April 4, 2005

It's hard to maintain a systems lens

I had an experience over the weekend that illustrates how hard it is to integrate systemic concepts into an overall view of life. I was describing to a friend how the field of medicine interrupted centuries of intuitive parenting with a declaration of expertise on what is "best." Medicine knew enough to safely knock women out when they went into labor; knew how to duplicate the essential essence of breast milk through formula; and they provided a safe haven for babies in a nursey immediately after childbirth. There are other legacies (such as cautioning parents to not be overly responsive for fear that they would "spoil" their children), but this is a fair picture overall of the 1940-50's in medicine...

I went on to expound on the subsequent attachment research which has challenged many of the practices from the '40-50's. And I concluded that attachment research has affirmed what generations of parents have known intuitively for centuries. Essentially, I built my straw man up and then squashed him. Well, my friend heard what I was saying and understood that the medical model was a hiccup in an otherwise responsive style of parenting, but he challenged me with the observation that the 1940-50's produced some very prosperous things. In a general way he was saying, despite some unfounded notions things didn't just fall apart as these children grew up.

Initially I thought I would point out some of the emotional legacies of the detached parenting styles, but then I realized I would be dismissing an important element--the overall system. It may be that the generations that emerged from the '40-50's were adaptive in spite of the misconceptions of medicine, but it may be that there were some practicies instituted that carried unforeseen benefits. I realized then that it would be easy to duck the system-at-large and argue from the details of a cause/effect viewpoint. Starting with a Wholes approach means opening up room for the consideration that both virtues and dilemmas emerged from the 40-50's approach. To prove my point, it is tempting to discount that which I want to discount, but it would mean I sacrifice a systems understanding.

It's easier to talk systems than to think with it!


Erik Erikson did some of his most creative work during the 1940s and 1950s, including writing a good deal about how the developmental processes of childhood underlie eventual "virtues" in adulthood. He was able to do this, I believe, because he was dialectical in his approach--thereby avoiding some of the pitfalls of the early attachment literature (particularly Bowlby, who was writing around the same time period). Erikson refers to children biogenetically scripted to respond to an "average expectable environment" (a term originally coined by Heinz Hartmann). When environmental conditions become extreme--in any direction--developmental challenges result. Today, there is widespread agreement that healthy attachments form when "good enough parenting" takes place. The inherent dialectic of this is sometimes missed when we focus on the problems of parental "neglect," which are indeed problems. But "too much" parenting can be as damaging as too little. Can you see how well this fits with the dialectical notion of differentiation, ie. a balance between autonomy and connection? In my own work over the past few decades, I have pointed out that no one will ever write THE definitive book on childrearing (even though some very good ones have been published). To do so, we would first have to have complete certainty that we had discovered exactly what we wanted to produce in an adult--and all agreed to it. This would, in turn, sabotage both the biogenetic and sociogenetic requirements for diversity that are required for survival.

Posted by gschache at 12:29 PM

April 1, 2005

Aristotle vs. The Hopi

The Hopi Family Therapist and the Aristotelian Parents by Paul F. Dell

One issue that Dell tackles in comparing the worldview of Hopi Indians with that of white western family therapists is that of language. Dell reacts to Benjamin Worf’s linguistic relativism; namely, that what we think about reality is limited or enhanced by our linguistics. The wider the linguistic options, the more options of thought we have (hence, a prominent therapeutic technique is to expand a family’s conceptualization of its problem into something that promotes adaptation or choices). He goes on to show how grammar “is inherently metaphysical” because it determines how reality is delineated. For a westerner, grammar is divided between subjects and predicates (p. 124). The Hopi Indian “has a relational grammar that describes the world in terms of process” (p. 124).

