Section on Natural Systems

This section is part of a chapter which includes:

A natural system is quite simply a system which occurs in nature. Hall and Fagen (1956) write that “The description of these is the task of the astronomer, physicist, chemist, biologist, physiologist, etc., and again the amount one can say about a given natural system depends on the number of essential variables involved” (p. 72). Natural system researchers are typically more interested in direct observation with fewer a priori assumptions than Bertalanffy’s pure mathematical ideal for GST or Weiner’s machine-control philosophy for cybernetics. Though they may use mathematical models to describe the behavior of the system, the models are the result of the inductive process; they are derived from the observations as opposed to explaining the observation from the model. One may think about a naturally occurring system using some of the terms from general systems, but it is the intention of discovering the nature of the system that is not pre-supposed in the human mind that distinguishes natural systems research.

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Overview of Systems Philosophy

This section is part of a chapter which includes:

The purpose of this chapter is to position Bowen theory in relation to mainstream research and applied psychology. An important aspect of describing this position is to distinguish the unique paradigmatic position of the theory, which to the greatest extent is called here natural systems philosophy. Without such a distinction, it is easy to confuse the subtle meanings of biological terms used in Bowen theory such as basic-self, emotion, differentiation, fusion, etc. with general systems or non-systems concepts, and lose sight of the broad reach of Bowen’s contribution to the natural sciences.

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A More Refined Kernel

­­Murray Bowen defined what he saw as a new way of integrating empirical research with clinical practice by rooting a theory of human behavior in the philosophy of natural systems. Bowen’s novel contribution stems from the assumption that all living systems, from the most complex vertebrate to single-celled organisms to protoplasm, arise as a function of mutual-causal, reciprocal relationships which organize an emotive, or emotional character. He used Darwin’s definition of the term emotion to describe the driving forces which pertained to all species, and is “synonymous to instinct” (Papero D. V., 2016, p. 17) “as used in biology and the natural sciences” instead of the “special meaning in psychoanalysis” (Bowen, 1978, p. kpp 446). “The output of the emotional system is emotional reactiveness or reactivity” (Papero D. V., 2016, p. 18). Abandoning essentialist notions, the natural systems paradigm views elements of living systems as a part of their context yet simultaneously defining their context by virtue of symbiotic interdependence (Gilbert, Sapp, & Tauber, 2012; Macy, 1991; Bowen, Family therapy in clinical practice, 1978).

This assumption formed the basis of Bowen’s emotional system concept which defines living systems in terms of the patterns which emerge from reciprocal exchanges of emotional energy between individuals which regulate both individual and collective adaptation to the environment (Papero D. V., 2016). As a result, Bowen’s family systems theory views human behavior more as a function of what humans have in common with other living things than of psychological factors which pertain to humans alone. The universality of the emotional system concept serves as a starting point for organizing knowledge from many species to enrich a science of human behavior (Noone & Papero, 2016). As with natural system theories pertaining to other species, Bowen theory is the product of the direct observation of human behavior as it is in nature as opposed to a superimposing a priori concepts from general systems (Bertalanffy, 2015) or cybernetics (Wiener, 1961) which are generated by the human mind (Kerr & Bowen, 1988).

Michael Kerr, a close colleague of Bowen, describes the potential importance of the emotional system concept as “comparable to the significance of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection” (Kerr & Bowen, 1988, p. kpp 39). He writes that while “Darwin established this physical link between man and the lower forms, Bowen’s concept of the emotional system has provided a basis for establishing a behavioral link between humans and other animals” (p. kpp 39). The concept 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). Similarly, the application of Bowen theory involves an individual developing the ability to observe the processes that define one’s most sensitive relationships as opposed to simply the people and issues in those relationships (Papero, 1990). A fixation on issues instead of the processes leading to issues is seen to lead to linear, cause-and-effect thinking which loses the systems view. By studying the movement of processes and relationships, thinking systems aims to overcome polarization generated by essentialist thinking in the natural and human sciences (Laszlo, 1973). Thus, Bowen theory represents a broad paradigmatic departure from mainstream perspectives on human suffering toward the development of a viable science of human behavior.

It is possible that the Buddha may have also defined a theory of human suffering that is better understood through natural systems thinking than through analogical comparison with psychological theory. This theory, known as paṭiccasamuppāda, known in the West as Dependent Origination, the Second Noble Truth, or “the cause of suffering,” defines life as an interaction of universal processes, for example, consciousness, perception, sensation, and reaction (Goenka, 2012). The most important aspect of this theory is the reciprocally interdependent nature of the elements in these processes, which implies a non-essentialist system of mutual-causality (Macy, 1991). Thus, the Buddha saw suffering as a function of a deeper processes that are universal to all of life, one which predates homo sapiens and will exist long after them. Though described as the “truth” of suffering, the theory is taught as a falsifiable hypothesis which stands to be disproven through rigorous experiment (Hart, 1987). The experiment consists of becoming aware of universal laws of nature by observing those laws as they play out in one’s own body and mind (Fleischman P. R., 2016; Young, 1994). This experiment represents the core of the Buddha’s teaching and is called Vipassanā meditation (Goenka, 1998).

