context-independent conceptual depth.

Pattern perception, extrapolation, and generalization are the true crux of creativity, and one can come to an understanding of these fundamental cognitive processes only by modeling them in the most carefully designed and restricted microdomains. Modeling, role playing, behavior rehearsal [real and imagined], feedback and reinforcement are the activities of cognitive behavior management. The teaching of skills or the extrapolation of awareness of thinking and experiences in small, progressive, continually improving steps is the keys to social change. And within the process is a focus on mastery rather than competitive performance. The incremental improvement of one’s own performance over his/her prior performance, not a comparison between self an others.

Self Creation

And who have I become? Is there a better or worse outcome of my self creation? Embedded in these questions is the acknowledgement that we create ourselves. While it is true that this is an interactive process, the fact remains that each of us must decide how to interpret the events of a lifetime. And what we create is multilayered. The whole question of self is a conundrum. The separation between self and others is often a question of a decision, not a reality. The self cannot exist without the other, but the self is also not a singularity. Part of me wants to lose weight and another part wants that extra helping at mealtime. Which part is really me? In NeuroLinguistic Programming, one method of metaperception is to have one part of the self talk to another part of the self, and often a third part is brought into the conversation. In some ways this is, of course, the limitation of language. But this is not totally the case.

…We need to make clear that today’s main paradigm for understanding the human life, the interplay of genetics and environment, eliminates something essential – the particularity you feel to be you. By accepting the idea that I am the effect of a subtle buffeting between hereditary and societal forces, I reduce myself to a result. James Hillman – the Soul’s Code.

Self is a mystical word of uncertain origin. Its meaning in Funk & Wagnalls as a noun is: An individual known or considered as a subject of his own consciousness: anything considered as having a distinct personality. The same dictionary tells us that personality is: That which constitutes a person; also, that which distinguishes and characterizes a person; personal existence. We might say, therefore, that self is a reference to the personal existence of someone specific, a singular entity. And yet we sense the ambiguity in ourselves.

Most of us intuitively believe we have a self and that this self is in some way capable of ‘free will’. Some, with a metaphysical bent, contrast the self and the soul, or combine the self and the soul, thus making two nondefinable entities into one. Self is in some way also connected to another nondefinable concept of the ‘mind’. Finally, this concept of self in some way is directly connected to consciousness, another concept with little definition.

In regard to this singularity that is the self, we have several comments. First, we know that the self is made up of a variety of mental representations of thoughts, emotions and what are called ‘submodalities’.

These mental representations exist in mental contexts in the brain. Baar [A Theory of Consciousness, 1988] opines that every conscious event is shaped by a number of enduring unconscious systems which he call ‘contexts’. He suggests that we treat a context as a relatively enduring system that shapes conscious experience, access and control, without itself becoming conscious. When we have an experience, we judge that experience to be of some shape or color, bright or dark, near or far, have some volume, tempo, pitch or frequency, be hot or cold, have pressure or texture, be moist or dry, painful or pleasurable, create curiosity or anticipation and, based on these judgements about the quality of the experience, give it a valance or emotional status. This is something good, pleasing, etc. or not. Finally, this mixture of factors is given a symbolic representation, by which it can always be identified. Such labels can be specific [referring only to his single incident] or generic [referring to all incidents of this type]. With these labels we are able to convey a generally ambiguous, but definable bit of information to someone else.

For the person, this one context is then grouped with many other contexts of likeness or difference, which can be brought together in conscious thought. We can treat contexts as coalitions of unconscious specialized processors that are ‘already committed’ to a certain way of processing their information. For example: we have decided that this experience and others like it are unpleasant or damaging, and when processing information about the situation we will seek clues as to how to avoid or destroy it. Thus when an issue in conscious thought comes about, the brain can scan mental contexts to bring specific information to be considered. Ordinary words used to denote emotion and other processes of mental activity make only a crude fit to the models used by the brain. Thus to say we don’t like something is code for a whole series of factors about the things visual, auditory, and kinesthetic qualities, most of which we do not know consciously.

Part of the skill of the clinician is to help the person bring these qualities into consciousness in order to reconsider them. This is usually done through eliciting nonconscious information whenever the person thinks that the reason for their own action is ‘obvious’. Short term memory and related consciousness are very powerful tools in ‘debugging’ nonconscious contexts, and yet in practice they are very limited. A key measure of capacity lies in the fact that short term memory can handle only about seven words or other symbols simultaneously, taking about one second to scan these symbols. We then forget most of the information within thirty seconds.

Yet we can use these conscious effects to select among the mental context options that are available to us in regard to a new experience. If two separate mental contexts include representation, emotional status, and submodalities that differ in regard to a similar event or experience, we can decide that we will think or act in one way as opposed to another. We can discern subtle variations in situations and operate on meta levels – if I do this, you will think that, therefore, I will do something different and you will think otherwise. This sophisticated act of deciding is what we intuitively call the self.

Wilson, [Consiliance, 1998] suggests, “the self in not an ineffable being living apart within the brain, but is the key dramatic character of the various scenarios we run in our heads. A repository concept that the brain invents to localize the representation within the scenario”. Wilson goes on to state, “the self, an actor in a perpetually changing drama, lacks full command of its own actions. It does not make decisions solely by conscious purely rational choice. Much of the computation in decision making is unconscious – strings dancing the puppet ego.” “(T)he hidden preparation of mental activity gives the illusion of free will. We make decisions for reasons we often sense only vaguely, and seldom if ever understand fully. Ignorance of this kind is conceived by the conscious mind as uncertainty, to be resolved; hence freedom of choice is ensured. “Free will”, he concludes “is a side product of the illusion”.

Language as a medium of ambiguity poses problems in communicating information. Much is left to the imagination of the other, and the other filters all information through his/her own mental context to arrive at a conclusion. Nonetheless, Wilson leaves open the question of the self because of a lack of definition. It appears, if I understand correctly, that Wilson conceives of the self that others believe in as a singularity that resides in a place within the brain. Ergo, the factors that he describes seem to diminish this concept of the self as such a singularity. But is that concept of the self, an appropriate one? And what exactly is the complex equivalence used by Wilson for ‘free will’. Wilson suggests that if, with the aid of science we knew all the hidden processes within the various mental contexts in detail, he would concede that we still would not be able to predict the individual’s decisions, but only because the active networks operates so quickly. He suggests that under these circumstances he may be able to predict the next millisecond, but he could not predict any further because ‘the cells are bombarded every instant by outside stimuli unknowable by human intelligence in advance. Any one of these events can entrain a cascade of microscopic episodes leading to new neural patterns.” Did he not just describe free will?

Is free will not the ability of the individual to adapt to the multitude of outside [and inside stimuli] in some unique way? And how is the response selected? By the self as supported and constrained by the infinite number of mental contexts which have been personally developed over time through a myriad of choices of submodalities, emotional valance and mental representations? And the choice can be reversed simply because in subtle ways the person intuits that you will predict A, and therefore s/he will decide B, just to be contrary. What else is there to free will?

Just because there are no new pieces added to a hand to obtain a fist, doesn’t mean that the concept is invalid or irrelevant. A fist is a very different thing than a hand, and has very different implications. Is it science to say that the fist does not exist, simply because it is abstract?

It would seem that the complex equivalence of free will chosen by Wilson is impossible to attain, unless it is completely random. Yet complete randomness is a rare thing in the universe as chaos theory is beginning to demonstrate. Even the molecules of water rushing down a stream bed are drawn to strange attracters that cause them to behave in relative predetermined ways. Would Wilson suggest that these molecules are not ‘free’? If so, what is freedom? [I know, just another word for nothing left to lose.]

In similar fashion, the self is not only intuitive, it functions – a decision is made. “Because the individual mind cannot be fully known and predicted the self can go on passionately believing in its own free will” says Wilson. The self can also believe in itself. Certainly, from the perspective of Wilson, he is correct. However, I wonder whether he would suggest that a strange attractor of chaos theory exists. I know of no information that can describe a specific strange attractor as more than its function, but there is much information that indicates that because it exists, an order to chaos exists. Fractal Horizons describes an attractor as an object in state space to which trajectories are eventually attracted. A strange attractor is represented by an unpredictable trajectory where a minute difference in starting position of two initially adjacent points leads to totally uncorrelated positions later in time or in the mathematical iteration. The structure of these attractors is very complicated and often not well understood. Certainly not by most lay people.

Chaos is irregular and unpredictable behavior of a deterministic nonlinear dynamical system caused by sensitivity to initial conditions. For example, every slight difference in a natural habitat may lead to completely different animal population ratios after several generations. Some physicists have referred to chaos as the seemingly paradoxical combination of randomness and structure in certain nonperiodic solutions of dynamical systems. Chaotic behavior sometimes can be defined by a simple formula.

We have discussed the fact that each individual creates his/her own personality [the outward manifestation of the self which are driven by the coherency (or lack of it) of attitude or dispositions towards certain events or experiences] through selection of random events and experiences and the creation of patterns. We are pattern makers in the same manner as an attractor. We are also coherency maintainers – our thoughts, emotions and actions are coherent, not scattered. The development of self operates to provide order to a chaotic dynamical system. Could it be that the self is a strange attracter? And as such, a strange attractor is a singularity of sorts in that it is a unified concept that causes recurring patterns in each iteration.

These iteration patterns can be described as iterated function systems or random iteration algorithms. One potential outcome of such systems is fractals – objects [or sets of points, or curves, or patterns] that exhibit increasing detail with increasing magnification. If a piece of a fractal is suitably magnified to become of the same size as the whole, it should look like the whole, either exactly, or perhaps only after slight limited deformation. This is, on the surface, similar to a hologram. Fractals and chaos are connected because chaotic behavior often yields fractal patterns. Any attempt at defining fractals is bound to be incomplete.

