Modeling the Family as an Emotional Unit

I just returned from Flocks, Families, and Organizations in put on by the Bowen Center in Washington D.C. Dr. Iain Couzin was the guest speaker and he gave an amazing exposition of his research in collective intelligence in groups of locusts, crickets, and baboons. He was able to show how the group as a unit possesses an ability to intelligently solve problems using simple variables like proximity and direction that the individuals are not even aware of, and in fact have no attributes that suggest they are a part of an intelligent group when studied individually. He developed computer models based on these simple rules which gives weight to the validity of his theory of the regulation mechanisms of the group.

It occurred to me that developing a model for humans based on Bowen theory would also be possible. I had never thought about what goes into such a research model beyond having the values of the variables precisely defined. But some conversations with attendees revealed that it doesn’t have to be that difficult in the beginning. You just start by writing a program which expresses the basic relationships between the variables, and then start down the long, long path of refining them through research. I probably don’t have the patience for the second half of that description, but I do have the patience for the development of the model and some visualizations to accompany it.

The basic idea would be to show the members of an emotional unit with lines connecting them. I would love to be able to show togetherness and individuality as physical density and sparsity in the system as I have experienced in Vipassana meditation as “gross sensations.” But this has technical challenges because the triangles flip so fast which may necessitate a member moving very quickly across the map. Maybe it’s not important, and it can work so long as it’s animated. Actually as I write this this sounds like a fantastic idea.

At any rate, this project is on the table. The Family Diagram is still top priority, but I am very excited to see what new ideas can come from building a model of the human family emotional unit.

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Research Question: Did the Buddha define a Natural Systems Theory?

The most profound distinction that we know in nature is that between spontaneity and consciousness, between the blind actions of natural forces and systematic human efforts. Here we can expect the greatest heterogeneity of methods and their irreducibility to a unity. Here is the best place to start our research.  – Alexander Bodganov, 1910-1913

To what extent did the Buddha define a natural systems theory of the body and mind as a unit, and what testable hypotheses and practical outcomes might this theory generate?

The term natural systems theory is taken here from Murray Bowen’s theory of the family as an emotional unit.  Bowen’s family systems theory, or Bowen theory as it was later renamed to differentiate from misinterpretation by the family therapy movement as a mere series of therapeutic interventions, is a component theory of human behavior created to be compatible with systems thinking in general and biological evolution in particular. As I understand it, Bowen differentiated his natural systems theory as being derived more from direct observation of nature and less on ideas originating from the human mind such as mathematics in general systems theory or mechanical control systems in cybernetics. His ultimate goal was to create a theory that might some day lead to a science of human behavior derived purely from nature and accepted among the ranks of astronomy, paleontology, etc (Kerr & Bowen, 1988).

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Hypothesis: The Self-Organizing Principle

I thought I would try to clarify the underlying idea behind a previous post about the election and Societal Emotional Process.

Everything here is, as always, a work in progress.

One hypothesis forming within my dissertation is that at least two natural systems, those of the mind/body unit (i.e. a single person) and family unit, may possess a common natural tendency toward health that is not yet formally recognized. This tendency is not a choice or special added feature, but as intrinsic to their existence as air’s tendency to rise in water. I am provisionally coining this tendency the self-organizing principle. Because this idea first came to me through the practice of Vipassanā meditation which (at least initially) examines the the interaction of mind and body, I will begin by describing this principle in that context.

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Exploratory Research Questions

The following stems from the problems stated in Can Human Behavior Become a Science?.

I am in a creative phase of exploratory research for my dissertation, expanding my understanding of pertinent problem domains in order to hone in on a research question and it’s respective hypotheses. The following are questions that will guide my research. The goal is to be able to answer them in writing and not just in my mind. References are a plus. Not all of them need to be answered in the end but the list will provide a little pragmatism through this otherwise intuitive phase of search in the dark.

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Can Human Behavior Become a Science?

I am happy to have finally read Bowen’s epilogue to Micheal Kerr’s (1988) book, which I am calling the “Odyssey chapter.” In it, Bowen outlines his opinions and assumptions that guided his seminal research project at NIMH, and includes his critique of “science” in the “social sciences.” This chapter provided more stock in my sense that Goenka’s particular dispensation of the Buddha’s teachings as “pure science” share something unique with Bowen’s attitude toward theory.

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Accounting For Varying Attachment Presentations

This literature review aims to provide a chronological overview of peer-reviewed research which assess the capability of attachment theory to account for the variance in an individual’s presentation of attachment styles in different social contexts. It stands on the assumption that an individual may present, for example avoidant with one person and anxious with another, and asks what variables account for such variance. This review hypothesizes that this variance exists and is accounted by variables outside the current scope of attachment theory. It was found in research spanning from 2002 to 2016 that attachment style has a limited capacity to account for triadic attachment dilemmas, that a secure dyadic presentation may morph to an insecure triadic presentation, and that attachment style may in fact be a part of the systemic concept of differentiation of self as mediated by triangulation in the nuclear family. This review did not directly produce a concept which accounts for variations in attachment presentation, but suggests triangulation mediated by differentiation of self as a possibility for future research.

 

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A Bowen/Vipassanā Perspective on Societal Emotional Process

There is so much pain experienced after this election. Those who “lost” the election are experiencing fear, confusion, and depression, and at times ignorance of the dire situation that drove the “victors” to vote the way that they did. Those who “won” the election are so elated by their victory that they are at times ignoring the factors driving the intense fear in the opposition. In times of such unrest, it can help to work to understand the processes that created the situation in order to help us cope and influence these processes for the better. One way of understanding our political climate is through Bowen theory and lessons learned through the practice of vipassanā.

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Dissertation Topic: Bowen and Vipassanā

My idea for a dissertation topic is a conglomeration of ideas that make up my world view and personal psychology. It is an integration of what seems to be the most important forces governing our lives.

The idea is simple: to find a literary correlation showing that Murray Bowen was getting at the same thing as the historical Buddha. Bowen’s construct of differentiation of self in Family Systems Theory could equal the Buddha’s construct of equanimity in Vipassanā. If true, this could provide a key bridge between the science of the West and millennia of wisdom of the East. The implications are vast, and worthy of a book let alone a dissertation.

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Attachment and Differentiation

I’ve always wondered exactly how attachment theory fit into Bowen Theory. For example, how does Bowen reconcile the similar sibling attachment styles described in Attachment Theory? How would Attachment Theory describe “unresolved symbiosis with the primary caregiver?” Writing this paper gave me the chance to find out.

EDIT: This paper is followed by Accounting for Varying Attachment Presentations, which follows up with a tighter examination of the topic using peer-reviewed studies and includes more details about what can and cannot be compared between the two theories.

Attachment and Differentiation: The Role of Attachment in the Pathological Family System

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