Logical Levels

The Sleight of Mouth patterns of 'Apply to Self' and 'Meta Frame' typically stimulate a shift of our attention to a different level of thinking. They make us more aware of what Bertrand Russell termed "logical types"; and the fact that we cannot treat a class and one of its members as if they are on the same level. Anthropologist and communication theorist Gregory Bateson applied Russell's theory of logical types as a means to help explain and resolve a number of issues relating to behavior, learning and communication. According to Bateson, the notion of different logical types was essential to the understanding of play, higher level learning, and pathological thinking patterns. Bateson believed that confusions of logical types were largely responsible for what we have been calling "limiting beliefs" and "thought viruses."

As an example, Bateson pointed out that "play" involved distinguishing between different logical types of behavior and messages. Bateson noted that when animals and humans engage in "play" they often display the same behaviors that are also associated with aggression, sexuality, and other more "serious" aspects of life (such as when animals "play fight," or children play "doctor"). Yet, somehow, animals and humans were able to recognize, for the most part, that the play behavior was a different type or class of behavior and "not the real thing." According to Bateson, distinguishing between classes of behavior also required different types of messages. Bateson referred to these messages as "meta messages" - messages about other messages - claiming that they too were of a different "logical type" than the content of a particular communication. He believed that these "higher level" messages (which were usually communicated non-verbally) were crucial for people, and animals, to be able to communicate and interact effectively.

Animals at play, for instance, may signal the message "This is play" by wagging their tails, jumping up and down, or doing some other thing to indicate that what they are about to do is not to be taken seriously. Their bite is a playful bite, not a real bite. Studies of humans also reveal the use of special messages that let others know they are playing, in much the same way animals do. They may actually verbally 'meta-communicate' by announcing that "This is only a game," or they laugh, nudge, or do something odd to show their intent.

Bateson claimed that many problems and conflicts were a result of the confusion or misinterpretation of these messages. A good example is the difficulties that people from different cultures experience when interpreting the nonverbal subtleties of each other's communications.

In fact, in Epidemiology of a Schizophrenia (1955), Bateson maintained that the inability to correctly recognize and interpret meta messages, and to distinguish between different classes, or logical types, of behavior, was at the root of many seemingly psychotic or "crazy" behaviors. Bateson cited the example of a young mental patient who went into the pharmacy of the hospital. The nurse behind the counter asked, "Can I help you?" The patient was unable to distinguish whether the communication was a threat, a sexual advance, an admonishment for being in the wrong place, a genuine inquiry, etc.

When one is unable to make such distinctions, Bateson contented, they will end up, more often than not, acting in a way that is inappropriate for the situation. He likened it to a telephone switching system that was unable to distinguish the 'country code' from the 'city code' and the local telephone number. As a result, the switching system wTould inappropriately assign numbers belonging to the country code as part of the phone number, or parts of the phone number as the city code, etc. The consequence of this would be that, again more often than not, the dialer would get the "wrong number."

Even though all of the numbers (the content) are correct, the classification of the numbers (the form) is confused, creating problems.

In The Logical Categories of Learning and Communication (1964), Bateson extended the notion of logical typing to explain different types and phenomena of learning as well as communication. He defined two fundamental types, or levels of learning which must be considered in all processes of change: "Learning P (stimulus-response type conditioning) and "Learning IP, or deutero learning, Oearning to recognize the larger context in which the stimulus is occurring so that its meaning may be correctly interpreted). The most basic example of learning II phenomena is set learning, or when an animal becomes "test-wise" - that is, laboratory animals will get faster and faster at learning new tasks that fall into the same class of activity. This has to do with learning classes of behavior rather than single isolated behaviors.

An animal trained in avoidance conditioning, for instance, will be able to learn different types of avoidance behavior more and more rapidly. It will, however, be slower at learning some despondently' conditioned behavior (e.g., salivating at the sound of a bell) than some animal that has been conditioned in that class of behavior earlier. That is, it will learn quickly how to identify and stay away from objects that might have an electric shock associated with them but will be slower at learning to salivate when a bell rings. On the other hand, an animal trained in Pavlovian type conditioning will rapidly learn to salivate to new sounds and colors, etc., but will be slower to learn to avoid electrified objects.

Bateson pointed out that this ability to learn patterns or rules of a class of conditioning procedures was a different "logical type" of learning and did not function according to the same simple stimulus-response-reinforcement sequences used to learn specific isolated behaviors. Bateson noted, for instance, that the reinforcement for "exploration" (a means of learning-to-learn) in rats is of a different nature than that for the "testing" of a particular object (the learning content of exploration). He reports (Steps to an Ecology of Mind p. 282):

a...you can reinforce a rat (positively or negatively) when he investigates a particular strange object, and he will appropriately learn to approach it or avoid it. But the very purpose of exploration is to get information about which objects should be approached or avoided. The discovery that a given object is dangerous is therefore a success in the business of getting information. The success will not discourage the rat from future exploration of other strange objects."

The ability to explore, learn a discrimination task, or be creative is a higher level of learning than the specific behaviors that make up these abilities - and the dynamics and rules of change are different on this higher level.

