Saturday, July 21, 2012

Group Selection vs. Natural Selection - The On-Going Debate

Here is the brief introduction Wilson offers to this article:
This essay continues a dialogue that started with Steve Pinker's essay titled "The False Allure of Group Selection" published on All readers are invited to comment at the end of this essay. In addition, professional evolutionists are invited to provide more extensive comments on the Social Evolution Forum.

Steven Pinker, along with Richard Dawkins, made some wild and hyper-critical attacks on EO Wilson's newest book, The Social Conquest of Earth. David Sloan Wilson has been a supportive voice for Wilson in the debate, and he is one of the few who are seeking a middle ground between the two models, each of which is true but partial.

Clash of Paradigms

David Sloan Wilson

Author, 'The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time'; Editor-in-Chief, Evolution: This View of Life

Posted: 07/15/2012

Thomas Kuhn (1970) forever changed the conception of science with his notion of paradigms. Before, science was often seen as a relatively straight path to the truth through the repeated formation and testing of hypotheses. What could be simpler?

Kuhn observed that scientists sometimes get stuck viewing a topic a certain way. Their particular configuration of ideas is capable of a limited degree of change through hypothesis formation and testing, but cannot escape from its own assumptions in other respects. This makes the replacement of one paradigm by another a complex and uncertain process.

A clash of paradigms is currently taking place for evolutionary theories of social behavior. In this corner, multilevel selection theory (MLST), a configuration of ideas that began with Darwin and has maintained a degree of continuity, in addition to a degree of change, up to the present. In that corner, inclusive fitness theory (IFT), which can also claim roots in Darwin and has also changed while remaining true to a core set of ideas.

The most recent battle between the two paradigms began when Edward O. Wilson, one of the most celebrated living evolutionists, became a vocal proponent of MLST and started to denounce the utility of IFT. Those who are familiar with Wilson's work know that he has been receptive to MLST all along (read his chapter on group selection in Sociobiology (1975) for details). I should know, because he sponsored the publication of my first article on group selection in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 1975 and we have co-authored a number of more recent articles together, including the comprehensive "Rethinking the Theoretical Foundation of Sociobiology" published in the Quarterly Review of Biology in 2007. Wilson's more recent "conversion" was notable less for his acceptance of MLST than his rejection of IFT as a useful paradigm. He was joined by the eminent mathematical biologist Martin Nowak (along with his young-career colleague Corina Tarnita) in a major article in Nature, and elaborated on his views in his most recent book The Social Conquest of Earth.

Proponents of IFT could not take this assault on their paradigm lying down. The responses to the article in Nature included one with 137 co-authors (Abbott et al. 2010). Richard Dawkins wrote a spirited review of Wilson's book in Prospect magazine and Steven Pinker wrote an essay for titled "The False Allure of Group Selection". The twenty commentaries (including one by myself) following Pinker's essay provide a fascinating snapshot of the clash between the two paradigms.

Before continuing, I want to stress that the clash between MLST and IFT departs from the Kuhnian notion of paradigms in at least two respects. First, in the major examples discussed by Kuhn, one paradigm eventually collapses and is replaced by the other. Nobody talks about pre-Copernican views of the universe anymore. Even though proponents of MLST and IFT sometimes write as if the other paradigm has or will collapse, there is a strong sense in which a collapse of one paradigm shouldn't be expected. Instead, the two paradigms are like different languages, such as Russian and English, a metaphor that I will elaborate upon below.

Second, Kuhnian paradigms are thought to be incommensurate, such that people who think in terms of one truly cannot see the world in terms of the other. In the case of MLST and IFT, some proponents fit this description but others can easily grasp both paradigms and acknowledge the utility of one, even if they have a preference for the other. I count myself among them as a proponent of MLST who acknowledges the utility of IFT, along with David Queller, a proponent of IFT who acknowledges the utility of MLST. The language metaphor is apt: For people who speak only a single language, another language appears confusing and redundant. People who have become bilingual can easily toggle between two languages and have no wish for one to replace the other.

Queller and I are not alone. There is a sizeable community of evolutionists who are bilingual with respect to MLST and IFT. If anything deserves to collapse in the clash between these two paradigms, it the unilingual position that only one paradigm deserves to exist. When unilinguals become bilingual, the so-called "group selection controversy" will be over.

Diagnosing the claim that one paradigm is confusing and unproductive

The current battle between proponents of MLST and IFT include claims that one's non-preferred theory is confusing, inconsistent, unproductive and adds nothing to one's preferred theory. Here is a sample of quotes from MLST proponents criticizing IFT.

"Yet, considering its position for four decades as the dominant paradigm in the theoretical study of eusociality, the production of inclusive fitness theory must be considered meagre....Inclusive fitness theory is only another method of accounting, one that works for very restrictive scenarios and where it works it makes the same predictions as standard natural selection theory. Hence, there are no predictions that are specific to inclusive fitness theory. (Nowak et al., 2010)."

"Equations seemed to arise out of nowhere in kin selection... Moreover, the concept of "relatedness" seemed to morph and change over time ...Casting a problem in terms of inclusive fitness is like having to undergo elaborate and time-consuming initiations to join an elite club, only to end up with nothing in the way of privileges (Nowak and Highfield 2011)."

"Much of the inadequacy of the theory comes from looseness in the definition of r, hence the very concept of kinship, in various interpretations of the Hamilton inequality....the only unifying theme seemed in time to be that r, originally defined by pedigree, is whatever it takes to make Hamilton's inequality work. The inequality thereby lost meaning as a theoretical concept, and became all but useless as a tool for designing experiments or analyzing comparative data (E.O. Wilson 2012)." Proponents of IFT protested en masse against these statements, but here is what some of them have to say about MLST.

"The first big problem with group selection is that the term itself sows so much confusion. People invoke it to refer to many distinct phenomena, so casual users may literally not know what they are talking about. (Pinker 2012)."

"The first and deepest problem with this debate is that the term group selection does not have any single fixed meaning, but has been used over the last half century to convey a huge and tangled thicket of different and conflicting meanings. The great majority of these are seriously defective as a way of describing reality. (Cosmides 2012)."

"'Group selection', even in the rare cases where it is not actually wrong, is a cumbersome, time-wasting, distracting impediment to what would otherwise be a clear and straightforward understanding of what is going on in natural selection. (Dawkins 2012)."

"Models of group selection are either mathematically equivalent to those based on kin selection but less tractable, or are so nebulous that they can't be analyzed at all. Further, claims that kin selection is less useful than group selection in understanding nature are simply wrong. (Coyne 2012)."

The symmetry of these complaints strongly suggests the existence of two paradigms. Each paradigm is an internally consistent configuration of ideas with explanatory power for those who use the paradigm. But viewing the world from within one paradigm makes the other paradigm appear confusing, unproductive, and so on. The authors of these statements write as if their criticisms are true in some absolute sense, when in fact the criticisms are only true for the authors in a relational sense. That's what the basic phenomenon of paradigms is all about.

Read the rest of this long article.

Susan Greenfield on How the Brain Creates Consciousness

This video was recorded at The Australian National University in August of 2010. Susan Greenfield (Professor of Synaptic Pharmacology, Lincoln College, Oxford University) was the keynote speech at a John Curtin School of Medical Research symposium: New Perspectives in Clinical Neuroscience and Mental Health. Her lecture - the keynote speech at a John Curtin School of Medical Research symposium: New Perspectives in Clinical Neuroscience and Mental Health - was titled, "How does the brain generate consciousness?"

How does the brain generate consciousness? Baroness Susan Greenfield

Susan Greenfield was both an undergraduate and graduate at Oxford, but has subsequently spent time in postdoctoral research at the College de France, Paris, with Professor J Glowinski and at the New York University Medical Centre, New York, with Professor R Llinas. As a consequence of working in both biochemical and electrophysiological environments she has developed a multidisciplinary approach to exploring novel neuronal mechanisms in the brain that are common to regions affected in both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. The basic theme of her research is to develop strategies to arrest neuronal death in these disorders.

She is also co-founder of a university spin-out company specialising in novel approaches to neurodegeneration, - Synaptica Ltd In addition, Professor Greenfield has a supplementary interest in the neuroscientific basis of consciousness, and accordingly has written 'Journey to the Centres of the Mind Toward a Science of Consciousness' (1995) W H Freeman Co, and 'Private Life of the Brain' (2000) Penguin. Her latest book 'Tomorrow's People: How 21st Century technology is changing the way we think and feel' (Penguin 2003), explores human nature, and its potential vulnerability in an age of technology.

In addition, she is also Director of the Institute for the Future of the Mind, part of the James Martin 21st Century School, which exploits the parallels between the brains of the very young and very old, and how they are all vulnerable to technology, chemical manipulation, and disease.

She has also written 'The Human Brain': A Guided Tour (1997) Orion-Phoenix Press, which ranked in the best seller list for hard and paperbacks.

