Saturday, April 10, 2010

GoodTherapy - Interpersonal Neurobiology – The Basics

This is one of my favorite topics - and it's the future of psychotherapy in many ways. Christopher Diggins offers a nice introduction to the basic ideas.

Interpersonal Neurobiology – The Basics

April 7th, 2010

By Christopher Diggins, MA, LMHC, Interpersonal Neurobiology Topic Expert Contributor

Click here to contact Christopher and/or see his Profile

It has only been in the past 10+ years that researchers have discovered “experience” changes the way neurons fire in our bodies. Just in the past few months, it has been revealed that the genes of infants are altered by trauma. This leads to the possibility that if trauma experience can change our neurons and genes, then why not “positive” experiences can restore our bodies to emotional and physical health. I know as an Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB) therapist that my clients, as a result of new emotional experiences, often make substantial changes in their feelings, moods, and behaviors.

Implicit Memory – Current situations trigger past emotional memories. ” When I sit in this big comfortable chair, it reminds me of when I was a kid and I would sit in my grandfather’s lap and feel safe and warm”. Or ” I get so angry when my wife and I fight it reminds me of when I would go to my room and hear my parents yelling at each other.”

Mirror Neurons – nerve cells activate in sympathy and in the same brain location as nerve cells of the person whose actions we are watching. These neurons help us to sense what others intend and help us connect with what the other feels…We resonate with their state.

Emotional Resonance – when two people experience deep feelings and can sense what the other feels. A mutual caring that is exchanged through words, expressions, or tones. One can feel what another is feeling.

What a IPNB therapist does:

1. Initiates and creates emotional safety along with the client.
2. Demonstrates vulnerability through transparency and self revealing.
3. Assists client in moving from “talking about” situations to being in emotional exchange with therapist in the “hear and now”.

Emotional Safety

“People disconnect from their emotional experience, afraid of being overwhelmed, humiliated, or revealed as inadequate by the force of feelings, only to pay the price later in depression, isolation, and anxiety. If affect-laden experiences can be made less frightening in the therapeutic environment–that is, if patients can be helped to feel safe enough to feel–then they can reap profound benefits, for within core affective states are powerful adaptive forces and processes with tremendous therapeutic potential” (Diana Fosha, The Transforming Power of Affect, p 13).

The basis of neurosis is this emotional disconnect where the child has to set herself apart from painful experience as a defensive measure. She cannot handle the pain on her own and so must defend against it. This measure sets up a life of emptiness and loneliness, and we all have this to various degrees. Therapists grow up in families with this emotional deprivation and are not immune to the painful consequences. We have a responsibility to ourselves and our clients to heal this internal deficiency. As a result of our familiy origins our neurons in brains and bodies are “wired” in a way where we also maintain this defensive posture, defending against painful implicit memories just as our clients do.

When we treat clients in our familiar ways of not recognizing and living in this emotional world it re-traumatizes them. I had a client years ago who reported to me that his former therapist had angrily directed him to leave the session if he did not stop being angry with her. He was angry because she was blaming him for his father’s shaming behavior saying, “What did you do to contribute to your father treating you that way”? This therapist treatment

We learn at an early age to cut ourselves off from this internal awareness. We do this in order to protect ourselves from experiencing both threats from external sources and pain from internal experiences. Because most children are treated in a way where their emotions are either discounted, ignored, humiliated, or even punished, the child learns very quickly that emotions are off-limits externally, and as a result emotions are off-limits internally. So in order to protect oneself from external threats and being overwhelmed from internal sources, the child constructs defenses. This is done strictly for protection.

The purpose of therapy is to create the emotional safety where the defenses are unnecessary and the client feels safe enough to reveal to the therapist and to herself the core feelings, the deep emotions that have been locked away probably since early childhood. Creating this safety can begin as early as the initial phone contact with the client. The therapist can accomplish this in the beginning by communicating caring, empathy, and respect. This is done by listening to the clients’ story, respectfully setting boundaries, and by acknowledging emotions as well as communicating confidence in the ability to help the client with the painful emotions. So even before the first meeting, the therapist has the ability or the possibility to benefit the client, to establish some trust, and to develop some minimal and yet beneficial connection. When this is accomplished in a substantial way, it sets the stage in the initial meeting to make great progress.

Fosha, internet trauma article: “In AEDP, the goal is to lead with (Fosha, 2000b) a corrective emotional experience (Alexander & French, 1946). The therapist seeks to create a safe and affect-friendly environment from the get-go, and to activate a patient-therapist relationship in which it is clear that the patient is deeply valued and will not be alone with emotional experiences. If this is accomplished, the patient will feel sufficiently safe to take the risks involved in doing deep and intensive emotional work (Fosha & Slowiaczek, 1997). We want to be able to explore self-at-worst functioning from within a self-at-best structuring of emotional experience activated by the here-and-now patient therapist relationship (see the case in Part 2, for an illustration of this principle at work)”.

With more and more safety, intimacy, and enjoyable and pleasant interactions a person learns to change expectations of interactions, even conflictual ones, from dread, failure, disappointment to closeness, confidence of good outcome, relaxation, and enjoyment.

