Part I: The Freshening Wind

Chapter 3: The Intellectual Antecedents of NLP

General Background for the Western Scientific Paradigm

We begin this section on intellectual antecedents with a provocative statement from a recent book that contextualizes our largest historical frame as we work our way toward more and more specific influences on the development of NLP.

Steven Shapin in his monologue The Scientific Revolution (1996) lays out with broad brush strokes the historical development of certain ways of thinking, certain modes of perception and understanding that have characterized the more or less systematic attempt by our species to investigate and arrive at some useful representation of the world in which we live.

In his reconstruction, Shapin has identified certain styles of thinking (implicit epistemologies) about the world and the way it works, starting with the classic Greek paradigms usually attributed to Socrates and Aristotle and has traced their wanderings through various developments in the Middle Ages through the events of the 17th century - a point in time that many commentators about the development of science have claimed as the origin of the modern scientific method. Shapin is careful to eschew such broad claims, instead stating with a charmingly deliberate provocation in the first sentence of the introduction to his book,

There was no such thing as the Scientific Revolution and this is a book about it.

Steven Shapin, The Scientific Revolution, page 1

Our intention in presenting the intellectual antecedents of NLP is to engage the reader in thinking about how epistemologies change or evolve. The historical development of science is a model of the evolution of man's thinking and perceptions - a model of how mental maps can and do change.

Have you ever thought about awakening in a time when there were few explanations about the physical world surrounding you? Imagine that you are a youngster of five years living on a farm near a river, the furthermost farm at the end of a long dusty dirt track - your closest neighbor is a six-day horseback ride away.

On this particular day, everyone is busy with chores - you have just finished yours. It is one of those hot sticky summer days; you are hot, sweaty and thirsty. You know the land well, and especially a partially shady area with a pool of cool water. You walk to the clear pool of water with a light sandy bottom. You satisfy your thirst.

As you rest cooling off in the shade of the trees, you idly drop a stone into the clear pool. You watch it tumble lazily, and, as it rests on the bottom, you notice that the stone appears larger than when you held it in your hand. You toss in another stone. This time your attention is on the water's surface, you notice concentric circles radiating from the point where the stone entered.

You sit there and think about what you have just experienced. You see the reflection of the trees and the sun in the pool. Those images blur at almost the same instant that you feel a slight breeze ruffling your hair. You hear the rustling of the leaves in the trees above you. Your eyes still focused on the pool perceive a slight dimming of the brightness of the reflection of the trees and the sun. Curious, you turn and look up to see a cloud partially obscuring the sun. From experience, you deduce that it might begin to rain, so you start walking towards home.

As you walk, you smell a strong odor and you hear the raspy caws and then see ravens circling above. You walk toward the smell and the birds. You see a partially eaten carcass of a young fawn. The entrails are exposed. There are flies.

What questions are in your mind? What explanations do you hallucinate? What theories do you project? What do you think you have just learned about the world in which you live? What are your conclusions about that part of the natural world that you have just experienced? What proofs do you seek - if any? Are there patterns in what you have observed? How do you generalize the patterns? The answers to these questions would be dependent upon the processes by which you place your attention, your personal experiential history, your ability to think in a systemic manner, your mental maps of your world, your ability to make generalizations, and your curiosity - to even notice, anyway…