This study proposes that the Buddha’s approach to understanding human suffering may share a degree of conceptual and paradigmatic compatibility with the natural systems approach reflected in Bowen theory. Together, these approaches may further support a viable science of human behavior by virtue of their consilience (Wilson E. O., 1999). A natural systems science may lessen the compartmentalization of mainstream psychology, for example between academic and professional psychology. This study examines that potential by asking the question, “To what extent did the Buddha define a natural systems theory?”

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A Refined Kernel

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.

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Summary of Argument for Dissertation

The following is a summary of the argument for my dissertation which asks the question, “To what extent did the Buddha define a natural system theory?” The full text can be found in the following four posts:

This is a philosophical study which proposes that what Systems Philosophy has in common with the full traditional context of Vipassanā meditation may point to significant barriers in the challenges of psychology as a science. The limitations of our understanding of vipassanā has much to do with current literature & research falling into one of two polarized realms of psychology: reductionistic mainstream science; and quasi-scientific clinical theory. First, we look at the limitations of reductionism and the compartmentalization that it creates. Second, we will look at the goals of Freud’s positivist science to account for the complexity of human experience. Then we will look at how this polarization affects an understanding of vipassanā meditation which itself explicitly aims to transcend polarization in generalized principle. To conclude we propose that a comparison of an existing natural systems clinical theory and vipassanā theory may point the way out of this polarization.

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Complexity in Neuroscience and Collective Behavior

This is a brief review of some complex systems concepts written as a final paper for PSY 5001 – Biological Bases for Clinical Practice

While essentialism is alive and well in pharmacology and molecular biology, the general trend in neuroscience is away from reductionistic analysis of the brain and toward models which use concepts of distributed functionality and interconnectedness (Sieglemann, 2010; Mattei, 2014; Bassett & Gazzaniga, 2011). This move is a reflection of the inability for conventional science to tackle problems of complexity, and of the strength in systems philosophy which actually has its modern roots in the field of biology during early part of the 20th century (Bertalanffy, 2015). This rather broadly dis-jointed paper will survey some of the ways that non-localized complexity is handled in neuroscience, the overlap with multidisciplinary studies of complexity in some other natural systems, and how this relates to progress in the science of human behavior.

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Proposition of this Dissertation

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:

  1. Complexity in Science
  2. Compartmentalization in Science and Society
  3. Challenges to Psychology as a Science
  4. 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.

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Challenges to the Study of Vipassanā Meditation

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:

  1. Complexity in Science
  2. Compartmentalization in Science and Society
  3. Challenges to Psychology as a Science

We turn now to a review of the relationship between vipassanā meditation and postpositive psychology. The preceding sections represent a rather broad philosophical discussion to show that the major challenges facing psychology as a science of human behavior are not only technical but pertain to the paradigmatic assumptions of reductionistic science in general. Some of these challenges may, in turn, limit the potential for vipassanā meditation to contribute to the study of human behavior and might be overcome through a shift from a reductionistic paradigm to a natural systems paradigm. This hypothesis assumes that vipassanā has something to do with knowledge or a framework for obtaining of knowledge that may be organizable within the paradigm of systems philosophy. If supported, the most direct outcome of this effort would be differentiating what is science from what is religion in vipassanā, if any such distinction were found. An indirect outcome of this goal would be examining the potential for the historical Buddha to have produced a theory of human behavior, the understanding of which necessitates knowledge of universal laws and patterns of organization that govern the rest of our environment much like the goals of systems philosophy in general.

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Challenges to Psychology as a Science

The following is a draft section from the introduction chapter of my dissertation proposal, which addresses the problems of 1) erosion of benefits of vipassanā from the conflation of widely different Buddhist traditions in popular, and 2) scientific literature and confusion of technical terms in vipassanā from their original traditional context. It is mean to be read after the posts:

  1. Complexity in Science 
  2. Compartmentalization in Science and Society

The field of psychology has claimed allegiance to the philosophy of science since its inception. Freud was unsatisfied with the limitations of the natural sciences of his day and sought to specialize his new science with methods for evaluating truth more appropriate to the concepts of his theory (Freud, 1915). He was a theoretical genius who promoted his positivist theory of psychopathology as a “science of the unconscious” (ref) which was to be supported through empirical research. His most basic proposition that medical conditions could be impacted or caused by mental processes which exist beyond awareness was a profound contribution to the field. These unconscious processes, or instincts1, had physiological correlates and were grouped into ego, or self-preservative instincts, and the sexual instincts. Contrary to the group of ego-, or self-preservative instincts, Freud believed that the group of sexual instincts could be studied directly in the mental content of the subject through a process called psycho-analysis (Freud, 1915). This basal distinction between objective physiological phenomena and subjective mental phenomena birthed the study of subjective experience as a natural phenomenon, and continues to add depth and controversy to the worlds of science and society which had before been more firmly rooted in accumulating knowledge of objective phenomena.

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Slides for Buddha and Bowen

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:

http://snowonthedesert.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Patrick-Buddha-and-Bowen-A-study-of-natural-systems.pptx

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