©Copyright 2010 by Christopher Diggins, MA, LMHC. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to This article was solely written and edited by the author named above. The views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about this article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment to this blog entry. Click here to contact Christopher and/or see his Profile
Here is some more information:

Interpersonal Neurobiology

Interpersonal Neurobiology was Developed by: Dan Siegel, Allan Schore

Overview of Interpersonal Neurobiology: "Interpersonal Neurobiology, a term coined by Dr. Dan Siegel, studies the way the brain grows and is influenced by personal relationships. Recent studies have discovered that brain growth occurs throughout the lifespan. IPNB explores the potential for healing trauma by using positive and secure influences on the brain. Conditions once thought to be permanent now have the bright potential for healing and growth. IPNB has broad applications that are useful for parenting, mental health, addictions, education, health care, business professionals, and more." ~ Excerpt from Vanguard in Action

"Interpersonal Neurobiology, developed by Dr. Daniel Siegel, studies what occurs in the brain as a result of significant life experiences and how the therapeutic relationship can be used to actually change the brain and neurological system. It was once believed that neurological development ceased by late adolescence, but Dr Sigiel's research has determined that neurogenesis and neuroplasticity--the creation of new neurons and new neuronal connections--continue throughout our life spans. MRI's and PET scans, scientific devices that allow us to peer into the workings of the body and brain, verify that meditation, mindfulness, and emotional attachment significantly influence the body where new neuronal pathways are created. Experience alters the brain, even as we age. Whenever we learn something new, including new attitudes, perspectives, or behaviors, we are changing the physical structure of the brain." ~ Excerpt from

Resources Related to Interpersonal Neurobiology:

Global Association for Interpersonal Neurobiology Studies

The Developing Mind - Dr. Dan Siegel

Research Channel - Toward an Interpersonal Neurobiology of the Developing Mind; a video presentation by Dr. Siegel

Kris Notaro - Why the Toward a Science of Consciousness Conference Is Important (and my Conference Schedule)


I'll be at the conference (at least most of it - I'll post the events I am attending at the bottom of the post) - hopefully I'll see some of you there as well. My hope is also to live blog or tweet as much as I can - IF they offer free wi-fi.

By the way, I totally reject Eliminative Materialism as total reductionism, and find its hold on the field of neuroscience to be very dangerous in some ways. I tend more toward embodied mind, per George Lackoff and others, but I want to some ideas from the extended mind concept (Chalmers and Clark) especially the ideas of cultural influence, which some are now calling situational cognition. Jerome Bruner might be closest to my position, especially in his ideas on the narrative structure of mind and his approach to a culturally based constructivism.

Why the Toward a Science of Consciousness conference is important to technoprogressivism

Kris Notaro
Kris Notaro
Ethical Technology

Posted: Apr 10, 2010

Politics, Consciousness, AI, Technoprogressivism, Transhumanism all mixed into one.

Why the Toward a Science of Consciousness conference is important to technoprogressivism and transhumanism.

While Kristof Koch, Patricia and Paul Churchland, Daniel Dennett and the like continue to criticize the emphasis on mind (qualia/non-physicalism) over brain (Eliminative Materialism), the Hard Problem of Consciousness continues to stump psychology, biology and most brain science, respectively. However, this Tuesday marks the beginning of a five day conference on Consciousness Studies which aims at being an informative lecture series and event for those interested in the science of consciousness, artificial intelligence and neuroscience. People will have the opportunity to learn about the forefront of the world’s best theories of consciousness, brain, and mind.

It is very important that we understand the nature of consciousness if we are to understand the universe, ourselves, and where consciousness is going. For example, if AI is never able to create true feelings or what philosophers call “what it is like” to experience, also refereed to as “qualia”, we can infer that neural networks and brain patterns are significant enough to pose the problem that computer code cannot replicate qualia.

On top of this lies the most important questions about the workings of the universe if Eliminative Materialism is wrong. Howard Robinson articulates this point about the universe and consciousness very clearly in Edmond Wright’s book, The Case for Qualia.

“…it is accepted that physicalism gives an adequate account of non-conscious reality, which constitutes almost 100 percent of the universe, but struggles to accommodate certain features of mental life, namely the “what it’s like” or qualia of certain conscious states. These latter constitute “the hard problem” for physicalism. The fact that they also constitute such a tiny part of the world is presented as a reason for thinking that they cannot plausibly be held to refute a unified physcialist account”

What it is like to experience is the fundamental problem with AI. If Strong AI, in the end simply uses the same kind of patterns the brain uses to replicate qualia, we still have a problem of consciousness, we will still have to understand why it is that these patterns create experience and qualia.

We need to understand the relationship between the brain and qualia. Assuming that qualia is real, that what it is like to experience is a real phenomena still not explained, we will have to look further into the difference between consciousness and AI, and why, in the end, if AI produces “zombies”, then what does that mean for the Turing Test, or any test for consciousness for that matter.

Consciousness Studies is important to technoprogressive ideals because a science of consciousness will mean that we will understand the workings, the nature of, that very thing we are fighting for; equality, justice, and egalitarianism. We are consciousness, consciousness is us, we are most familiar with consciousness then we are of anything else in this world, and having a coherent science of it will not only allow us to understand ourselves, but will also help us understand the nature of intersubjectivity. To me this will aid in our struggle for a technoprogressive future, a future where understanding ourselves and the universe works as the leading tool for progressive change.

Further Reading:

The Conscious Mind by David Chalmers: Amazon
Neurophilosophy by Patricia Churchland: Amazon
The Case for Qualia by Edmond Wright: Amazon
Transhumanism: Amazon
Citizen Cyborg: Amazon

My Toward a Science of Consciousness Conference schedule of events - I hope to live blog some of the them if they have free wi-fi.