She held the Gresham Chair of Physic from 1996-1999, and has received 28 honorary degrees. In 1998 she was awarded the Michael Faraday medal by the Royal Society and in 1999 was elected to an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians. She is also involved in science policy and has given a consultative seminar to the Prime Minister on the future of science in the UK. Susan has been involved in the 'Science and the Economy' seminars at No 11 and in response to a request in 2002 from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, she produced the Greenfield Report 'SET Fair: A Report on Women in Science, Engineering, and Technology'. She was awarded the CBE in the Millennium New Year's Honour's List and Life Peerage (non-political) in 2001. In 2003 she was awarded the Ordre National de la Legion d'Honneur.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Neuroscientist David Eagleman on Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain

Back in 2011, neuroscientist David Eagleman spoke with Wired's David Rowan about his then-new book, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain. I seriously enjoyed this book as an excellent complementary text to Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Here is the text from the dust jacket:
If the conscious mind--the part you consider you--is just the tip of the iceberg in the brain, what is all the rest doing?  Neuroscientist David Eagleman plumbs the depths of the subconscious brain to illuminate surprising questions: Why can your foot jump halfway to the brake pedal before you become consciously aware of danger ahead?  Why do strippers make more money at certain times of month, even while no one is consciously aware of their fertility level?  Is there a true Mel Gibson? What do Odysseus and the subprime mortgage meltdown have in common?  How is your brain like a conflicted democracy engaged in civil war?  Why are people whose name begins with J more likely to marry other people whose name begins with J? Why is it so difficult to keep a secret? Why did Supreme Court Justice William Douglas deny that he was paralyzed? The subsurface exploration includes waystops in brain damage, drugs, infidelity, synesthesia, criminal law, the future of artificial intelligence, and visual illusions--all highlighting how our perception of the world is a hidden and awe-inspiring construction of the brain.

At The Hospital Club on 6 April 2011, Wired magazine's editor David Rowan sat down in conversation with David Eagleman, neuroscientist and author of Incognito: The SecretLives of The Brain, who spoke at length about some of the fascinating insights contained within it. The invite-only conversation is now available to all in the video below.

Sam McNerney - Embodied Creativity: Thinking Outside The Box Is More Than Mere Metaphor

This is a cool post on embodied cognition from Sam McNerney at the Big Think site. It's from a while back, but I have been a more than a little behind in getting the cool stuff up on the blog. McNerney's Big Think blog is called Moments of Genius - he posts some very cool stuff.

This post links to several studies supporting an embodied cognition view, but he also makes reference to a very important book (which he calls "trippy") that I highly recommend, Shaun Gallagher's How the Body Shapes the Mind.

Embodied Creativity: Thinking Outside The Box Is More Than Mere Metaphor

In the 17th century, the French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes famously argued that, “the mind or soul of man is entirely different from the body.” With this move, Descartes forever enshrined himself as a dualist.

Modern science tells us that Descartes was wrong; our bodies and brains are comprised of the same biological stuff – proteins, DNA, genes, etc. However, some cognitive scientists are taking this claim further: the brain is not just connected to the body, they say, the body also influences the brain. That is, rationality is greatly determined by how the body experiences the world.

For example, when we say that something is “over our heads” to express the idea that we do not understand, we’re drawing on the physical inability to perceive something over our heads and the mental feeling of uncertainty. When we say that someone is “warming up” to us, we are combining the subjective judgment of kindness, pleasantness and affection with the physical sensation of warmth. Cognitive scientists call this ever so revealing area of study embodied cognition.

Embodied cognition research illustrates many strange quarks about the human condition. One study, for instance, demonstrated that thinking about the future caused participants to lean slightly forward while thinking about the past caused participants to lean slightly backwards. Why? We treat time as a physical object that’s either in front of us or behind us. For example, if you’re experiencing a bout of pessimism I might remind you that you have, “the whole future ahead of yourself,” and encourage you to, “keep moving forward and leave the past behind you.”

Another study demonstrated that we conflate morality with being physically clean. In one of the experiments researchers showed that participants asked to think about moral wrongdoings like adultery or cheating where, compared to a control group who thought about good deeds, more likely to request an antiseptic cloth after the experiment. Again, our cognition is not confined to our cortices.

What’s interesting is the relationship between embodied cognition and creativity; two of my favorite subjects. Consider a study published this year in the journal Psychological Science. Angela Leung and a team of researchers conducted a series of experiments to see what happens when metaphors describing creativity are enacted physically. Is “thinking outside the box” real?

To find out, the researchers gathered 102 undergraduates. They completed 10-item Remote Associate Tests (RAT), which measures convergent thinking, while sitting in either a 5’ by 5’ box or in an averaged sized room. The RAT required the students to produce a fourth word (tape) that connects with three target words (measure, worm, video). Did the students who tackled the RAT “outside the box” preform better?

This is exactly what Leung et al found. Students who completed the RAT outside of the box generated more correct answers than students inside the box and students in a control condition.

Leung et al demonstrated embodiment for several other creativity clichés. In brief, ‘putting two and two together’ and ‘seeing both sides of the problem’ are more than mere metaphors. They are ideas in the brain enacted by physical movements in the environment. (Psyblog has a nice explanation of the full study)

Cognitive scientist Shaun Gallagher, author of the trippy book How the Body Shapes the Mind, puts it this way:
In the embodied view, if you're going to explain cognition it's not enough just to look inside the brain. In any particular instance, what's going on inside the brain in large part may depend on what's going on in the body as a whole, and how that body is situated in its environment.
It will be interesting to see if embodied cognition becomes a new paradigm for thinking about the brain as cognitive science continues to accelerate into the future. 

Giorgio Ascoli - Arboreal Mind: Finding Self in Nerve Cell Branching

This two-part video talk featuring Dr. Giorgio Ascoli speaking about a neuronal branching theory of self was hosted by the National Capital Area Skeptics. In this 2010 lecture, Dr. Ascoli explains his theory that the "branching structure of neurons provides a fundamental physical underpinning for a key cognitive function, namely the capability to learn." He argues that this capability is essential to learning and that most of us can only acquire a fraction of the neural-based relations that are possible - imagine what might be possible if we could exploit ALL of the possible connections.

Giorgio Ascoli - Arboreal Mind: Finding Self in Nerve Cell Branching

Presented by Giorgio Ascoli, Ph.D.,
Computational Neuroanatomy Group,
Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study,
George Mason University, VA

The importance of neuronal morphology, i.e. the tree-like shape of nerve cells, in modern neuroscience is rooted in two foundational aspects. On the one hand, dendrites and axons mediate respectively the functional input and output of neurons. On the other, they constitute the essential substrates for network connectivity. To connect this level of scientific analysis to the philosophical problem of the mind-brain relation requires a radical shift in the current research paradigm to include first-person (subjective) experience as a legitimate topic of empirical investigation. To date, the exact neural correlates are not yet known for any conscious function. However, two general principles are commonly (if implicitly) believed. First, mental states (thoughts, feelings, memories, intentions, etc.) consist of spatio-temporal activity patterns in networks of neurons. Second, learning, meant as the acquisition of the potential to instantiate a previously unknown mental state, corresponds to the formation of new connections among neurons, enabling the activation of the new spatio-temporal pattern underlying said mental state. In this talk, Dr. Ascoli will introduce the notion that the branching structure of neurons provides a fundamental physical underpinning for a key cognitive function, namely the capability to learn. In particular, he will explain that this capability is far from trivial and that any individual can typically only acquire a fraction of the relations that can in principle be known. Moreover, he will illustrate how the spatial architecture of axons and dendrites provides a crucial constraint (and insight) on the capability to acquire knowledge.

This talk will be presented at a lay level because subjective experience and tree shapes are accessible to all humankind.

Dr. Ascoli is head of the Computational Neuroanatomy Group at the Krasnow Institute. The group's main effort is to model neuronal morphology (the "shape" of brain cells) and its influence on network connectivity and electrophysiological activity. One of the products of that group is L-Neuron, a modeling tool that generates and describes realistic neurons. Among the current research projects of the Computational Neuroanatomy Group are anatomically plausible neural networks and autobiographic memory. He edited the scientific book, Computational Neuroanatomy: Principles and Methods, which defines Computational Neuroanatomy in broad terms. His main long-term scientific and philosophical goal consists in establishing a working model for the highest cognitive functions such as human consciousness. His current consciousness model is fundamentally based on associative learning.

On the experimental side, Dr. Ascoli's research involvement is primarily in neuroanatomy, but his scientific background is biochemistry. As a researcher at the former Laboratory of Adaptive Systems of the N.I.H., he worked on the structural characterization of a learning-associated neuronal protein, Calexcitin, and on the Prion protein, the infective agent of Mad Cow disease. He received his M.Sc. (Laurea) from the University of Pisa, and his Ph.D. from the Scuola Normale Superiore, in Italy, where he investigated drug-protein binding.

The views expressed are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Capital Area Skeptics.

Part One:

Part Two:

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Jonathan S. Davies - Why Hierarchy Won't Go Away: Understanding the Limits of 'Horizontalism'

When people reach the communal stage of development, which values consensus and human bonds (the Green Stage in SDi and AQAL), there tends to be an allergy to hierarchies of any kind, but especially those that include power differentials. We see this most recently in the various iterations of the Occupy Movement - a rejection of structure and hierarchy, which likely explains their lack of success in making any substantive change.

But as Jonathan Davies argues in this article, hierarchies won't go away, no matter how much people try to impose horizontal structures, which seems particularly true in the business world. Davies believes, working from Gramsci's theory of the integral state, that an "element of hierarchy is the pre-condition of effective solidarity and democratic accountability."