Yet fractals are capable of producing or becoming holograms – a record of the interference pattern between two coherent beams of light. Each point within a diffuse hologram bears a compete code for the entire scene. Pietch, in his article Shufflebrain, explores the holographic mind. As a neurosurgeon, he used a scalpel as a tool to reduce the brain of animals to identify patterns. The critical issue he discovered was not where he made the wound but how much of the area he destroyed. This implied that the information was held in all parts of the brain, not in a singular part and suggested a holographic mind. As fragments of holograms became smaller from removing more and more of the brain, resolution was lost. As any signal carrier becomes very tiny, and thus very weak, ‘noise’ erodes the image. Noise has to do with the carrier, not the stored message. Holograms encode messages carried by waves; they encode information about a property of waves known as phase. To reconstruct phase is to regenerate a wave’s relative shape and thus recreate any message or image the original wave communicated to the recording or storage medium. Holism, as a generic doctrine, asserts that a universe as a whole cannot be reduced to the sum of its parts.

Phase is the essence of hologramic mind. Phase, is a sizeless entity – in the sense that we can’t measure or weigh it. We speak of phase in terms of angles or their equivalents, or in terms of time. And to create an angle, or to specify it, we need more than a single entity. Phase demands a reference, something to compare it with. Because phase is relative, we cannot treat it, or even conceptualize it, as an absolute.

Such an idea leads us back to the human mind as being a single unit, holistic in all aspects and not subject to separation or reduction. Thus the self, as the attractor of chaotic brain waves provides order and coherence out of random stimuli. This chaotic system is highly complex involving wave cascades that flow throughout the mind. The information is stored in phase throughout the brain. Does this make the self, self? It depends, I suppose, on whether you believe that the attractor is actually a thing, object or concept.


But wait, we have more complexity for there are other considerations as well. Hallowell [Orientations for the Self, 1971] points out that the concepts of self and culture are interdependent and suggests that one cannot exist without the other. Wilson agrees by indicating “virtually all human behavior is transmitted by culture”. Wilson, however, goes on to state that “culture is created by the communal mind, and each mind in turn is the product of the genetically structured human brain. Genes and culture are therefore inseverably linked. But the linkage is flexible, to a degree still mostly unmeasured. The linkage is also tortuous: Genes prescribe epigenetic rules, which are the neural pathways and regularities in cognitive development by which the individual mind assembles itself. The mind grows from birth to death by absorbing parts of the existing culture available to it, with selection guided through epigenetic rules inherited by the individual brains.” Thus Wilson, the biologist connects the gene to the culture. He moves several orders down.

Hallowell moves one order up, as he emphasizes the other direction. “While it has become commonplace to regard the self as a cultural product, and enquire as to the ‘environmental’ (cultural) factors that lead to the expression or inhibition of this or that aspect of the self, we must not forget the reverse perspective; that culture itself is a product of the self. Selves are constituted within culture, and culture is maintained by the community of selves”.

Hallowell goes on to note that self-awareness of the singular entity is necessary and basic to the successful performance of the many different roles that the individual has to adopt within society. In order for a culture to maintain itself its individual members must have some awareness of their social standing with respect to age, sex, hierarchies of social precedent, etc:

“If [they] were not aware of [their] roles they would not be in a position to appraise their own conduct in terms of traditional values and social sanctions.” And if there was no coherency to the self, each role could be inconsistent with all other roles, except as delimited by the cultural expectation.

Thus, self-awareness is at once both a distinctive and necessary component of human life. We must assume, says Hallowell that the functioning of any human society is inconceivable without self-awareness, reinforced and constituted by traditional beliefs about the nature of the self. While there are genetic rules that must be followed, the self as an entity creates not only a singularity, but a culture within which the singularity exists. Yet, even this is not complex enough to satisfy nature.

When we return to the individual order, and begin to examine what a personal existence is made up of in a psychological sense, we do not find a singularity, although we generally find coherence. Personalities tend to be coherent except in the most unusual of circumstances. It is interesting to note that in extreme and repeated crisis, the self sometimes creates another self who is better able to handle the situation. When we experience a ‘split personality”, we are awed by the coherence of each one. In fact, two personalities contained in a single person makes the concept of ‘self’ quite uncertain, but very interesting – two attractors in the same chaotic system. Only as we are able to break down the individual personalities and make them coherent in combination do we, on the outside, sense that the ‘self’ or personal existence of the individual. But internally, persons experience each ‘self’ as a self, coherent in all aspects.

The idea of a ‘split personality’ is difficult to accept, yet in normal experience we can point to every ambivalence as a personality split: one part of the self wants A while the other wants B as two nonconscious mental contexts are catapulted into consciousness to compete. In fact, it is relatively easy to think of one’s self as having ‘parts’. Ask the question: Are you competent? And, unless you are supremely confident or supremely negative, you are likely to need to explore the question – competent in what? For most of us are neither competent nor incompetent, except in narrow components of life. In fact, our level of competency in some areas of life may be mood dependent – if we feel in the mood we are rather competent, but if not, we are not. The mental states or attitudes about one’s self are often in conflict.

Clinicians have found that personalization of different aspects of the self have benefit in the helping process. One part negotiates with the other for change. This is tied to our metacognitive ability to play different roles: that of self, other or observer. Yet even in such negotiation, the singular ‘self’ must decide. And clinical research demonstrates that the self can dramatically choose to change itself, while maintaining at least a degree of coherence with the ‘old’ self. Changing the self in these cases is changing the mental state from one known state to another known state. Thus, it is within the capacity of self that the changes occur even though the self remains. Put it this way. If the mental state you usually assume is sadness or helplessness, this does not imply that you are never happy or hopeful. It merely means that you are more habitually in one mental state than another. Sadness/helplessness is a trait [consistent state] of your personality. Thus, you could change the habit of sadness/helplessness, without adding any new mental states. In doing so, you could dramatically change your outward manifestations [personality] and be seen as a new person. Yet all of the experiences of your life continue to exist, you have merely changed your judgments about them.

We posit the theorem that just as the neurons in the brain operate by consensus vote, and the social world operates by consensus vote; so too does the individual ‘self’.

We see that self is not an isolated construct.

“The concepts of self and culture are interdependent: one cannot exist without the other. Thus, while it has become commonplace to regard the self as a cultural product, and enquire as to the ‘environmental’ (cultural) factors that lead to the expression or inhibition of this or that aspect of the self, we must not forget the reverse perspective; that culture itself is a product of the self. Selves are constituted within culture, and culture is maintained by the community of selves” [Lock, 2000].

This interactive quality of self and culture is difficult to measure. The cause and effect of such interactivity is not clear. At any given moment, the ‘self’ may make a decision about the culture that affects and changes the culture. In fact, ‘seeding the culture’ or ‘cultural restructuring’ is a clear cognitive intervention. The development and use of the diagnostic language mentioned above is a method of ‘seeding the environment’ in a manner which we believe has been quite destructive to the general population.

We have a very complex system that at the lowest order has neurons, which respond to the stimuli of the external and internal world with waves of electrochemical activity causing each neuron to either fire or not fire, thus creating a thought. All of these thoughts coordinate into data around specific attractors and then is stored holographically. Skipping over some intermediate levels, we get to the person level and find that the person uses stored mental context to determine a decision point and that these stored mental contexts are to some extent shaped by the cultural milieu in which the person lives. The overwhelming evidence of the mental context may sway the decision or the mental context may change because of overwhelming new information coming from the environment. And the various persons who are caught in the culture both influence and are influenced by each other and the information is gathered within individual mental contexts in individual minds, but there is a coherence that can identify one culture as different from another.

We also must remind ourselves that thought is not just the result of the activity of the brain, but activates the brain on its own. The decision about what to think has the capacity to change the chemistry of the brain as demonstrated by meditation and biofeedback. In fact, the perception does not activate the adrenaline; it is the interpretation of the perception as dangerous which accomplishes this fact. Since each individual person interprets events and experiences in his/her own way, it is the self [and the decisions the self makes] that initiates the adrenalin rush.

This is a very interactive system in which the components, although identifiable, bleed into other components. The system is so complex that it is unclear what role the construct of language plays in the development of the concept of self, although it is clearly major. Nancy Budwig, in Language and the Construction of Self: Developmental Reflections, indicates that language can be understood as a method to elicit a person’s construct of self, in that grammatical language use give self referent cues to the content of ‘self’ in the specific. As an example, the simple active voice, the subject of the verb, the agent, does something to someone or something other than or separate from itself. In the passive voice, the agent is de-emphasized and often goes unmentioned, so that an outcome can be described without it being necessary to indicate explicitly who or what was responsible. Thus certain grammatical features of language provide speakers with resources for various presentations of self, and one can begin to infer the speaker’s self construct; if and only if, the one hearing the speaker has an understanding of the meaning of the language as culture. One must be wary of taking as a universal feature of the first person, and identification of the speaker as agent. In Japan, for example, nearly all uses of the first-person are indications of the relevant ‘me-group rather than the speaker as an individual. There are distinctive senses of self identifiable content in diverse cultures that differ in the dimension of indexing the first person.

With positioning [first person, second person, etc.], the focus is on the way in which the discursive practices constitute the speakers and hearers in certain ways. However, such positioning also constitutes a resource that the person can use to negotiate new positions; or selves. Through language speakers can come to construct and deploy ever changing subjectivities. This leads us to Budwig’s concept of language as a mechanism or tool with which to construct self. “In contrast to the understanding of language as method, Budwig indicates growing research that has explored how language might provide the child with a wedge for constructing self. This shift posits the question of the gravity concerning the relationship between language and human functioning.