Dell summarizes this distinction by demonstrating that western metaphysics divides reality into time, space, and matter, whereas the Hopi divide their view of the world into “space-time, events, intensity and preparing” (p. 124). The example that strikes me as relevant to model-making is what is considered to be real. Western reality stems from a substantive understanding of what can be divided and measured (thanks, in part, to Aristotle). The term “real” comes from the Latin root res which means “thing” (p. 124). Therefore, what is real is a thing, anything that can be thing-afied. The thing-view differs from the Hopi more process-view of what is real. For the Hopi, reality is analyzed “in terms of events, or more accurately, eventing…the continual flow of events that develop one in relation to another. ‘Eventing’ suggests emerging processes, whereas ‘events’ disconnect something from its ground and make it thing-like” (p. 124). It’s no surprise to me that the Hopi language is dominated by verbs. Indo-European language centers on nouns. The Hopi view is akin to a systems therapist who wants to describe a family’s reality in terms of dynamic processes versus thing-like objects. It’s the difference between saying “This family is dysfunctional” versus “This family experiences tension or conflict at times when members differ in what they value.” Apparently, Anatol Holt wanted to “stamp out nouns” (p. 125) in order to make room for more process ideas in the Indo-European’s language.

One way this would impact a model of family life is to challenge notions that a model should avoid a sense of the past or future of a family’s trajectory. It seems that many couples interpret PREPARE / ENRICH with little sense of the transitions that a couple will experience pre and post-marriage and pre/post-children. A model that would encompass past and anticipated changes would benefit from considering key events, not to mention other significant OR mundance events that would impact the relationship. Plus, events don’t just fit neatly into cause and effect phenomena, there is a circularity of effects working at multiple levels: intrapsychically, familially, societally, politically, environmentally, etc. Dell calls this the “interactional context” of an event (p. 126).

Dell repeats Aristotle question of what the essential qualities are that give rise to change. Is it the essential qualities of an object that determines its behavior? Or is there a sense that objects are more of processes always in a state of becoming? So, reality is a tight knit stream of past-present-future out of which processes emerge. So, an alcoholic father could be viewed as somehow internally broken and that determines his drunkenness or he could be seen as an agent moving between the forces of past-present-future, exhibiting both self-determination and reaction to sequences of events, with the possibility of new behaviors or identities allowed to emerge within his context. The Hopi would view the alcoholic as a series of processes rather than an object within a process, which follows their space-time conceptualization. This doesn't make sense in western space and time delineations, because a spatial object can be pulled out of time/space and examined/defined. The Hopi cannot divorce these, so an individual is understood as a process. The Hopi perform dances with intensity and repetition; it is their belief that this activity--performed in the present--will store up "invisible change that holds into later events" (Dell quote Carroll, 1956, p. 151).

I wonder if a family model that had a units of analysis that encompassed dyads rather than individuals would be helpful? I don't want to lose the ontology of individuality, but I want to broaden an atomistic worldview to include individuals-as-distinct-processes within relational contexts. So, how would I know an individual-as-process if I experienced one? I would become part of the process, as the researcher or therapist, no doubt, but how would I define them as a unit of analysis? The very idea of a unit is a atomistic, isn't it? Ok, enough questioning on this topic...this article raises some good clarifying questions.


You already know a table-as-process, a chair-as-process, a wife-as-process....so why is knowing a client family-as-process any different?


For more on "thing-ification," see Bandler & Grinder on Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP). Also, the work of psychologist Eugene Gendlin, particularly Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning. A background in process philosophy/theology, e.g., A.N. Whitehead, Henry Nelson Weiman, Teilhard de Chardin, is helpful for a really thorough understanding of the assumptions lying behind this kind of thought. Also, it's important to keep the basic principle of GST firmly in mind: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Therefore, the ongoing transformational processes of all systems (from physical to biological to informational to linguistic) are always "adding up to something more," ie., the emergent properties of systems that are so central to ecological and evolutionary frameworks.

Posted by gschache at 4:05 PM

February 13, 2005

Paradigms and Change Dynamics

J.M. Curtis wrote (1978) "On the Nature of Paradigms" which broadens the understanding of the concept of paradigms from its original formulation by Thomas B. Kuhn in 1962. Curtis points out that past experience creates expectations under which (in either science or society at large) anticipate continued evidence of those expectations. X-rays are a scientific phenomena that fell outside the "old science" expectations established by scientific theories. The findings didn't violate the rules of science, however, just the expectations.