1:45-4:10 pm - PLENARY 1 - William James Centennial - Taylor, Baars, Mangan

4:30-6:35 pm - CONCURRENT SESSIONS 1 - 7 - Consciousness, Representation, and Thought: Spackman, Kobes, Pitt, Goff, Brogaard


8:30 -10:40 am PLENARY 2 - DOUBLE KEYNOTE:

Marcus E. Raichle Brain Dark Energy and Default Mode Networks

Robert G. Shulman Baseline Brain energy supporting the state of consciousness

10:40-11:10 am, Break

11:10 am-12:35 pm - PLENARY 3 - Body Consciousness: DeVignemont, Ehrsson

(Sadly have to miss the concurrent sessions due to class - but I wish I could see Contemplative, Spiritual and Religious Approaches: Klein, Bahir, Maitra, Seaberg, Bhamidipati)

Thursday: Not attending - have to make a little money


8:30-10:40 am - PLENARY 7 Consciousness & Transformation: Vieten, Martin, Za Rinpoche

10:40-11:10 am, Break

11:10am- 12:35 pm - PLENARY 8 Keynote - Antonio Damasio: The Neural Self

12:35-2:00 pm, Lunch

2:00- 4:10 pm - PLENARY 9 Theories of Consciousness, Kouider, Van Gulick, Strawson

4:30- 6:35 pm - CONCURRENT SESSIONS 16 - 21 - Psychotherapy and Transformation,
Mender, Johnson, Thurston, Beal, Kotagiri


8:30-10:40 am - PLENARY 10 - New directions in NCC research: Gruberger, Cerf, Prettyman, Bhandyophady

All in the Mind - You, the Scientist! Personal Construct Psychology

Personal Construct Theory is new to me, but it seems like something I need to know more about - this is a good starting place.

Here is a bit of an introduction to get us started:
Personal Construct Theory (PCT) represents a coherent, comprehensive psychology of personality that has special relevance for psychotherapy. Originally drafted by the American psychologist George Kelly in 1955, PCT has been extended to a variety of domains, including organizational development, education, business and marketing, and cognitive science. However, its predominant focus remains on the study of individuals, families, and social groups, with particular emphasis on how people organize and change their views of self and world in the counseling context.

At the base of Kelly’s theory is the image of the person-as-scientist, a view that emphasizes the human capacity for meaning making, agency, and ongoing revision of personal systems of knowing across time. Thus, individuals, like incipient scientists, are seen as creatively formulating constructs, or hypotheses about the apparent regularities of their lives, in an attempt to make them understandable, and to some extent, predictable. However, predictability is not pursued for its own sake, but is instead sought as a guide to practical action in concrete contexts and relationships. This implies that people engage in continuous extension, refinement, and revision of their systems of meaning as they meet with events that challenge, or invalidate their assumptions, prompting their personal theories toward greater adequacy.

Kelly formally developed his theory through a series of corollaries , which can be broadly grouped into those concerned with the process of construing, the structure of personal knowledge, and the social embeddedness of our construing efforts. At the level of process, PCT envisions people as actively organizing their perceptions of events on the basis of recurring themes, meanings attributed to the 'booming, buzzing confusion' of life in an attempt to render it interpretable. By punctuating the unending flow of experience into coherent units, people are able to discern similarities and differences of events in terms that are both personally significant and shared by relevant others. At the level of structure, PCT suggests that meaning is a matter of contrast - an individual attributes meaning to an event not only by construing what it is, but also by differentiating it from what it is not. For example, a given person’s unique description of some acquaintances as 'laid back' can only be fully understood in the context of its personal contrast—say, 'ambitious' as opposed to 'uptight'. At a broader level, individuals, social groups, and whole cultures orient themselves according to (partially) shared constructs such as 'liberal vs. conservative', 'pro-life vs. pro-choice'”and 'democratic vs. totalitarian', which provide a basis for self-definition and social interaction. Especially important in this regard are core constructs, frequently unverbalizable meanings that play critical organizing roles for the entirety of our construct systems, ultimately embodying our most basic values and sense of self. Finally, at the level of the social embeddedness of our construing, PCT stresses both the importance of private, idiosyncratic meanings, and the way in which these arise and find validation within relational, family, and cultural contexts.

To a greater extent than other 'cognitively' oriented theories of personality and psychotherapy, PCT places a strong emphasis on emotional experiences, understood as signals of actual or impending transitions in one’s fundamental constructs for anticipating the world.
You can read more by following the links on the sidebar. Enjoy the podcast.

You, the Scientist! Personal Construct Psychology

What makes you 'You'? Personal Construct Psychology argues everyone constructs and tests their own internal models of reality, and that therapists shouldn't cast themselves as the all-knowing 'expert'. We are all scientists of the self. This week, confrontations with a shocking serial killer, the philosophical heritage of psychology and the moral limits of acceptance.

Show Transcript | Hide Transcript

Transcripts are published on Wednesdays. Audio on Saturdays after broadcast.


Bill Warren
Clinical psychologist in private practice
Conjoint Associate Professor,
Universty of Newcastle
Newcastle, Australia

David Winter
Professor of Clinical Psychology
School of Psychology
University of Hertfordshire

Further Information

All in the Mind blog with Natasha Mitchell - a place for your comments and discussion
Or, you can add your comments above right here on the program page too - look for "Add your comment".