Whatever word we use to describe the language process, whether it is an ‘idea’, ‘concept’ or ‘thought’, it is proper to describe this mental activity as a basic element of consciousness. It should be noted, though, that while everybody may think in terms of ideas, it is not necessarily true that the particular ideas that people hold onto about things are always the same. On the other hand, it seems that the thoughts of different people do tend to have something in common: Regardless of what ideas they hold, a person’s thoughts are seldom random, disjointed entities [evidence of a strange attractor perhaps?]. Rather, they tend to form coherent patterns or systems that stem from a few discrete fundamental principles and branch out in logical directions to encompass – to a greater or lesser degree – their whole universe of experienced phenomena. In other words, the conscious mind somehow organizes its mental product (whatever you might want to call it) into systematic frameworks of concepts, and these conceptual frameworks or systems of thought are of decisive importance in determining people’s basic ways of thinking – that is, their cognition – and serve as the foundations of their consciousness, bending the world into a shape that makes sense to them [Paul Russell].

Kerby (1991) summarizes: on a narrative account, the self is to be construed not as a prelinguistic given that merely employs language, much as we might employ a tool, but rather as a product of language – what might be called the implied subject of self- referring utterances. What holds together this group of researchers is their belief that structural properties of language will impact on the way a child comprehends ‘self’.

The process of becoming a competent member of society is realized to a large extent through language, by acquiring knowledge of its functions, social distribution, and interpretation in and across socially defined situations.

Miller et al. (1990) have argued that face-to-face interactions with significant others provides an arena for the sharing of personal experiences and simultaneously provide an arena for the construction of self.

Even if language offers a rich resource from which children can construct self and other, it remains to be understood how children’s budding notions not only of themselves and others, but of language itself, interact with their use and understanding of language in context. Now, it seems, we have definitely completed the circle of complexity. Is self merely an artifact of language? And what after all is language?

The core beliefs that make the self coherent are the beliefs about the self, others and what others think about the self, and the expectances for the future. One could suggest that these thoughts could be coherent – meaning that they are fairly consistent throughout, incoherent – meaning that there are serious discrepancies in the way one thinks about any given variable, or ambivalent – a form of incoherence which vacillates over time. Incoherence or ambivalence about self, others and future prospects has its own set of difficulties, however, this is less often the case than one might imagine. Generally, a person will be reasonably coherent with his/her core beliefs, although often incoherent or ambivalent about specific areas of thought, such as the anorexic person who believes that s/he is fat; or the person described earlier who wants to lose weight, but also wants to eat more.

Generally, a consistency prevails even for those selves with serious problems in living. Seligman described the pessimistic explanatory style that is at the core of most depressed thinking. The depressed person thinks this is personal [‘It’s my fault!’], permanent [‘It is going to last forever!’] and pervasive [‘It is going to ruin everything!].

Such an explanatory style is quite out of line with the most typical behavior as indicated by the following quotes from How We Know What Isn’t So: The fallibility of human reason in everyday life, by Thomas Gilovich, 1991.

Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true.
Francis Bacon

“We are capable of believing the most flattering things about ourselves, and many scholars have argued that we do so for no other reason than that we want them to be true.”

“…we tend to make optimistic assessments of our own abilities, traits, and prospects for future success.”

“…the average person purports to believe extremely flattering things about him/herself – beliefs that do not stand up to objective analysis.”

People are also prone to self-serving assessment when it comes to apportioning responsibility for their successes and failures.

“…people have been found to attribute their successes to themselves, and their failures to external circumstances.”

Such statements seem to solidly establish that human beings are rather optimistic animals who rationalize away their deficits and see themselves in rather positive light. What has happened to make the depressed person make just the opposite assessment?

It is an evident consequence of being self-aware that if one has some conception of one’s own nature, then one must also have some conception of the nature of things other than oneself, i.e. of the world. Thus, the very existence of a moral order, self-awareness, and therefore human being, depends on the making of some distinction between ‘objective’ (things that are not an intrinsic part of the self) and ‘subjective’ (things that are an intrinsic part of the self) [Hallowell].

However, as a consequence of this skill and the ability to ‘imagine’, human beings are able to view themselves as both subject and object. The consequences of this skill have some psychological downside. Often when we view ourselves as the object, we are subjectively viewing ourselves as the ‘victim’ of some act by others. This negative way of thinking about ourselves has a profound effect on the way we think about self and others. If our tendency is to think of ourselves as the subject [e.g., the actor in the scenario], we tend to think more positively, since we think of ourselves as being in control of the situation. The object thinking of self as not intrinsically a part of the self is a paradox of immense proportion. As not intrinsically ‘there’ we are a ‘thing’ with no control over our circumstances. When we think of ourselves as the object or recipient in the scenario, we tend to think negatively, hopelessly and helplessly. This is based on the epigenetic rule that we have a bias toward our own actions and against the actions of others. Thinking of ourselves as ‘object’ we lose the positive bias.

Or, as Bateson suggests, “the human being, depersonified in his own talk and thought, may indeed learn more ‘thingish’ habits”. Ourselves as object may be sad, helpless and hopeless as defined by depression; angry at being misused; or anxious and fearful because of our inability to predict and control future situations. Each of these is considered to be a negative attribution that leads to problems in living.

On the one hand, when we consistently see ourselves as the subject or active agent, we tend to be optimistic about ourselves and generally think positive thoughts. On the other hand, when we consistently see ourselves as the object, it seems that we become the equivalent of the other and lose our positive self-bias. Now we can make the cognitive error of attribution that states that if I am explaining my own actions [I am the subject], the reasons for the actions are generally seen as external. However, if I am explaining the actions of another [myself as object], the reasons are generally seen as internal. By viewing myself as the object, I not only tend to see things negatively, but I am biased to identify these negatives as being my own fault. This creates a strange attractor that causes the person to not only see themselves as failing, but to blame themselves for failing regardless of the external realities that may exist. As with all strange attractors there is an order within an apparent chaotic system.

A change worker can help a person to reorganize negative thinking by becoming aware of how these negative and positive thoughts are phrased. We generally use active language when thinking in a positive mode [I can do that!], while more passive phrasing characterizes a switch to negativity [Why does everything happen to me?]. Optimistic thinking takes a subject position and acts on the world. The less hopeful thinking takes the object position and feels acted upon.

Theory coherence

Gilovich also indicates that once a theory of meaning is formed, evidence to support that belief is much more likely to be salient, than evidence against.

Unfortunately, the intuitive assessments of the average person are not bound by scientific procedures and public information constraints. Hypotheses that are formed on the basis of one set of results are considered to have been proven by those very same results. By retrospectively and selectively perusing the data in this way, people tend to make too much of apparent anomalies and too often end up detecting order where none exists.

Our difficulty in accurately recognizing random arrangements of events or ambiguous language can lead us to believe things that are not true – to believe something is systematic, ordered, and ‘real’ when it is really random, chaotic, and illusory. Thus one of the most fundamental tasks that we face in accurately perceiving and understanding our world – that of determining whether a phenomenon ‘out there’ that warrants attention and explanation – is a task that we perform imperfectly. The suspicion that we, as an individual, are not competent in comparison to others simply because the experiences that we have had have demonstrated a lesser degree of skill, becomes a significant factor not only in our understanding and comfort with the world, but actually with our level of competence. This is so because the belief of incompetence becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that is completed by the resulting behavior.

Furthermore, once we suspect that a phenomenon exists, we generally have little trouble explaining why it exists or what it means. People are extraordinarily good at ad hoc explanations.

Once a person has (mis)identified a random pattern as ‘real phenomenon, it will not exist as puzzling, isolated fact about the world. Rather, it is quickly explained and readily integrated into the person’s pre-existing theories and beliefs. These theories, furthermore, then serve to bias the person’s evaluation of new information in such a way that the initial belief becomes solidly entrenched.

To live, suggests Gilovich, is to explain, to justify, and to find coherence among diverse outcomes, characteristics, and causes. Even though the theory of meaning may be in error, there is a tendency for the individual to avoid contrary evidence, unless there are clear, conscious guidelines to do so. People exhibit a tendency to focus on positive or confirming instances when they gather information relevant to a given belief or hypothesis. When trying to assess whether a belief is valid, people tend to seek out information that would potentially confirm the belief, over information that might disconfirm it.

The Trade Off

But as Gilovich goes on to tell us, not all bias is a bad thing. In fact, a certain amount of bias is absolutely essential. The power and flexibility with which we reason depends upon our ability to use context, generic knowledge, and pre-existing information to make novel information less ambiguous and to extract meaning – and to some degree in the process, to bias our interpretation of evidence.

Our pre-existing knowledge of what is and is not plausible allows us to quickly and effortlessly draw the correct conclusion – without this ability to use context and expectations to ‘go beyond the information given’; we would be unintelligent in the same way that computers with superior computational capacity are unintelligent.

If a belief has received a lifetime of support, it is perfectly justified to be skeptical of an observation or report that calls the belief into question, but to readily accept evidence that supports its validity. Well supported beliefs and theories have earned a bit of inertia and should not be easily modified or abandoned because of isolate antagonistic ‘facts’.

No feature of human judgement and reasoning illustrates the trade-off of advantage and disadvantage better than this tendency for our expectations, preconceptions and prior beliefs to influence our interpretation of new information. The mental contexts within which the information is coded provide the person with a coherent personality, which is necessary for social relationships. Unfortunately, if the core beliefs are maladjusted, they will tend to be protected even though they bring pain.

What is important is the foundation on which a person’s pre-existing beliefs and theories rest. We are justified, says Gilovich, in allowing our beliefs and theories to influence our assessment of new information in direct proportion to how plausible and well-substantiated they are in the first place. The difficulty is, of course, that people with problems in living often live with substantial pain without the ability to properly review their beliefs and theories in a rational manner. Further, they are reinforced in their beliefs by the responses to their behaviors, making their thoughts seem real and rationale. Finally, the helping professions are often likely to fall into the same reinforcement process as they attribute the problems in living to pathology, drives in conflict, or some other mystical influence over which the person has no control – e.g., making them the object of the problem, not the subject of the solution.

