WHEN BLIND ELEPHANTS
L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.
In his two books on Six Blind Elephants, Steve Andreas announces that it is all about scope and category. He says that it is about how we create categories in our mind to understand things as well as how we bite off various sizes of information to deal with— how big or small the scope of our focus. So far, so good, but then he uses these distinctions to mostly rephrase NLP. What we call sensory awareness of the VAK, he calls “scope.” Then for the higher level frames, the logical levels, and the meta-states, he calls them “category.”
What does that mean? It means that when you read Six Blind Elephants, you are reading about logical levels or meta-states and the meta-stating process. Yet the author does not acknowledge this nor does he seem to be even very much aware of it. Yet it is the meta-stating process that is presented over and over in the books.
Now a meta-state is a higher logical level phenomenon created by how we step back from whatever we are experiencing at the primary state level of sensory-based experience (scope) and rise up, transcend the immediate, and then include the immediate inside of a higher frame, context, or category. So when Andreas deals with “categories” of the mind, he is referring to the same subjective experience that I do when I speak about meta-states even if he has yet to acknowledge such. While this is obvious over and over in the book, you would never know it from reading these books.
“When solving a problem it makes a huge difference whether we think of wrestling with it or dancing with it, attacking it or thinking of it as challenging. Categorizing [e.g., meta-stating] it one way can make any process difficult, unpleasant, and arduous, while another description can make it an exciting adventure.” (Volume II, p. 84)
Here “categorizing,” puts the primary state of “solving a problem” into one of these four categories. This is the very same process when we meta-state the problem-solving state with one of these four mental-emotional states. Andreas speaks as if this is some new thing in NLP when actually it has been a part of the NLP Meta-States Model since 1994 when it was recognized by the International Association of NLP Trainers. What Andreas seems to not know is that when you meta-state, you set up a new category.
Meta-Stating using Cognitive Qualifiers
Andreas speaks of John McWhirter as having provided —
“. . . a fascinating and subtle example of how our minds can be pre-set to respond in a particular way, that sadly, others have not previously noticed. A ‘cognitive qualifier’ is a ‘commentary’ adverb appearing at the beginning of a sentence or phrase that refers to an emotional or cognitive state, such as the words ‘happily’ or ‘sadly’ in the previous sentence.” (Vol. II, p. 84, italics added)
Did Andreas just say that a cognitive qualifier “refers to an emotional … state?” That’s amazing! Yet that is as close as he will admit that categorizing is the same as meta-stating. The cognitive qualifiers are at a higher level and “refer to an emotional state.” And that is how I have defined a meta-state. Though Andreas has sadly not noticed it before (years and years of Anchor Point and NLP World articles about Meta-States) this is precisely part of the description of a meta-state—a higher state about a lower state.
“Cognitive qualifiers direct your mind to think of an experience in a way that is specified by the kind of qualifier used.” (II, p. 85)
That sounds like what I wrote years ago in an article on Texturing States describing how we qualify a state via the meta-stating process. Noting that the words “sadly, luckily, and happily” refer to “emotional states, and most emotions are evaluative” he also writes.
“An attitude of interest or fascination is an excellent positive resource state for learning and change, because it redirects attention from the evaluation of the problem to interest and curiosity about how the problem works, a shift to a more specific logical level of categorization. (II, p. 86)
If Andreas had done his homework in studying the Meta-States Model, he would have known that we define a meta-state as an “attitude” and that, as such, it sets an evaluative frame at a higher level and redirects our focus. Content wise, I think we are saying the same thing although we are using different words and drawing different conclusions.
In his fourth chapter Modes of Operating (Volume II), he uses Venn diagrams to illustrate how one of the motivation or option modal operator states relate to another, sometimes embedding one inside of the other. He has Impossibility as the largest level, then Possibility and inside of Possibility there is Necessity, Choice, and Desire states. When we do this in Meta-States, we talk about one state embedded inside of another. I began doing that in 1996.
Andreas even begins playing with state upon state, having to choose, choosing to need, etc.
“When you are totally congruent, it is possible to, you want to, you choose to, and paradoxically, you also have to, because you really couldn’t do anything else!” (II, p. 108)
His fifth chapter, Self-Reference deals with Circularity.
“Self-reference inevitably occurs whenever we think about ourselves and how our minds work.” (II, p. 111)
Ah, here we again have a meta-state. When we say something about ourselves, the thoughts we generated are “both made by the self and describe the self, so they refer to themselves, in a circular process.”
