Insight Center

Contemporary Science Demands A Rethinking of Psych Theory and Practice

Imagine your birth as a big bang giving rise to your universe. Imagine that all events subsequent to the big bang of your birth are in play, as we speak, giving rise to your experience of the moment. This is true. The planets are where they are as a result of past events. The light from stars is where it is as a result of past events (even if those stars no longer exist!).

You see what you see (in part) as a result of past experience. You feel what you feel (in part) as a result of past experience. Why ‘in part’? Because there really is an objective world ‘out there’; it’s just that your own idiosyncratic filter system doesn’t pay much attention to a good part of it. Call it, subjectivity; it amounts to what you consciously experience, what you think, what you feel and what you ‘sense’. Your marvelous brain filters what you see as a result of past experience. Your marvelous brain ‘colors’ your experience of what you see as a result of past experience.

Past experience (all of it) drives personality formation. Past experience ‘predisposes’ us to think what we think, feel what we feel and sense what we sense. Think ‘experiential data base’. Think google. You are presented with a keyword (a familiar face, a newspaper, a clock) and your brain performs operations beyond our ability to imagine; it ‘kicks up’ information and adaptive styles that allow you to negotiate the moment.  

The legacy of past experience is information. All past experience is at hand as your marvelous brain does its job. Did you or did you not dance at the first dancing party you attended? Did you or did you not learn to ride your bike at 6 or 7? All information (records of past experience imbedded within the structure of our brain system) must be handled. As we now know (with the benefit of modern information management theory) information, to be rendered useful, must be bundled. Bits and bundles of information must be linked. Ahh, our marvelous brains do all of the above! 

Our personal experiential data base is rendered useful by means of its working architecture. We want to be able to respond to ‘keywords’ intelligently. If asked about high school, we don’t want to respond, “Mother Mary washed my car”. Typically, our marvelous brains construct a useful architecture and lo and behold we respond, “I went to Truckee High”.

Psychotherapies work with the evolving architecture of the experiential data base. We can and do ‘code’ experience in real time and how we code can change; generalizations about men (or women) born of experience of our father (or mother) can be coded ‘less relevant’ as future events present them selves.

A psychotherapy in-formed by this perspective can bear rich fruit. Personality itself may undergo transformation. Hitherto ‘knee jerk’ reactions need no longer occur. The starting point for such a psychotherapy must be an understanding of personality as patterns.



Personality Consists of Patterns and Probabilities? Yep

Personality itself is a process.  As you negotiate your environment bits and bundles of information are brought into play to help you negotiate the moment. A process of organizing of  bits and bundles will occur. Information deemed useful by  the system  will ‘emerge’ to assist you. It is probable that you will notice some things, not others. It is probable that you will have some thoughts, not others, some feelings, not others. In the event of difficulty we can fight our patterns (good luck) or we can explore the kind of processing that occurs giving rise to a high probability that some kinds of thoughts will occur.

Quite simply, your personality is what you see, following ‘behind the scenes’ processing of your experience, given the organizing process active in the moment. Your ability to distinguish the personality of your friends is entirely due to your experience of the activity of their processing system. You enjoy your friends in direct proportion to the relative predictability of their thoughts and feelings and your idiosyncratic response to the fruit of that processing. Personality, as patterns, predisposing us to have some thoughts, rather than others, to have some feelings rather than others, to laugh at some jokes rather than others, operates as a constraint. Given my patterns (personality), I’m not likely to buy a Hummer anytime soon.

Frequent reference to probabilites above nudges us towards exploration of the quantum processing capabilities of the human brain. Read the rest of this entry →

David Bohm Anticipates Contemporary Neuroscience

David Bohm, physicist, suggests that behind the scenes in everyday life, probalities that potential acts (including potential thought acts) will occur are very real (tantamount to a ‘force’). In light of this, it is useful to imagine multiple potential thought acts, with varying degrees of potency, ‘virtually’ duking it out from moment to moment, victors crossing a threshold from potential to real.

Interestingly we are often aware of being ambivalent or ‘of two minds’. We are often surprised by what comes out of our mouth (speech acts). The complexity of our own experience is now better understood as we appreciate the ‘reality’ of two (or more) potential thoughts (or lines of thought) in play with only ’victorious’ thoughts eventually manifesting as real thoughts.

Those of you who would like to explore the work of Bohm might start with ‘Wholeness and the Implicate Order‘. Bohm’s good friend Paavo Pylkkanen has just published a nice discussion of his theories with numerous references to contemporary science, see Mind Matter and the Implicate Order.

Neuronal Signal Processing

Neuroscience today tells us much about the transmission of signals once they ‘exist’ (once they have materialized). We can observe neuronal activity in real time. We cannot know what input will be received by a given system. We cannot know how input, once received, will be processed by a given system. Input processed is what gives rise to particular thoughts, particular feelings and/or particular adaptive styles.