Thoughts About Change

Cognitive change is based on the simple fact that how people think has a controlling effect on how they act. The next question, of course, is how, even when we understand how people learn their thoughts; can we teach people how to think differently? We have already indicated some of the building blocks that will allow this relearning to happen:

  • ambiguity: the fact that the world is ambiguous means that thoughts are open to question.
  • utility: the fact that we seek utility from our thinking outcome [behavior] means that if this outcome is not satisfactory, the thoughts are not utile.
  • analogy: since we learn by building on what we know, we can start where the person is and build from there.
  • flexibility: most people who have problems in living have a problems with rigidity in thinking. Thus flexibility is both a factor to be incorporated and a caveat to be overcome.

Getting a person who thinks rigidly to re-think their positions is not as difficult as it might seem, particularly since the thinking can be addressed at multiple [meta] levels. The first level is to address the issues rationally. If what you are doing is not working, what is the validity of what you are thinking? What else would need to be true, for these thoughts to be true? Where is the evidence to support your supposition?

Cognitive errors often become obvious when scrutinized. Because a learned skill, including the skill of thinking, is not conscious, it often will not hold up when the fundamental data is considered consciously. Just as an athlete goes back to fundamentals when things go wrong, so we need to address the fundamental assumptions of the core beliefs of people with problems in living.


Bernard J. Baar in his wonderful book, A Cognitive Theory of Consciousness, provides us with the bridge of change. As he reports, redundancy effects show that we generally lose consciousness of repeated and predictable events. For example, we lose consciousness of the details of riding a bicycle even as we gain efficiency and availability of the skill. In fact, we might find riding difficult if we suddenly became conscious of every detail again. One may say that the loss of consciousness of a predictable event ‘is’ the signal that the event has been learned completely. Marion Quinlan Davis illustrates the fact that nonconsciousness and proficiency tend to go together and that consciousness can cause confusion.

The centipede was happy quite
Until the toad, in fun,
Said, pray, which leg moves after which?
This raised her doubts to such a pitch
She fell distracted in the ditch,
Not knowing how to run. –

There is no question that the operant conditioning of Central Nervous System activity occurs – in fact, Baar suggests that it is so ubiquitous a phenomenon that there seems to be no form of Central Nervous System activity [single-unit, evoked potential, or EEG] or part of the brain that is immune to it. The problem is that error detection becomes quite poor when a skill becomes automatic: the less conscious it is, the more difficult it is to monitor.

Return to fundamentals

To Baar, there is only one ‘system as a whole’ in the brain, and that is consciousness. In order to operate as a whole all of the components must be able to receive the same message and only one message at a time. While other components may vie for recognition, consciousness has a very limited capacity and therefore only one context at a time can be considered, and the person, unless energy is supplied, will lose the issue very quickly. The existence of de-automatization is one reason to believe that consciousness may be involved in debugging automatic processes that run into difficulties. Through becoming conscious of nonconscious thought, we have an opportunity to return to the fundamentals of how and why we do something and reconstruct it.

One might wonder whether we can make our thoughts conscious, but Baar assures us that there is good evidence that we can gain a degree of conscious control over virtually any population of neurons, provided that we receive immediate conscious feedback from the neural activity. When we interfere with an automatic skill so that it become ‘de-automatized’, it will be more conscious and it will be slower and more serial as well. Consciousness is reserved for just those problems that cannot be solved by any nonconscious expert [processor] acting alone. And there are varying ways that we can use both conscious and nonconscious process to alter our nonconscious [learned] expertise.

The process of all cognitive change follows a precise procedure with five steps:

1. Awareness

The person must become aware of his/her thoughts. Buddhists would call this mindfulness. Since most of what we do is habituated and therefore nonconscious, such awareness will take energy. The focus of the awareness is on core beliefs about self, others and future prospects, since it this cognitive triad that drives the basic personality. While it may be difficult to gain entrance to these core beliefs directly, there are several avenues to begin to explore. The most useful may be automatic ‘self talk’ – that running commentary that is made inside one’s mind regarding a perception of events and experiences. Catching these thoughts may be simply a matter of directing one to listen for them, count them or write them down.

These ongoing comments of appraisal and judgments are usually coherent with the core beliefs and from them the clinician and client can begin to infer the content of the core beliefs. Other techniques such as ‘laddering’ can help in this process. Laddering is a way of analyzing your internal monologue statements by looking for more and more basic underlying assumptions and predictions until you arrive at statements of core belief. The technique is called laddering because it proceeds step by step. Laddering has only two rules. Rule number 1 is to question yourself with the following format, and Rule number 2 is don’t answer with a feeling. The format is to ask:

‘What if _____________? What does it mean to me?’

In the blank space the client writes a self-statement from his/her internal monologue. Then s/he writes the answer to the question. Having done that, have the client use the answer to fill in the blank and ask the question again. After using this sequence a few times, the client will arrive at a core belief. The answers must be confined to statements that express conclusions, beliefs or assumptions – not descriptions of feelings.

A clearly related procedure is the ‘vertical arrow’. Instead of disputing negative thoughts, have the subject ask: “if this thought were true, why would it be upsetting to me? Start by writing the negative thought and drawing an arrow down to the next item, which is the answer to the question. Then ask the question again and draw an arrow down to the next answer. This will generate a series of negative thoughts that will lead to more clearly defined core beliefs.

Both of these strategies are self probes that help to direct attention toward the underlying core beliefs.

2. Attention

As we have indicated, thoughts vie for consciousness and are not usually held in consciousness very long. In order to maintain a consciousness about specific thoughts, the client will need to learn to attend to them. This is usually accomplished through a process of documentation and reporting. The documentation is done through a variety of journals and the written material allows for a report. In this way, the thoughts become not just abstract and fleeting entities, but written qualities that can be reviewed again and again. Basic thought journals used to collect the data are then expanded to allow the client to begin to list evidence for and against the belief that is most prevalent.

3. Analysis

The use of specific methods of analysis, implementing the formal scientific method and public review enables the client to overcome some of the protective bias that would normally occur. The skill of analysis is one that the client will be able to use in the future, on his/her own, with much more effectiveness once used and practiced effectively. The criterion of such analysis is often described as a determination of whether the thought is true. While this term can certainly be used effectively, the real concern is not with truth, but with utility. People who are depressed for example, have been demonstrated to see the world around them more accurately than those who are optimistic. Optimistic people see the best in everything, and if this is not quite true, it is extraordinarily utile. Does the thought result in increased pleasure or increased pain? If the result of the thought is pain, do you want to change it? One type of thoughts to look for are those in which the person thinks of him/herself as an object, rather than the subject. As an object, we are not in control, and self control is clearly a utile thought.

4. Alternatives

If the person decides that the thought is not utile and s/he wishes to change it, s/he must decide what s/he wants to change the thought to. How does s/he want to see him/herself? Usually, we are seeking realistic and balanced alternative thoughts to replace the distorted or nonutile thoughts. Simply evoking a positive thought may not be sufficient, if the client is incapable of making the positive thought real. For example, to tell oneself that s/he is the greatest basketball player in the world may be quite positive, but if s/he can’t really play basketball, the truth is likely to come out in quite negative ways. The process of finding alternatives often involves reframing or changing the context. When life gives you a lemon, make lemonade. The techniques of reframing or changing thoughts are based on the most important metastructures of the whole cognitive behavior management process.

5. Adaptation

Once the decision has been made to change the thought(s) and the alternative thought(s) have been selected, the process becomes one of habituation and reinforcement. As we have indicated earlier, you can habituate almost anything through repetition. Through meditation and biofeedback you can take control of your brainwaves and by consistent attention and feedback this control can become a nonconscious process. The goal, of course, is to make the new thought(s) nonconscious so that they occur automatically and support new behaviors. The new thought does not replace the old thought. However, if there are two equally salient contexts to deal with the issue, these are likely to come into conflict, which will bring them to consciousness. The person can then make a conscious decision as to what to think. Salience and power come from repetitive usage. As the new context becomes more and more useful [utile], it becomes more powerful.

It is important to note the biological underpinnings of this change: the elasticity of the brain that works though natural selection of thought. Thought is base on a neural linkage; automatic thinking, for example, connects neural networks that are very sensitized from constant usage. Thus, an automatic thought of say, “I am stupid” occurs rapidly and almost unconsciously in a given context. To replace that thought a new network must be built and reinforced through constant usage. Simply by repeating a balanced and rational thought such as “ I can make good choices when I try” over and over, creates a neural network in the brain and sensitizes it. When the egregious contest arises, the brain now has two sensitized networks to choose from. Psychologists tell us that people given two such choices will tend to choose the most gratifying thought. Thus, the elasticity of the brain operates in the process of making cognitive change.

It is also suggested that adaptation can occur instantaneously if extreme intensity is involved. Thus, issues of clear emotional crisis, such as a potential suicide, become an opportunity to instill new ways of thinking.

Finally, the people using neurolinguistic programming suggest that a more or less instantaneous [less than an hour] change can take place, not by changing the thought itself, but by changing the coding of the experiences or the submodalities.


It appears that each individual creates him/her self out of the totality of his/her experiences and the interpretations that s/he makes of those experiences. Since no two people experience exactly the same thing and each has built a body of knowledge upon which to judge the experience in a unique way, the process is imprecise. The fact that we have developed these perspectives, attitudes and beliefs over time in a learned way, indicates that we can reform them by returning to the basics. By becoming aware of and attending to our thoughts, we can analyze them for coherence and utility and consider alternative thoughts. Because we are able to habituate any thought into nonconsciousness, we can adapt the new thought into our mental schema.