May 25, 2012

This short paper was produced as a Research Briefing for Leicester Business School in May 2012. It explores the rise of 'horizontalism' as a hegemonic world view and then discusses its limits, applying Gramsci's theory of the integral state. The paper suggests that the concept of a 'governance genome' maybe helpful for understanding how governing institutions embody multiple modes of coordination in many variable configurations, simultaneously hierarchy, market and network. It concludes that the resistance movements influenced by horizontalism should not feel threatened by hierarchy. The concept can be wrongly conflated with domination, and an element of hierarchy is the pre-condition of effective solidarity and democratic accountability. 
Full Citation:
Davies, JS. (May 25, 2012). Why Hierarchy Won't Go Away: Understanding the Limits of 'Horizontalism'  Social Science Research Network: or

Here is a short section of the paper that describes the rise of horizontalism in Western Culture - a movement that began in earnest in the 1960s but has roots all the way back to the 1800s and groups like the Transcendentalists, the poet Walt Whitman, and the efforts to free the slaves and give women the vote.
The Rise of Horizontalism
Horizontalist ideology began its rise to prominence in the 1960s, when capitalists, riding the wave of the technological revolution, started re-describing their activities in the language of networks. Contemporary capitalism celebrates qualities such as autonomy, spontaneity, multi-tasking, conviviality, team-working, openness to others and sensitivity to difference – all characteristics associated with the good networker. For major international organisations including the World Bank, the IMF, the OECD, the United Nations and European Union, networking has also become one of the cardinal principles of ‘good governance’.

Recognizing public disaffection with representative democracy and the ‘dead hand’ of bureaucracy in public services, governments too have sought to become more flexible and responsive through networking. As David Wilson highlighted in a previous Research Briefing, the idea of networks has been especially influential in local governance, where officials across much of the world, and not only in democracies, seek to build collaborative institutions; state-civil society partnerships inspired by the idea that on-going direct cooperation with citizens is both more democratic and more efficient than a representative system where councillors or mayors simply receive a mandate (of sorts) every few years and then assume they have sufficient power and legitimacy to govern. Governments today believe they must network with citizens, businesses and civil society groups, if they are to get anything done.

If the network is a crucial medium of political and economic power, it is also the central organising principle for many of those resisting cuts and austerity. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri depict a world where networked power, ‘Empire’, confronts its nemesis in the form of networked resistance, the ‘Multitude’. The Economics Editor of BBC Newsnight, Paul Mason, has written movingly and evocatively of how the ideas and technologies of networking inspire and organise protestors, from the scenes in Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring to the anti-capitalist protests of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. OWS is passionate in its commitment to horizontalism. Its antipathy to hierarchy is certainly well-grounded, deriving from both the experience of neoliberal authoritarianism today and the historical errors of the left: from the lumbering bureaucracies of the Labour Party and trade unions to the unspeakable dictatorships of Stalin and Mao. OWS therefore prides itself on transcending hierarchy, maximising democratic participation and perhaps even exemplifying or ‘prefiguring’ the way we might run a post-neoliberal, or even post-capitalist society. For OWS, networking is the most democratic and effective medium of resistance and also the raison d’etre of a new society transformed from the bottom-up.
The network is thus claimed by natural and social scientists, corporations, governments and citizens, by those wielding power and those opposing them. It is used variously to diagnose, analyse, prescribe and envision the world in the 21st century. In the social sciences, its influence extends throughout the core disciplines of economics, politics, sociology and geography and well beyond. Yet, despite overwhelming consensus about the reality and virtues of the network society, my research has been dedicated to critiquing it and, in essence, trying to prove it wrong. There is now a growing body of academic work coming round to the idea that, despite the immense power of the ideology of networks it neither describes the world adequately, nor serves as a blueprint for transforming it.
 You can download the PDF at the SSRN page.

Sebastian Seung and the Connectome: Does Brain Wiring Make Us Who We Are?

The RSA posted a video clip of Sebastian Seung talking about his book, Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are. The clip is short, at about 16 minutes, but there is a link to the audio of the full talk. I have also included two other videos of Seung talking about his work with mapping the human brain.

Connectome: How the brain's wiring makes us who we are

Rising star in the field of neuroscience Sebastian Seung argues that our identity lies not in our genes but in the connections between our brain cells -- and he describes the monumental task of mapping these "connectomes", neuron by neuron, synapse by synapse.

Listen to the podcast of the full event including audience Q&A:

Find out more about the Eyewire Game:

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Connectomics: Sebastian Seung vs. Tony Movshon, Columbia 2012

Does the brain's wiring make us who we are?
Neuroscientists Sebastian Seung and Anothony Movshon debate minds, maps, and the future of their field.

Moderated by Robert Krulwich and Carl Zimmer
Introduction by Stuart Firestein

Columbia University
April 2, 2012

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Sebastian Seung: Caroline Werner Gannett Series

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Organizing Self-Experiences by Marye O'Reilly Knapp

This is an interesting paper that was recently published in the open source International Journal of Integrative PsychotherapyVol 3, No 1 (2012). O'Reilly-Knapp offers a different conception of parts, or subpersonalities, one based in the work of Guntrip and Fairbairn, leading figures in the Object-Relations school of psychoanalysis. But her model is also integrative, based in part on Richard Erskine's Theories and methods of an integrative transactional analysis: A volume of selected articles (1997). You can find many of the articles by Erskine at the Integrative Psychotherapy site.

She references one of her own papers that might also be of interest, although it did not seem necessary for appreciating this one - Between Two Worlds: The Encapsulated Self.

Organizing Self-Experiences
Marye O’Reilly-Knapp

Psychotherapy can provide an organization of experiences so that a person attains a sense of self in relation to self and others. The first part of the paper addresses the developing self, the withdrawn  self, and an introduction to the yearning self. The second part of the paper considers the domain of relatedness with a focus on the development of self via the concepts of coherence, agency, affectivity, and continuity in time.

Here is the introduction to the paper:

“There is this secret part of me”, says Linda, as she begins her session. “I do not let anyone know about this piece of me; when I am afraid I hide here.” As she spoke I thought about a little girl who has no one to help her when she is afraid. She figured out a way to protect herself from the shouts and raging behavior of her stepfather and a mother who withdrew. Linda describes to me this hidden place where big rocks surround her in darkness. She cannot be seen nor can she be found. Her rocks remind me of Tustin’s (1986) description of “an imaginary hard shell” which protects a little child from the hostile world (p. 57). In Linda’s situation her mother was unresponsive to her child and failed to provide the protection needed for Linda to feel safe. In an earlier paper on the nature of the schizoid process, the existence of an individual in such a world was described along with the therapeutic interventions needed to establish and maintain a therapeutic relationship (O’Reilly-Knapp, 2001). Using the theory and methods of Integrative Psychotherapy as developed by Erskine (1997) and Guntrip’s (1995) work on the schizoid phenomenon, a framework was identified to work with the state of self that is split off and encapsulated. Using inquiry, attunement, and involvement in working with the splits described by Guntrip, interventions were documented which invited the self into relationship. Within the theory of Integrative Psychotherapy an emphasis is placed on the therapeutic relationship as healing. The process encourages a person in the therapeutic relationship to bring to awareness what has been denied or disavowed and to be immersed in a relationship where the client can express and learn to connect with the therapist, one’s self and, ultimately with others. An empathic, client-centered inquiry, attunement to the client’s rhythms, developmental levels, relational needs, cognition and affect, and involvement in acknowledging, validating and normalizing experiences provides the course of action for working with a person’s splits.

Fairbairn (1952) and Guntrip (1968/1995) proposed that the ego splits into four parts. The first split is between the central ego which is in contact with the outer world and the withdrawn ego which pulls into the inner world. The withdrawal into an inner state is an attempt to move away from perceived danger. As the central ego attempts to deal with the outer world, the wants and needs of the child are obstructed by the persecutory ego. Thus the second split occurs. Guntrip (1995) describes the struggle with the second split of the ego as a part dealing with unsatisfied desires and needs while another part persecutes desires and needs. This active persecution “keeps the basic self weak” and makes ‘cure’ a slow and difficult process” (p. 142). He went on to describe the ultimate split of the ego into the oral ego and regressed ego. Fueled by fear and flight from the outer world and an internal conflict dealing with helplessness and aggression, this last split holds the “dread of collapse in a depersonalized state”. (Hazell,1994, p. 199).

This paper expands on the previous paper on the encapsulated self by focusing on specific interventions for working with the hidden and lost self. The self-invariants of coherence, agency, affectivity, and continuity in time as identified by Stern (1985) are incorporated in this paper as:

1.) a way to further understand the formation of a core self and
2.) a therapeutic direction to facilitate the organization and emergence of self.

Consideration is given to the person’s use of withdrawal and at the same time, the longing to be a part of life. I propose that in the therapeutic relationship, the therapist must address the discord of persecution that is occurring and the struggle between the withdrawn self and the ‘yearning self’, aching to push out toward life and the world. Since the emerging self has withdrawn into an inner world, the core of self appears to be missing. There is no sense of continuity, inner feelings are denied or disavowed, needs are out of conscious awareness, and a sense of power over one’s actions is absent. Treatment of this self-state involves a connection with the therapist and use of rhythmic attunement to mutually create the holding space for emergence. The therapist provides the relationship where a safe environment allows for the self to be in contact and grow. The involvement of the therapist in the use of one’s own self is fundamental in the therapeutic process and will be demonstrated in a case study. The methods of Integrative Psychotherapy are the foundation of the therapeutic interventions; Stern’s (1985) four crucial invariants used in the early development and emergence of the self are employed in this paper as a way to assist in the organization of a person’s self.

