PMTH NEWS                                                                05/11/00

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 [Describing] experience in only symptom terms negates other dimensions of ...experience as if they  aren't [worthy to bring] to the discussion. 
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Did You Miss the Gergen Review?
Lois Shawver

Last issue I told you to "just click here" if you wanted to read a review of Kenneth Gergen's new book, An Invitation to Social Construction.  Unfortunately, the link did not work.  Now, hopefully it will.  So, let me say it again, just click here.

This is the book that excited a big event on PMTH a few weeks ago.  If you want to read the stories about  that event, then you should read the previous issue of PMTH NEWS.

And, this reminds me, you can always go to previous editions of PMTH NEWS by usng the second tool in the toolbox to your left.  Do you see it?  It's the one that says, "Previous Editions of PMTH NEWS."  If you click on that tool, you will see a growing list of previous editions of the news complete with a description of what stories were contained in each edition.

Of course, if you want to read an article on a particular topic and do not have a particular article in mind, then your best option is probably to type in some key words in our search tool in the upper left- hand corner.  Let's say that you want to know who Kenneth Gergen is.  Then, you might go to the search tool and type in Kenneth Gergen (or just "Gergen") and then click on "search."  This will result in a search through all the pages on the PMTH website for articles that include the phrase "Kenneth Gergen."  If you wish to search the entire web for mention of Kenneth Gergen (or anything else, of course), just go to that little black arrow to the right of the phrase "This Site".  Click on that, and you'll see the phrase "The Web."  Click on "The Web" and then you can search the entire web from right here on PMTH NEWS.

If you didn't know who Ken Gergen was  when you started an article about him, you should know after you have checked him out in this way. 

 My Question for Ken Gergen
Lois Shawver

You remember, I hope, that Kenneth Gergen visited us recently and we asked him lots of questions one Sunday during a PMTH EVENT.  (Click here to read the story of his visit).  Well, while I was preparing for his visit I gave some thought to what question I would personally like to ask him.  I told you about that question in an earlier story (that you can read on the site above), but when the time came to ask my question, I just forgot.   Too much excitement, and too many posts flying this way and that, I suppose.  So, I sent the question to Gergen  back channel and he has now sent a response back to me.  I'll share the response below, but first let me summarize my question, so I can create a context for his answer.

In his book, Gergen said that Kuhn's book, The Structure of Scientific Revolution was, at one time, the most widely cited book in the English language, even more widely cited than the Bible.  This amazing observation caused me to ponder Kuhn and my question to Gergen followed from this reflection.  To explain my question, then, I will need to summarize Kuhn, as I understand him:

Thomas Kuhn, a philosopher of science, said that all science  is either normal science or revolutionary science.  Normal science, he explained, is what ordinary scientists do everyday. They work on gathering data within a particular paradigm (model). They take measurements, do experiments using traditional paradigms, and they work to get their numbers straight.   In such normal everyday science,  progress is only incremental, that is, little bit by little bit. 

According to Kuhn, normal science such as this is mostly what science is.  But there is a problem within such normal science.  It is that  there are frequently certain unexplained data, observations that do not make sense within the old paradigm.  When that happens, for a long time people just seem to scratch their heads and put up with these anomalies.

Then, seemingly out of the blue, someone like Copernicus comes around and, for the moment, science becomes revolutionary.  Copernicus, I'm sure you recall, lived in an age in which everyone thought the sun circled around the earth.  It took quite a stretch of mind for Copernicus to suggest that the earth circles around the sun.  This provided Kuhn with the key example for his book.  Kuhn told us that the science that Copernicus did was not merely normal science. It was revolutionary science.  The progress science made with Copernicus observation, Kuhn explained, was not simply incremental.  It was a turmultuous overthrow of past systems. 

