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Picking through a ton of shells for a tasty nugget or two
on January 31, 2013
I was interested to read a pioneering work of Neuro Linguistic Programming from the founders of NLP. Disclaimer: I am not an hypnotist nor do I wish to become one.
I was hypnotized in the late 1960's by Erika Fromm at the University of Chicago (where I was a student and she was a professor). My experience with her totally convinced me that hypnosis can work. This was a demonstration of its powers (no, so did not suggest that I act like a chicken), but there was no therapy in the demonstration so I cannot attest to its power to reach the unconscious mind and bypassing the interference of the conscious mind. That's my only connection to therapeutic hypnotism except that I tried a hypnotist many years later to help me to stop smoking (it was unsuccessful).
This is an expensive book and it does deliver, to some extent, what it promises: A study of the hypnotic techniques of an outstanding leader in the field so that others may learn what the master practices.
It is, however, flawed. Deeply flawed, in my opinion, an opinion of a layperson and an outsider.
This book reminds me of the usual criticism of a Mahler symphony: A pretentiously large orchestra filled with bells and whistles that produces an okay symphony, but one that does not necessarily match expectations of the hype of such a large orchestra.
I might analogize this book to an elegant looking dinner with fine china, silver, linen tablecloths, candelabras, and violins only to notice that the food is Chef Boyardee spaghetti after all. Well, that's not totally fair: Some of the meatballs might be especially good in amoung all that sweet, ketchupy tasting sauce and overdone pasta.
The book is much longer than it would need to be, it seems to me. I could have done without part two, the part where Milton Erickson and Aldous Huxley play brave new intellectuals together, endlessly, it seemed. In fact, I grew so tired of it that I skipped over most of it, so I hope I didn't miss a nugget. If there was one, I suspect it might have been a chicken McNugget. (I regret James Dean's early death. Had he lived and gotten a little older, he could have done a great job in a Hollywood portrayal of the intellectual Huxley.)
A central tenet of NLP is that the map is not the territory, a tenet with which I agree. The map is the model we make of reality, a description really, and one we use to make it easier to cope with the external world. The map, the description, or the model, is not the reality, just as a picture of a feast is not the feast. This book make that point abundantly clear because I found the NLP description when it came to the linguistic part to be especially without savor.
The linguistic analysis that emerges, to me, is merely another set of words describing a set on words. What could go wrong? I learned very little from this. It seemed --little-- to me. I almost suspect that someone will come out and challenge me because I do not see the value in it. You can do that with avant-garde plays and some performance art, why not this?. Only academics could have loved this meal that to most of us would taste like badly burnt toast.
True, I learned that Erickson used deliberately vague and incomplete words so as to cloak his commands into words that did not appear on the surface to be commands, and allowed the subject arrive at the intended commands internally by himself (through trans-derivational whatchmacallits or some such fancy description). Thus, no patient resistance is created this way because there was no authoritarian command, you see, just a suggestion couched in a clever way so that it might --presume-- the desired command. This is clever; I get it. Page done. What's next?
As an aside, the book contains too many typos to be considered professional, as I am accustomed to reading anyway. Perhaps some of the less gifted graduate students actually put the text together? If so, they need practice at cutting and pasting.
For example, the book quotes a long paragraph with a note as to author, year, and page. About five pages later, the book quotes the same paragraph in it entirety as if it were new and seen in the book for the first time, and the paragraph is followed by a note as to the same author, same year, but a different page. A typo: typos happen. But more than a typo, it appears as sloppy cutting and pasting. Why is it in there twice in the first place? Carelessness or stuffing? Plumping a skinny bird or putting in the salt twice because two uncoordinated people were at work on the same recipe?
In one of the best parts of the book, in part one where Erickson presents two cases, the second one (a truly amazing case) deals with a pain-wracked terminally ill man who is an avid florist and Erickson's brilliant distraction with a story about tomato plants in which he embeds the ideas of comfort and ease. Unfortunately, the book presents a case that precedes this one that has nothing to do with tomato plants, but the cutters and pasters here plop in a quote including something about tomato plants. At this stage, it's a "What?" and only makes sense if it were to have followed the second story. I wonder if it might have been an all-nighter for the grad student, perhaps?
Then, there is a longish section where a longish paragraph is repeated many, many times, each time with some different words in italics. Now, Mahler can be lively, I'll give him that, but this came, after about the third time, to come off to me as incredibly boring. My reaction came to be to dread at the sight of an approaching an upcoming repetition of this (by then) wretched paragraph, so much so, that I admit that I just gave up and skipped ahead.
All in all, I believe this book would have been better much shorter. One could include much of part one, especially the tomato plant story, and include a better part three. I would have ditched part two altogether for another book, another time. It may have been dear to Erickson, but I found it to be dry toast when I was expecting a delicious treat. It was, at best, a tedious delay that hampered my way to the dinner table.
Again, if you are not convinced that the map is not the territory, this book might convince you, not on an intellectual level, but surely on an experiential one. Don't look to this map in lieu of actually going on your next vacation. It's a vacation that only a dyed in the wool academic could swallow and find satisfying.