Since the ‘other’ plays a part in the original construction, they can also participate in the reconstruction. Various methods of ‘seeding’ can occur. Seeding is defined as describing a particular state to a person tends to evoke that state. Once evoked, the state can be anchored, linked, directed, intensified, and combined with embedded commands. Preconscious processing can influence the ease with which certain ideas are brought to mind, and the manner in which objects and events are perceived and interpreted. Finally, in order for preconscious processing to affect action it is necessary that relevant goal structures be activated in procedural memory.

One of the most substantive ‘seeds’ that can be distributed into the client’s culture is the ‘internal attribution’ of responsibility. The suggestion that the reason that something good happens is because of the basic responsibility of the client is a powerful tool for overcoming the self as object that seems to be the major ‘strange attractor’ of maladaptive thought.

In addition, the process of helping the client think about thinking involves a reasonably consistent process that can include many protocols, techniques and procedures. In an attempt to define the structure of cognitive behavior management, we will now endeavor to try to define some of the metastructure that underpins these protocols, techniques and procedures.



Language is clearly the most profound aspect of human development and human change. Who we are is clearly connected with who we relate to as a family, a social group, and a culture. How we define ourselves, others and future prospects uses the representational language available to us.

Albert Einstein has stated that ‘It seems that the human mind has first to construct forms independently before we can find them in things …knowledge cannot spring from experience alone, but only from a comparison of the inventions of the intellect with observed facts.’ while he referred to forms, we would suggest that this aspect connect to language and concepts as well. We cannot think about something for which we have no term [representation]. The human mind requires information to develop new concepts that can then be named. Bateson makes the proposition that in the realms of communication, organization, thoughts, learning and evolution, ‘nothing will come of nothing’ without information. He goes on to say that for the material universe, we are commonly able to say that the ‘cause’ of any event is some force or impact exerted upon some part of the material system by some on other part. One part acts upon another. In contrast, he suggests that in the world of ideas, it takes a relationship, either between two parts or between a part at time 1 and the same part at time 2, to activate some third component, which we may call the receiver. What the receiver responds to is a difference or a change. It is very difficult to detect gradual change because along with our high sensitivity to rapid change goes also the phenomenon of accommodation. Organisms become habituated.

Information consists of differences that make a difference. The receiver must perceive that something different has occurred in order to bring the experience into consciousness, and the novel experience is information. Thus, it will be required of the practitioner of cognitive behavior management that s/he brings novel information to the conversation. Part of the novelty will be in providing concepts to the client that the client has not perceived or created for him/herself. Another part of the novelty is the aspect of listening and probing for information from the client, rather an just about the client.


Communication is notoriously ambiguous. The fact that the same word has different meanings indicates that thoughts are not words. Thus thoughts about the words that are heard are a part of the complex set of presuppositions that filter the communication from others. Context is equally important since the same words used in different context have totally different meanings. One of the overriding concerns about helpers is the offense that is taken when a client calls them a %(*$@)(^&! The offense is personal, yet the context is professional. The failure of the helper to understand the context is an extraordinary lapse that does not seem to get called into question very often, but is one which places the client in jeopardy. There are also a variety of other human information processing problems that need to be considered. These include haphazard detail, the influence of experience, ignoring complexity, the need for closure, and inadequate self correction [Carlson – 1993]. These information processing deficits are not sufficiently addressed in the professional arena.

Because the founders of NeuroLinguistic Programming wanted to know how their subjects did things and thought about things, the method of questioning they have developed is far superior to most human service professionals. They called the process ‘modeling’, which unfortunately causes confusion with the modeling of the behaviorist. For this reason, we have used the term ‘eliciting’, because their process elicits information from the individual in a manner that attempts to deal with the ambiguity and is focused on determining how the client does things, rather than to criticize the outcome of what they do.

Elicitation is used to uncover the ‘deep structure’ underneath the ‘surface structure’ of an individual. For example, if someone says: “This is better”, s/he shows his/her surface structure. To uncover a deeper structure, you’ll have to ask questions like: “Better than what?” You ask special questions, listen to the language pattern, and watch how they respond to things or words. If you are not sure what to ask, repeat the answer given and ask ‘Why?’ again. Little children are great at this. You are seeking the fundamental structure of the person’s model of the world.

Bandler and Grinder developed the Meta-Model, which is what we are describing, between 1972 and 1975. In turn, they based it on the transformational grammar that made Noam Chomsky famous.

The basic element of the Meta-Model is that language is the way we have to communicate about our experiences. There is a difference between the surface structure (language) & the deep structure (experience). The structure of our experience that is below the language is richer than we can know from the language.

People transform an experience into language by using deletions, generalizations and distortions.

Deletions: elements of language on the surface that omit parts present in the deep structure or in the outside world. As an observer you notice a deletion because you can’t make a representation that is only based on the information given to you. If you notice this, there is a question to ask – don’t try to fill the gaps with your own interpretation – it might be wrong!

Generalization: from an experience or a set of experiences, the person makes a generic statement. It was ‘okay’. What is okay? This demands further probing.

Distortions: the sentence as it is said by the person is modified compared to the experience from which it was derived. Obviously, the person cannot say everything that went on both externally and internally in the experience – or at least is not in the habit of doing so. S/he is probably not even aware of everything that went on. By probing questions, both you and s/he might discover much more about the experience than either now knows.

When we want to acquire knowledge from an expert [the client], we will try to get a complete, correct and consistent model. This means we will ask questions to complete the information the expert is giving, get the ambiguities out of what someone says; to find out what s/he presupposes, to challenge his/her inconsistencies and so on. In fact, we are trying to reverse the transformation s/he made while explaining his/her experience!

One way of exploring the deep structure is to probe on complex equivalences. This is a process of identifying and reframing significant emotional labeling – seeing another person’s behavior as meaning disloyalty, or betrayal, or disrespect, or an intention to hurt is converted into seeing it as simply a search for new experiences. People often say such things as “S/he hates me!”, and we tend to believe that we know what they mean by hate. Yet hate is a complex emotion that has many different meanings to many different people. Unless we ask something like “What does s/he do that indicates that s/he hates you?” or “What would s/he do if s/he loved you?”, neither we nor out client may be exactly clear as to what is meant. The client may feel a certain way, but not have a conscious sense of what experiences and interpretations compose that feeling.

Part of the art of eliciting is being alert to those moments where the subject says ‘That’s no problem’ or ‘I just know’ or ‘I just do it’. The key to good elicitation is being able to get information about precisely those things that the subject does so well that s/he doesn’t even think about them and doesn’t know how to explain them. Anything learned completely becomes nonconscious, therefore, the most profound operational contexts may not be conscious to the subject anymore than they are to you. It may be very difficult for your client to pull into consciousness what they ‘just do’. It may be helpful to go beyond listening to a subject talk about what s/he does in the abstract. You need to watch the subject actually do it – or at least pretend to do it. And the subject has to be willing to put up with the fact that you are going to constantly be interrupting with questions.

An example of this process might be the NLP spelling strategy, which was developed by asking a number of good spellers and poor spellers to spell some words, and then studying what they did differently from each other. In this case, as in many cases, eye accessing cues (‘lateral eye movements’) are very helpful. It’s not so much a matter of putting an interpretation on the eye movements; it’s that the moment when the eyes move lets you know that it’s time to interrupt with a question. “What happened just now? What did you just do? Are you seeing a picture of something?”.

Other non-verbal cues can also be important. “What does that mean – that gesture you just made? What was going on in your mind when you made that gesture?” “I noticed that when you first started your leg kept jerking up and down fairly rapidly. And then at a certain point the leg stopped moving. Go back to the point when the leg stopped moving and tell me what was going on in your mind.”

It is this art of asking a person questions about their subjective experience that enables you to study the structure of that subjective experience.


Naming and labeling are not a trivial task. Most labels/names have profound meaning for the namer. Part of this is tied into the person’s primary representational systems. Representational systems are connected to the perceptive qualities of vision, hearing and touch, taste and smell.

Different people seem to represent knowledge in different sensory modalities. Their language reveals their representation. Often, communication difficulties are little more than two people speaking in incompatible representation systems.

For example, different people might express the ‘same’ sentence differently:

Auditory: “I hear what you’re saying.”
Visual: “I see what you mean.”
Kinesthetic: “I’ve got a handle on that.”

The structure of internal representations determines the person’s response to the content.

Another part of the syntax of non-verbal thinking – the idea of submodalities – the sensory qualities of images are apparently used by the brain as a sort of coding. Within each representational system, we make fine distinctions. Each sense can have different qualitative characteristics. As we indicated earlier and will repeat here, each emotion uses different submodalities.

Visual qualitative characteristics might include: shape, color/black-and white, movement, brightness/dimness, depth, distance, location…

Auditory qualitative characteristics might include: volume, tempo, pitch, frequency….

Kinesthetic qualitative characteristics might include: temperature, pressure, texture, location, moisture, pain, pleasure…relating to body sensations. The term kinesthetic is used to encompass all kinds of feelings including tactile, visceral and emotional.

The characteristic qualities and attributes of the representations you make using your five senses are the submodalities. What is most interesting for human service practitioners is that once the client make a imaginary model, we can change it by asking ‘what-if’ questions.


The process of reframing changes the meaning of the person’s interpretation of an experience. One of the more interesting examples of a person’s frame of reference is that of stress. From one perspective, there are stressful situations; from another there are only stressful interpretations. The following story demonstrates this difference.

Without Fear

During the civil wars in feudal Japan, an invading army would quickly sweep into a town and take control. In one particular village, everyone fled just before the army arrived – everyone except the Zen master. Curious about this old fellow, the general went to the temple to see for himself what kind of man this master was. When he wasn’t treated with the deference and submissiveness to which he was accustomed, the general burst into anger. “You fool”, he shouted as he reached for his sword, “don’t you realize you are standing before a man who could run you through without blinking an eye!” But despite the threat, the master seemed unmoved. “And do you realize,” the master replied calmly, “that you are standing before a man who can be run through without blinking an eye?”