Kuhn likened the revolutionary moments of science to a gestalt switch, although one which only the younger scientists tended to make.  Let me show you such a switch. Here is a standard ambiuguous picture:

If you look at this picture one way, it's a glamorous nineteenth century lady.  Looking at it this way, the tiny little bump on the left is the lady's nose and she is looking over her right shoulder.  But, if you look at the picture  another way, the lady becomes a hag.  Here the lady's nose becomes nothing more than a pimple on the hag's huge nose, and the hag's nose fills up the exact same space as the lady's entire face.  Can you see it?  Well, if you can, then you will find you cannot see both images (the lady and the hag) at exactly the same time. 

The switch from one image to another is what Kuhn called a gestalt switch and what Wittgenstein, by the way, called the "dawning of an aspect" (see aphorism xi in book II of the Philosophical Investigations).  The idea for Kuhn is that such gestalt switches happened in the minds of scientists who then led revolutionary changes in our scientific understanding.

And, this brings us to my question for Gergen.  My question was whether cultural change requires the same kind of gestalt switch that Kuhn thought happened with revolutionary science.  Here's the way I worded my question:

Can we construct [a] better world while forgetting about the gestalt switch that Kuhn and Wittgenstein talk about? That is, can we just go out and make things better? Make people happier? 

Gergen gave me a very interesting answer which I have put in the article below.  In the article beneath that, I will give you my reflections on Gergen's answer.

Ken Gergen's Responds  to My Question
Kenneth Gergen

Lois, I share your hope for constructing new worlds without the necessity for enduring the kind of Gestalt shift envisioned by Thomas Kuhn.

Such optimism seems all the more warranted in light of what I see as an
unfortunate choice of metaphors on Kuhn's part. Realize that Kuhn is using here an ocular metaphor, suggesting that our "eyeball encounter" with the world is somehow at stake in a paradigm shift.  His metaphor, in this sense, draws from an individualist/psychological essentialist tradition.  This essentialist tradition, you'll recall, also holds that you cannot change behavior without changing the underlying cognitive structure. 

But why remain within this tired tradition? Far more promising is a social  construc- tionism of a more Wittgensteinian cast.  In such an account of things the major stress is not on conditions of individual mind but conditions of relationship. Paradigm shifts, on this account, are importantly dependent on different ways of describing and  explaining.  It is not the perception of the world that is at stake but its interpretation. And interpretation is embedded within the process of communal sense making. 

From a Wittgensteinian perspective, paradigm shifts are more like acquiring a new language than they are like changing the perception of the world. Thus, you are
quite right in your intuition that I would place a strong emphasis on poetic activism - provocative, glamouring, and compelling ways of talking and writing, ways that unsettle the common sense, taken for granted  realities, and invite others into new dialogic spaces. Nor should we view poetic activism as a matter of words alone. Words are but one register of action.
There is potential poetry in all our actions.

My Reflection on Gergen's Answer
Lois Shawver

I liked some things about Gergen's  answer to my question (see his answer in the article above and my question in the article above that), but there was something else in his answer that gave me pause.  As a result, I returned to reading Wittgenstein today.  Although I ended up liking this aspect of Gergen's answer, too, I do have a reservation.   I think my descriptions of my ponderings today might add a dimension to Gergen's words that some of you will find useful even if you believe my reservation is unnecessary -- in fact, future correspondence might well convince me of that as well. 

Let me start by saying that my study today was of aphorism xi in the second book of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations which is  generally published in the back of the first book.  Aphorism xi is a long aphorism for this text of Wittggenstein's and I will be referencing it below with page numbers.

First, I liked Gergen's idea of constructing new worlds (metaphorically speaking, of course --  there is no talk here of creating new planets but rather of creating a better world here on planet earth).  Moreover, I feel convinced that the key to creating a happier world is in our construction of happier relationships, just as Gergen (and McNamee, by the way) argue.  If we can have happier relationships, we will have better worlds.

But, I was not so quick to give up the ocular metaphor.  It is this metaphor that Wittgenstein studies in aphorism xi. 

Wittgenstein begins this aphorism pointing to the experience of puzzlement we have in looking at ambiguous pictures.  And, it is puzzling, isn't it?  Wittgenstein uses the aphorism of the duck-rabbit to make his point.  It works very much like the lady-hag we looked at above. 

