I have been struggling to clearly articulate the problem I am addressing in this study. It has taken a lot of reading and writing. Now I think I have it:
This philosophical-theoretical study examines one possible way of addressing the polarity between the natural sciences and the human sciences in psychology as the study of human behavior. Murray Bowen defined what he saw as a new way of integrating empirical research with clinical practice using concepts from the philosophy of natural systems. The resulting theory assumes that human behavior is determined more by what man has in common with all of life, from the most complex vertebrates to single-celled organisms to protoplasm, than by psychological factors that are unique to homo sapiens (Papero, 1990). The most novel concept of the theory is the family as an emotional unit, which is based on an even more basic concept, the emotional system. The emotional system concept pertains to the interdependent and emotive nature of the components that make up all living systems. It is rooted in systems thinking as “the ability to be aware of the process of nature as opposed to simply the content of nature” (Kerr & Bowen, 1988, p. kpp 24). By utilizing the natural systems perspective, Bowen theory represents a broad paradigmatic departure from the poles of reductionism in the natural sciences and holism in the human sciences toward the development of an accepted science of human behavior.
It is possible that the Buddha may have also defined a theory of life and suffering that is better understood through a natural systems perspective than through analogical comparison with psychological theory. This theory, known as the Second Noble Truth, or the “cause of suffering,” (Goenka, 2012) defines suffering as a process of nature that is inherent to all of life and so predates homo sapiens. Though referred to as the “truth” of suffering, the theory is taught as a falsifiable hypothesis which stands to be disproven through rigorous experiment (Hart, 1987). This experiment represents the core of the Buddha’s teaching and is called Vipassanā meditation. If true, the similarities between these two schools may support a new direction for the science of human behavior that transcends polarity between the natural and human sciences and with a deeper connection to the rest of the natural world.
The following is a draft section from the introduction chapter of my dissertation proposal, which addresses the problem of erosion of benefits of vipassanā from the conflation of widely different Buddhist traditions in popular and scientific literature and confusion of technical terms in vipassanā from their original traditional context. It is mean to be read after the posts:
- Complexity in Science
- Compartmentalization in Science and Society
- Challenges to Psychology as a Science
- Challenges in the Study of Vipassanā Meditation
We have now reviewed the reductionistic assumptions of mainstream science and associated philosophical limitations for addressing problems of complexity. We have reviewed the limitations that those assumptions place on psychology as a science, and the conflict between positivist or constructivist clinical theory and the stated goals of the APA for psychology as a science. We have also reviewed how academic understandings of vipassanā meditation limit the potential of the teachings for postpositive science.
This is a quickly slapped together powerpoint overview of the hypothesized results from this experiment. It is more or less off the top of my head. Many of the points may not seem clear. That is because it is going to take a dissertation to explain them.
But here is the file nevertheless.
Download to Powerpoint:
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.