Brotherton Lecture 2009 - Professor David Winter "Shaking Hands with a Serial Killer"
More about Professor David Winter's experience of and with Ian Brady, University of Melbourne, 2009

Australasian Personal Construct Group

Personal Construct Psychology - member group, Australian Psychological Society (APS)

X Biennial Congress Of European Personal Construct Association, 2010


Title: A credulous approach to serial killing - article
Author: David Winter
Publisher: The University of Melbourne Voice Vol. 5, No. 8 9 November - 14 December 2009 ]

Title: Philosophical Dimensions of Personal Construct Psychology
Author: Bill Warren
Publisher: Taylor & Francis, Routledge, 1998
ISBN: 0203004698, 9780203047682, 9780203220917

Title: Personal Construct Psychology in Clinical Practice: Theory, Research and Applications
Author: David Winter
Publisher: Routledge, 1992

Title: Constructivism in Psychology: Personal Construct Psychology, Radical Constructivism, and Social Constructionism
Author: Jonathan D. Raskin
Publisher: American Communication Journal, Volume 5, Issue 3, Spring 2002

Title: Personal Construct Psychotherapy: Advances in Theory, Practice and Research
Author: David A Winter, Linda L Viney
Wiley Blackwell, 2005

Title: Personal construct psychology: The first half-century
Author: David Winter
Publisher: Personal Construct Theory & Practice, 4, 2007

Title: The effectiveness of personal construct psychotherapy in clinical practice: A systematic review and meta-analysis
Author: Chris Metcalfe, David Winter, Linda Viney
Publisher: Psychotherapy Research, Volume 17, Issue 4 July 2007 , pages 431 - 442

Title: Personal Construct Theory and General Trends in Contemporary Philosophy.
Author: Bill Warren
Publisher: International Journal of Personal Construct Psychology, 1989, 287-300.

Title: Personal Construct Theory as the Ground for a Rapprochement Between Psychology and Philosophy in Education.
Author: Bill Warren
Publisher: Educational Philosophy and Theory, 1990, 28(1)

Title: Personal Construct Theory and the Aristotelian and Galileian Modes of Thought.
Author: Bill Warren
Publisher: International Journal of Personal Construct Psychology, 1990, 3(3), 263-280.

Title: Psychoanalysis and Personal Construct Theory: An Exploration.
Author: Bill Warren
Publisher: The Journal of Psychology, 1990, 124(4), 449-463.

Title: Is Personal Construct Psychology a Cognitive Psychology?
Author: Bill Warren
Publisher: International Journal of Personal Construct Psychology, 1990, 393-414.

Title: The Elaboration of Personal Construct Psychology
Author: Beverley Walker and David Winter
Publisher: Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 58: 453-477 (Volume publication date January 2007)

Title: Construing the Construction Processes of Serial Killers and Other Violent Offenders: 1. The Analysis of Narratives
Author: David Winter; Guillem Feixas; Rita Dalton; Livia Jarque-Llamazares; Esteban Laso; Clare Mallindine; Sarah Patient
Publisher: Journal of Constructivist Psychology, Volume 20, Issue 1 January 2007 , pages 1 - 22

Title: Construing The Construction Processes Of Serial Killers And Other Violent Offenders: 2. The Limits Of Credulity
Author: David A. Winter
Publisher: Journal of Constructivist Psychology, Volume 20, Issue 3 July 2007 , pages 247 - 275


Natasha Mitchell

BPS Research - Is this the first ever direct evidence for human mirror neurons?

There is both hope and skepticism in the article - I remain agnostic, but hopeful.

Is this the first ever direct evidence for human mirror neurons?

Mirror neurons are one of the most hyped concepts in psychology and neurocience. V.S. Ramachandran famously wrote that they will 'do for psychology what DNA did for biology'. Although recordings from single cells in the brains of monkeys have identified 'mirror' neurons that respond both to the execution of a movement and the observation of another agent performing that same movement, the existence of such cells in humans has, up until now, been inferred only from indirect evidence, particularly brain imaging. Now Roy Mukamel and colleagues have provided what appears to be the first ever direct evidence, using implanted electrode recordings of single cells, for the existence of mirror neurons in humans.

Mukamel's team seized the opportunity for single cell recording provided by the clinical investigations that were being carried out on patients with intractable epilepsy. These patients had electrodes implanted into their brains to identify the loci of their seizures. Mukamel and his colleagues recruited 21 of these patients and had them look at videos of hand gestures or facial expressions on a laptop in one condition, and perform those same gestures and expressions in another condition.

Most of the 1177 cells that were recorded showed a response either to the execution of an action or the sight of that action, not both. However, there was a significant subset of 'mirror' neurons in the front of the brain, including the supplementary motor area, and in the temporal lobe, including the hippocampus, that responded to the sight and execution of the very same actions.

Critics could argue that rather than having mirror properties, these cells were responding to a concept. For example, according to this argument, a cell that responded to the sight of a smile and the execution of a smile, was actually being activated by the smile concept. Mukamel's group reject that argument. They had a control condition in which the words for actions appeared on a screen, rather than those actions being seen or performed. The postulated mirror neurons responded to the sight and execution of an action, but not the word.

Another potential criticism is that the execution-related activity of a postulated mirror neuron is triggered by the sight of one's own action, rather than by motor-output per se. However, this can't explain the mirror neurons that responded both to the sight of a given facial expression and one's own execution of that facial expression (although proprioceptive feedback could still be a potential confound).