 Here's the duck-rabbit.  See, the two protrusions on the left can be seen either the duck's bill, or the rabbit's ears.  If you see it as a duck, the animal appears to be looking to the left.  If you see it as a rabbit, the animal appears to be staring up.  I think you'll find that you can see only one of these images at any given time, even though, physically, the picture is obviously unchanged.  Isn't that puzzling?

Wittgenstein says that this switch is not unrelated to language.  After all, (p.193) it seems we "see it as we interpret it", but the apparent magic of this switch reflects a misunderstanding of the process.  We are confusing two uses of the word "see".  In one we say we see the object, which in this case is the duck-rabbit.  In the other case, which he calls "seeing as" we say we see the image in our minds.  But, he says, 

The concept of the 'inner picture' is misleading, for this concept uses the 'outer picture' as a model; and yet the uses of the words for these concepts are no more like one another than the uses of "numeral" and "number."

"Numeral" we know is just the written symbol that represents a particular number.  Sometimes, however, we use the same word to mean two different things.  And, this is the case with "seeing" and "seeing as."  This is what confuses us.  We think that if there is a shift in our seeing as there should be a shift in the object that we're seeing.

But, it simply the case, that humans can learn to see as and this is quite different  from simple seeingSeeing as,. in fact, is possible only as a mastery of a technique.  The young child masters the technique of seeing the symbol 


as a word.  This is seeing as.  There is nothing about this particular cluster of lines that makes it necessary that she sees this cluster as meaning cat.  But after it is mastered it seems that nothing is more natural than seeing that cluster of lines as meaning cat.  It seems as though we are simply seeing, not seeing as.  Only when we see a foreign word, or a word upside down or backwards (i.e., TAC) do we notice how much training was involved in order for us to see this line cluster as meaning cat.

The substratum of this experience is the mastery of a technique. (p.208)

And, just as we mastered the technique of seeing line clusters as words, so we have mastered the technique of seeing them as pictures.  In most cases it seems so effortless that it is hard to notice that it is based on a technique.  But the ambiguous pictures can help us see that.  The duck-rabbit need not be seen as a duck or a rabbit anymore than an Xray need be seen as image of a lung.  A technique you have mastered allows you to see this figure in more than one way, just as you can see a checkerboard as a checkerboard, or as a chessboard, just as you can learn to see the Mona Lisa smile as a smile that is flirtatious, contented, smug,  or as keeping an amusing secret:

The same is true for pictures, whether these are pictures of the Mona Lisa or Xrays of your lungs.  After all, the child that learns to recognize a real-life bunny need not recognize Bugs Bunny as a another kind of bunny, and the resemblance between a duck in a pond and the duck in the duck-rabbit takes some practice to discern, or as Wittgenstein says see as.  If I held up a wooden figure  you would not see it as a chess piece until you learned something about the game of chess. (#31)

What does all of this have to do with Kuhn, though?  And with Gergen's answer?  Let me remind you of my question.  I had asked Gergen:

Can we construct [a] better world while forgetting about the gestalt switch that Kuhn and Wittgenstein talk about? That is, can we just go out and make things better? Make people happier? 

Gergen's answer, to boil it down a little bit, was simply, "Yes, I think we can avoid the gestalt switch model that Kuhn gave us, and Wittgenstein shows us how.  We can learn to construct better worlds by creating new language games and mastering new techniques for seeing as."  Having re-read Wittgenstein this morning, I agree.  This is what Wittgenstein has said. 

However, this does not mean that our experience has prepared us to create better worlds without finding (or constructing) a gestalt switch through this technique mastery.  Gergen thinks this would be unwise.  He says it would construct an essentialism.  I'm not sure I see it this way.  And he offers poetic activism as an alternative way of constructing a better world, that is, new ways of writing that shake us out of out of the old ways and offer compelling new ways of thinking.

No need, he says, to construct this as a gestalt switch.  Ah, but still he says that old way needs some shaking, and "shaking" and "poetic activism" seem to be the new language that Gergen offers us to replace the gestalt switch.

Pretty interesting stuff.