Read the whole paper.

Madness Radio: Healing Sex with Staci Haines

Staci Haines is the author of Healing Sex: A Mind-Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma, a sex-positive approach for women healing from sexual trauma. In this segment of Madness Radio, she talks about her book and about her work in transformative justice and liberating society from child abuse.

Madness Radio: Healing with Sex Staci Haines

First Aired 7-1-2012

Childhood sexual abuse is pervasive in our society, leaving lifelong wounds that affect men as well as women. Is it enough to hold perpetrators accountable, or are there deeper causes of abuse? Do police, courts, and child protection services help heal -- or lead to more trauma? And how can body-oriented approaches move beyond the limits of talk therapy? Child sexual abuse survivor Staci Haines, author of Healing Sex: A Mind-Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma and co-founder of Generation Five, discusses transformative justice and liberating society from child abuse.

Useful links:

Spiritual Bypassing ~ Dialogue with Robert Augustus Masters and John Dupuy

This talk was brought to my attention by Arthur Gillard, a friend on Google + and other virtual locations. Masters and Dupuy are both psychotherapists and they are both integrally oriented, but their versions differ from the mainstream Wilberian integral crowd, so it's an interesting dialogue.

I reviewed Masters' Spiritual Bypassing when it came out. Click the image above to get the book at Amazon, or click this link - I highly recommend the book.

In the interest of full clarity, this dialogue is posted on the Profound Meditation Program site, a program designed to compete with Bill Harris's Holosync stuff. I don't know anything about these programs, and I don't go that route anyway. For me, mindfulness and simply trying to be "present" in my life are my meditation practices.

Spiritual Bypassing ~ Dialogue with Robert Augustus Masters and John Dupuy

In this dialog we discuss Robert Augustus Master's book, Spiritual Bypassing, and the idea that one must embrace the darkness and the suffering in order to transform and if one doesn't it causes manifold pathologies…this has been a key in developing Integral Recovery, as well as in my own personal healing and transformation. We also get very personal and talk about our prospective lives and experiences, as well as addressing some of the elephants in the halls of the Integral world. I hope you find it as helpful and compelling as I did. Robert also shares his first experience with PMP!


At a recent Enneagram workshop with Helen Palmer and Leslie Hershberger, I heard the book, Spirital Bypassing, by Robert Augustus Masters, referenced several times and the intuitive voice said "get it." I had been aware of Robert Augustus Masters work and presence in the Integral world and beyond for some time. Robert had also made some supportive comments on my work in Integral Recovery early on. 

A couple of weeks after the Eneagram workshop I purchased a copy of Spiritual Bypassing and began reading it. OMG! What an amazing read and what profound and absolutely essential wisdom is being brought forward in this volume. I immediately started recommending it to all my students and clients. On a whim I looked up Robert's website and found his telephone number. I called Robert and left a message. A couple of hours later, as I was perusing our local Walmart, Robert called back. Leaning against an island of highly discounted Pepsicola cases, we had our first conversation. And as my friend, David Hollday once said, you can find God in Walmart. He's right near the children's tennis shoe section.
We immediately clicked and I suggested that we have this conversation again, soon, and get it out to all of you. Robert readily agreed and a week later we did, and here are the results. I hope you find it as inspiring and helpful as I did. God bless you all and keep up the deep work.

Love, John
June 17, 2012

Spiritual Bypassing
with Robert Augustus Masters and John Dupuy

To download the dialogue right-click or control-click here, then choose "save file" or "download linked file"

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Bookforum Omnivore - Pirate Radical Philosophy

In yesterday's issue of Bookforum's Omnivore link collections, they offered another of their frequent philosophy themed links. Some good stuff, as always, but some not so good as well.

Pirate radical philosophy

Jul 16 2012

Authors at Google: Dr. Deepak Chopra, "Spiritual Solutions"

There is a lot that I do not like about Deepak Chopra's philosophy but, as Ken Wilber used to say, no one is wrong 100% of the time. In his new book, Spiritual Solutions: Answers to Life's Greatest Challenges, Chopra suggests we look for spiritual solutions to life's challenges - that the solution rarely comes from the same level as the problem.

This is part of the publisher's blurb for the book:
In this groundbreaking book, Chopra shows you how to expand your awareness, which is the key to the confusion and conflict we all face. “The secret is that the level of the problem is never the level of the solution,” he writes. By rising to the level of the solution in your own awareness, you can transform obstacles into opportunities. Chopra leads the reader to what he calls “the true self,” where peace, clarity, and wisdom serve as guides in times of crisis. For Chopra, spirituality is primarily about consciousness, not about religious dogma or relying on the conventional notion of God. “There is no greater power for success and personal growth than your own awareness.” With practical insight, Spiritual Solutions provides the tools and strategies to enable you to meet life’s challenges from within and to experience a sense of genuine fulfillment and purpose.

As long as we don't see this approach as the only solution, it's useful advice. If we try to make this the only solution, we will become lost in spiritual bypass - and I suspect that is where this books leads.

However, I know some readers here value Chopra, so I offer the video in the spirit of a truly inclusive perspective.

This video is part of the on-going Authors@Google series.

Authors at Google: Dr. Deepak Chopra, "Spiritual Solutions"
In his latest book, Spiritual Solutions, Dr. Deepak Chopra explains how many of life's challenges can best be addressed from a spiritual perspective. "The secret is that the level of the problem is never the level of the solution," he writes. In this interview at Google, Dr. Chopra talks about how we can expand our awareness to address difficulties in our lives.

Krista Tippett & Roshi Joan Halifax: Rites of Passage, Rituals, and Death

This is a nice talk between Krista Tippett, American Public Media's "On Being," and Roshi Joan Halifax (an expert on shamanism and facilitating a compassionate death) on rites of passage, rituals, and death. This discussion was part of the Chautauqua Institution's nine-week 2 p.m. Interfaith Lecture Series taking place this summer.

Krista Tippett & Roshi Joan Halifax: Rites of Passage, Rituals, and Death
Roshi Joan Halifax has had a career as colorful as the Hall of Philosophy platform from which she spoke. She's a medical anthropologist, an author, a social activist and a Buddhist teacher who founded the Upaya Zen Center, where she serves as abbot. Halifax joins Krista Tippett, producer and host of American Public Media's "On Being," for a journey of introspection, existentialism and, ultimately, death.

Read Mary Desmond's recap for The Chautauquan Daily here: Get familiar with Tippett, Halifax and all of Week Three's lecturers here:

Monday, July 16, 2012

Dr. Ginger Campbell Interviews Terrence Deacon - Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter

Dr. Ginger Campbell hosts the Brain Science Podcast, which is where most readers of this blog will be familiar with her, but she also hosts the Books and Ideas podcast. In the latest interview for that site, she spoke with Terrence Deacon, author of Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter. She has cross-posted the interview at the Brain Science Podcast site, just follow the link to hear the show at Books and Ideas.

Some of you, like me, will be familiar with Deacon from his 1998 book, The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain. Good stuff - I have his new book, and I look forward to reading it soon (ish).

Terrence Deacon (podcast interview)

In his new book, Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter, Terrence Deacon writes that his goal is to “demonstrate how a form of causality depending specifically on absent features and unrealized potential can be compatible with our best science” (page 16). But in a recent interview (Books and Ideas #47) he also contends that his book "grew out of a dissatisfaction with the systems theory approach." He feels strongly that "to understand the origin of end-directed phenomena, representational phenomena, or mental phenomena, you need to take one further step; you need to figure out what’s beyond self-organization that needs to be explained to account for these things." Thus, his ambitious goal is to find a place for meaning within science.

Incomplete Nature is a dense but compelling book, and the goal of this interview is to introduce listeners to the idea that life and meaning are compatible with a scientific world view.

Subscribe to Books and Ideas Podcast: itunes-badge-30 feed-icon32x32 zunelogo-70 mail-sticker-tiny

Note: This episode is also being released in the Brain Science Podcast feed.

NPR - Joy Harjo's 'Crazy Brave' Path To Finding Her Voice

When I was in grad school (the first time), Joy Harjo came to Ashland (OR) and gave a poetry reading in an event co-sponsored by the SOU English department and The West Wind Review, the college's literary magazine. Her poetry was honest, imbued with the rhythms of song and chant, and both deeply personal and subtly mythic. She was beautiful - I was young . . . and I was entranced. The picture above is from 1990, a year or two before she visited Ashland.

I had not thought much about her in the 20+ years since I finished that master's degree - so it's nice to see she has an autobiography out, Crazy Brave: A Memoir, and is featured on NPR. There's a link to an excerpt at the bottom.

In her new memoir, Joy Harjo recounts how her early years — a difficult childhood with an alcoholic father and abusive stepfather, and the hardships of teen motherhood — caused her to suppress her artistic gifts and nearly brought her to her breaking point. "It was the spirit of poetry," she writes in Crazy Brave, "who reached out and found me as I stood there at the doorway between panic and love."

NPR's Neal Conan talks with Harjo, now an acclaimed poet, performer and writer of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, about the dreams, visions and heartache that led her to find her voice as a poet and musician.