Mirror neurons make functional sense in relation to empathy and imitative learning, but a drawback could be unwanted imitation and confusion regarding ownership over actions. The researchers uncovered another subset of cells that could help reduce these risks - these cells were activated by the execution of a given movement but inhibited by the sight of someone else performing that same movement (or vice versa).

'Taken together,' the researchers concluded, 'these findings suggest the existence of multiple systems in the brain endowed with neural mirroring mechanisms for flexible integration and differentiation of the perceptual and motor aspects of actions performed by self and others.'

ResearchBlogging.orgRoy Mukamel, Arne D Ekstrom, Jonas Kaplan, Maraco Iacoboni, & Itzhak Fried (2010). Single-Neuron Responses in Humans during Execution and Observation of Actions. Current Biology [In Press].

Leading@Google: Daniel Pink

Daniel Pink's latest book is Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, and his previous best-seller is A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.
Daniel H. Pink is the author of the long-running New York Times and BusinessWeek bestseller A WHOLE NEW MIND, as well as THE ADVENTURES OF JOHNNY BUNKO and FREE AGENT NATION. He has written for The New York Times,Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and Wired, where he is a contributing editor. He has provided analysis of business trends for CNN, CNBC, ABC, NPR, and other networks in the U.S. and abroad. He lectures to corporations, associations, and universities around the world on economic transformation and the new workplace.

Pinks A WHOLE NEW MIND: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future charts the rise of right-brain thinking in modern economies and describes the six abilities individuals and organizations must master in an outsourced, automated age. In addition to its long-running bestseller status it has been translated into 20 languages. THE ADVENTURES OF JOHNNY BUNKO: The Last Career Guide Youll Ever Need, was the first American business book in the Japanese comic format known as manga. Illustrated by award-winning artist Rob Ten Pas, this was one of the bestselling graphic novels of 2008 and the only graphic novel ever to become a BusinessWeek bestseller. The book is now being translated into 14 languages. Pinks first book, FREE AGENT NATION: The Future of Working for Yourself, was a Washington Post bestseller that Publishers Weekly says has become a cornerstone of employee-management relations. His newest work, DRIVE: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us will be published by Riverhead Books in January 2010.

From 1995 to 1997 Pink served as chief speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore and has worked as an aide to U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich and in other positions in politics and government. He has a B.A., with honors, from Northwestern University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Dan lives in Washington, D.C., with his family.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Robert A. Delfino - Science and the Inescapability of Metaphysics

Another interesting article from The Global Spiral, published by the Metanexus Institute.
Science and the Inescapability of Metaphysics

The last three centuries have witnessed the great rise of the empirical sciences, such as physics and biology. Indeed, who can deny the extraordinary achievements of science? The technology that we rely on everyday and the life-saving medical procedures that were unavailable to previous times are all the fruit of scientific research. It is so easy to be proud of our scientific achievements that many have come to view science as the pinnacle of human knowledge. In fact, some philosophers and scientists hold that science is the only way to knowledge. This view is sometimes called scientism. Of course, not all philosophers and scientists embrace scientism, but enough do to make it an important issue, well-deserving of our attention.

SPECT Images of Brains at Prayer, Courtesy of Andrew Newberg and the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.

For example, the philosopher Jaegwon Kim has remarked that naturalism is at the heart of much of contemporary analytic philosophy and that the core of naturalism “seems to be something like this: [the] scientific method is the only method for acquiring knowledge or reliable information in all spheres including philosophy.”1 In addition, Mikael Stenmark has noted that many distinguished scientists, who have written best-selling books for general audiences, have embraced scientism.2 For example, Richard C. Lewontin, an evolutionary geneticist, in a review of Carl Sagan’s book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, wrote, in agreement with Sagan, the following: “to put a correct view of the universe into people’s heads we must … get them to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world, … and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, [namely,] Science, as the only begetter of truth.”3

Obviously, such a position is very controversial. If it is true that science is the only begetter of truth then disciplines such as philosophy and theology must either be absorbed into science, and thereby undergo significant changes, or be denied the status of knowledge. However, if scientism is false then the situation will be quite different. Clearly, much is at stake. In this essay, I argue that scientism is mistaken because science presupposes non-scientific knowledge. In addition, I argue that some of this non-scientific knowledge must be metaphysical. The resulting conclusion is that science cannot escape metaphysics. For this reason, I also argue that scientists and metaphysicians should engage in interdisciplinary work. Before I can make any of these arguments, however, I must clarify my general understanding of metaphysics, which I shall do next.

Different Conceptions of Metaphysics

Philosophers have put forth and attacked many different conceptions of metaphysics throughout the history of philosophy.4 Indeed, metaphysics has been shrouded in controversy for over two thousand years ever since Aristotle tried to distinguish it from other disciplines of learning. Aristotle, I should note, did not use the word ‘metaphysics,’ but instead used several different names for the discipline, including ‘Wisdom’ and ‘First philosophy.’5 In addition, he was rather unclear when discussing what metaphysics studied, and this has led to much disagreement among scholars over how to interpret him. For example, in different passages he says that metaphysics studies substance, first principles and causes, Divinity, being qua being, the attributes of being qua being, and, in one passage, he even says it studies everything.6

Aristotle was clear, however, that metaphysics is the highest of the three theoretical sciences, which included physics and mathematics. Whereas he tells us that these other sciences “cut off a part of being and investigate the attribute of this part,” metaphysics, according to Aristotle, “treats universally of being as being.”7 From these passages, we get a sense that metaphysics is the investigation of the ultimate nature of reality. As such, the questions raised by metaphysics seem to be the most fundamental questions that can be asked. Although there is much that is good in Aristotle’s conception of metaphysics, it is not without some serious problems, and, thus, I will not defend it here.8

Instead, I will defend a different conception of metaphysics, one that appropriates what is good in Aristotle and other metaphysicians, namely, the conception of metaphysics put forth by the philosopher Jorge J. E. Gracia in his book Metaphysics and its Task: The Search for the Categorial Foundation of Knowledge.9 In that work, Gracia argues that metaphysics is the study of categories and it has several tasks.10 With respect to the most general categories, metaphysics aims to identify them, to define them if possible, and to determine the relationships among these categories. With respect to the less general categories, metaphysics aims to fit them correctly into the most general categories, and to determine how they are related to all of the most general categories, including categories into which they do not fit.