Expect the next issue of 
June 01,  2000

Remember Our Imaginary Clients?
Lois Shawver

You remember, I presume, that PMTH now has imaginary clients.  That is, a group of therapists are collaborating to create imaginary therapy sessions with imaginary people.  One person plays a client, or several clients, and another plays the therapist.  The client says something in an Email and the therapist responds in another Email.  Gradually a transcript of the imaginary therapy is constructed.

You can reach our current cases by clicking here.  At the moment, there are basically two cases in progress. 

One is the case of Jack and Jill.  I think they're a difficult couple to work with.  They seem to have communication problems and these communication problems continue in the therapy session.  If you're a therapist reading this, perhaps you have had clients that remind you of this couple.  Jack seems to talk over Jill in the therapy session and, alternatively, Jill shows a tendency to withdraw into silence.  The therapist has to decide how to handle this situation.  Should (s)he talk primarily to Jack?  Which in some ways would be easier?  Or shall (s)he manipulate the session somehow to balance the time each person can talk? 

There has been more than one therapist for Jack and Jill, but right now the therapy is being conducted by Kilian Fritsch, who has, I believe, some interesting things to show us about how a therapist might work with such a couple.

Our other imaginary case is Barb.  Barb came to therapy when she began to feel that her boyfriend was flirting with other women.  This is a difficult case, too.  Barb began talking in her first session as though the therapist should know if Bob is flirting, but how is the therapist to know?  This imaginary case is being handled by therapist Judy Weintraub.

If you want to follow the therapy of these clients, or others that we may take on, you can access them through the tool bar.  Go to the blue bar to the left and up at the top, the third from the top tool says,"PMTH Imaginary Caseload."  Click on that and you should be able to navigate your way to the sessions.  Barb has just finished her second session.  Jack and Jill have are beginning their fourth.

Imaginary Case Notes:
Two Approaches to Talkative Jack
Lois Shawver

What should a therapist do about Jack talking so much more than Jill in the session?  Different therapists here had completely different approaches.  One therapist in the first sessions tried to get Jack to let Jill talk.  This therapist said (#11) at one point:

Wow Jack!  I see that the forces of conflict are pretty hard for you to resist.  But nonetheless, at the moment I'd like to ask you to put yourself in the role of listener -

Then he turned to Jill and tried to allow her to talk.  (Jack was quiet for a short while, but not for long.) 

Fritsch who worked with this couple a bit later (and perhaps observed how Jack responded to requests to be quiet) faced much the same problem, but he took a radically different approach.  Fritsch talked with Jack directly for a while.  Fritsch explained,

He [Jack] was expecting to be disrespected, criticized, etc, with lots of totalizing generalizations. I I wasn't going to do that, and wanted to show that a different kind of conversation, and hence relationship, was possible.

So, Fritsch let Jill sit quietly for a while and he spent time in a dialogue with Jack.  Is one of these approaches better than the other?  Myself, I believe that either might work effectively with some clients and that the therapist has to read the situation in order to choose the better course.   Sometimes, even, the therapist has to find what way doesn't work in order to find a way that does.

You can look at the cases, however, and see how you, as a therapist, would read the situation.  Would you try to suppress Jack some way in order to make space for Jill?  Or would you turn and talk with Jack while Jill is once more silenced?  Or would you try one approach and then the other until something seemed to work?  Or would you do something else?

If you would like to offer consultation on this case, do write us.  Tell us what you think the therapist should do about Jack talking over Jill.  Just click here and you'll have an Email form.  You can send us your advice.  If you do this, please include information about whether you are a therapist, but you do not need to send your name in order for us to read it.  In fact, we will read it and consider it whether or not you are a therapist - but I, at least, would like to know.

Imaginary Case Notes:
Can Not-Knowing be a Metanarrative?
Lois Shawver

One of the key features of a postmodern therapy, it seems, is that the therapist steps down from the pedestal of being an expert and becomes a human being.  When a therapist does this on PMTH, it is often said that the therapist is "not-knowing.." (a term introduced by Goolishian and Anderson).    But, another aspect of a postmodern approach to therapy seems to be a suspicion towards metanarratives, where metanarratives are overgeneralized theories that suggest there is one answer to a standard situation, or one right theory about anything..

