I have posted a number of times on both my blogs (find posts here and here) about the benefits of understanding psychosynthesis. When I was participating in a two-year intensive in mediation, a 10-day training in psychosynthesis was required. Over the decades since, I frequently have been grateful for my knowledge of psychosynthesis, so much so that I took a several day refresher course a couple of years ago. In short, I highly recommend to any mediator that he or she learn more about this approach and philosophy, at least by reading the books listed over to the right by Assagioli and Ferrucci.
About a year ago, an article about the neuroscience of psychosynthesis was published by the Association for the Advancement of Psychosynthesis. It was written by Piero Ferrucci, a man who studied with Roberto Assagioli, the founder of psychosynthesis, and who is very skilled at explaining Assagioli's gift to us. Because I was so impressed with the article, I am shocked that I did not link to it before now. What's that cliche? Better late than never?
Many studies in neuroscience show us psychosynthesis in action (without calling it that) in all its important aspects. Studying neuroscience in this context is like learning psychosynthesis again from a different, more concrete perspective. In this essay—by no means an exhaustive treatment of the subject, which would require much more space—I will highlight some basic themes that psychosynthesis and neuroscience have in common.
You likely will recognize several of the names Ferrucci references, including Jeffrey Schwartz, Mario Beauregard, and Daniel Siegel. Click to read the article. Also here. I enthusiastically recommend it!
I will be presenting three programs in Baltimore on May 2 and 3. They are being offered by the ADR Section of the Maryland Bar Association at Westminster Hall, site of the Edgar Allan Poe crypt. Below is the description of the day-long program being held on May 2. I will also give a keynote that evening.
And, if 20 people register by April 1, we will have a practicum on May 3 based on the day-long program from the day before. More information and registration for May 2 here. If you are interested in the practicum, please email David Simison. [Note added April 3: We are no longer taking sign-ups for the practicum.]
I hope to see many of you there!
Lessons from Poe: Detecting the Inner Mediator
Poe is acknowledged by many as the genius who invented the detective story and inspired the genre of science fiction. Over 150 years after his death, we can still learn much from the imagination of this author and poet.
A skilled mediator is a supreme detective. The foremost, primary, and threshold mystery to solve: What method of mediation is best suited to the individual conflict professional, the parties, and the conflict. We will use an assessment approach to facilitate that first solution.
The clues a mediator must be able to read with precision involve self-awareness and self-knowledge, discovery of purpose, theory of mind (or discovering what's in the minds of other people), and razor focus on solutions, not problems. We will take our magnifying glasses to those topics and sharpen those skills.
What's science fiction have to do with mediation? Currently conflict resolution training is full of neuroscience that is fiction. We will separate the facts from the fiction and hype. We'll look at
Neuropsychological research on the neural basis of behaviour generally posits that brain mechanisms will ultimately suffice to explain all psychologically described phenomena. This assumption stems from the idea that the brain is made up entirely of material particles and fields, and that all causal mechanisms relevant to neuroscience can therefore be formulated solely in terms of properties of these elements. Thus, terms having intrinsic mentalistic and/or experiential content (e.g. ‘feeling’, ‘knowing’ and ‘effort’) are not included as primary causal factors. This theoretical restriction is motivated primarily by ideas about the natural world that have been known to be fundamentally incorrect for more than three-quarters of a century. Contemporary basic physical theory differs profoundly from classic physics on the important matter of how the consciousness of human agents enters into the structure of empirical phenomena. The new principles contradict the older idea that local mechanical processes alone can account for the structure of all observed empirical data. Contemporary physical theory brings directly and irreducibly into the overall causal structure certain psychologically described choices made by human agents about how they will act. This key development in basic physical theory is applicable to neuroscience, and it provides neuroscientists and psychologists with an alternative conceptual framework for describing neural processes. Indeed, owing to certain structural features of ion channels critical to synaptic function, contemporary physical theory must in principle be used when analysing human brain dynamics. The new framework, unlike its classic-physics-based predecessor, is erected directly upon, and is compatible with, the prevailing principles of physics. It is able to represent more adequately than classic concepts the neuroplastic mechanisms relevant to the growing number of empirical studies of the capacity of directed attention and mental effort to systematically alter brain function.
