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Thread: Clean Space Article - a dialogue

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    Default Clean Space Article - a dialogue

    Below is a recent e-dialogue between Corrie van Wijk and myself. I have edited it into 9 sections based on the questions and comments in Corrie's first email.

    James Lawley


    Hi James and Penny,

    Below are my comments on your Clean Space article (see I'd like to know your opinions on this.

    I appreciate you contributing to the development of Clean Space. It is exciting that so many people are involved in the several simultaneous strands of research taking place at the moment -- of course, most notably by David Grove.


    Also, I have some questions:
    • from what point does adding new information cause a system to get self-organizing?

    This is a very interesting question and not one that I think can easily be answered. The actual moment of transformation is unpredictable but we can predict that it will happen when a system has a network structure with sufficient feedback loops, especially between sub-networks (Gerald Edleman calls these "re-entrant pathways"). In other words, an architecture of sufficient complexity. This is a good example of what Henry Plotkin (The Imagined World Made Real: Towards a Natural Science of Culture) calls "predictable unpredictability".

    In relation to a client's self-system (be that a Metaphor Landscape or their Clean Space) when perceptual space becomes psychoactive it starts to operate with a degree of autonomy from the client's describing 'I'. Once this happens the whole system is self-organising. Of course it is always self-organising, but this is not so obvious to the client before they become aware they are having responses to the spaces and symbols, and 'tacit' knowledge begins to emerge (they know not where from).</font>


    • what is the difference between synchronicity and coincidence?

    I believe Jung defined synchronicity as meaningful coincidence. So when a person attaches meaning or significance to two or more apparently unrelated events (usually occurring close in time or with some regularity of time, e.g. every Monday) it counts as synchronicity for that person.

    So it would be like a (religious) belief, attributing some kind of (personal) meaning to an event. In such a case David Grove would ask how old that is, and what it was wearing, to make sure it is proportionally scaled to that age, and to find the 'I' that believes that (cosmology).


    David has a different approach for dealing with coincidences: when somebody is telling about a memory in which being in the sun is a relevant aspect, and the sun happens to come out from behind a cloud that very moment, he makes an apologizing gesture, frowns and sighs: "You know, it ain't easy!"

    How many times have you seen him do this, and over what period of time? I've seen him respond in dozens of other ways at such times. My experience is that his responses in such circumstances are so context dependent that a simple pattern is not discernible, although humour is very often part of his response.

    We agree on this, I just gave an example. In the example in the article you mention "watching in amazement and wondering". It can't hurt to react human by showing your own feelings every now and then and share the experience, as long as you don't put your own interpretation to it. Otherwise your presence can become too clinical and distant, which might deny your client('s feelings). David's sense of humour prevents that just right, and I guess that would be the pattern to be discerned, but that's for David to answer.

    I am with you on showing natural human reactions. The question is how to do that 'cleanly'. Often facilitator nonverbals are every much an interpretation as verbal ones. For me, it is to do with connecting with the general 'human condition' -- be that painful or joyous -- as expressed by this individual at this time. One of the great advantages of working in metaphor comes when a client says something like: "It's like I'm a goldfish in a deoxygenated pond having to come up for air." I know they are struggling with a binding pattern (my metaphor) even though I may have no idea how this plays out in their life, and because of that I'm more likely to feel compassion rather than have an evaluative reaction.</font>


    For you and Penny space is just another metaphor. I followed many of Robert Dilts' workshops as well and read the book A new kind of science, but what David Grove doing with spacial healing is different from NLP or clean language, and I even wonder how much it has to do with self-organizing systems. In my opinion you are making something else out of this than is actually happening.

    I agree with you that what David is doing with Clean Space is different from NLP and Clean Language. This is why we think Clean Space is such an exciting development. However, your comments surprise me for two reasons.

    Firstly, in the article we specifically state that we do not regard space as "just another metaphor". Instead we say: "Space is so fundamental to perception that perhaps location should not be regarded as a quality (a submodality) of our sensory systems. Steven Pinker's view that the metaphor of space is more like the 'medium of thought itself' may be more appropriate." [We have stated elsewhere that we regard "internal sub-modalities" as metaphorical constructions].

    Thinking of location or space 'like the medium of thought itself' puts it at the level of cognition. I think it is on an (evolutionary) more basic level.

    Piet Vroon has written a book about that, de Wolfsklem I guess. My first lecture on psychology with him was about metaphors for the human brain, from machines to computers. During the break I spoke to him and said that my intuition to that was that it was the other way round: we create the world after our own image. He said it would be difficult to prove that, but he did mention it in the foreword to his book.