To understand what he means by ‘category’ it is important to note two things. First, categories are not predicates. For Gracia, predicability is exclusively the property of words. To predicate is to join words to other words in a certain way.11 In contrast, categories are what the predicable words express. Second, when he says that categories are what the predicable words express, he is using ‘express’ in a technical sense.12 Some words express extra-mental entities, other words express concepts, and still other words express words. According to Gracia, “Each category, qua category, should be considered to be whatever it is, as determined by its proper definition and nothing more.”13

For example, if I say ‘The Triceratops is a dinosaur that existed during the Late Cretaceous Period’ the predicable word ‘Triceratops’ expresses something extra-mental. However, if I say ‘A dream is a mental entity’ the predicable word ‘dream’ expresses something that exists in a mind. Likewise, if I say ‘Preposition is a word’ the predicable word ‘preposition’ expresses a linguistic entity. Finally, if we cannot express something by a predicable word, then it is not a category. Individual entities, such as Plato and Plato’s knowledge of grammar, are not categories because they cannot be predicated. Instead, they function as words of an identity sentence, such as ‘This is Plato,’ and, therefore, are not categories.

Although Gracia’s usage of ‘category’ and ‘express’ is not standard it has several advantages. One advantage is that it allows him to talk about categories in a neutral way that avoids reducing all categories to words, or concepts, or extra-mental entities. This allows him to define metaphysics as the study of categories without reducing metaphysics to realism, conceptualism, or nominalism. Still, Gracia’s view of metaphysics is a kind of realism because he holds that at least some categories are more than words or concepts. Another advantage of Gracia’s view of metaphysics is that it is flexible enough to appropriate insights from other conceptions of metaphysics. As Gracia says:

If my understanding of metaphysics is adopted, the decision as to the ultimate nature of reality will depend on the detailed analysis of particular categories, and especially those which are studied under [the branch of metaphysics known as] ontology. Only then can we expect to come up with a respectable theory. It is not in the definition of metaphysics that this work is to be done, but in the discussion of particular categories.14

Having clarified Gracia’s conception of metaphysics enough for our present purposes, we can proceed to argue for the conclusion that science cannot escape metaphysics. As I mentioned above, the first step towards this conclusion is to argue that scientism is mistaken because science presupposes non-scientific knowledge. However, such an argument requires that we examine scientism and the reasons why it is mistaken more closely. Let us, then, turn to that task now.

Scientism and its Problems

Stenmark has identified many different kinds of scientism, including epistemic scientism, ontological scientism, axiological scientism, and existential scientism.15
To discuss all of these in the depth that they deserve would require more space than I have here. Therefore, I will only focus on the first two because they are, arguably, the most important and common kinds of scientism.

We begin with epistemic scientism, which is the view that “the only reality that we can know anything about is the one science has access to.”16 This kind of scientism tries to reduce all knowledge to scientific knowledge. Under this view, as I mentioned earlier, other disciplines, such as philosophy and theology, must either be absorbed into science, and thereby undergo significant changes, or be denied the status of knowledge. The biologist Edward O. Wilson, for example, seems to espouse such a view in his book Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge.17

Although epistemic scientism puts limits on human knowledge, it leaves open the possibility that some realities exist that science cannot discover, such as God. In contrast, ontological scientism puts limits on what exists objectively because it holds that “the only reality that exists is the one science has access to.”18 As Stenmark notes, Sagan’s famous remark that “the Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be” is an example of ontological scientism. The reason is that in order to make such a claim, a scientist like Sagan must hold that science gives us complete knowledge of reality. If science does not give us complete knowledge of reality, or if we are unsure that it does, then we are not warranted in drawing a conclusion like that of Sagan’s above.

This last point raises some doubts about ontological scientism. Do we know for certain, that science does or can give us complete knowledge of reality? Or is this merely an assumption? If it is an assumption then, obviously, there is no guarantee that it is true. And if it is claimed that it is not an assumption, then it must be knowable by scientific means since ontological scientism entails epistemic scientism. Unfortunately, for proponents of ontological scientism, it does not seem possible to determine through scientific experiment that the scientific method can give us complete knowledge of reality. Stenmark discusses the problem in detail:

[H]ow do you set up a scientific experiment to demonstrate that science or a particular scientific method gives an exhaustive account of reality? I cannot see how this could be done in a non-question begging way. What we want to know is whether science sets the limits for reality. The problem is that since we can only obtain knowledge about reality by means of scientific methods … we must use those methods whose scope is in question to determine the scope of these very same methods. If we used non-scientific methods we could never come to know the answer to our question … We are therefore forced to admit either that we cannot avoid arguing in a circle or that the acceptance of [ontological scientism] … is a matter of superstition or blind faith.19

These are mortal blows to ontological scientism. Ironically, ontological scientism itself has turned out not to be a scientific view. And views that assume ontological scientism, such as Sagan’s view of reality, are also not scientific views. Instead, they are metaphysical views that may or may not be true. Since the scientific method cannot be used to determine whether or not such views are true, another non-scientific discipline, namely metaphysics, would have to make the attempt. However, this is only possible if one opts to reject both ontological and epistemic scientism. Epistemic scientism must be rejected since it denies that status of knowledge to metaphysics. Still, there is another option. Scientists can reject both ontological scientism and metaphysics, while continuing to accept epistemic scientism. Of course, scientists who take this option must refrain, unlike Sagan, from taking any metaphysical positions. But this raises another question, namely, is the retreat into epistemic scientism defensible?

