Neuro-Logical Levels in Four Quadrants

Arthur Blomme

Response to Michael Hall, THE FIRST NEURO-LOGICAL LEVELS, Meta Reflections 2011 – #25, July 4, 2011

This is a response to Michael Hall’s Meta Reflection 2011 #25, The First Neuro-Logical Levels sent out on the Neurons egroup of Neuro-Semantics.  In this response, I will use Wilber’s Four Quadrants Model to understand the relationship between Dilts’Neuro-Logical Levels Model, Bateson’s Levels of Learning, and Michael Hall’s Matix Model.

The Four Quadrants model of Ken Wilber is the ultimate meta view of reality.   It is a major part of Ken Wilber’s system of integral theory and it is a useful tool for directing nuances in developing sound epistemology. In that the Four Quadrants distinguish four mutually exclusive perspectives it sheds light on four systems of knowing. This paper investigates the Neuro-Logical Levels model of Robert Dilts by seeing the model through the spectrum of the Four Quadrants. This analysis will provide an understanding of how patterns that utilize Neuro-Logical Levels can add value to the coaching process.

In the mid 80’s I was introduced to what was at that time called “The Logical Levels.  After very little of my own research I pointed out to Tad James that “The Logical Levels” he attributed to Gregory Bateson was not the same as the model presented in my NLP training.  He responded that the model presented was an adaptation of Bateson’s model by Robert Dilts.  I accepted that explanation with reservations at the time.  I did like the model and used it to understand different levels of my experience.  It was an intuitively rewarding experience.

Many years later I had a chance to talk to Robert Dilts about the Neuro-Logical Levels.   He acknowledged the difficulties that I pointed out in the model and directed me topage 315 of From Coach to Awakener.  On this page in the appendix Dilts points out the relationship of Bateson’s learning levels to the Neuro-Logical Levels.  He basically sees the learning levels as a kind of intermediary between the Neuro-Logical Levels.  Hence environment to behaviour is mediated with learning 0 or associative learning.  Behaviour to competency is mediated by learning I or operant learning.  As a rat runs a maze he becomes competent at that maze.  Strategic learning/level II mediates competencies to values. Level III learning is revolutionary change that makes changes to the system and mediates between values and identity in Dilts’ model.  Finally mediating between identity and spirituality is learning IV which has to do with systems of systems.  All this seems very arguable to me.

My biggest reservation to the Neuro-Logical Levels was its association with Bertrand Russel’s logical type theory.  It seemed to me that Bateson’s model had a structure of a hierarchy of logical types butNeuro-Logical Levels did not meet the necessary criteria. For example just as individual cells are at a different logical level than tissue Bateson delineates operant learning at a different level than associative learning. On the other hand we have the Neuro-Logical Level of identity which Michael Hall suggests is made up of beliefs and values about our self. When we change our identity we change our beliefs and values about self.  If we looked at identity strictly from this perspective it would follow that identity then is not a logical level.  Identity is only a set of beliefs and values. However as Dilts is associating identity to learning III and Learning IV he is making a distinction of identity in terms of the total system of self.  Hence with that distinction in mind he is able to make the logical level claim in the strict sense that Bateson used it.  The total self system is higher order and inclusive of the value and belief system parts.

The Neuro-Logical Levels model is a very popular model used in all kinds of cultural and personal intervention strategies.  One of the reasons for its popularity is that it fits an intuitive need for breaking down the complexity of the changes we can make in our personal and cultural constructed realities.   It also corresponds to the English lexicon as used to describe large C coaching activities.  This correspondence is precisely the content of Dilts’ book From Coach to Awakener.  According to the book someone who works strictly at the environment level we consider to be a guide, a custodian or a care giver.  The individual who is concerned primarily with behaviour we refer to in English as a small c coach.  Someone whose concern is the replication of competencies we call a teacher or trainer.  When we are involved in an individual’s value orientation we might be considered to be their mentor.  When we are concerned with the individual as a whole we could be considered their sponsor.  The word spouse comes from the same Latin root as sponsor. Finally Dilts designates the role of Awakener for the individual responsible for spiritual transformation.  Many successful transformation exercises have been constructed with this model. Although as Michael Hall points out there is no precise thematic theme that links the levels together.  There is a general order of change understanding that is very intuitively attractive.

When I was first introduced the Matrix model at an CANLP conference in Toronto  I was challenged to accept the matrix model over the Neuro-Logical Levels model.  I recognized that the Matrix model did have a thematic consistency lacking in Dilts.  I had to subdue my angst because I was doing a workshop on integrating Ken Wilber’s Quadrants with the Neuro-Logical Levels model.   While I could see the attractiveness of Michael’s Matrix Model I was not willing to abandon the Neuro-Logical Levels model right away.  Both models seemed to offer value in different contexts.  The key for me to understanding the value of both models was to understand the models in terms of Ken Wilber’s Quadrants.