    So my intuition is that our sense of space is prior to our language and symbols for space. As I stated below: "the sense of position and motion is developed within the (human) organism at a very early stage; any organism is very much aware of (the dangers in) its environment in order to be able to survive". Phil Swallow said that the language of space would be movement. Aren't many sense organs programmed to detect just that and doesn't most of our motor system react to that? As I wrote below:

    "That makes 'sense' in terms of survival: positive and negative experiences get stored in the memory. I guess they get 'tagged' with emotions that are triggered by any sensory combination to tell us what is good or bad for us and how to react: freeze, fight or flight. (or evaluate it was a false alarm.)"

    So, in my opinion, it is already the (regained memory of a) sensory observation, which adds information to the system and gets it to communicate with it. Like you said above: "they become aware that they are having responses to the spaces/symbols and 'tacit' knowledge begins to emerge they know not where from."

    It depends how you define 'cognition'. I think I have a much broader definition of cognition than you which means our experience is similar even if our semantics are not. My definition derives from Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela’s theory of cognition ("All knowing is doing"), summarised by Fritjof Capra in The Web of Life, p. 260, as:

    "Cognition, then, is not a representation of an independently existing world, but rather a continual bringing forth a world through the process of living. The interactions of a living system with its environment are cognitive interactions, and the process of living itself is a process of cognition."

    By this definition, because all life responds in different ways to varying conditions, all life involves cognition, even at the most basic level. So I'm with you on the fundamental nature of our (preverbal) knowing about movement through space which, I believe influences and constrains all the other layers of knowing that are added later.

    I guess my definition of cognition is indeed more on an intellectual level. I like Capra's definition, because it recognises Piet Vroon's theory and my intuition about bottom-up organisation and layers. May-be the levels of learning would be a good reference to differentiate further discussion, and probably there is a biological basis for this.

    Secondly, I plead guilty to "making something else out of this than is actually happening". From a constructivist viewpoint, so is everybody else, including yourself and David. "Self-organisation" is a metaphor that we think is useful for describing what is going on in the background of the process (i.e. everything that is not directly observable). Your metaphor of "spacial healing" is doing the same thing. As Lakoff and Johnson have shown (see particularly Philosophy in the Flesh) it is simply not possible to describe complex concepts without using metaphor. As soon as we choose one metaphor over another we are "making something else out of" it.

    So let's agree to disagree on appropriateness of this metaphor as a means of communication to create a mutual understanding of what the experience is 'like' (=definition). 'Self-organization', analogous to what happens in nature, is adequate to describe the process when it becomes more complex, but it doesn't necessarily have to be that complicated: "More information usually means that you understand things better, so they don't haunt your thoughts for being unresolved in terms of what they mean for your survival."
    "Being aware of them, makes new combinations of information in the mind and may cause the self-healing". So it's more a matter of degree. As I said: "• from what point does adding new information causes a system to get self-organizing?"


    I'm no expert, but the sense of position and motion is developed within the (human) organism at a very early stage. Also, any organism is very much aware of (the dangers in) its environment in order to be able to survive. So, any sense organ serves the probability of 'having lunch regularly', as Murray Gell-Mann and James Hartle, 1994 put it. A few inches that make a difference can never be explained in terms of metaphor, it's the mind itself that gets different clues from different sensory combinations.

    I don't understand why you think metaphor can never explain things at the scale of "a few inches". It is my experience (and that of Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner, The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind's Hidden Complexities) that metaphor is commonly used to "compress" or "expand" concepts to &amp;quot;human scale&amp;quot; so they can be made sense of by a human mind evolved to deal in a relatively narrow band of experiences. (A good example is using the metaphor/metonymy of 24 hours to stand for the whole history of the Earth to show just how recently humans appeared on the scene -- a few seconds before midnight.) Given "a few inches" is most definitely "human scale" then I would suggest that if those few inches "make a difference" to the client, then metaphor is the most likely way of explaining their experience.

    I would agree with you if the client's metaphor about space is at a cognitive level. As soon as moving has a (symbolic) meaning to you, that makes sense. But David makes you turn around and you get a different 'clue', just by perceiving a different sensory combination, even if you 'don't have a clue' what your metaphor would be about.

    I think that when a client moves (consciously or not) two inches, they have a 'body knowing' even if they have no conscious awareness of its meaning. In other words, these slight movements are not coincidences. Rather they symbolise (stand for) something other than the simple act of moving two inches.