Obviously the Zen master did not interpret the threat of being killed as stressful. While this may be an exaggerated example, the fact is that it is the interpretation that matters. By changing the interpretation, one can change the psychic impact of the experience. Reframing can be done by redefining the concept, changing contexts, using analogies, cross mapping submodalities and various forms of metaperception.

A salesperson is used to reframing. When a customer asks how much an item is going to cost, the salesperson is wise to suggest that the investment will be minimal compared to the gain. Investment is an entirely different concept than cost and implies that there is a return, whereas cost implies only the expenditure. This new concept changes the interpretation of the experience. Similarly, the salesperson might refer to other products as ‘cheap’, while his/her own are ‘inexpensive’.

Things turn out best for those who make the best of how things turn out.

This statement by Art Linkletter reframes the nature of our experience and causes some to think differently about their circumstances. The analogy of making the best is contrasted with how things turn out. Again, the emotional response to the change is more positive.

In using analogies to change the conceptual configuration of context, we tend to move from the strange to the common for learning and from the common to the strange for innovation. The latter frame is used often for creative thinking strategies.

Cross mapping submodalities is said to change the emotional configuration of an experience directly. The major framework used for understanding our experience is that it derives from how we utilize our representational (sensory) systems, both internal and external. When we are dealing with the past or the future, anything not immediately before our senses, we are operating with internal representations, be they pictures, internal dialogue and sounds, sensation and emotional feelings, even smells and tastes. Within this framework, any psychological problem is viewed as being due to the way that we are organizing these representational systems.

Any traumatic event that we might believe limits us is ‘only’ a representation, as is any aspiration that inspires us to action. Representations can be changed, even when we choose to work with experiential elements of a different logical type, such as ‘beliefs’, ‘assumptions’, ‘values’, ‘self-concepts’, ‘abilities’, these can also, should it be useful, be viewed in terms of the representations that form them.

A new approach to changing people’s thought patterns focuses attention on whether brighter images had more impact for the subject than darker ones, whether closer ones had more impact than distant ones. If a subject is found to respond more strongly to large bright images than to small dark ones, one then asked the subject to imagine an undesired image as very large and bright, and position a replacement image as a very small dark dot in it. Then, on cue, the subject would have the dot expand (very, very quickly) into a large bright image, replacing the undesired one. After five or ten repetitions, the pattern would be learned and the subject would never again think about the undesired image. This is the basic Swish Pattern, the predecessor of all submodality procedures.

This process is essentially one of reframing the submodalities in a way that changes the meaning of the subjective experience.


Probably the most common reframing vehicle is the process of visualizing an imaginary configuration. The mind does not distinguish between what is happening externally or what is happening internally. Intense emotions can be generated by imagining – consider, for example, a nightmare. Various minor structures have been developed which can enhance the reframing process.

Role taking employs the process of association, where the individual is the subject of the experience and dissociation, where the person is the object of the experience. Further dissociation can occur by becoming the third party bystander who is observing the experience of the other two, and it is speculative as to how far removed you can get and still keep all of the perceptions in mind. Nonetheless, reliving an experience in a dissociated position can change the context and the interpretation of an experience rather dramatically.

In addition we can reframe the time by taking a past, present, or future perspective of an experience. The latter is particularly useful as an anticipatory mental rehearsal of a difficult situation in which the individual perceives themselves successfully using new coping skills.

We can reframe the place that the experience occurs making it safer or more secure. We can place ourselves in a safe, secure and pleasant place as a method of relaxing and return mentally as necessary for respite.

We can change the emotional context, by imagining a pleasant or unpleasant experience and using the result to work through our issues.

And finally, we can dissociate by splitting our self into parts: that part that wants to stop smoking and that part that does not. By imagining ourselves talking to another part of ourselves, we have the opportunity to work out subconscious issue.


Anchors developed as a product of Pavlov’s concept of stimulus response. Anchors define the triggers for states and behavior. You can learn how to establish triggers for selected responses that are desired both in yourself and others. In clinical practice, both the theoretical underpinnings and practice directions need to be considered and utilized to the fullest extent possible. The connection of cognitive approaches to learning experiences allows anchoring to be used in multiple situations. The use of an anchor can be ‘instantaneous’. However reinforcement through repetition is usually necessary. Intensity may allow an effective anchor to be placed once. This fact should raise clinical questions about what is being inadvertently anchored in highly emotion charged situations by clinicians who do not understand the concept.

In anchoring, the process is not simply to reframe, but to hook the reframed attitude or emotion onto a specific action, so that instantaneous reframing can occur simply by using the anchor.

Context is established by simply identifying a state that the client would like to change. The next step is identification: a recalling of resources, setting an emotional state in which the client felt positive and competent. Next comes a process of indoctrination which consists of the assumption of selected resourceful emotional state and finally, there is the use of prompt to remind the person of the selected emotional state so that it can be assumed ‘on call’.


Perception differs qualitatively from the physical properties of the stimulus. The nervous system extracts only certain information from the natural world. We perceive fluctuations of air pressure not as pressure waves but as sounds that we hear. We perceive electromagnetic waves of different frequency as colors that we see. We perceive chemical compounds dissolved in air or water as specific smells or tastes. In the words of neurologist Sir John Eccles: “I want you to realize that there exists no color in the natural world, and no sound – nothing of this kind; no textures, no patterns, no beauty, no scent.” Sounds, colors, patterns, etc., appear to have an independent reality, yet are, in fact, constructed by the mind. All our experience of the natural world is our minds interpretation of the input it receives. The Soul Illusion

The mind perceives objects, events and experiences at many different levels and sub-levels. It can, for example, view something objectively. This would mean viewing without emotional content or bias. While we can never be sure that such ‘objectivity’ is pure; we can approximate it. Thus, we can see the person and see the wall and understand, through trial and error if necessary, that the person cannot pass through the wall and understand why this is so. However, even this objective state of affairs can be examined differently. We can through ‘science’ [the epitome of objective perception] ‘view’ both the body and wall as made up of subatomic particles. We can recognize and compare the ratio of distance between these subatomic particles in these seemingly solid objects [our body and the wall] and discover that they exceed the ratios of distance between the stars. We can additionally ‘discover’ through similar ‘scientific’ methods, that a galaxy of stars is often able to pass through another galaxy of stars without the catastrophe of collision [or at least immediate catastrophe]. Such movement can continue for some time before one of the stars/subatomic particles bump into one another. This is true even with the added attraction of gravity.

How come the person cannot walk through the wall? Certainly we can ‘imagine’ ourselves walking through the wall, if we ‘imagine’ ourselves and the wall as subatomic particles. But we don’t normally do that.

In addition to orders of magnitude, there are orders of time. Consider another level from a Zen story.


A famous spiritual teacher came to the front door of the King’s palace. None of the guards tried to stop him as he entered and made his way to where the King himself was sitting on his throne.

“What do you want?” asked the King, immediately recognizing the visitor.

“I would like a place to sleep in this inn,” replied the teacher.

“But this is not an inn,” said the King, “It is my palace.”

“May I ask who owned this palace before you?”

“My father. He is dead.”

“And who owned it before him?”

“My grandfather. He too is dead.”

“And this place where people live for a short time and then move on – did I hear you say that it is NOT an inn?”

The dimension here is one of time. We do not normally think of a lifetime as a ‘short’ time since we believe it is our entire existence. But merely by redefining or reframing the concept of time, the Zen Master has demonstrated that the palace had all the characteristics of an inn.

Both on the level of objective [analytical] and subjective [imaginary] observation, the learning of the experience can be changed by changing dimensions. On the objective [conscious] level, this occurs by bringing a different perspective into consciousness and examining it closely so that you can verify or deny the experience. In many traditional cognitive remedies, the process of awareness, attendance, and analysis of thought that was not before closely examined in the ‘light of consciousness’, leads to a process of relearning fundamental elements of the experience and finding alternative adaptations which will be more utile.

However, it is also possible to change thinking and therefore behavior without ever bringing the thought into what we would usually consider a conscious [objective] examination. Simply through ‘imagining’ an old or new experience in a different dimension can cause changes that are not easy to track. Under the right circumstances, one can imagine placing a ‘problem’ in a box, locking it and throwing it away and suddenly realize that the problem doesn’t bother you anymore! Why?’

Of similar interest is the following from Paul Watzlawick in The Language Of Change:

One can free children from warts by ‘purchasing’ them. In practice this is achieved by giving the child a coin for, and thus laying claim to, his wart. As a rule the child then asks – amused or bewildered – how he is supposed to let go of the wart, whereupon one answers nonchalantly that he should not worry about that – the wart will come off all by itself.

Although the effectiveness of all kinds of magical and superstitious treatments of warts has been know since time immemorial, there does not exist a scientifically satisfactory explanation of these treatments; especially not for the procedure just mentioned. What happens is really quite extraordinary: A totally absurd, symbolic interaction leads to a concrete result; that is, the blood vessels leading into this virally produced tissue begin to constrict, and the wart eventually atrophies as a result of anoxia. This, however, means that the use of a specific interpersonal communication leads not merely to a change of the mood, the views, or the feelings of its recipient, as it can be observed on an everyday basis, but to a physical change that cannot ‘normally’ be effected deliberately.

The answer probably lies in our ability to associate and dissociate from the ‘problem’ and readjust the thought [remember, thoughts are vectors or forces] and consequently the emotions [the physical response] about the problem. This is a ‘conscious’ process, but imaginatively so, since the conscious reality occurs in our imagination. Thus, we re-experience an object or event and alter different elements in the event to arrive at a different conclusion. But the ‘reason’ may not even be important except to theorists. If it works and has no ‘down side effects’ – maybe we should use it.