Stenmark gives two reasons why the answer is “no.” First, he argues that epistemic scientism is self-refuting.20 This is because, once again, we cannot use scientific experimentation to know that “the only reality that we can know anything about is the one science has access to.” As such, epistemic scientism collapses under its own weight. Second, Stenmark notes that if we are able to know some things independently of science then epistemic scientism is falsified. He gives detailed arguments, which I cannot reproduce here, that there are indeed things we know apart from science. These include memory, observational knowledge, introspective knowledge, linguistic knowledge, and intentional knowledge.21 Moreover, he argues that the activity of science itself presupposes these more basic kinds of knowledge.22

While Stenmark’s arguments above are enough to undermine epistemic scientism, I want to make the additional argument that science cannot escape metaphysics. I believe the key to such argumentation can be found in the fact that science itself presupposes metaphysical knowledge and metaphysical views that are not reducible to science. Let us, then, examine some of these presuppositions.

Metaphysical Presuppositions of Science

One reason why scientists cannot escape metaphysics is because the activity of science itself presupposes some metaphysical concepts and principles. As the philosopher of science Del Ratzsch explains:

One simply cannot do significant science without presuppositions concerning, for example, what types of concepts are rationally legitimate, what evaluative criteria theories must answer to, and what resolution procedures are justifiable when those criteria conflict, as well as answers to deeper questions concerning aspects of the character of reality itself, concerning the nature and earmarks of truth and of knowledge, concerning what science is about and what it is for, concerning human sensory and cognitive and reasoning capabilities, and other matters … Science cannot be done without a substantial fund of nonempirical principles and presuppositions.23

Ratzsch argues that some of the metaphysical principles that scientists adopt are empirically at risk, and therefore they can be rejected given certain discoveries. For example, he discusses how the philosophical principle that natural explanations must be deterministic was ultimately rejected due to the discovery of quantum physics.24 I agree with Ratzsch on this point. However, I would add that there are at least some metaphysical principles and concepts that are necessary presuppositions of science and therefore they cannot be rejected unless one is willing to reject science itself.

In making this claim, I should note that I am presupposing a realistic conception of science, namely, the view that the aim of science is to discover objective truths about reality, where reality is understood as that which exists independently of our minds.25 As examples of such necessary presuppositions of science, I would offer the principle of non-contradiction and the concept of truth, which we shall examine next.

For Aristotle, the principle of non-contradiction is ultimately a metaphysical principle, which he formulates as follows: “[I]t is impossible for anything at the same time to be and not to be.”26 If scientists hold that the metaphysical principle of non-contradiction is false, then we are led to absurdity. This is because a denial of non-contradiction means that it is possible for anything at the same time to be and not to be. So, for example, the planet earth can be both 10,000 years old and 4.5 billion years old at the same time for the same observer. Under these conditions, reality itself is so bizarre that I would argue that it is no longer capable of being investigated scientifically.

To demonstrate this, consider another metaphysical concept that is presupposed by science, namely, truth. If truth is the conformity of a proposition with reality and reality itself exists in a contradictory way then there will be double truths. For example, if the planet earth can be both 10,000 years old and 4.5 billion years old at the same time then it will be true that the planet earth is 10,000 years old and it will also be true that the earth is 4.5 billion years old. Of course, we could deny that truth is the conformity of a proposition with reality but that, it seems, would lead us to some kind of relativism.

The Inescapability of Metaphysics

As the above makes clear, the activity of science, at least when it is understood in a realist way, presupposes a certain framework. And elements of this framework such as the principle of non-contradiction and the concept of truth cannot be investigated or justified through the scientific method. As such, they will have to investigated and justified in another discipline, namely philosophy, and, more specifically, metaphysics. This justification is necessary to the extent that scientists want to hold that their theories are true, or at least approximately true, and in order to respond to the postmodernist attacks on science that have challenged its status as knowledge.

Metaphysics is inescapable, then, because a realist conception of science requires a philosophical foundation, part of which must be metaphysical. And this inescapability becomes even clearer if we adopt Gracia’s understanding of metaphysics. This is because the categories of science are related to the most general categories of metaphysics, and therefore any scientific view is incomplete until these relations are clarified. It is metaphysics, as Gracia explains, that provides the categorial foundation of all knowledge, including the sciences:

