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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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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