Or perhaps:

Birds fly because they believe they can; one moment of doubt and they would plummet to the earth. Unknown

Does someone have to believe that the change can happen, in order for it to happen? Perhaps – perhaps not.

Let us now consider some of the established ways to approach these thinking change events. For example, if the person desiring change is willing they can review the issues of an experience through Metaperceptive Role Taking. This involves moving a person from an association to the experience – being associated means seeing an experience as if it were actually happening, through one’s own eyes as a participant [Perceptual position – First Person] to a dissociation with the experience, meaning thinking of oneself in the way that one thinks of another person. [Perceptual position: Second or Third Person].

This process might include a potential of Timeline Change using five [05] positions. One in the past, one in the present, one in the future, a meta-position to the past and a meta-position to the future (the meta-positions are situated next to the Time Line). You can visualize the Time Line or use some pieces of paper as ground anchors . This process can be used for Changing History. If the subject has memories that are unpleasant and those memories still have a negative impact, s/he can transform them into positive memories. S/he can do this by recalling the memory and adding some resources.

To do this, s/he must go back to the memory s/he wants to change. If there is more than one memory of this kind, s/he must try to detect the first memory and go back to it. This is a process of conscious recall. Then, s/he must dissociate from it through an imaginative process. This is done by identifying the resources that would have been needed in that situation to change it to a positive memory and by placing the resources in the imaginary event. This is a conscious selection and adaptation process. The helper can then anchor these resources so that the subject can see the memory as if s/he already had the resources needed to make it a positive memory (while still being dissociated from it). Add the resources until the memory is positive. Then s/he can travel back into the present and change all the memories that happened as a result from the first memory.

After that, s/he can ‘future pace’ so that it will never happen again. Future Pacing is connected to preparing to feel different in a future situation through a process of anticipation and imaginary practice or rehearsal. For example if you want to have more self-confidence whenever you talk to the opposite sex, you can future pace, i.e. link this feeling into the situation. To do this, first set up an anchor for the desired state. See a picture of yourself in this situation and be associated into this picture and fire off your anchor. Now, you will automatically have the anchored feeling when you are in such a situation.

Finally, you can do Re-Imprinting by identifying the belief or behavior the subject wants to change. Have the client stand on the Timeline at the present-position and move backwards towards the past. Try to find the earliest experience associated with the belief. To test this earliest experience, take a step backwards to a time before this imprint experience. The subject should then feel different because the imprint has not yet effected him/her. Dissociate from the experience. Now, s/he explores the situation: Noticing the effects this imprint had. Maybe s/he can see the thread running through his/her life, beginning at the time of the imprint and connecting all the painful experiences that are linked with the imprint. Identify any significant others in the imprint (they do not necessarily need to have been physically present at the imprint). Associate into each of the persons involved in the imprint. Try to find positive intentions of their actions. Step off of the timeline, look at the person from a dissociated state of view and do the same thing again. For each of these persons, try to find the resources that s/he would have needed to make it a positive experience. Anchor these resources (You can do this for example by stepping onto the timeline at a time when the subject had or experienced these resources and set up an anchor), associate into the person and fire off the anchor. Do this until every person involved into the imprint is satisfied. Now, associate into your own position in a time before this imprint had happened. Anchor the resources you had needed to succeed in the imprint-scene. Take the resources into your younger self and walk all the way up to the present and experience the changes.

Metaperception can also be used in Spatial Change. While location and distance are important submodalities, their use usually refers to the place in which one ‘sees’ the image. Is it above the usual eye level or below – is it off in the distance or close? A truer spatial change in this context would be indicated by the process of ‘visualizing a peaceful place’ in relaxation techniques. We all have the ability to relax by mentally constructing a peaceful scene that we can enter whenever we feel stressed. The peaceful scene should be a setting that you find interesting and appealing. It will be a place that will make you feel safe and secure when you imagine it – where you will be able to let your guard down and completely relax. Such a place can be real from prior experience or completely made up.

Contextual Change through changing submodalities such as temperature, distance, etc., can also occur. In imagining our ‘peaceful place’, it is important to make the imagined scene as ‘real’ as possible. One way to accomplish this is by adding as much detail as you can gather from at least three of your five senses. Visually, you can bring out the shapes in your scene by running your attention over the outline of the images as though you were tracing them with a pencil. Notice the colors in your scene. Are they vivid or faded? Locate the light source. How does light falling on an object affect its color? What areas are in shadow? Try to notice everything you could actually see if you were there. Pay attention to the information you would gather through your other senses. What sounds would you hear if you were actually there? What would the environment smell like? What can you feel through your sense of touch? Are there areas that are hot or cold? Is a breeze blowing? If you are sitting or lying down in your scene, can you feel the pressure on the parts of your body that contact the ground? Run your hand over various objects and notice their texture and the sensations this action creates in your body.

All of these processes are implemented by asking the subject to see [imagine] themselves in some other time, place, context or frame of reference to the experience. The mind is able to re-experience the event, without the emotional context, and therefore relearn how to interpret the event. The mind [Central Nervous System] is capable of subtle but salient interpretations. For example: the mature mind has an understanding of death that differs from separation. While both may cause trauma, the response to death is usually different than the response to separation – even if both are final. Substituting the submodalities of one for the other is a unique process of changing the whole context of the event.

Submodalities, you will remember, are the special sensory quality perceived by each of the senses. For example, visual submodalities include color, shape, movement, brightness, depth, etc. Auditory submodalities include volume, pitch, tempo, etc. And kinesthetic submodalities include pressure, temperature, texture, location, etc. Bringing into consciousness the submodalities substantively heightens imagining an experience, and these can be changed at will. If the original experience is imagined visually with bright red blood, the brightness can be dimmed, and the color can even be changed. Because people use different submodalities based on their Representational System Primacy, it is important that the change worker calibrate the subject’s primary system so that they have the subject change the submodalities that are most important to their learning and retention style.

Thus, the submodalities can be changed, the frame of reference can be dissociated into other roles and otherwise changed [walk around the experience and see it from the other side], and the time and place as well. These imaginary experiences are every bit as real as the original experience and that is why the emotional content of original events can be placed elsewhere. Thus, the actual change occurs either because the core beliefs are restructured, the cognitive errors are corrected or the emotional content is replaced. If I now think differently about myself, others and future prospects, I am likely to behave differently. If I no longer have automatic thoughts that trigger events, I am in more control of my life. And if the trauma of the past can now be remembered without the emotional content, I am no longer afraid or anxious.

Even more than that, I can anticipate future problems events and inoculate myself against future problem by considering and imagining the results. And those around me can enhance my growth and development by ‘seeding’ the environment with internal attributions, cognitive qualifiers, and prosocial rituals and artifacts that support positive thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

‘Seeding’ requires describing a particular state to a person and which evokes that state (and, additionally, once evoked, it can be anchored, linked, directed, intensified, combined with embedded commands, etc). Preconscious processing can influence the ease with which certain ideas are brought to mind, and the manner in which objects and events are perceived and interpreted. Finally, in order for preconscious processing to affect action it is necessary that relevant goal structures be activated in procedural memory.

Sensory acuity takes the observations of non-verbal cues beyond the more obviously recognizable clues and uses the physical feedback in addition to someone’s words to gain as much from information as possible about their subjective experience. A facilitating specialist must have a well-trained, high level of sensory acuity and be able to use these inferences to help both the subject and themselves formulate an understanding of the mental model and fundamental structure, in order to best develop hypotheses regarding change.

But the change worker must address one further concern. Individuals have unique ways of manifesting these sensory characteristics. It cannot be said that all people will look up to the right to retrieve a memory, or all people select bright images as the most memorable. Thus the facilitator’s sensory awareness must also be calibrated to the individual. Calibration means being aware of the client’s personal map of the world, his or her behavior, and his or her physiology to as great a degree as possible in order to extract all available information from the person.

In the final analysis, however, all of these ‘mental tricks’ are simply ways to get the subject’s mind to bring an unpleasant object, event or experience into consciousness and reorder the fundamental elements. By consciously viewing an experience, either objectively or imaginatively from a dissociated position, if one is flooded with emotions that might seal in the old learning, we can add new emotional and rational understandings [change the way we think] of the experience. If we think differently, we will behave differently. If we are able to reorder our automatic thoughts and eliminate cognitive errors or our core thoughts about self, others and future prospects and/or alter our attributions about success and failure into the proper channels, we will find our life much more serene and with fewer problems in living.


Verbalization is connected to habituation. The verbalization of self talk is an example of how the running commentary, appraisal and judgements of experiences have become so regular that they are no longer a conscious part of our understanding. Based on the perceptual filters of our core beliefs, these automatic thoughts simply are thought [or even said] and gone before we even realize they are there. If we do catch them, we believe them absolutely.

Yet we can change these thoughts and our core beliefs by no other method than have an alternative thought [mental representation] repeated verbally over and over again. This too will become habituated and automatic. It does not necessarily replace the old thought, however, if it conflicts with the old thought, this conflict will bring it into consciousness so that the individual can consider it, not just accept either thought absolutely.

People must learn what to say when you talk to your-self and what never to say when you talk to yourself, even as a joke.

By hearing enough examples of good self-instruction, a person can literally condition him/herself to catch those words – spoken by him/herself or others – that contain negative and untrue beliefs. After listening to enough positive self instructions, not only will s/he stop using negative self talk, but s/he will automatically begin to erase and replace the old negative programs with new, powerful and effective positive programs.

The process is very simple. After hearing enough samples of good self instruction, the person will become accustomed to how the sentences are structured and the types of beliefs that they are designed to convey. After as little as three weeks, the person should begin to internalize these speech patterns just as s/he might begin to pick up figures of speech from hanging around a new group of people.