The question that Val Lewis raised during a conference we had about our imaginary clients was whether postmodern therapists might sometimes make a metanarrative of being not-knowing.  She put it this way:

I am starting to worry that we pomo therapists are now creating a new metanarrative with this [being not-knowing]. If the clients come in believing that we are the experts, and we then refame it for them, and kind
of "teach them" to see it our way (that we are not experts) might we not in some instances be doing them a disservice? 

Why would this be a disservice?  Because even if we are not knowledgeable about how to solve a particular problem, perhaps the client's belief in our knowledge will be helpful.  She continued:

I am a great believer in the power of belief (attribution) in meaning making, and if the client believes that I can help them, because they believe I hold expertise, why not go along with
this? Is it not disrespectful to them to insist that we are not experts when it might be useful to the client to believe that we are? Should we not be
not-knowing about this issue too? 

I can see some point to this.  Therapists often work in an instintictive way, that is without quite understanding the methods they are using to assist.  Maybe sometimes we don't know we know some answers.  Maybe we make a metanarrative of our "not-knowing", taking it on as a posture that we should always take.

Leonard Bohanon agreed.  If a therapist refuses to be the expert too rigidly, he becomes the expert about whether he is an expert.

Then, Riet Samuels noticed that the therapist who takes a not-knowing response often takes the position that the clients' answers "lie within the client."  And, Val Lewis added, 

I think that is a cherished belief among therapists that may or may not be true for an individual person.

So, our postmodernism has led us to deconstruct the inherited positions of therapist expertise.  But, if we're not careful we will turn this deconstruction into a new metanarrative that says it is always better to be "Not-knowing".

There is a paradox here deep in the core postmodernism and perhaps is what is most unsettling to its detractors.  To be postmodern, one must be willing to take modernist stances when they seem right.  Otherwise, postmodernism becomes just another modernist position, although with a certain twist.

Makes sense to my postmodern mind.  Does it make sense to you?  If so, you're probably postmodern, too.  The modernists would banish us, you know.

Imaginary Case Notes:
Transvaluations Everywhere
Lois Shawver

I have, myself, been highly engaged in the development of these imaginary cases, and I have found them useful in exploring some of my own sometimes half-baked theories of therapy, ideas that I hope to develop more as I study these fascinating transcripts. 

For many years,  I have thought about therapy as revolving around "transvaluations."  Transvaluations as I think about it are evaluative reframings that are built into our language.  They often sound like this:

George: You are nosey.
Georgia: No, I'm just curious.

Curious, as I think of it,  is a positive way for thinking about being nosey.  In therapy, they often sound more like this.

George: I am so impulsive
Therapist: It seems to me you're 

Notice that spontaneous is a positive way to think about being impulsive much like curious is a positive way to think about being nosey.   It is not that the positive or negative way is the right way, but that both terms are equally apt in some situations.  The transvaluation can be either positive or negative.  In argument, the transvaluation tends to be negative, going from the positive term to the negative as Georgia did above.  In therapy the transvaluation tends to be positive. 

Still, this is a simplification.  Most interesting dialogues (so I think) revolve around complex versions of such transvaluations.  I tell you about all of this because I would like people here on PMTH (and you out there reading about this, too) to look at the world for a while in terms of  transvaluations. 

It is not that we do these transvaluations deliberately.  They often just happen.  They structure what we say in amazing ways.  I believe that the artful therapist does not always know that she is doing a transvaluation.  But to my mind, there were many transvaluations occurring in our imaginary cases.  There is nothing simple about the structure of these. 

I think I see transvaluations occurring in all the imaginary sessions, but I have just finished analyzing them in Judy Weintraub's second session with Barb.  You can reach my analysis of the evolving transvaluations by clicking here.  These may well have been intuitive for the therapist, Judy.  I think good therapists often work "intuitively" but this does not mean that an implicit structure cannot be seen by the observer.  (Remember Wittgenstein's concept of seeing as?)