Wyatt Woodsmall describes Wilber’s Four Quadrants as four distinct realities that make up the cosmos.  They are also described as perspectives on reality.  In the 20th century there was a good deal of scholarly discussion stressing the importance of our subjective experience over the grandiose importance placed on objective reality by positivistic science.  Our personal subjective experience is true and real in a way that cannot be explained or understood by objective science.  In like manner there is a trueness of our external reality that cannot be reduced to our subjective experience.  Wilber extends this dichotomy to four ways of realness.  He further posits  an inter-subjective or cultural reality and a systemic reality neither of which can be reduced to any of the other three realities.   I am including a small diagram that applies the quadrants to the NLP TEA model..

The workshop I presented at the CANLP conference used The TEA(Thinking, Emotion, Action)   Model above as a basis to understanding the relationship of Neuro-Logical Levels to the Four Quadrants.   The Matrix Model (Hall, 2002) proposes a model that clearly fits into the upper left subjective quadrant.  This is why it is so thematically consistent.  As Children we develop our matrix of the self, first.  It is entirely in the subjective quadrant.  Following this we develop the realm of doing and the realm of doing is in its entirety the subjective meaning about doing (power) as an individual.   In fact everything about all the other content matrixes:  time, other and the world and the process matrix meaning and intention exist in the realm of subjective experience. Although these matrices can be distinguished as developmental categories it is not clear to me that they are logical types in the sense proposed by Bertrand Russel and Gregory Bateson.   The content matrices are all composed of the same stuff and do not represent different levels of abstraction. Maybe there is an exclusive relationship between thematic consistency and logical levels.

Though Emotions Actions Diagram
Though Emotions Actions Diagram

The Neuro-Logical Levels model is better compared to the TEA model than the matrix model.  The Neuro-Logical Levels and the TEA model as models span the internal external divide of the Four Quadrants.   The TEA model is useful first because it makes distinctions between internal and external behaviour.  The further breakdown of the internal quadrants into thinking and emotional is generally an acceptable approach to understanding the contents of mind because most people make general distinctions between thinking and emotions.  However in cognitive linguistics there is a general recognition that you can not separate thought from emotion as they are kind of bundled together.  Meta-states reflect this growing understanding that states include both cognition and emotion.  Meaning has a feeling attached to it and becomes embodied in emotion as it moves from known to belief to a decision.   The TEA model makes  a clear distinction between  internal and external quadrants but the internal distinctions it makes between thought and emotion is a bit fuzzy. Though and emotion are logical types.  Noteworthy is that Michael Hall refers to emotions and thoughts as our internal powers and suggest external powers of speech and action that correspond to action in the TEA model. Overall the model is useful in that it relates internal process to external processes.  It makes apparent that changing internal processes will create different action.

The Neuro-Logical Levels in contrast do not fit neatly in any specific quadrant.  Even some of the levels do not relate to a specific quadrant but span them.   Only the environment/context level   is entirely observable and a product of the exterior quadrants.   The behaviour and competency levels in addition to having aspects that are observable and thus external also have an internal aspect that is experienced subjectively and cannot be observed by others. They are different from “action” in the TEA model because they include the internal aspect of the behaviour in addition to what is observable.   Behaviour and competency consist of factors that can be observed and tested but also factors that are internal and not easily and accurately measured. The remaining levels are not observable and exist entirely in the internal quadrants.   The values and beliefs level together with the identity level are entirely the product of our interiority.  They cannot be measured and quantified to a universal standard. Below is the diagram I created to relate the Neuro-Logical Levels to the Four Quadrants.

Individual External Collective Internal Diagram
Individual External Collective Internal Diagram

Contrary to the TEA model Neuro-Logical Levels imply a natural hierarchy; moving from the context/environment which is most observable to the deep internal identity which is least accessible to observation.   When Dilts compares the Neuro-Logical Levels to Bateson’s logical levels of learning he is assuming the natural hierarchy intrinsic in Bateson’s leaning levels.  The adage sometimes attributed to Einstein that you cannot solve a problem at the same level that it was created is adopted by this model to provide a diagnosis of the neurological level that change has to take place to resolve a problem.  Once the problem is identified as occurring at one level the problem is resolved by working to bring about change in the neurological level of next order of complexity.  Dilts offers a convincing hierarchy of levels of coaching that correspond to the Neuro-Logical Levels:  Guide corresponds to environment i.e. finding a location.  A behavioural problem needs Coach to develop a competency.  Competency problems need a teacher to teach the values to work at the competency.  A problem concerning ones values and beliefs requires a mentor to develop ones identity.  Identity problems associated with addiction require a sponsor to give you the security to get beyond the self, to the trans-personal.  This consistency of  Neuro-Logical Levels with corresponding  labels for coaching relationships that reflect a hierarchy of change complexity validates the usefulness of this schema as it is a linguistic artefact at least in English culture.