As we both turn to view the kite flying above us, you smile while I am inspired to confess that, in the third grade, I quaked in my boots at the prospect of flunking science; despite all my efforts, my kite wouldn’t fly.

To understand what gives rise to particular thoughts we must examine the unique patterns that predispose each of us to entertain particular thoughts. The patterns are derived from experience and ’experiencing’ continues to occur. Ongoing experience affects the relative potency of  tendencies to entertain specific types of thoughts in the future (outcomes of future battles for ’emergence’).

The use of the term ‘battle for emergence’ may or may not be metaphorical. Neuroscientists are just beginning to determine the ‘calculating’ capabilities of the brain. Much of this work is beyond my ability to understand. Those of you with a better background in neuroscience are directed to The Emerging Physics of Consciousness.

My concern here is that science allow for the very potent influence of personal histories as they contribute to personality formation. Furthermore, personal histories continue to evolve permitting significant personality development and, if need be, change. I believe we are at the cusp of a scientific understanding of how historical experience indeed affects us. Historical experience may predispose us to all manner of mental and emotional states including mental and emotional difficulty, and good or ‘bad’ behavior’. I believe that, often, the safest and most thoroughly beneficial way to help folks having mental, emotional or behavioral difficulty is with something akin to a ‘psychotherapy’; a ‘psychotherapy’ that with scrutiny, has been found to be consistent with contemporary science in both theory and practice.

The ‘Implicate Order’

The implicate order is a term coined by David Bohm. It refers to what he considered to be, very likely a ‘force’, underlying the existence (materialization) of everything in the physical world.

We are aware that the material world exists by virtue of relationships between things. Take, for example, a molecule of water. There is a formula which can be said to ‘govern’. Combine two atoms of hydrogen with one atom of oxygen (under particular conditions) and you will see a molecule of water (H2O). Consider not the ‘things’, hydrogen or oxygen, but rather the relationship between the things. Imbedded in the reality of the material world are such relationships between things. Bohm suggests that it is the relationship between things that ‘gives rise’ to the physical world, not the things alone.

The entire network of relationships between things is referred to by Bohm as the ‘implicate order’. The material things we know so well are referred to as the ‘explicate order’. In Bohmian terms; observable, measurable ‘things’ in the explicate order are entirely dependent upon the underlying relationships between things in the implicate order-for their very existence. Raymond Trevor Bradley has coined the term ‘in-forms’ to underscore the direct contribution of the implicate order to the emergence of the form of the explicate order. The implicate order is said to ‘in-form’, that is give rise to, the form of the physical things in the explicate order.

Our Own ‘Implicate Order’

We are intimately familiar with something akin to an ‘implicate order’ giving rise to our thoughts and our feelings. We know that we are predisposed to particular types of thinking. We know that our particular type of thinking is profoundly shaped by our past experience. We might characterize ourselves as a ‘glass half empty’ kind of thinker or, as a ‘glass half full’ kind of thinker. Our personal past, and ongoing real time experience continuously gives rise to an implicate order that then processes new experience. The processing is entirely guided by patterned types of thinking. Our extraordinary mind system organizes information in just such a way that we are inclined to negotiate the moment with our particular ‘style’.

In Bohmian terms then, thoughts, feelings, and the like, ‘materialized’, now evident as brain activity, emerge in the explicate order. They are reflections of adaptation ‘in-formed’ by the dynamic activity of the implicate order. Furthermore as we entertain those thoughts (accompanied by feelings and the like) the patterns fueling the activity of the implicate order are influenced. Picture a whirlpool; the explicate order in-forms the implicate order which in-forms the explicate order, which in-forms the implicate order…. The question we explore here is how do we safely, effectively and most profoundly influence this dynamic activity.

Our Own ‘Implicate Order’ Gives Rise to ‘Subjectivity’

Subjectivity is a handy term which captures the complexity of our experience as individuals. It allows us to take into account our thoughts, our emotions,  our perceptions and our  sensations, all of which, collectively, constitute our moment to moment experience. It renders discussion of a mind-body duality moot. Subjectivity is an ‘emergent phenomena’ arising under particular conditions given the operation of entirely idiosyncratic processing systems  in ever-changing contexts.

Patterns which have evolved from prior to birth drive potential responses to new stimuli. You enter a room and selectively note some things, not others. You selectively orient yourself towards (some) things, not others. This ‘noting of’ and ‘orientation to’ things is driven by the quality and character of past experience. You remain in the room and may engage some things directly or  screen some things from your awareness as not worthy of note (do you really need to take note of the geometry of the grid holding ceiling tiles in place?) 

From moment to moment as we navigate the environment within which we find ourselves we are aware only of the fruit of our personal processing system. Our personal processing includes the application of filters and the deployment of ‘templates for action’ ( a term coined by Henry Stapp, see Mind, Matter and Quantum Mechanics). Our filters constrain what we ‘consciously’ see, hear, taste,  and otherwise sense. Our templates for action carry information and adaptive patterns that will assist our negotiation of the moment. We are not aware of the operation of our personal processing system, only the fruit of it’s application.