As I see it, the center of the second session with Barb (as you can see if you click above) revolved around Barb having seen her own unproven suspicions about about his flirtations as her own craziness (another case of seeing as).  This self-critical position was furher exaggerated by Barb feeling that she was weak for not breaking up with Bob purely on her suspicions.

To my way of thinking, Judy transvaluated Barb's self-criticism by saying, in effect, that Barb was strong for being able to manage the relationship with a man who might well be playing around.  Barb, so Judy portrayed it was resisting the solution that most women would have by just breaking up with Bob purely on the grounds of her suspicion and the crazy feeling anyone would have in that position.  You can read this yourself in comment #22 of Judy's by clicking here.

Which view is right, Barb's or Judy's?  That is, is it weak for Barb to stay with Bob or is it strong?  I think there is no simple answer here.  Both can be right for the situation.   One would have to examine the context.  And neither is "right" in the simple sense in which it is "right" that there is a chair over there.  But sometimes people just fall into the negative self-view and other times they take a more self-empowering view that allows them to see and appreciate the natural wisdom in their instinctive approaches.  Judy is helping Barb see the empowering view and in doing that she is helping Barb liberate herself from the self-critical images that had her trapped.  I believe such self-critical images are like impasses.  From my conversation with Judy, I believe she sees it the same way.  That is, Barb is torn between the positive and negative view but she is stuck in the negative.  Giving the client a transvaluation (as Judy gave Barb) can, I feel,  open a gateway to a more practical solution to her problem.  Suddenly, Barb can appreciate what is right about the way she is working.

Don't presume that transvaluations necessarily just help clients to see themselves positively.  They might help them to see others positively, or help them to recognize how others see their positive traits more negatively.

I think the therapists here know how to navigate through these transvaluative language games, and if you and I observe we may be able to learn something about how they do it.

Negative Capability
Lois Shawver

An interesting new PMTH subscriber, John Dakin, suggested the term "negative capability" to describe the situation of the therapist or client who could tolerate lack of knowing and mystery.  This term he said was a term from the poet Keats. 

I hadn't heard of the term before, so I did a little websearching.  (Isn't the net wonderful for that?)  What I found was that the term was introduced by John Keats in one of his letters (click here for more).  I think it is perfect for what we try to do as therapists when we deconstruct our expert role. 

Tony Michael Roberts, a sometimes PMTH writer,  ust have thought so, too, because it inspired him was an article which appears below.

Philosophical Postmodernism
Tony Michael Roberts

Coleridge was powerfully influenced by Kant and by German idealism more broadly. Back years ago, I was taught a distinction which still makes sense to me between temperamental and philosophical romantics. It's basically a distinction between people who learned a way of seeing the world from reading Kant (Coleridge) and people who saw the world just that way as a matter of pure sensibility (Keats). 

I think we could draw the same distinction today among  postmodernists by  substituting the name Derrida or maybe Lyotard for the name Kant. The philosophical postmoderns are the ones who tend to be nostalgic in Shawver's sense of nostalgic postmodernism. They are mostly people who came to postmodernism at the end of a  failed quest after a meta-narrative both broad enough and deep enough to explain themselves to themselves. This philosophical postmodernism is very beat like in its style and aesthetic. 

One might even say that this postmodernism is the silver bullet in a werewolf heart. The full moon for
this kind of werewolf is a vision of high and holy abstract truth which is constant and immutable. The problem is not that this
moon is sometimes full but that it waxes and wanes. The problem is that every
truth is proven to be less than the whole truth by some episode somewhere along the line and this feels like a betrayal in love.  This feels like the White Goddess turning into the Whore of Babylon. 

The philosophical postmodernist has used that silver bullet, which is finally negative capacity, to kill off a part of himself so that the rest can live in peace, free from the fear of one more betrayal. The part that dies is the part that loves Sophia in the guise of a moon always full and constant. Sometimes it is necessary to stop loving wisdom in order to become human. 

The need for a meta-narrative is finally rooted in an incapacity to tolerate ambiguity, or, if you will, in a lack of
negative capacity.