Presuppositions

One of the major factors that prevents a thought virus from being naturally updated or corrected by new data and counter examples provided by our experience, is that significant portions of the belief are presupposed, rather than explicitly stated by the belief. In order to be changed, the other beliefs and presuppositions upon which the thought virus is based must be identified, brought to the surface, and examined.

Presuppositions relate to unconscious beliefs or assumptions embedded in the structure of an utterance, action or another belief; and are required for the utterance, action or belief to make sense. According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, to presuppose means to "suppose beforehand" or "to require as an antecedent in logic or fact." The term "suppose" comes from Latin, and literally means "to put under" — from sub ("under") + ponere ("to put").

Linguistic Presuppositions occur when certain information or relationships must be accepted as true in order to make sense of a particular statement. For example, to understand the statement, "As soon as you stop trying to sabotage our therapeutic efforts, well be able to make more progress," one must assume that the person to whom the statement is directed already has been, in fact, trying to sabotage the therapeutic efforts. The statement also presupposes that there is some kind of therapeutic effort being attempted, and that at least some progress has been made. Similarly, the statement, "Since they leave us no alternative, we must resort to violence," presupposes that no alternative, in fact, exists and that "they" are the ones who determine whether there are alternatives or not.

True linguistic presuppositions should be contrasted with assumptions and inferences. A linguistic presupposition is something that is overtly expressed in the body of the statement itself, which must be 'supposed' or accepted in order for the sentence or utterance to make sense. In the question, "Have you stopped exercising regularly?" for example, the use of the word stop implies that the listener has already been exercising regularly. The question, "Do you exercise regularly?" has no such presupposition.

Conclusions such as "The speaker thinks exercise is important," or "The speaker is unfamiliar with the exercise habits of the listener," are not presupposed by the questions. They are assumptions and inferences we might make about the question, but are not presupposed within the question itself.

Consider the following two statements:

The authorities prevented the demonstrators from marching because they feared violence.

The authorities prevented the demonstrators from marching because they advocated violence.

The two statements have exactly the same structure, with the exception of the words "feared" and "advocated." Depending on which word is used, we assume that the term "they" refers to either the "authorities" or the "demonstrators." We are more likely to think that it is the authorities who fear violence, and the demonstrators who advocate violence; but this is not presupposed by the statement itself. It is assumed by us as listeners. Both sentences presuppose that there were demonstrators who were planning to march; but that is all.

An inference related to the two statements above would be that "the demonstrators and the authorities were not the same group of people." Inferences relate to logical conclusions which are made that are based upon the information provided by the statement.

Because presuppositions, assumptions and inferences do not appear in the surface structure of a particular statement or belief, it makes them more difficult to identify and address directly. Consider the beliefs of the two doctors cited in the example of the woman with cancer:

"All that mind-body healing stuff is a bunch of poppycock, and will probably just drive you crazy."

"If you really care about your family, you won't leave them unprepared."

In the first statement, the essential judgments and generalizations are in the surface structure of the sentence (even if the intention, experiences, expectations and internal state from which the generalization and judgments were derived have been deleted). The 'complex equivalence' and 'cause-effect' statements can be directly denied or negated. That is, a listener could respond, "It is not a bunch of poppycock, and it will not drive me crazy."

In the second statement, the fundamental generalization and judgment does not appear in the surface structure of the sentence, and cannot be directly denied or negated. To negate the statement directly, you would have to say something like, "I do not care about my family, and I will leave them unprepared." This would be a strange thing to say, and does not address the unspoken assumptions and inferences that actually make the statement a limiting belief (i.e., that you are going to die, so the best thing to do is to prepare to die and get it over with so that you don't inconvenience others.)

In order to effectively address the second statement, you must first bring the presuppositions, assumptions and inferences to the surface. It is only then that they can be questioned, and the positive intention, expectation, internal state and experiences from which the belief was formed can be explored, evaluated and 'refrained'.