    Of course if you tell someone to "urn around" when their space is psychoactive they will get a different set of responses (not necessarily verbal). These new responses will be part of the totality of the client's 'maps of the world' or 'cosmologies'. For the most part, clients manage to come up with a verbal description or explanation of even the most unusual experiences. The question is, what do we as facilitator-observers make of all this? Now we are into our metaphorical constructs.

    My point was about the (regained memory of a) sensory observation of the client, which in my opinion is prior to the interpretation. The fact that they 'come up' with a (verbal or metaphorical) description or (symbolic) explanation proves that the experience is prior to making meaning of it. Now self-healing or self-organising already may occur at a sensory level, even before -- or even without! -- you are aware of it (isn't dreaming a way for the mind to get things organised and stored properly?) and constructing a meaning out of it.


    That makes 'sense' in terms of survival: positive and negative experiences get stored in the memory. I guess they get 'tagged' with emotions that are triggered by any sensory combination to tell us what is good or bad for us and how to react: freeze, fight or flight. (or evaluate it was a false alarm.) That's why the information gets downloaded if you search for a similar sensory combination (sweet spot), like hearing or smelling something or in a particular space, which probably means within a particular relation to someone(s) or something(s). Being aware of them, makes new combinations of information in the mind and may cause the self-healing. More information usually means that you understand things better, so they don't haunt your thoughts for being unresolved in terms of what they mean for your survival.

    This all sounds plausible to me within your metaphor of "self-healing".

    By 'self-healing' in this context I mean making things clear by adding pieces of the puzzle and restoring missing links, so the symptoms get reassured.


    To this degree I wouldn't define it as 'self-organizing' though.


    In your article on clean space you state that the facilitator should not be part of the client's system.

    I have reread the article and can find no place where we state that "the facilitator should not be part of the client's system." I would have thought that the lengths we go to constrain the facilitator's behaviour is an indication of how easy we think the facilitator can become part of the client's system.

    We recommend that by sticking to the basic Clean Space questions and directions the facilitator minimises their 'contamination' of the client's space (that's why the metaphor of 'clean' is appropriate). However, we think it is the facilitators function to influence the system -- every question, direction, nonverbal and silence does that -- but with the "new kind of facilitation" we describe in the article.

    Indeed the facilitator is part of the client's system, as soon as you interact (Watzlawick).

    I also agree that the nice thing about clean language is that you do not impose your values on the client's and do not 'contamine' the client's metaphor or space. If you think it is the facilitators function to influence the system, you must have an idea of a desired outcome. Will you have nature go its own sweet way, or would you do some 'gardening'?

    In the way we use the process, the desired outcome is (in most circumstances) set by the client. My starting desired outcome is to facilitate the client to self-model. Thereafter my desired outcome depends on the client's desired outcome, what has happened previous sessions, what is happening in the current session, and probably a dozen other factors. But it should be clear to the client what I am up to on their behalf. I certainly do not have a predetermined template of "a fully functioning" or "self-actualised" client. My aim is to support the client's system to evolve in an organic way (assuming I have agreed to work with them on their stated desired outcome -- I always reserve the right to refuse to work with a client if their desired outcome conflicts with my personal values and integrity.)


    David Grove now uses position:
    'A' for the starting knower (formerly position 1),
    'B' for desired outcome or mission statement, and
    'C' for the space-in-between.
    During one of our sessions someone made it clear that the facilitator is by definition part of the system, so we called it position 'D' (which coincidentally is David's initial).

    It's not only about asking questions, but also, as Phil Swallow noticed, asking the right one at the right time in the right space. 'D' stands for your (= that of the facilitator's) personality and experience and in my opinion that's where it becomes an art (at least the way the 'master' David does it). So it is not as easy as it may seem from the simplicity of the questions, and it takes a lot of skill and experience to do it right.

    I agree with you except that I don't know there is a 'right' way. Maybe whatever happens is the 'right' way. Certainly whatever happens is all we have to work with.

    In fact I'd go further. It takes years of experience to make something so complex look so simple. Having said that I have seen people facilitate clients with Clean Space to some quiet amazing experiences after just a couple of hours tuition. This is one of the reasons why we believe the process is so important and why we devote so much time to spreading the word into areas other than our chosen profession, psychotherapy.

    May-be a 'right' way is being effective in terms of the desired outcome?
    Would 'Whatever happens' necessarily be ecologically self-healing?

    No. Sometimes the larger system takes precedence over a part. A lion killing an antelope is not self-healing for that particular antelope and it may serve to maintain the population of the antelope herd and the sustainability of the wider ecosystem. I assume if this is so for Nature, and we are part of nature then it is so for human experience too.
    Last edited by JamesLawley; 05 July 2009 at 02:50 PM. Reason: Improved formatting

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