The best part of all is that repeatedly listening to, speaking, and thinking positive self instruction causes the language to embed itself into the person’s system of beliefs. For this reason, self instruction has been used to train and build confidence in such performance-demanding arenas as commercial airline pilot training and professional sports. Managers and salespeople were quick to recognize the benefits of using self-instruction, and it is simple enough that it can be used by parents and teachers to build self esteem and self management in small children.

Learning about self talk is learning about self management since the individual can set tasks for him/herself and make sure that s/he says the appropriate things to either self instruct or self manage a situation.

Problem Solving

Two levels of problems solving are important; general problem solving and interpersonal problem solving, and both appear as deficits for many people with problems in living. It is important to understand that worry is a problem solving state in its most natural form. Worry is a natural response to anticipated future problems. But when worry gets out of hand, it can become an almost full-time preoccupation. While there are specific techniques to help a person deal with bothersome worry, another method of addressing problem worrying is to help them learn how to make decisions effectively to solve problems.

Problems that elude solution result in chronic emotional pain. When the usual coping strategies fail, a growing sense of helplessness makes the search for novel solutions more difficult. The possibility of relief seems to recede, the problem begins to appear insoluble, and anxiety or despair can increase to crippling levels.

In 1971, Thomas D’Zurilla and Marvin Goldfried devised a five-step problem-solving strategy for generating novel solutions to any kind of problem. They defined a problem as “failure to find an effective response”. For example, the fact that a person can’t find one of his shoes in the morning is not in itself a problem. It becomes a problem only if he neglects to look under the bed where the shoe is most likely to be found. If he looks in the sink, the medicine cabinet, and the garbage disposal, he is beginning to create a problem – his response is not effective in finding the missing shoe and, therefore, the situation becomes ‘problematic’.

A convenient acronym for the five steps of problem management is SOLVE, which stands for:

State the problem
Outline your goals
List your alternatives
View the consequences
Evaluate your results

The statement of goals is a most important component in problem solving, since the frustration of the goal is the major element of the problem.

Once the goals are in place, the subject can classify the objectives into MUSTS looking for those objectives that are mandatory for a successful outcome.

Most decisions also have objectives that, while not essential, are nevertheless desirable. These are WANT objectives, and they usually vary in their degree of importance. Therefore, a person may want to additionally classify the WANT objectives, listing them all and weighing the relative importance on a scale from 10 to 1. Once having developed and classified the objectives, it is helpful to step back and review them. The objectives should be stated so that the MUSTS are measurable and the WANTS are well defined.

It’s time to set one or more goals for change. The person should then examine his/her present response to the problem – what s/he does, how s/he feels, and what s/he wants. These statements are particularly helpful for developing specific goals. After brainstorming about alternative strategies, the person will want to examine the consequences of each alternative. By selecting the most promising strategies and reviewing the consequences of putting them into action, the person then has developed a process for comparing alternative strategies and outcomes. Take some time to define both positive and negative consequences for each possible strategy.

When the person finally has the major consequences listed, s/he can go over each one and ask him/herself how likely it is to come about. If the consequence is very unlikely, s/he can cross it out – s/he is simply telling him/herself horror stories or being falsely optimistic.

The person can then score the remaining consequences as follows:

  • If the consequence is predominantly personal, give it two points.
  • If the consequence predominantly affects others, give it one point.
  • If the consequence is predominantly long range, give it two points.
  • If the consequence is predominantly short range, give it one point.

Note that consequences can be both personal and long range at the same time (total score of 4), affect others long range (total score of 3), and so on.

Add up the scores for each strategy to see whether the positive consequences outweigh the negative. Then select the strategy whose positive consequences most greatly outweigh the negative consequences.

Finally, the person will need to decide on the steps s/he will have to take to put the strategy into action.

What have we done in the problem solving arena to this point. It is simply that we have a) provided an algorithm to achieve the specific purpose since the process will inevitably lead to an outcome, and b) we have provided a process to make conscious the problem solving factors. Worry is a process that engenders a great deal of emotion about nonconscious factors. By making the process conscious, the emotionality can be diminished and the person can deal with the basic issues instead of the issues on the cusp. This may not be sufficient for some with problems in living and worry control or thought stopping techniques may need to be employed. But in the long run, this kind of problem solving mechanism will also need to be installed so that the person does not revert back to the nonconscious issues that have plagued them in the past.

Goal Development

The development of personal preferences into goals is an exercise that draws together the self into a motivated active entity. We all have goals, although we are often unaware of what they are. For people with problems in living, the immediate objective is often one of avoidance. To simply help such people formulate goals can have a profound impact on that person’s life. It sends a message of personhood, value and respect.

To create a goal for oneself is to suggest that one is the subject and not the object of future action. This implies that that one is a person with power, not a victim. This context is one of psychological fitness. Setting goals implies worthiness.

Helping a person with problems in living set goals is to move the arrow of time from the past to the future. It implies change, growth and development. An implementation plan implies action toward a successful outcome. It suggest an “I am becoming” attitude. This is often profoundly different that the usual experiences.

Such a process can be difficult. Problems in living are connected to one’s perception of one’s self in relation to others. As such, people with problems in living often see themselves as an object that is bandied about by others and has no control over life processes – they are victim – blown by the winds of other people’s whims – without control. A goal is the first step in implying differently.


The Cognitive Path begins with the observation [perception] of random stimuli and the interpretation and codification of these experiences into a cohesive self [set of beliefs, attitudes, values, etc.], which while ever changing is always the same.

As Hofstadter suggests, one may feel uneasy with the proposition that great intelligence can result from random rather than from systematic actions. Indeed, when the architecture is described this way, it sounds nonsensical. However, as in so many discussions about mind and its mechanisms, this appearance of nonsensicality is an illusion caused by a confusion of levels.

As Hofstadter points out, “it is interesting to note that non-metaphorical fluidity – that is, the physical fluidity of liquids like water – is inextricably tied to random microscopic actions. A liquid could not flow in the soft, gentle, fluid way that it does, were it not composed of tiny components whose micro-actions are completely random relative to one another. This does not, of course, imply that the top level action of the fluid as a whole takes on any appearance of randomness: quite the contrary! The flow of liquid is one of the most nonrandom phenomena of nature that we are familiar with. This does not mean that it is by any means simple; it is simply familiar and natural seeming. Fluidity is an emergent quality, and to simulate it accurately requires an underlying randomness.”

Bateson points out that in stochastic processes either of evolution or of thought, the new can be plucked from nowhere but the random. And to pluck the new from the random, if and when it happens to show itself, requires some sort of selective machinery to account for the ongoing persistence of new ideas. Something like natural selection, in all it truism and tautology, must obtain. To persist, the new must be of such a sort that it will endure longer than the alternatives. What lasts longer among the ripples of the random must last longer than those ripples that last not so long. That is the theory of natural selection in a nutshell.

Sacks in A New Vision of the Mind outlines a biological process that suggests how this happens. Gerald Edelman proposes that an evolutionary process takes place – not one that selects organisms and takes millions of years, but one that occurs within each particular organism, and within its lifetime, by competition among cells, or selection of cells for, [or rather groups] in the brain.

Edelman discusses two kinds of selection in the evolution of the nervous system; ‘developmental’ and ‘experiential’. The first takes place largely before birth. The genetic instructions in each organism provide general constraints for neural development, but they cannot specify the exact destination of each developing nerve cell, for these grow and die, migrate in great numbers and in entirely unpredictable ways; all of them are ‘gypsies’, as Edelman likes to say. Thus the vicissitudes of fetal development themselves produce in every brain unique patterns of neurons and neuronal groups [‘developmental selection’]. Even identical twins with identical genes will not have identical brains at birth; the fine details of cortical circuitry will be quite different. Such variability, Edelman points out, would be a catastrophe in virtually any mechanical or computational system, where exactness and reproducibility are of the essence, But in a system in which selection is central, the consequences are different, here variation and diversity are themselves of the essence.

It is up to the infant animal to create its own categories and to use them to make sense of, to construct a world – and its not just a world that the infant constructs, but its own world, a world constituted from the first by personal meaning and reference. A unique neuronal pattern of connections is created through a process of perception, interpretation, comparison and generalization and then experience acts upon this pattern, modifying it by selectively strengthening or weakening connections between neuronal groups, or creating entirely new connections.

Thus experience itself is not passive, a matter of ‘impressions’ or ‘sense-data’, but active, and constructed by the organism from the start. Every perception is an act of creation and that creation is codified in the brain.

What Edelman is describing is the biological basis for the process of learning. And since the process is a self developed one biologically recorded, it can be relearned and rerecorded. The process of doing so is what cognitive behavior management is all about. The Cognitive Path starts with random occurrence and through a process of selection generally governed first by epigenetic rules and then by personal rules creates both the reality and the self that observes that reality. The fact that most human beings see reality pretty much the same indicates the power of simple inherent algorithms or rules. Within a tolerance, we can change ourselves into almost anything we want to become simply by becoming mindful of our thoughts and ‘weeding’ out those that are troublesome and distressing.

It is simple, though not easy.

The creation of the self is very similar to the flow of water. One never steps into the same river. Because as the river flows by the water one steps into today is never the same as that stepped into yesterday. However, it looks the same. Because of the contours of the river bed and the existence of rocks and gullies, the river flows with eddies and bubbles in the same place much of the time. The random flow of the water molecules, shaped by the rules of gravity and attracted by the rocks and gullies reiterate over and over into patterns that although, different are very much the same. The patterns of flow change only as the rocks and gullies change.

In similar fashion, the human mind, shaped by epigenetic rules activates itself in consistent patterns that although different in each event are very much of the same personality. The flow of thought, emotion and behavior changes only as the cognitive structures [schema] change.

Cognitive Behavior Management is a process of providing a shape for the flow of the mind through the provision of balanced and rational messages both from the self and from others. As these messages reshape the cognitive structures, the cognitive processes take on new shape as well, resulting in new attitudes, emotions and behaviors.