“Whenever the criteria for a higher logical level are the same as the criteria for the members of the included logical levels, it will be self-referential.” (II, p. 114)
“In order for a statement to be self-referential, it has to either:
a. refer to itself directly, or
b. refer to itself indirectly, by including itself as a member of a more general category that it describes, and
c. the description must apply to all members of the category.
To discover self-reference, the key question to ask is, ‘Is this communication an example of what the communication describes?’” (II, p. 116)
Now Andreas writes as if this is a brand new discovery. Actually, it was— back in 1994—12 years earlier! In fact, in 1995 I put together a book on negative meta-states (“dragons”) like worrying about worrying (anxiety) and I described the looping and downward spiraling when one brings a negative state against oneself.
“In worrying, the process may continue to occupy your mind for some time, as you recursively think of one possible scenario after another. However, if you find yourself in an unsatisfactory loop, and the results of the future event are very important to you, you may find that the loop escalates at every step, creating what has often been called a ‘vicious circle’ of increasing anxiety.” (II, p. 125)
From the first edition of Meta-States (1995), I described paradoxes as a result of meta-stating. When you deliberately do what you typically experience as a spontaneous symptom you have a counter-intuitive way to interrupt the escalating loop which usually results in reducing the symptoms. Why is this? Because, as Andreas notes, it reverses the direction of the escalating loop (II, p. 127).
“By deliberately creating fear, you can find out exactly how you do it—what kind of images you make, what you say to yourself, etc. — and this can transform what you previously experienced as involuntary into something voluntary.” (II, p. 128)
In Meta-States, I also noted the meta-state structure in Virginia Satir’s question, “How do you feel about feeling depressed?” I quoted this in the book, showed how that this is a meta-stating process which Richard Bandler and John Grinder missed. Now Andreas quotes it and comments:
“Since they are already attending to their feelings, this is a good match for their experience, it asks them to categorize [meta-state] their feeling response at a more general logical level, instead of cycling back to their depressing thoughts, changing the loop. … Although occasionally a client might reply, ‘I feel depressed about being depressed,’ usually they will respond with a different feeling. ‘Well, I feel sad about feeling depressed.” . . . These new feelings will take them out of the old loop, and they can be utilized as a starting point for making future changes. If you get stuck, you can always ask the recursive feeling question again at any time. ‘How do you feel about feeling depressed about feeling depressed?” (II, p. 130)
Interesting enough, that is exactly what we have been doing in Meta-States for more than a decade. It offers an excellent way to gain control over a negative spiraling state. When we use this process in Meta-States, we acknowledge that it is the dynamic of multi-ordinality that Alfred Korzybski identified and described (Science and Sanity, 1933, pp. 440-1).
“Often people don’t enjoy learning to do something new, because the early stages of learning are often confusing and awkward, and they naturally would like to avoid this unpleasantness, and the unpleasant evaluative feelings about their confusion and awkwardness. It is one thing to realize that the beginning stages of learning are often inevitably difficult and uncomfortable. It is quite another to use that discomfort as a reason not to learn anything new.” (II, p. 131)
“Self-contradiction exists at the logical level of categorization, and at that level there truly is no solution. In order to escape from a contradiction, you have to shift logical levels. You can either go to a more general level, or to a more specific level.” (II, p. 150)
(“‘Feel free) to (restrict yourself) to the information that is relevant to the problem’ nests restriction inside freedom. … (‘Take as much time) as you need to (quickly review) those past events in order to come to a new conclusion about their relevance to your present life situation,’ gracefully nesting speed inside slowness.” (II, p. 157)
When George Bernard Shaw wrote, “I’m an atheist, and I thank God for it.” he put his identity (being an “atheist”) within the frame of “things to thank-God for.”
Andreas’ Basic Mistake
About self-reference Steve Andreas goes wrong from the beginning when he attempts to define self-reference. What he presents is not only simply wrong, but he forgets a back NLP principle and Meta-Model distinction, namely, The Lost Performative. His fallacious definition is this: “A category can be shown to include itself as a member.”
Now Andreas does admit that this goes against such intellectual giants as Bertrand Russell and Gregory Bateson. “I realize that this violates Bertrand Russell’s famous ‘Theory of Types.’” (II, p. 113). Yet even that doesn’t stop him. He wants to define self-reference as always involving a word or idea that “is both the categorizer and an example of the category” (II, p. 111).
“‘I respect you,’ is both a categorization of the relationship as respectful, and also an example of one of the behaviors described by the word ‘respect.’” (II, p. 111)
It is here that Andreas violated the Meta-Model distinction of Lost Performative. After all, who is doing the categorizing here? He says this “is both a categorization and … an example”—in other words, an identification. He writes as if it “is” that way and no human being is involved in making it so, which of course, is non-sense. He says “the sentence refers to itself.” Well, I’m sorry Steve, but sentences don’t do anything, a person uses a sentence to refer to things.