The battles of the materialists, the reductionists, against those who believe that we are more than our brains go on and on. And on. Just this week, I see in the Guardian "The brain… it makes you think. Doesn't it?"
If you want to read a well-written book about the non-materialist position, Brain Wars is excellent. In addition to drawing on his professional experience, Dr. Beauregard has researched his topic well. He persuasively makes the point that our lives are not determined by our brains and its chemicals. This message gives one more hope than provided by the determinism of the reductionists—and reminds us of our responsibility to make good decisions. Read the book.
Note: Mentioned in both Myers's and Beauregard's pieces is the story of Kimberly Clark and Maria. Before you decide what you think happened, I recommend you read "Who Will Watch the Watchers?" (Michael Prescott).
There are now hopeful signs of what might be called a backlash against the brain. Hardly anybody doubts that the grey matter in our skulls underpins our thoughts and feelings, in the sense that a working brain is required for our mental life. This is not a new, or even a modern, idea: Hippocrates proclaimed as much in the fifth century BC. But there is a growing realisation among some neuroscientists that looking at flickers of activity inside our heads can be a misleading way to see how our minds work. This is because many of the distinctively human things that people do take place over time and outside their craniums. Perhaps the brain is the wrong place to look if you want to find free will. This is a theme of recent books by Michael Gazzaniga, a neuroscientist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and Raymond Tallis, a retired British doctor and neuroscientist. As Dr Tallis puts it in his “Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity”, trying to find human life in the brain is like trying to hear the rustle of a forest by listening to a seed.
Understanding love by taking a look at the brain is a bit like understanding a car's driver by looking under the hood of the car he's driving. Such an attempt at comprehending love would be ultimately futile. It's not cognizant of the human spirit. Not wise. Not accurate.
Unfortunately some conflict professionals are now reducing conflict to the brain, too. They say something like, "The brain does 'A' so you should counter with move 'B'." Conflict and love are not that simple; we are more than the organ in our skull. They are not like chess games played on the board of the brain.
Now if hearing all this makes you nauseous, that's related to activity in a small area of you brain called the area postrema. Interestingly, drugs that block dopamine will tend to decrease the nausea. And if you're left with a strong sense of "hey, there's got to be a LOT more to love than this," CONGRATS! You're part of the hopefully not-too-rapidly-diminishing remnant of sane people who realize YOU ARE NOT YOUR BRAIN.
To learn more about the difference between the mind and the brain and how we are so much more than our brain, read one of the books Jeff has written: You Are Not Your Brain or The Mind and the Brain. If you are tempted to believe that your romance is governed by your oxytocin, better read one of these books quickly, before February 14.
Love is more than just an emotion resulting from some chemicals your brain. To think love is brought to us by chemicals removes not only the romance but the poetry and the humanity. Let's make February 14th a day of deep appreciation, devotion, and affection, not of a bromidic and limited inner neuro-pharmacy.
If you follow my blogs, you know I have for years been decrying the people who tell us that knowledge of the brain can solve conflicts. Sure, knowing how the brain works can be helpful in some—probably not many yet—broad and not-always-fully-understood ways.
Should conflict professionals learn about the brain? Of course. However, in some circles, the application of neuroscience to conflict resolution has gone into the zone of fiction to a degree that should cause head shaking.
Reading a review of the book today increased my anticipation. From "Rethinking Thinking" (Wall Street Journal):
Many aspects of everyday human consciousness elude neural reduction. For we belong to a boundless, infinitely elaborated community of minds that has been forged out of a trillion cognitive handshakes over hundreds of thousands of years. This community is the theater of our daily existence. It separates life in the jungle from life in the office, and because it is a community of minds, it cannot be inspected by looking at the activity of the solitary brain.
Yes, I agree! But, alas, Raymond Tallis, the author of the article, writes so much better than I do.
I have also blogged about neurolaw here and at idealawg. On that topic, Tallis writes:
Click to listen to an excellent interview of Jeff on Achieve Radio in which he talks about rewiring your brain and changing habits. He begins by describing how he lowered his blood sugar using his "mind alone." He talks about self-transparency, the benefits of finding your true self, your animal brain and how to talk back to it, his 4-step method, the 15-minute rule, the toxicity of all-or-none thinking, deceptive brain messages, focusing of attention, the difference between us and animals, the placebo effect, Hebbs Law, the difference between the mind and the brain, and much more.