Interview Highlights

On how trauma in her early years acted as roadblocks to creativity

"Sometimes, I think, in order to get to something that we really want or we really love or something that needs to be realized, that we're tested. I mean, I think if you look at any stories all over the world, they are usually set up as, OK, here's where I start, here is where I want to go, and here are the tests.

"And they were pretty intense tests ... I failed a lot of them, or you find a way around. And maybe there is no such thing as failure ... that's kind of what I've had to come to. Yes, I mean, there's times ... when we fail. But it's a useful thing.

"At least I've had to come to that in my life, to realize that this stuff called failure, this stuff, this debris of historical trauma, family trauma, you know, stuff that can kill your spirit, is actually raw material to make things with and to build a bridge. You can use those materials to build a bridge over that which would destroy you."

On the importance of music in her life

"I think music is what attracted me to this world. I could hear my mother singing, and I thought OK, that's a pathway I can follow. And it was that moment — there was kind of a trans-cosmic consciousness, transcendental moment came when I was standing in — this is before seat belts — in my parents' car. And I think it was Miles Davis, his horn came on.

Joy Harjo has won a Native American Music Award for Best Female Artist of the Year for her album Winding Through the Milky Way.
Enlarge Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie
Joy Harjo has won a Native American Music Award for Best Female Artist of the Year for her album Winding Through the Milky Way.

"Of course I didn't know Miles Davis or horn, and ... that music opened an incredible door, and I was out there, and I could almost see the shape of my whole life. And I have a great love of jazz, and actually it's close to my Muscogee tribal people.

"I'm working on a story now that proves that — that includes us in the story of American music. Most people don't know that Congo Square was originally a Muscogee ceremonial ground ... in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz."

On how to get your artistic voice back, if you've lost it

"I [had] felt like I had lost my voice, too. And sometimes, to find it ... what I've learned is it needs to be lost for a while. And when it wants to be found, you'll find it.

"But I would say is that you just put yourself in the place of poetry. You just go where poetry is, whether it's in your heart or your mind or in books or in places where there's live poetry or recordings.

"And, you know, it's like looking for love. You can't look for love, or it will run away from you. But, you know, don't look for it. Don't look for it. Just go where it is and appreciate it, and, you know, it will find you."

The Wright Show - Robert Speaks w/ Lawrence Krauss on "A Universe from Nothing"

On this week's episode of The Wright Show, Robert Wright speaks with physicist Lawrence Krauss about his most recent book, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing.

Here is the publisher's description of the book:
Lawrence Krauss’s provocative answers to these and other timeless questions in a wildly popular lecture now on YouTube have attracted almost a million viewers. The last of these questions in particular has been at the center of religious and philosophical debates about the existence of God, and it’s the supposed counterargument to anyone who questions the need for God. As Krauss argues, scientists have, however, historically focused on other, more pressing issues—such as figuring out how the universe actually functions, which can ultimately help us to improve the quality of our lives.

Now, in a cosmological story that rivets as it enlightens, pioneering theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss explains the groundbreaking new scientific advances that turn the most basic philosophical questions on their heads. One of the few prominent scientists today to have actively crossed the chasm between science and popular culture, Krauss reveals that modern science is addressing the question of why there is something rather than nothing, with surprising and fascinating results. The staggeringly beautiful experimental observations and mind-bending new theories are all described accessibly in A Universe from Nothing, and they suggest that not only can something arise from nothing, something will always arise from nothing.
It's an interesting dialogue - and of course, the Higgs Boson is part of the discussion.

The Wright Show

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Susan Johnson - The Power of Emotion in Therapy

In the May/June issue of Psychotherapy Networker Susan Johnson had an excellent article on the power of emotion in psychotherapy. Johnson covers everything from neuroscience to attachment theory, as well as the use of emotion in the therapeutic relationship. I think it's great that she points out that the so-called cathartic expression of anger can actually be counter-productive for some clients. Great article.

The Power of Emotion in Therapy

How to Harness this Great Motivator

By Susan Johnson

Neuroscientists have recently established that emotion is the prime organizing force shaping how we cope with challenges. Now psychotherapists are learning how to work with emotion, rather than trying to control it.

“God guard me from those thoughts men think in the mind alone. He that sings a lasting song, thinks in a marrow-bone.”—W. B. Yeats.

Mike leans forward, and in a low, intense voice, says, “Look. It wasn’t my idea to see a couples therapist. And I hear that this therapy you do is all about emotions. Well, that about counts me out. First, I don’t have them the way she does.” He points to his wife, Emma, who’s staring angrily at the floor. “Second, I don’t want to have them or talk about them. I work through problems by just staying cool. I hold on tight and use my little gray cells.” He taps his head and sets his jaw. “Just tell me what’s wrong with us—why she’s so upset all the time—and I’ll fix the problem. Just tell me what to say, and I’ll say it. We were just fine until we started to have kids and she started complaining all the time. All this spewing of ‘feelings’ just makes things worse. It’s stupid.” He turns away from me, and the silence is filled with the sound of his wife’s weeping.

The irony of this type of drama never fails to intrigue me. In one of the most emotional scenarios ever—a couple trying to talk about their distressed relationship—here’s a partner insisting that the solution to distress is to ignore the emotion! Worse still, I’m getting emotional! This client is upsetting me. I breathe in and get my balance. After all, I remind myself, what he’s saying is so normal.

Mental health professionals would agree with him. In fact, I agree with him, to some extent. Venting strong, negative emotion—usually called catharsis—is nearly always a dead end. More than that, most of us are wary of strong emotions. Emotions have traditionally been seen, by philosophers like René Descartes, for example, as part of our primitive animal nature and, therefore, not to be trusted. Reason, by contrast, has long been thought to reflect our higher spiritual self. In neuroscientific terms, the implication is that we’re at our best when we live out of our prefrontal cortex and leave our limbic brain behind. More specifically, emotion is often associated with disorganization and loss of control. As Latin author Publilius Syrus, known for his maxims, wrote in the first century B.C., “The sage will rule his feelings; the fool will be their slave.”

All this is now changing. We’re in the midst of a revolution, as far as emotion is concerned. Antonio Damasio, one of the great scholars in the emotion field, notes that this revolution began in the 1990s, when the inherent “irrationality” of emotion began to be questioned. We’re now at the point where emotion—the apparently crazy, irresponsible sleazebag of the psyche—has been identified as an inherently organizing force, essential to survival and the foundation of key elements of civilized society, such as moral judgment and empathy. Emotion shapes and organizes our experience and our connection to others. It readies us for specific actions; it’s the great motivator. As the Latin root of emotion, movere (to move) suggests, strong feelings literally move us to approach, to avoid, to act.
Way before this emotion revolution, many therapists accepted that there was more to emotion than simply learning to control it—that directly working with emotion was somehow central to the task of therapy. We recognized that old Publilius was wrong: it’s not always good to control your emotions rigidly, and it’s not always foolish to listen to them! The idea that some kind of “corrective emotional experience” was necessary for any kind of effective psychotherapy was repeated endlessly, at least in the more dynamic psychotherapies. But exactly what the key elements of this experience are and how we get there with our clients remains difficult to define.

Even with this more emotion-friendly attitude, it seems to me that, as a field, we still tend to err on the side of bypassing or containing emotion, rather than actively using it for change. For many years, this seemed to be particularly true in couples and family therapies. It makes sense, in that emotions are especially intense in difficult interactions with loved ones. Therapists have to deal with powerful attachment dramas, which unleash rivers of emotion in their clients, and their own emotional issues can be triggered as they watch these dramas unfold. Such therapists had better know their rivers, and how to swim! Otherwise, it’s safer to sit on the bank, hold on to the traditional distrust of emotion, and try to create change through purely cognitive or behavioral means. But these interventions may not be sufficient, given that emotion and emotional signals are the central organizing forces in intimate relationships and that changes in emotional responses, such as increased love and tenderness, are hard to generate if we don’t work with emotion directly.

For many of us, formal training doesn’t help much here. How many professional training programs—even now, when we know so much more about the significance of emotion—systematically teach how to understand emotion or to engage and use it to create transformation in clients? In clinical psychology programs, young therapists mostly seem to learn how to teach clients techniques for moderating out-of-control emotions. Even if we look at a master therapist who explicitly values emotion, such as the great Carl Rogers, we see less direct focus on emotion than we might expect. So it makes sense that many of us remain a little intimidated or off-balance in the face of the compelling experience of emotion. It’s difficult for us to embrace it as a positive force and use it as a powerful tool for shaping growth in our clients.

“Research tells us that when therapists help clients deepen emotion, clients attain better outcomes in therapy. If we can become comfortable with the power of emotion, it becomes the therapist’s greatest ally, rather than a disruptive force to be contained.”
It’s self-evident that emotion is captivating. If we can tune in to and address clients’ deeper emotions, the therapy process is at once tangibly relevant, and they engage. Research tells us that when therapists help clients deepen emotion, clients attain better outcomes in therapy. When we shape powerful emotional interactions in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), we see seismic shifts in the core interactions that define lifetime relationships. Emotion takes us to the heart of the matter. New emotional mosaics create new perceptions and meanings. Even more important, they move us—psychologically and physiologically—into new response modes. If we can become comfortable with the power of emotion, it becomes the therapist’s greatest ally, rather than a disruptive force to be contained.