Kuhn theorized that no paradigm ever resolves all worldview issues, but "creative tension" occurs when issues within a paradigm are at odds. If the "tension becomes excessive, it means that the paradigm has failed" (p. 5) which spurs a reworking of the worldview, expectation, etc. One of the things that breaks down during a paradigm shift is the distinction between interpretation and description. The dissolution of these functions make the relative nature of paradigms evident. (At least, that's how I interpret Kuhn). One reason is that justification of a paradigm is found within that paradigm; hence, a circularity. This is why proponents of contrasting paradigms talk past each other.

Curtis takes Kuhn's work and tries to broaden its application from the narrow scope of hard science to human perception, in general. In the same way that everyone knows that a football field in the NFL is 100 yards long, paradigms in general are never never questioned or discussed, no one would ever point out that football fields are 100 yards long, it's assumed. To challenge something so internalized can lead to the shaking of one's cognitive and emotional foundations, i.e. that which gives them purpose. So, Curtis points out that a paradigm shift involves more than mere cognitive assent to a new worldview. Many physicists experienced personal crises when Einstein ushered in the new science.

Kuhn says that anyone who enters a paradigm shift needs to experience support for the new paradigm. This involves an aesthetic appeal, since mere logic lacks compulsion. Curtis points out that in society generally, it is "notoriously more difficult to articulate one's principles than in science;" hence, Curtis advocates for this process to be done in "unemotional terms" (p. 9). This is how Curtis envisions a move from a linear paradigm to a nonlinear paradigm.

MY QUESTION: Is the interpretation and description involved in paradigms the same as the way of knowing (epistemology) and what is known (ontological reality)?


Not exactly. The point is that within a given paradigm, the activities of description and interpretation merge (both of them are aspects of, or reflect, a particular epistemology). Here, dialectics is helpful: humans simultaneously perceive and create reality. That is, we can know reality because something is there to be known; however, our acts of knowing (and describing) reality are always interpretive, ie. reflective of the paradigm within which we experience our world.

Posted by gschache at 10:03 PM

February 12, 2005

The epistemology behind ecosystemic thought transformation

The article, "Thinking About Thinking in Family Therapy" in Family Process journal (1985) examines the emergence of "new science" and Batesonian evolution in order to see how these epistemologies fit with ecosystemic thinking to produce rules which are fundamental to 'Storey' technology and thought transformation in therapy. Auerswald points out that the new science--epitomized by Max Planck and Albert Einstein who rewrote the rules of Newtonian science through their work around quanta--contains implicit rules that can be applied to thought transformation in living system, i.e. families within their ecosystems.

One example of the change in technology is reworking a family therapy technique, such as structural family therapy, from an either/or to a both/and paradigm, so as to address boundary or role issues but from a contextual perspective. The story cited is a client who is first treated by a linear medical model view of causality. This view of a person only treats that which is present at the time of examination. The 2nd and 3rd views show how consideration of the client's family, housing circumstances, religious beliefs, relationship with children, gender role subscriptions , as well as psychosomatic presentation all combine to complete her ecosystem. The technology of therapy, Auerswald asserts, is to fill out as much of the story (context) of a client's situation as possible.
The result is a move away FROM a dualistic worldview, separation between time and space, research distinguishes mind from other phenomena, linear time, atomistic examinations and positivistic views of certitude TO a monistic worldview, timespace seen as four-dimensional, linear time is only heuristic, mind/ideas are included equally in research, events are seen in four-dimensional contexts and certainty is no longer reified.
QUESTION: How is time/space understood in a four-dimensional model?


Taken literally, the question you ask could have an infinite number of answers. That is, time/space could be defined however the developer of a given model wanted to define it. A more useful question would be "How is time/space understood within the systemic/ecological paradigm?" The way I think of it is that time/space is an "existential dimension" that creates an historical context for experience. Given that be-ing (life) is a PROCESS, then time/space is transformative (ie., change is constant) and indeterminant.

Posted by gschache at 2:00 PM