In the case of the two doctors, for example, the woman who was their patient was counseled by an NLP practitioner to seek and respond to the positive intention of the doctor's statements, rather than the statements themselves. She determined that the positive intention of the first statement, "All that mind-body healing stuff is a bunch of poppycock, and will probably just drive you crazy was 'not to be foolish'. Stated positively, the intention was "to act wisely, intelligently and sanely." The woman reasoned that not to pursue all avenues of healing available to her would be unwise, especially if trying out some reasonable alternatives did not conflict with other treatments. She also realized that the doctor was probably not speaking from the experience of having tried and disproved all of the "mind-body" methods himself, but was probably responding from his mental filters as a surgeon. She realized that he was, in fact, most likely completely unfamiliar with these methods. Thus, the woman concluded that, by exploring mind-body healing methods intelligently and wisely, she would actually be responding to the unstated positive intention of the doctor's seemingly negative belief.

The woman responded in a similar fashion to the second doctor's statement. She determined that the positive intention of his belief, "If you really care about your family, you won't leave them unpreparedwas ultimately to accept her destiny and act ecologically with respect to her family. She also realized that her 'destiny' was in the hands of herself and God; and that (in spite of what he might have thought ) the doctor was not God, and thus did not truly know her destiny. The woman concluded that one of the best ways she could "prepare" her children to deal with serious illness was to be a good role model for how to approach health congru-ently and optimistically; without being either desperate or apathetic.

As was pointed out earlier, the woman ended up making a dramatic recovery, far surpassing anyone's expectations.

It is interesting to note (given the comments we have made about thought viruses and presuppositions) that the doctor who made the first statement saw the woman again several months later. He was quite surprised at how healthy she was, and exclaimed, "Good heavens, you look healthier than I do. What have you been doing?" He knew nothing had been done medically, because her case had been considered too advanced. The woman replied, "I know you said that you did not believe in mind-body healing, but I decided to pursue it anyway and have been doing a lot of looking inside of myself and visualizing myself becoming healthy." The doctor's response was, "Well, I guess 1 have to believe you, because 1 know we haven't done anything." Nine years later, the same doctor saw the woman again, for some minor cosmetic-surgery. The woman (who happens to have been my mother) reported that he initially acted as if he were seeing a ghost. After making a very thorough check up, the doctor patted her on the shoulder and said, "Stay away from doctors."

As I already mentioned, the other doctor ended up eventually taking his own life, when he was confronted with a serious illness a few years after his comments to the woman; a victim of his own thought virus and presuppositions.

In summary, the more presuppositions the sentence has, the more potential it has to become a Virus'. It is important to remember, however, that not all viruses are harmful. In fact, modern genetic engineers even use specially constructed viruses to "splice" genes. Similarly, positive messages may be delivered by presupposition and inference as well. Linguistic presuppositions simply reduce the potential for direct verbal analysis.

As an example, the comments of the doctor, cited in the case at the beginning of Chapter 1, who told his patient, "The rest is up to you," also involved presuppositions and inference. In this instance, however, the presupposition was, "Something more can be done to promote your recovery and you have the capability and responsibility tj do it." This presupposition had a positive influence on the actions of the patient.

In Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erick-son M.D. (1975), NLP co-founders Bandler and Grinder describe how the legendary hypnotherapist used linguistic presuppositions as a means to induce trance states and to help patients deal more effectively with their symptoms. The example provided at the beginning of Chapter 1, in which the psychiatrist said to the patient who thought he wTas Jesus Christ, "I understand you have experience as a carpenter," is an instance of how Erickson made therapeutic use of presuppositions. Erickson would frequently make statements or suggestions which presupposed certain behaviors or responses in his subjects; such as:

"Do you want to tell me what is bothering you now or would you rather wait a while?'' (It is already assumed that the person will say what is bothering him or her, the only question is when).

"Don't relax too quickly now." (It is presupposed you are already relaxing, and the only question is at what speed you are doing it.)

"After your symptoms have disappeared, you will notice how easy it is to stay on track with the changes you have made in your lifestyle." (It is presupposed that your symptoms are going to disappear. It is also presupposed that it is easy to stay on track with the changes you have made in your lifestyle, the only question is noticing it.)

"Since you are going to be having so much fun learning at a new level, you can start looking forward to it now." (It is presupposed that you will he learning at a new level and having fun at it. It is also presupposed that you will be looking forward to, the only question is when you start.)

You can practice forming presuppositional statements for yourself using the following formulas, and filling in the blanks with some desired behavior or response:

Do you want to_now or a little later?

There is no need to_to quickly.

After you have finished_, you will realize how easy it is to_.

Since you_, you may as well (start/

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