Michael Hall points out that the Neuro-Logical Levels which I have indicated are situated in the external quadrants are not logical levels of experience.  In the Matrix Model “Behaviour, capability, and environment are all facets of a primary state.” Likewise the Neuro-Logical Levels of identity and values and beliefs are among 100 logical levels of experience.  He also points out that one can have beliefs about identity, indicating that these levels are fluid and not hierarchical.   This is very true when looking at these phenomena from a specific perspective in theNeuro-Logical Levels upper left subjective quadrant.

Ken Wilber makes an additional distinction of perspectives when talking about the Four Quadrants.   According to Wilber you can view each quadrant of experience from the outside-in or the inside-out.  Each of these perspectives will result in different observations of stages, thematically consistent levels or holons. (Integral Spirituality, p.36)  The Matrix model describes subjective experience from the inside-out.  From this perspective you notice the different levels and intensities of levels of subjective experience. Think of a concept like smoking is unhealthy and notice how the quality of that concept changes when you know that smoking is unhealthy. Then notice how it changes when you believe that smoking is unhealthy and finally notice what happens when you decide that smoking is unhealthy.  When viewing from the inside-out one is observing one’s own experience and drawing conclusions based on that subjective experience.  This has been termed a phenomenological approach.

On the other hand subjective experience can be viewed from the outside-in.  This is more of a scientific approach where experience is seen objectively from the outside.  We start with general experiences and move to the particular. Hence I can observe that my subjective experience is composed of beliefs and values and at a deeper level there is my identity.  I can see from this perspective that changing my identity is more profound than changing my beliefs and values.  This perspective of our subjective experience has been termed structuralism.    This outside-in approach can be used to span the objective with the subjective quadrants as is done with the Neuro-Logical Levels to create a structural hierarchy of increasingly complex change moving from observable manipulations of the environment to the subjective depth of changing identity.

Michael Hall when speaking about collaboration in the new Human Potential Movement proposed that when speaking about different viewpoints it is often better to use the contraction “and” than “but” to describe reality.  In most cases including and integrating different perspectives in a more comprehensive map of reality provides a more robust understanding than pitting one perspective against another.  The Matrix Model and the Neuro-logical levels model are different perspectives of the same reality.  Both models have generated an alignment pattern that is used to integrate the contents of the mind to create more effective change in the individual.  A person is not very effective if different levels of his being are fighting against each other. The Neuro-Logical level alignment pattern from Robert Dilts and the meta alignment pattern from Michael Hall are both useful patterns coming at the same reality from two different perspectives.  In practice they are both effective and more relevant than the other depending on the context.  They are two tools in the tool chest of the NLP practitioner.

Michael Hall says in a recent reflectionin  Neurons“we have a complete system in Neuro-Semantic NLP, we don’t need to be eclectic.”  Application of Ken Wilber’s Four Quadrant model to understanding NLP is not a case of being eclectic in the same way that using the Enneagram in conjunction with NLP is eclectic.  In A Sourcebook of MagicHalladmits that the Domain of NLP is Subjective experience.The Eneagram also works on subjective experience hence they are two approaches to the same domain.  On the other hand the Four Quadrants model out frames the systematic treatment of subjective experienceby Neuro-Semantic NLP. The subjective domain that is explained by NLP comprises only one of Ken Wilber’s Four Quadrants.  The Four Quadrants are useful in understanding how NLP relates to a larger body of technical and philosophical understanding that is contained three other quadrants.  I have shown how out framing NLP in this fashion can lead to understanding that transcends apparent contradictions between Michael Hall and Robert Dilts and their discussion of logical levels. Seeing NLP through the lens of the Four Quadrants provides us with a greater facility to use the “and” conjunction to consistently incorporate other perspectives into a body of practices from which we can select the best tool for a given context.
Art Blomme is a social entrepreneur, an Integral theorist/practitioner and a Neuro-Semantic NLP and trainer.  He is engaged in introducing integral and NLP tools to empower grassroots social and political movements to create a sustainable alternative.

Art Blomme About Excerpt
Art Blomme About Excerpt