It is a rare and somewhat humbling experience to witness the birth of a new field of human investigation, even more so to participate in such an event. Typically we learn about the history of such events through textbooks or popularizations. In such accounts, we are treated to a rational even compelling account of a relentless parade of events, each coherent in its own right, marching past us, linked by an impeccable logic, and leading inevitably to inspiring conclusions, smoothed out by hindsight, freed of the chaos and confusion inherent in any such enterprise.
You will not find in such accounts recognition of the role of the random, the unconscious cunning, the outrageous irreverence necessary to shatter old habits of perception, the awkward first steps, the unjustified and congruent acting As If, the bemused recognition of a wholly flawed hypothesis, the long, deep, quiet, desperate nights, the fortuitous personal friendships and connections, the quickening that accompanies powerful and wholly unexpected consequences, the camaraderie that holds the enterprise together, the dead ends, the leaps of logic, the irrational and unjustified assumptions, the accidents of personal history and not least, the gifts and accidents of unconscious metaphor - all of which in the end allow you to stumble over the distinctions that then become the fundamental variables of the new discipline because in the end against all odds, it does succeed.
This was the implicit complaint that I attempted to register in writing the preface to a popular account of NLP application called Introducing NLP,
These two men, O'Connor and Seymour, have set out to make a coherent story out of an outrageous adventure. The jungles through which Richard and I wandered are bizarre and wondrous. These fine and well-intentioned men will show you glimpses of an English rose garden, trimmed and proper. Both the jungle and the rose garden carry those own special attractions.
What you are about to read never happened, but it seems reasonable, even to me.
John Grinder, Preface to Introducing NLP, 1989
The kind of descriptions that you find in historical accounts of the founding of a discipline are reconstructions, whether found in popularizations such as the above reference or in textbooks. Such highly selective, sanitized, and tidy accounts are in part designed to promote the prestige of the field (and sell books); in part a marketing effort to stimulate, inspire and ultimately recruit the most able of the next crop of students from our finest universities as the researchers of tomorrow.
We have a quarrel with such mystification of process- it seems a grave mistake to place giants before us as inspiring figures that loom too large for us to emulate - well beyond our personal talents and reach. Science is not so fragile as to be shaken by an honest account of actual meandering and surprising accidents that nearly inevitably accompany an event as monumental as the discoveries that culminate in the founding of a new field of inquiry.
Each scientific discipline has its methodologies and properly so. As Kuhn has compellingly pointed out, these mopping up operations in the course of what he calls normal scientific activity are as domestic as discoveries are wild. 1
To hide the accidents of discovery serves neither the scientific community nor the larger society that looks increasingly to this community for guidance when making decisions and allocating resources. Discovery has no algorithms; it proceeds by processes themselves thus far obscure and unmapped.
Philosophers of science distinguish what they call the context of discovery as a special topic in their studies. But it is people who make monumental, world shaking, paradigm busting discoveries - people like each of you and each of us. In Personal Antecedents (chapter 4, Part I) and in what follows we offer a narrative of a series of discoveries and the contextual elements that played various roles in those discoveries. It is our attempt to make transparent some of the contexts of discovery and the processes by which NLP was created.
Our hope is that by doing so, you will recognize that much depends on commitment as well as talent. It is our intention that the reader identify through these descriptions how specifically you might participate in this great adventure. The two men who created this field may have through accidents of their personal history acquired unusual skills and processes but once made explicit, such resources come within reach of anyone committed to learning and willing to act impeccably.