Psychology theory and practice must address itself to the wholly idiosyncratic system giving rise to the experience of every individual it would seek to understand and help. Read the rest of this entry →

Infancy: The Birth of an ‘Implicate Order’

Imagine a world where literally, all things in your environment are equally important to you; lint on the blanket you hold, the rustle of the curtain framing your window, the sound of footfall increasing in volume as a figure seems to grow within your field of vision. If all things are of equal value, then no things have particular value.

Babies are awash in a sea of experience. Babies begin to bundle experiences by association. The sound of footfall comes to be, hopefully, associated with being lifted from one positon, e.g. laying in a basinet, to another, e.g. the shelter of the crook of a neck. The rustle of a curtain comes to be associated with variations in brightness, ambient temerature or perhaps, more or less pleasant auditory input (birdsong or traffic).

Associative links emerge spontaneously from moment to moment. Potential links exist ‘in’ the implicate order. As linkage proves useful to the system repeatedly, the likelihood that those links will structure data retrieval in the future increases. With accumulated experience, something akin to an architecture for data management develops. This architecture, however is not static. With repeated use, it has the appearance of being static, hence we talk about ‘the architecture’ of the system but the architecture is ever evolving. It appears to be a self organizing system for data management (for an excellent treatment of self organizing systems in general, see At Home in the Universe). 

As bundles of experiences are ‘colored’ with positive, negative or neutral associations, some bundles of experience come to be prioritized as ‘useful’ given the needs of the system (note: the needs of the system, not the self; there is no ‘self structure’ yet (see INFAQ-infrequently asked questions). Bundles of associated records of experience are accompanied by probable responses to new experience in light of the information in-forming personal processing. The associated events bundled together and the fluid moment to moment ranking by virtue of usefulness of information are ever-evolving patterns. Theoretically a snapshot view of the architecture of the data storage system characterizing accumulated experience may be mapped (as the architecture of any data storage system may be mapped, think ‘google’). However, this is a living, breathing (oops, forgive me here) data storage system.

The architecture characterizing the ever- evolving experiential data base unique to each and every one of us constrains all subsequent experience. Evidence of the operation of the data management system characteristic of any given individual may be inferred from observable actions; thought acts, speech acts, eye contact made or not made, orientation towards some objects in the environment rather than others , etc. We love to see what we come to perceive as the budding ‘personality of our child, however, in scientific terms what we are seeing is the evolution of patterns, wholly unique to our child. Those patterns will drive their adaptation to the world; need I say, as they will see it?

Self Structure: I Am, I Like and I Can

As parents note the likes and dislikes of their child they are commenting upon the evolving constellation of patterns which give rise to observable preferences. They, of course, link their observations to a named child. There is then, an evolving pattern ‘in the air’, in a social universe. To varying degrees the parental ‘sense’ of the evolving patterns characterizing their child will be accurate. (They may be inaccurate due to error, e.g. that old Freudian problem,  ‘projection’ or they may be inaccurate due to the rapid evolution of new patterns which quickly render old patterns moot).

As the child experiences family use of his or her name in association with their physical and experiential self, they ‘identify’ (for want of a better word at the moment) with the name. The taking on of the name marks an important point in the organization of accumulated experience. It is now ‘consciously and unconsciously constrained’. It is constrained to 1) the physical form of the child, 2) the accumulated record of the experience of the child and 3)the functional adaptive patterns which now drive  the dynamics of potential actions as the child engages the world.

Oops! You and/or Me Have a Problem (Some call it a Mental Disorder)

Patterns which frequently characterize the negotiation of the moment may not ‘well serve’ an individual. We ourselves often feel witness to the operation of a ‘mind system’ which appears to ill serve us. Fortunately, it appears that the ‘mind system’ appears to be a self organizing system (for an excellent treatment of self organizing systems in general, see At Home in the Universe). As such it is a dynamic, ever evolving system, capable of a learning process that is tantamount to self repair. To the extent that we ‘identify’ with extant patterns and/or view our ‘self structure’ in static terms, we can create a kind of ‘neurotic’ looping which sustains patterns in place preventing what we would experience as growth.

A ‘psychotherapeutic’ process informed by an understanding of 1) personality as patterns, 2) the dynamics of self-organizing systems and 3) the power of psychological determinism, can assist folks with undoing of the ‘neurotic’ looping which constrains growth.

Contemporary psychology is characterized by the application of a variety of labels which allow us to gain a quick understanding of just what folks experience. Application of those labels tells us nothing about the patterns which give rise to the experience that folks report. Creation of the conditions for growth and change, in effect, the restructuring of patterns driving personality itself, requires exploration of the ‘architecture’ of the information management system giving rise to templates for action (See Stapp, Mind, Matter and Quantum Mechanics) and subjective experience in real time.