Because of Bateson's role and influence in the early development of NLP, the notion of logical typing is also an important concept in NLP. In the 1980's, I adapted the ideas of Russell and Bateson to formulate the notion of "Logical Levels" and "Neuro-Logical Levels" in human behavior and change. Drawing from Bateson, the levels model proposes that there is a natural hierarchy of levels within an individual or group that function as different logical types of processes. Each level synthesizes, organizes and directs a particular class of activity on the level below it. Changing something on an upper level would necessarily 'radiate' downward, precipitating change on the lower levels. But, because each successive level is of a different logical type of process, changing something on a lower level would not necessarily affect the upper levels. Beliefs, for example, are formed and changed by different rules than behavioral reflexes. Rewarding or punishing particular behaviors will not necessarily change someone's beliefs, because belief systems are a different type of process mentally and neurologi-cally than behaviors.

According to the Neuro-Logical Levels model, environmental influences involve the specific external conditions in which our behavior takes place. Behaviors, without any inner map, plan or strategy to guide them, however, are like knee jerk reactions, habits or rituals. At the level of capability we are able to select, alter and adapt a class of behaviors to a wider set of external situations. At the level of beliefs and values we may encourage, inhibit or generalize a particular strategy, plan or way of thinking. Identity, of course, consolidates whole systems of beliefs and values into a sense of self. Spiritual level experience has to do with the sense that our identity is part of something larger than ourselves and our vision of the larger systems to which we belong. While each level becomes more abstracted from the specifics of behavior and sensory experience, it actually has more and more widespread effect on our behavior and experience.

* Environmental factors determine the external opportunities or constraints a person has to react to. Answer to the questions where? and when?

* Behavior is made up of the specific actions or reactions taken within the environment. Answer to the question what?

* Capabilities guide and give direction to behavioral actions through a mental map, plan or strategy. Answer to the question how?

* Beliefs and values provide the reinforcement (motivation and permission) that supports or denies capabilities. Answer to the question why?

* Identity factors determine overall purpose (mission) and shape beliefs and values through our sense of self. Answer to the question who?

* Spiritual issues relate to the fact that we are a part of a larger system that reaches beyond ourselves as individuals to our family, community and global systems. Answer to the questions for whom or for what?

From the NLP perspective, each of these processes involves a different level of organization and mobilizes successively deeper mobilization and commitment of neurological 'circuitry'.

Interestingly, some of the stimulus for this model came from teaching people Sleight of Mouth patterns. I began to notice that certain types of statements were typically more difficult for people to handle than others, even though the type of judgment being asserted was essentially the same. For example, compare the following statements:

That object in your environment is dangerous.

Your actions in that particular context were dangerous.

Your inability to make effective judgments is dangerous.

What you believe and value as important is dangerous.

You're a dangerous person.

The judgment being made in each case is about something being "dangerous." Intuitively, however, most people sense that the "space" or "territory" implied by each statement becomes progressively larger, and feel an increasing sense of emotional affect with each statement.

For someone to tell you that some specific behavioral response made was dangerous is quite different than telling you that you are a "dangerous person." I noticed that if I held a judgment constant and simply substituted a term for environment, behavior, capabilities, beliefs and values, and identity, people would feel progressively more offended or complimented, depending on the positive or negative nature of the judgment.

Try it for yourself. Imagine someone was saying each of the following statements to you:

Your surroundings are (stupid/ugly/exceptional/beautiful).

The way you behaved in that particular situation was (stupid/ugly/exceptional/beautiful).

You really have the capability to be (stupid/ugly/exceptional/beautiful).

What you believe and value is (stupid/ugly/exceptional/ beautiful).

You are (stupid/ugly/exceptional/beautiful).

Again, notice that the evaluations asserted by each statement are the same. What changes is the particuloar aspect of the person to which the statement is referring.

Changing Logical Levels

One of the most common and effective Sleight of Mouth tactics involves recategorizing a characteristic or experience from one logical level to another (e.g., separating a person's identity from his or her capabilities or behavior). Negative identity judgments are often the result of interpreting particular behaviors, or the lack of ability to produce certain behavioral results, as statements about one's identity. Shifting a negative identity judgment back to a statement about a person's behavior or capabilities greatly reduces the impact it has on the person mentally and emotionally.

As an example, a person might be depressed about having cancer, and refer to himself or herself as a "cancer victim." This could be 'refrained' with the response, "You are not a cancer victim, you are a normal person who has not yet developed the capability to take full advantage of the mind-body connection." This can help the person to shift his or her relationship to the illness, open up to other possibilities, and to view himself or herself as a participant in his or her healing process.

The same type of reframe could be done with a belief like, "1 am a failure." One could point out, "It is not that you are a failure', it is just that you have not yet mastered all of the elements necessary for success." Again, this puts the limiting identity level judgment back into a more proactive and solvable framework.

These types of reframes can be designed using the following steps:

a) Identify the negative identity judgment:

b) Identify a specific capability or behavior that is related to either the present state or desired state implied by the identity judgment:

Ability to _ (e.g., "Ability to resolve problem? Qn one's own").

c) Substitute the capability or behavior for the negative identity judgment:

Perhaps it is not that you are a__

(negative identity: e.g., "burden to others"), it is just that you don't yet have the ability to

__ (specific capability or behavior:

e.g., "resolve problems on your own").

Of course, the process can also be reversed in order to promote empowering beliefs. A behavior or capability may be elevated to an identity level statement. For example, one could say, "Your ability to be creative in that situation means that you are a creative person." Other examples include: surviving -> survivor; achieving health -> healthy person; succeeding -> successful person; and so on. This type of reformulation serves to deepen or strengthen a person's sense of his or her resources.

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