“When a statement refers to itself by including itself in a more general category of events, the statement must also be an absolute statement…” (II, pp. 114-115)
This is called the Lost Performative because someone is mapping out an understanding and the speaker has left out the performer of the map. Later he regains his sanity when he tells a story of a young woman and her mother. As he speaks about “how she categorizes,” he comments, “Her statement could have been a description that in her mind did not include itself.” (II, p. 171). Yes, of course! It is always a person who does the categorizing, the “sentence” is not the cause or source —the person is. Later Andreas writes something that he should equally apply to self-reference. If he had, he would not have made his error:
“Negation is either at a lower or higher logical level than existence, depending on how we think about it.” (II, p. 173, italics added)
To support this he declares that Bateson is also wrong (II, pp. 164,165). And once again he declares that “the statement categorizes.” “‘I love you’ categorizes the relationship at the same time that it is an example of the category of behaviors called ‘love.’” But that is not true. The truth is that it all depends on how we think about something. Do we include a category within the category? Or do we keep them separate? Here he creates confusion by making both category and member the same. The category of cats is not a cat, it is a category— a conceptual framework for talking about cats. And Steve knows this.
“… the name of the category is different from the group of experiences named…” (II, p. 113)
The problem is his invention of “heritability” which is the non-sense that he perpetuates.
“Whenever a category can be shown to include itself as a member, the criteria for the category apply not only to the members of the category, but also to the category itself, by the property of heritability. I realize this violates Bertrand Russell’s famous ‘Theory of Types.’” (II, p.113)
We see his lack of critical thinking when he thereafter declares this:
“If I say,’Ideas are insubstantial,’ that statement is also an idea, so it applies to itself, and is therefore insubstantial.”
But “that statement is an idea, so it applies to itself…” is his categorizing it as such. It does not have to be so categorize. I can treat the category, “Insubstantial ideas” as different from the ideas that I put into that category. “Insubstantial ideas” is a name. This is where Andreas goes wrong. Human beings are the persons who are doing the referring and categorizing. We can’t blame the sentences! That’s why we have to ask the person, “Are you making a distinction between class and member of the class? Are you applying the classification as a member of itself?”
If a person is doing that, then that statement from that person is self-referential and then many of the things Andreas writes about applies. But it is not the case that it always is that way. “I always say stupid things.” Ask, is that a stupid thing that you have said? “I never learn anything!” How did you learn that? Yes, self-reference statements do create paradox and when they do, two logical levels are confused: class and member of class. That’s the whole point from Russell and Bateson.
In the books Blind Elephants, Steve Andreas has renamed basic NLP realities using “scope” and “category.” From there he has offered new insights on various subjective experiences— much of it highly valuable and practical. For that I acknowledge Steve and his many contributions. Yet because Andreas has apparently not read extensively in the field of NLP, and doesn’t seem willing to know study the models I’ve introduced, specifically the Meta-States Model, he does not seem to know that his term and use of “category” corresponds with a meta-state, that is, a meta-level experience. In criticizing Robert Dilts and myself about logical levels, and mis-representing what both of us have said and written, he fights a Straw Man, does a wonderful job of devastating the Straw Man, but of course, doesn’t even address the real issue.
In Blind Elephants there are meta-states and meta-stating processes everywhere. But don’t ask Steve Andreas about that, he seems oblivious to that fact. I have attempted to point that out in these two articles. My wish and hope is that Steve will re-consider his position, read with an open mind, and not read to confirm his current beliefs.
L. Michael Hall, Ph.D., psychologist, author, and modeler with over 25 modeling projects, founder of Neuro-Semantics, developer of the Meta-States Model, and other models and patterns in NLP.
Andreas, Steve. (2006). Six Blind Elephants, Volume I, Fundamental principles of scope and category. Moab, UT: Real People Press.
Hall, L. Michael. (2000). Meta-States: Managing the Higher Levels of Your Mind’s Reflexivity. Clifton, CO: Neuro-Semantic Publications.
Hall, Michael. (2001). NLP: Going Meta—Advance Modeling Using Meta-Levels. Clifton, CO: Neuro-Semantic Publications.
Hall, L. Michael; Bodenhamer, Bob G. (2005). Sub-Modalities: Going Meta. Formerly, “The Structure of Excellence.” Clifton, CO: Neuro-Semantic Publications.
Hall, L. Michael. (2000). Secrets of personal mastery: Advanced techniques for accessing your higher levels of consciousness. Wales, UK: Crown House Publications.