Even if we view emotions as essentially problematic, damping them down or circumventing them is no small task. Therapists often try to defuse negative emotion with such techniques as structured skill-building exercises, but the emotion usually seeps through and takes over anyway. We’ve all seen empathy or positive communication exercises miss the mark when they’re done with flat facial expressions or hostile tones. Physiologically, the attempt to suppress emotion is hard work, often resulting in increasing arousal. James Gross, a key researcher in affect regulation, finds that interactional partners pick up on this increased arousal and become more agitated themselves. We can all relate to the argument that goes: “You’re mad,” “No, I’m not” (said with clenched teeth), “Yes, you are; I don’t even want to talk to you.” But perhaps even more important than the effort required to regulate emotion is the fact that new, positive ideas and actions that emerge in session remain peripheral, unless we feel their force and connect with them on an emotional level.

What do therapists need to know to harness the power of emotion in therapy sessions? I remember when I was an idealistic young therapist starting to work with couples and suddenly coming face-to-face with such tsunami-like emotion that, to be able to stay with and focus on the wave, I needed to see the order, the patterned structure of this experience. As I came to understand emotion better, I gained understanding about the way in which key emotions were constructed and processed. I became less intimidated and learned to embrace and ride the wave, using its force to create change. By learning about emotion, I was able to help clients order these experiences and use them positively in their lives.

I could do all of this because I’d been given a great map: I had Attachment Theory—a systematic framework for personality and relationship development—as a guide. This theory of self in relation to others places emotion and its regulation front and center. John Bowlby, its father, saw emotion as the great communicator. It gives us a “felt sense” of our own physiology—our “gut wisdom.” It connects us with our preferences and longings. It links us to others with lightning speed. For Bowlby, the dance of connection and disconnection with loved ones plays a pivotal role in defining who we are; emotion is the music that organizes this dance and gives it rhythm and shape.

In the case of Mike and Emma, I feel more grounded and calm when I can track exactly how Mike regulates his emotions: he dismisses and denies them. This affects how he frames his signals to his partner—a process that elicits particular negative emotional responses from her. These responses then confirm his need to “hold on tight” and deny his emotions. Emotions aren’t just inner sensations and impulses; they’re social scripts. Self and system are molded in an ongoing feedback loop, which neither Mike nor his partner are aware of. The attachment framework sets out the deep logic of seemingly unpredictable emotions and tells me how and why Mike and Emma deal with them the way they do. There are only so many ways to deal with emotional starvation and the universal experiences of rejection and abandonment. When I know the territory, I feel confident enough to explore the terrain.

What Is Emotion, Anyway?
Science suggests that emotion is anything but primitive and unpredictable. It’s a complex, exquisitely efficient information-processing system, designed to organize behavior rapidly in the interests of survival. It’s an internal signaling system, telling us about what matters in the flood of stimuli that bombard us and tuning us in to our own inner needs. Research with brain-damaged subjects shows that without emotion to guide us, we can’t make even the most elementary of decisions; we’re bereft of preferences and have nothing to move us toward one option rather than another.

Emotional signals, especially nonverbal, such as facial expression and tone of voice, communicate our intentions to others. Our brain takes just 100 milliseconds to detect and process the smallest change in a human face and just 300 milliseconds to mirror this change in our own body, so we literally “feel” another’s emotion. The fact that we can rapidly read intentions and coordinate actions has offered our species a huge evolutionary advantage. The ability to read six basic emotional expressions and assign the same meaning to these expressions is universal.

There’s a consensus among experts that these basic emotions are anger, sadness, joy, surprise, shame, and fear. In anger, for example, the stare becomes fixed, eyes widen, and the brows contract; the lips compress and the body tenses. The impulse is to mobilize and move toward the object of the emotional response, so as to take control or eliminate the obstacle. When a client sits in front of me and tells me she has no idea how she feels, it helps me immeasurably to know that, in all probability, she’s feeling her own version of one of these six core emotions.

We have evidence that just naming emotions—literally putting feelings into words—seems to calm down amygdala activity in the brains of subjects viewing negative emotional images or faces. So it may help us “trust” emotion and see it as a positive tool in psychotherapy if we can keep in mind the elements that make up an emotional experience. First, there’s a cue from the environment. This is followed by an initial general perception (such as “bad”) and orientation to this cue and physical arousal. The meaning of cues and sensations is further evaluated in a more reflective cognitive appraisal. All these things prime a “move”—a compelling action tendency. These reactions all happen inside the skin, but they don’t stay there. Emotion isn’t silent or hidden.

The signals that accompany this process create what psychologist and author Daniel Goleman calls a “neural duet” with others. Much of the time, this process is implicit and instantaneous. Mike turns away when Emma asks him about his day; Emma picks up this cue and her brain frames it as “bad” and “dangerous”; Emma’s heart rate speeds up, and her body tenses; she scans for what this means and hits on “I’m losing him, he doesn’t want me”; she moves closer to Mike and, in an intense voice, says, “You never want to talk to me, anyhow”; Mike hears anger, so he closes down and shuts her out.

Once the cue has occurred, all these elements are shaped by Emma. Part of my job as an experiential therapist is to tune in to just how she does this. In this distressed relationship, she constantly monitors Mike’s responses and is exquisitely sensitive to any potential rejection from him. At the first sign of rejection, her mammalian brain lights up in alarm. Neuroscience researcher Jaak Panksepp calls this alarm “primal panic.” The neural circuit used here is the accelerated pathway through the thalamus to the amygdala; information about the responsiveness of an attachment figure has enormous survival significance, so the slower route through the reflective prefrontal cortex is bypassed. The meaning Emma makes here—that she’s unloved and Mike is cold and mean—reflects experiences that remind her how dangerous it can be to reach for others. She moves close to lessen her sense of threat and pushes for a different response from her husband. He sees her as intrusive. When he moves away, he confirms her deeper fears, and so helps to shape her ongoing experience.

What’s missing from this version of Emma’s emotional drama is that she tries to regulate her emotion. Regulation isn’t something we do to emotion; it’s just part of the process. As Dutch psychologist Nico Frijda puts it, we’re continually shifting the balance between letting go and restraint. We have reactions to our initial sense of what’s going on, and we try to cope with them as they’re happening. This translates into different levels of emotional experience.

At the end of this drama, which takes six seconds at most, Emma explodes in reactive anger. If we were to stop the frame at her first visceral response, we’d call her emotion fear. Her overt anger is a response to her sense of threat. An emotionally focused therapist would see her anger as secondary and the fear as her primary emotion. If she could slow down and pay attention to her fear, her action tendency might be different; for example, she might ask for reassurance. She could also, conceivably, have reacted to her own fear by moving into numbing, especially if she’d accessed thoughts of hopelessness and helplessness as part of her search for meaning. But she doesn’t register her fear. When she talks about this drama in my office, she looks angry and blames her husband for his coldness.

Not only do we have different levels of emotion, we have reflexive emotions—emotions about our emotions. Clients often have deep anxiety about the catastrophe that awaits if they stay with their primary softer emotions, like sadness or fear. The general list of negative expectations can be framed as responses to the open-ended sentence, “If I become open and vulnerable, I’ll find that I’m. . . .” The answers—which can be summarized as the 4 D’s—are: defective, disintegrating, drowning, or dismissed. This list seems to cut across gender, class, and culture.

Clients express these fears as follows: “If I feel my softer, deeper emotions, this means that I’m weak or inadequate; others will see me this way and reject me”; “If I feel this, I’ll become more and more distressed; I’ll lose myself”; “If I feel this, the emotion will never go away—it’ll go on forever, and I’ll drown in it”; “If I feel this, no one will respond or be there to save me.”

I used to see clients’ expression of this kind of pain as a metaphor, but it’s more than this. Emotions “are of the flesh, and they sear the flesh,” said Frijda. Until recently, the parallels between emotional pain, such as rejection, and physical pain, like burning your arm, were thought to be purely because of shared psychological distress. Now it’s clear that there’s a neural overlap in the way we process and experience social and physical pain. Tylenol can reduce hurt feelings, and social support can lessen physical pain. As predicted by Attachment Theory, emotional isolation and the helplessness associated with it seem to be key features of this emotional pain. Our need for connection with others has shaped our neural makeup and the structure of our emotional life.

Once we can name implicit core emotions, track them through our clients’ nonverbal communication, and thus create an integrated emotional experience by identifying all the elements and placing them in an attachment context, it isn’t difficult to work with clients who are usually inexpressive or unaware of their feelings. When clients can touch their core emotions, implicit cognitions about the self, others, and the nature of life emerge and become available for review. For example, withdrawn partners often share deeply held negative beliefs about the inadequacy of the self. So we can understand the nature of emotion, its key elements, its different levels, and how it connects to action, cognition, and interaction, but sometimes being around strong emotions feels just plain dangerous.

When Does Emotion Go Wrong?
When we can access, regulate, and integrate our emotions, they provide an essential guide to living. But emotions, like everything, can go wrong. They’re like “best guesses” as to what we should do in a situation, not “surefire winning solutions,” says Stanford psychologist James Gross, who’s done extensive research on emotional regulation. Demystifying the problems that occur with emotion can again increase confidence that emotion shouldn’t be feared by clients or therapists.