Metaphysics, then, turns out to be the categorial foundation of knowledge. For in it we attempt to establish and understand the most general categories and the relation of all other categories to them. … As the view of these categories and their relations, metaphysics is logically presupposed by every other view that one may have. Any account of what we know or think we know, then, is incomplete until we provide its metaphysical foundation. We can, of course, practice other disciplines and hold other views without consciously practicing metaphysics or holding metaphysical views, but in these cases we do in fact vicariously engage in metaphysics and hold metaphysical views, for the views we hold logically presuppose views about the most general categories, their interrelations, and the relation of the less general categories we use to the most general categories. All our knowledge depends on metaphysical views whether we are aware of it or not, and all our thinking involves metaphysical thinking. Those who delude themselves in believing that they do not engage in metaphysical thinking nonetheless do. The only difference between them and declared metaphysicians is that the former are unaware of what they do and, therefore, do it surreptitiously and unreflectively, whereas the latter are aware of it and do it openly and deliberately. Metaphysics is inescapable.27

Because metaphysics is inescapable, scientists and metaphysicians should engage in interdisciplinary work. But in order for that to happen the current climate must change. Albert Einstein once wrote, when commenting on the work of Bertrand Russell, that he lamented the “fear of metaphysics” that many thinkers have inherited from David Hume.28 Fear, however, should not keep scientists and metaphysicians apart, especially given the great cosmological and biological discoveries of the last few decades. Now is the time for greater dialogue and greater interdisciplinary work.29


1 Jaegwon Kim, “The American Origins of Philosophical Naturalism,” Journal of Philosophical Research, the APA Centennial Volume, 2003), p. 87.

2 Mikael Stenmark, Scientism: Science, Ethics and Religion (Aldershort: Ashgate, 2001), p. vii.

3 Richard C. Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” The New York Review, January 9, 1997, p. 28.

4 See Jorge J. E. Gracia, Metaphysics and its Task: The Search for the Categorial Foundation of Knowledge (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1999), pp. ix-xiii; passim.

5 Aristotle, Metaphysics, 981b27 and 1026a24.

6 Ibid., 1005b8, 982b10, 1003a27, 1026a19, 1005a2, 1003a24, 1004a9-20.

7 Ibid., 1003a23-25, trans. W. D. Ross, The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. Richard McKeon (New York: Random House, 1941), p. 731.

8 For example, Gracia argues there are some serious problems with the view that metaphysics studies being qua being. See Gracia, Metaphysics and its Task, pp. 25-28.

9 Ibid., see note 4 above.

10 Ibid., pp. 131-158.

11 Ibid., p. 134.

12 Ibid., p. 135.

13 Ibid., p. 205; emphasis in original.

14 Ibid., pp. 212-213.

15 Stenmark, Scientism: Science, Ethics and Religion, pp. 1-17.

16 Ibid., p. 4.

17 Edward O. Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (New York: Vintage, 1999).

18 Stenmark, Scientism: Science, Ethics and Religion, p. 8.

19 Ibid., pp. 22-23.

20 Ibid., p. 32.

21 Ibid., pp. 26-31.

22 Ibid., pp. 18-33.

23 Del Ratzsch, Nature, Design, and Science: The Status of Design in Natural Science (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2001), p. 82.

24 Ibid., p. 110.

25 Realism in one form or another has been the dominant view of science for most of history and it is currently the dominant view among philosophers of science. See Frederick Suppe, The Structure of Scientific Theories (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2nd ed., 1977), pp. 652, 716-728.

26 Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1006a2-3, trans. W. D. Ross, The Basic Works of Aristotle, p. 737.

27 Gracia, Metaphysics and its Task, pp. 220-221.

28 Albert Einstein, “Remarks on Bertrand Russell’s Theory of Knowledge” The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell, ed. Paul A. Schilpp(La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1989), p. 289.

29 I would like to thank Glenn Statile and Stephen Greeley for helpful suggestions on this paper. Et Deo Gratias.

The Psychology of Change - Rob Williams

Interesting series of videos. I don't know enough about PSYCH-K to say whether or not it is a useful technology or just another "spiritual growth" scam. So please keep your skeptic sitting beside your open mind as you listen.
The Psychology of Change - Rob Williams

In this companion lecture to Dr. Bruce Lipton's "Biology of Perception " (Part 1:, Rob Williams, M.A. and Originator of PSYCH-K, discusses how beliefs determine your biological and behavioral realities and shows how to establish communication with the subconscious to "rewrite the software of the mind" and facilitate change.

PSYCH-K is a simple and direct way to change self-limiting beliefs at the subconscious level of the mind, where nearly all human behavior originates, both constructive and destructive. Its overall goal is to accelerate individual and global spiritual evolution by aligning subconscious beliefs with conscious wisdom from the worlds great spiritual and intellectual traditions.

Rob Williams has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Philosophy from the University of California at Los Angeles and a Masters Degree in Counseling and Personnel Services from the University of Colorado. He is President of The Myrddin Corporation, and Director of the PSYCH-K Centre International. Rob's life-long exploration of human potential, combined with his background in marketing, advertising, business management -- and 14 years in private practice as a psychotherapist -- provides a practical, results-oriented approach to personal change.

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Part 8:

Tami Simon - Bodhipaksa: Living as a River

Tami Simon of Soundstrue talks with Buddhist author and Wildmind Buddhist Meditation blogger, Bodhipaksa.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009

BodhipaksaTami Simon speaks with Bodhipaksa, a Buddhist teacher, author, and member of the Western Buddhist Order since 1993. He currently teaches Buddhism and meditation to prisoners and is the author of several books, including Wildmind: A Step-by-step Guide to Meditation, as well as the Sounds True audio learning programs Still the Mind and The Wisdom of the Breath. In this interview, Bodhipaksa discusses the fluid nature of identity: what he calls “living as a river.” (56 minutes)

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