For better and for worse, strong emotion tends to restrict our range of attention. A negative emotion, like fear, can elicit irrational beliefs. It can flood us so that we can’t think straight or only think in constricted, black-and-white terms. One metaphor that’s now taking hold among my neuroscience colleagues is that the brain is a ruthless capitalist, which budgets its resources. Being afraid and trying to calm yourself is expensive in terms of resources like blood and glucose; areas specializing in cognitive tasks, like the prefrontal cortex, get starved.

In simple terms, therapists and clients describe problems in terms of too much emotion, too little emotion, or conflicting emotions. Emotions can be overwhelming and create feelings of disorganization or chaos. Some clients can connect with different elements of their emotional experience, but can’t order them into an integrated coherent whole; they use words like fragmented and confused to describe their inner life. Traumatized clients speak of being hijacked by all-encompassing emotional experiences in traumatic flashbacks. Other clients report feeling flat or cut off from any clear sense of their experience; their inability to formulate or name emotions leaves them aimless, without a compass to steer toward what they want or need. Many clients express conflicting emotions. In couples therapy, they speak of longing to be close and fearing to be close. In individual therapy, they may deny the fear laid out in a previous session, shame at vulnerability now blocking the recognition of this emotion. Specific strategies for regulating emotion can be problematic as well, especially if they become habitual and applied across new contexts. Therapists working with trauma survivors need to validate that, at certain times, it’s functional and necessary to compartmentalize or even dismiss emotion. Alan, an Iraq War veteran, tells me, for example, “When you’re landing a helicopter under fire, you just focus on the IAI [Immediate Action Item], coping. Get the chopper down. Never mind your fear. Just step past it and focus on the task.” This saves Alan’s life on deployment. But if suppressing emotion becomes a general strategy, it turns into a trap. Numbing is the most significant predictor of negative outcome in the treatment of PTSD. It also sends Alan’s marriage into a spiral of distress that further isolates and overwhelms him.

A clear model of emotional health helps therapists find their way when these emotional processing problems occur. As a Rogerian and an attachment-oriented therapist, I have five goals for my clients. I want to help them: tune in to their deeper emotions and listen to them; order their emotional experience and make it into a coherent whole; keep their emotional balance so they can trust their experience and follow their inner sense of what they need; send clear, congruent emotional signals to others about these needs; and reciprocally respond to the needs of others. Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield speaks to these goals in his book The Wise Heart, where he suggests, “We can let ourselves be carried by the river of feeling—because we know how to swim.”

We all encounter negative experiences and emotions; that’s simply how life is. But humans have an invaluable survival adaptation: when we’re emotionally stressed and our prefrontal cortex is “faint” from hunger, we share burdens and turn to others for emotional and cognitive sustenance. When we can learn—often with the help of another who’s a “safe haven” for us and can offer an extra prefrontal cortex—that negative emotions are workable, that we can understand them and find meaningful ways to cope with and embrace them, they lose much of their toxicity. They can become, in fact, a source of aliveness.

Countless studies on infant and adult attachment suggest that our close encounters with loved ones are where most of us attain and learn to hold on to our emotional balance. This echoes ancient Buddhist wisdom encouraging practitioners to meditate on the faces of loved ones or on the experience of being held as a way of finding their balance in an emotional storm. Secure connection with an attachment figure, or a surrogate attachment figure—a therapist, for example—is the natural place to learn to regulate our emotional responses. It’s when we can’t reach for others or access inner models of supportive others in our minds that we resort to more problematic regulation strategies, such as numbing out, blowing up, or rigidly trying to control our inner world and loved ones. The attachment perspective allows a therapist to see past these secondary strategies to discern deeper, more primary emotions—the desperate loneliness and longing for contact behind apparently hostile or dismissing responses, or the sense of rejection and helplessness underlying a withdrawn person’s apparent apathy. The attachment perspective asserts what neuroscientists like James Coan are discovering in their MRIs: regulating emotions with others is a baseline survival strategy for humans. Effective self-regulation, behavioral psychology’s mantra for years, appears to be dependent on and emerge from positive social connection.

Emotion in the Consulting Room
So what are the main messages of this new revolution in emotion for therapists? The first message is that emotion matters. When it’s dismissed or sidelined, we’ll often fail to engage our clients optimally or make the tasks of therapy personally relevant, and thus limit positive outcomes. The second message is that if we know the structure and function of emotion, as well as how it’s shaped in human relationships, we can use its power to create lasting change in a deliberate, effective manner. This is true in individual and couples therapy, and for each, I suggest that the old adage that significant change requires a “corrective emotional experience” applies. But specifically what have experiential therapists learned from the science of emotion about dealing with emotion and creating such corrective experiences?

Nearly all therapy models now agree on the necessity of creating safety in session, if for no other reason than to facilitate our clients’ open exploration of their problems. This safety is particularly essential if a client is to engage with and explore difficult emotions. For an attachment-oriented therapist, it has a specific meaning: in the session, therapists have to be not just kind or empathic, but truly emotionally present and responsive. This creates a holding environment, where clients can risk engaging in what Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt Therapy, called the “safe adventure” of therapy. Part of a therapeutic presence relates to transparency, the therapist’s willingness to be seen as a person who can be unsure or confused at times, rather than an all-knowing expert. If I’m emotionally engaged, my mirror neurons will help me check into my own feelings to understand those of a client.

In the treatment of problems such as depression, across different models, “collaborative,” emotionally oriented interventions have been found to predict positive outcome better than more expert-oriented, “coaching” interventions. Collaborative means that therapists join clients wherever they are—in their reactive rage or numb indifference—and find a way to validate these responses before exploring any unopened doors or alternative angles. Rogers told us long ago that the more we accept ourselves and feel accepted, the more we’re open to change. Often, this means that therapists need to resist the pressure to fix problems instantly, and find the inherent logic in how their client is feeling and acting in the moment.

Attachment and neuroscience emphasize the impact of gesture, gaze, facial expression, and tone of voice on the emotional reality of someone who’s anxious and in pain, and who’s sought the counsel of someone presumably “wiser.” The use of a soft, soothing voice on the part of the therapist makes sense here. Emotion is fast, so it makes sense to slow down if we want to help clients process emotion in new ways. Repeating simple, emotional terms that clients have found for themselves seems to foster the exploration of “hot” experiences. This can be summarized, for those who like acronyms, as using the 3 S’s—slow, soft, simple—to create a fourth S—emotional safety. If a client is overwhelmed, for example, in a traumatic flashback, this kind of presence and empathic reflection grounds him and helps him keep a “working distance” from his emotion. Focused empathic reflection soothes clients; they feel seen and heard. In EFT couples research, the initial level of a couples’ distress doesn’t significantly predict outcome, but the level of engagement in the treatment process does. The kind of alliance described above fosters this engagement with the therapist and the tasks he or she presents.

In the case of Mike and Emma, I might say to Mike softly and slowly, “I hear how much you want to fix this problem, Mike. It must be so hard to be turning on those gray cells and not to be able to fix this. It’s hard to keep your balance. So you just try to hold on really tight when Emma gets upset with you, to keep some control here, yes?” After a while, I begin to ask questions about just exactly how he “holds on tight” and what this feels like. This image offers me an emotional handle, a way into Mike’s experience of himself and his relationship.

An Emotional Focus
Experiential therapists learn to use emotion as a touchstone—to stay with, focus on, and return to emotional experience, constantly tracking emotional responses and developing them further. Creating a corrective emotional experience begins with this process. To stay here, rather than to move on to focus on modifying behaviors, creating insight, or offering advice requires a willingness to be relentless in guiding clients past tangential issues. This is infinitely easier if you have a basic knowledge of the science discussed above and a systematic way of working that’s been empirically validated with different kinds of clients. All this offers a secure base for intervention, but it still isn’t easy to keep reflecting and repeating the themes that show up in each client’s emotional responses until the ordered patterns in experiencing and interacting emerge and their consequences become clear. Empathic reflection is the primary tool here, though its versatility is often missed. In one stroke, a tuned-in reflection can calm clients and build safety, focus the therapy process, and slow down the flow of experience and interaction so that grasping key elements is possible. It helps order and distill emotion into something explicit and workable. As this process is repeated and tentative fresh meanings emerge, often in the form of evocative images, a new, coherent picture of inner and interpersonal realities is formed. Fragmented and unformulated elements are integrated into a new whole, which opens up new possibilities for action.

So with Mike and Emma, the therapist might say, “Can you help me, Mike? You’re saying that you want some magic words that would stop Emma from being upset? And you’re worried that if we talk about emotions, it’ll be just like the arguments you have at home?” Mike nods emphatically. “You’re going to hear Emma complaining about you, saying she’s disappointed with the relationship, while you don’t even understand what’s really wrong here? Talking about this is almost like a danger zone you don’t know the way out of. So you get frustrated and just want all this fixed. And when you can’t fix it . . . ?”

“I leave,” Mike says. “I go for a walk. What’s the point of standing there arguing? I just shut the door on her and go for a walk. There’s nothing else to do.” Understanding emotions in the context of attachment, it’s easy to anticipate that Emma experiences Mike’s withdrawal as a sign of abandonment and then protests his distance by further complaining and criticizing. Indeed, she now adds, “Right, and I’m all alone in the house upset. You just walk away like I don’t matter. I hate feeling so hurt all the time. I spew. I can’t let you just walk away.”

The therapist might reflect the whole emotional drama by saying, “And the more you turn away, Mike, to try to stop the upset, the more you feel alone, Emma? You end up spewing words to get him to turn around and not leave you? This loop has kind of taken over. It’s painful for both of you.”

Experiential therapists would be careful to validate and normalize Emma’s hurt so that she’ll continue to explore and own it. Hurt feelings have been identified as a combination of reactive anger, sadness over loss, and fear of abandonment and rejection. Attachment theory predicts that Emma’s critical pursuit is fueled by anxiety and a sense of lost connection with her partner. This knowledge guides the therapist as he or she reads Emma’s emotional cues. As Emma opens up to her emotions, she moves past her rigid, angry stance into deeper emotions of sadness and bewilderment, and begins to tell Mike about her loneliness. The expression of new emotions then evokes new responses. Mike sees her sadness and feels relief and compassion—as it’s happening, in the present.

Therapies that privilege emotion, such as EFT and Accelerated Experiential-Dynamic Psychotherapy, state that the most powerful way to work with emotion is in the present moment, as it’s happening and being encoded in the neurons and synapses. Working with emotion from the bottom up, as it’s being shaped, makes for a vivid encounter with key emotional responses. Clients usually start a session by giving a cognitive account of their feelings or going over past emotional stories. But to access the true power of working with emotion, the therapist must bring pivotal emotional moments and responses into the session. This creates an intense spotlight on process, the specific way emotion is created, shaped, and regulated.

Mostly, we act as if emotions simply happen to us; we don’t see how we shape our own experience and induce negative responses from others. Viewing experience as an active construction is empowering. Clients are then able to face the ironic fact that their habitual ways of dealing with difficult emotion—ways that may have gotten them through many dark nights of the soul—now trap them and create their ongoing pain.

So I ask Mike questions that help him tune in to his own emotional processing. “Mike, right here, right now, Emma is telling you that she’s angry and that the moment that really triggers her is when you turn and walk away. What’s happening for you as you hear this?”

“That’s just what she did yesterday,” he replies, and offers a theory that all women get angry for very little reason.

I try again: “Right now, how do you feel when she says, ‘You just walk away,’ in an angry voice?” Mike just shakes his head. He begins, “I don’t know—don’t know which way is up here—lost my balance.”

I lean in and ask, “Can you feel that sense of being off-balance right now?” He nods again. “What does it feel like?”

He slumps back in his chair and says, “Like I’m lost in space. My world is falling apart and I don’t know what to do.” He gives a long sigh.

Many therapists who are comfortable going to the leading edge of a client’s emotions will go one small step further and make small additions or interpretations, such as, “Falling, losing direction, no balance—that sounds very hard, scary even.” If Mike accepts the inference and allows himself to touch his fear, he might reply, “Yes. I’m scared. We’re falling apart. So I run away. What else is there to do?”

By staying focused on Mike’s experience and continually piecing it together in vivid and specific language, the therapist helps him create a felt sense of his experience and expand it. Continual validation of his experience and reflective summaries allow him to stay engaged with, but not be overwhelmed by, his emotions. He can begin to pay attention to Emma’s messages about how his distancing affects her, and both partners can see how they generate the demand–withdraw dance, which triggers their distress. Once difficult emotions become clear and workable, clients can better hear and empathize with the other partner. They begin to own their problematic emotions, move past surface responses into deeper concerns, and take a metaperspective on inner processing and interpersonal responses. But this is only the first stage in personal and relationship change.

New Emotions, New Signals, New Steps
Emotionally focused therapists have to help clients create positive patterns of effective emotional regulation and response. These patterns build a sense of efficacy and foster positive cycles of emotional responsiveness, which shape secure bonds with others. These, in turn, reinforce the effective regulation of emotion. Moving into deeply felt vulnerabilities and congruently sharing them with a trusted therapist or loved one leads naturally to a new awareness of heartfelt emotional needs. This is the first crucial step to meeting these needs in a positive manner.

In couples therapy, the open, congruent expression of such needs tends to touch and move the other partner, evoking empathy and increased responsiveness. To deepen emotion, therapists can reflect back on and repeat the emotional images and phrases a client has used all through therapy, carefully eliciting the deeply felt elements of an emotion to create a cognitively coherent yet bodily experienced reality. When this core emotion is owned and integrated, it changes a client’s sense of self and engagement with others. After about a dozen sessions of couples therapy, Mike is able to reach for his wife with a new openness and clarity.

He begins, “I know I’ve shut you out. But it’s all I knew how to do. When we get into our fights, I feel so lost [initial perception]. I get all spacey and confused [body response]. I’d tell myself that you’d never loved me—me with my grade-12 education. I just wasn’t good enough for you [catastrophic meaning]. So I’d run [action tendency]. Now, I don’t want to hold on for dear life every time you’re angry, but I want you to stop pushing so hard. Give me a break. I don’t want you to feel alone. I want to learn to be with you. I need you close to me.”

Mike’s longings and needs are now clear, and he reaches for Emma in a way that triggers a reciprocal openness. These fully felt emotional moments and interactions release a torrent of positive feelings and new ways of seeing. A new music of positive emotions—surprise and joy—begins to play. New vistas of safe connection to one’s own experience and to others open up. More coherent emotions lead to more coherent messages to others and more organized, effective action. As the proponents of Positive Psychology suggest, positive emotion has a broadening and building effect on the human psyche.

A Corrective Emotional Experience
Just as we can now unpack the elements of emotional experience, maybe we can unpack this age-old phrase and try to capture the essence of change. “Corrective,” emotion researchers remind us, doesn’t mean that older experience is erased or suppressed. The emotional system doesn’t allow data to be removed or placed to one side easily because nature favors false positives over false negatives where matters of survival are at stake. But old neural networks can be added to or even overwritten. So there’s no need to “get rid of” negative emotions; rather, we should try to expand them. When reactive anger is validated and placed in context, the threat that’s a vital part of that anger comes to the forefront, and this awareness changes how the anger is experienced and expressed. This sense of threat, or any primary emotion, is most easily discovered, distilled, and made into an integrated whole within an emotionally congruent, accepting therapeutic relationship. This sense of safety is necessary for a corrective experience, but it’s not enough.

For a corrective experience to occur, we must engage with and attend to our emotions in new ways and on deeper levels. I remember telling my therapist that, in spite of flying constantly, I was still somewhat afraid. We explored this, going moment by moment through my experience of flying and ordering the elements so that the structure of this experience became clear. Suddenly, we both realized that I was using so many techniques to “deal with” being on the plane that I was never actually present enough to experience anything new! My extensive coping mechanisms had become the problem. Imagine my surprise when I actually sat on a plane, heard my therapist’s voice in my head telling me to just be present, and found that I liked roaring into the air and floating off to new places! Part of correction is also the creation of new meanings. Flying became a way to explore my universe, rather than a near-death experience to be survived.

Corrective experience redefines the experiencer. I became someone who could get used to flying and felt able to fly. With a new sense of mastery comes new emotions; in this case, exhilaration. New action tendencies follow. I joyfully signed up for a trip that included many flights on small planes through foreign lands!

Corrective also implies that the emotional messages I send to others, as well as their impact, will evolve and change as they’re received and reciprocated. As Emma becomes more empathic, her acceptance acts as an antidote to Mike’s acknowledged sense of failure, especially when he directly shares these feelings and takes in her tender acceptance. As Mike feels less lost and overwhelmed in his interactions with his wife, he can tolerate her expressions of disappointment and tune in to her hurt. She accesses her longing and asks for comfort. As he responds, they create powerful bonding interactions. Their new safe-haven connection will continue to reshape not only their old habits of defensive withdrawal and reactive criticism, but also their vigilance for potential threat.

An emotionally corrective experience changes more than how emotions are dealt with (for example, whether they’re suppressed or reframed): it changes how emotional stimuli are perceived. More-secure lovers not only cope more effectively with hurt and anxiety, but perceive cues as less hurtful, in their relationship and in the world. Jim Coan, who uses fMRI scans to study the impact of attachment in the brain, has shown that holding the hand of a loved and dependable partner is a safety cue that changes how the brain perceives and encodes threats, like the threat of electric shock, even lessening the amount of pain such a shock induces.

A corrective emotional experience has been formulated as resulting from new insights, but cognitive insight is only one part of change. Novelist Arnold Bennett’s comment is pertinent here: “There can be no knowledge without emotion. We may be aware of a truth, yet until we have felt its force, it is not ours.” Pivotal, small changes in a living system, such as a person or a relationship, can engender radical qualitative shifts, as when ice suddenly hits 32 degrees Fahrenheit and becomes water. A significant shift in a leading or organizing element in a system—and primary emotion is such an element—can reorganize the whole system relatively abruptly.

We’re in the midst of a revolution in our relationship to emotion. The idea that emotion isn’t the poor cousin to reason but a “higher order of intelligence” has been around for decades, but now the evidence for this assertion is clear. As a result of this change of perspective and the new understanding of the nature of emotion, therapists can more deliberately use these powerful, bone-deep responses to transform their clients’ lives and relationships. It’s time to see emotion for what it is: not a nebulous force to be minimized and mistrusted, but the therapist’s greatest ally in the creation of lasting change.

Susan Johnson, Ed.D., professor of clinical psychology, is one of the developers of Emotionally Focused Therapy, one of the most empirically validated approaches to couples work. She’s the director of the Ottawa Couple and Family Institute and the International Center for Excellence in EFT. Her latest book is Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. Contact:  

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