Sub-Modalities Going Meta

Cinematic Frames for Semantic Magic


L. Michael Hall, Ph.D. with Bobby G. Bodenhamer, D. Min.

Foreword by Robert Dilts

Robert Dilts says of this work: 

In their most recent collaboration, THE STRUCTURE OF EXCELLENCE: Unmasking the Meta-Levels of "Submodalities," Michael Hall and Bob Bodenhamer take the reader on an in depth exploration into one of the key characteristics of personal excellence and genius: the ability to shift levels of perception, or "go meta." The term meta is a Greek word meaning "over," "between" or "above." In English it is also used to mean "about." A "meta model," for example, is a model about other models.

"Metacognition" is the awareness of one’s own cognitive processes, i.e., cognition about cognition. "Meta messages are messages about other messages, which provide frames or context markers that influence the meaning of messages. "Meta leadership" involves leading leaders.

The ability to go meta is a key capability in NLP. It is one of the basic ways in which we are able to get a "double description" of a particular event or interaction. In conflict situations, achieving a "meta position" is essential for a successful resolution. A "meta position" would be a position "above and between" the two in conflict, which includes and acknowledges both conflicting perspectives to create something new. The new perspective either synthesizes the conflicting positions or allows them to co-exist in harmony.

Taking a meta position is also essential to effectively model ourselves or others, and to reflect on our own actions or relationships in difficult situations. From a "meta" position it is easier to look past the content of an action or situation and see its formal characteristics or deeper structure. The ability to go "meta" to one’s own model of the world is a fundamental feature of introspection, self-reflection and wisdom.

In their book, Michael and Bob apply this fundamental ability in the form of the Meta-States model, and through a new perspective on the mechanism and influence of "submodalities." In NLP, submodalities are the particular perceptual qualities that may be registered by each of the five primary sensory modalities. Each representational system is designed to perceive certain basic features of the experiences it senses. Our visual modality, for instance, can perceive such qualities as color, brightness, shape, depth, etc.; our auditory modality is capable of registering volume, pitch, tempo, etc.; our kinesthetic system perceives such qualities as pressure, temperature, texture, etc., and so on. These qualities are called "submodalities" since they are sub-components of each of the representational systems.

Hall and Bodenhamer assert that submodalities are not "sub" at all; but are rather "meta-level" phenomena—akin to Aristotle’s idea of "common sensibles." According to Aristotle, the process of finding patterns from particular sense-perceptions takes place through the "common sense"—the place in our "psyche" where all of our senses meet and integrate their perceptions.

Aristotle believed that one of the functions of the "common sense" was to register something which was repeated in a number of experiences as a pattern. Patterns or "universals" were perceived in terms of a set of content-free qualities that Aristotle called the ‘"common sensibles," the discriminations shared by all the senses. "Common sensibles" are movement, rest, number, figure, magnitude, unity; these are not peculiar to any one sense but are common to all. Aristotle’s "common sensibles" are not a function of any particular sensory modality. Thus, they are on a different level than the so-called "sub-modalities" in NLP, which are perceived by the individual senses. For example, "intensity" is something you can register in any sense. You can have intensity of color, sound, taste, smell or touch. It is the same with "number;" you can see three things, hear three things, feel three things, etc. Location and movement are also perceptible via all the senses. You can see, hear, feel or smell that something coming from a particular location or moving in a particular direction. These qualities are not a function of only one sense. They are something that can be shared by all the senses and facilitate the transfer of information between the senses. According to Aristotle, common sensibles allowed us to do our higher level mental processing.

Hall and Bodenhamer contend that all "submodalities" have the qualities that Aristotle associated with the "common sensibles." The traditional view of NLP tends to "objectify" or "nominalize" submodalities, perceiving colors, smells and sounds as "things." (Many NLP techniques treat "sub-modalities" as if they are a checklist of "things" rather than higher level qualities.) For instance, people talk about an internal image being bright or distant as if it were a "thing" associated with that particular image. To determine if an image is "bright," however, it is necessary to first determine, Bright compared to what? An image is neither inherently "bright" nor "dim," "colorful" nor "dull," "distant" nor "close;" it is distant, colorful or bright compared to something else such as its background or another image. Hence, distance, color, location etc., are not things they can be put in a wheelbarrow; instead, they are distinctions at a higher logical level.

In the first part of the book, Hall and Bodenhamer explore this shift in perspective as a means to update and extend the traditional NLP model, introducing the distinction of Meta-Detailing as an alternative to the typical view of submodalities. They describe Meta-Detailing as a process which "operates on details from a meta-frame perspective." According to the authors, Meta-Detailing represents a bridge between a global perspective and attention to specific details. . .thus eliminating the conflict between the two as if an either/or choice.

The Second part of the book has 6 sub-models in it, constructed around 6 meta-level phenomena: believing, valuing, negating, foregrounding, understanding, and reframing. The authors provide practical applications for these phenomena, including how they may applied to belief change, and value transformation. They have a chapter on Negation—with a list of 8 kinds of negations. They also include the Meta-Yes-ing pattern for belief change. The authors propose that their approach, and in particular the notion of Meta-Detailing, is an explanation for the ability of many geniuses to move back and forth between different chunk sizes and levels of thinking.

One key characteristic of genius is the capacity to move easily between the broader vision and specific actions required to manifest the bigger picture. Geniuses can work with the little pieces and yet not become caught up in all of the details. They are also able to see the big picture without losing sight of the little pieces. The word genius comes from a Latin term meaning, "the superior or divine nature which is innate in everything." I like to point out that excellence comes from a passionate commitment to a single perspective. In order to become good at something, one must stay associated in one’s own first position and focus. This is an important way to learn and progress, but it is not necessarily wise. Sometimes it produces unecological repercussions.

Genius comes from a passionate commitment to the integration of multiple perspectives. J. Bronowski (The Ascent of Man, 1973) claimed that a genius is a person who has not one, but two great ideas, and spends the rest of his or her life trying to get them to fit together. The implication is that when one has become excellent in several different areas and is able to synthesize them, one begins to approach genius.

Hall and Bodenhamer argue that this comes from the ability to go meta. We could also say that wisdom comes from a passionate commitment to the constant process of taking multiple perspectives. Since the world is in constant change, we cannot rely on yesterday’s answers as being true for tomorrow. Wisdom is not something you do or get, it is something you participate in—in an ongoing way. In the words of Gregory Bateson: "[Wisdom comes from] sitting together and truthfully discussing our differences—without the intent to change them."

Michael and Bob have done NLP a great service by refocusing on its theoretical roots in the work of Bateson and Korzybski, and by re-placing its attention on the important and seminal notion of the ability to go meta. I am grateful to both of them for having brought so much insight about the nature of excellence, genius and wisdom into a single volume.

Robert Dilts
Santa Cruz, California
August, 1999

Table of Contents

Unmasking the Meta-Levels of "Submodalities"

Foreword by Robert Dilts
Book 1  Modeling Excellence With NLP
Preface Is There A Genius in the House?
Ch. 1
Ch. 2
Ch. 3
Ch. 4
The NLP Model In Brief
Programming the Excellence of Genius
Levels in the Structure of Excellence
The Untold Secrets of "Submodalities
Book II Applying Excellence to Running Your Own Brain
New Models of "Mind"--Meta-Level Models
Ch. 5
Ch. 6
Ch. 7
Ch. 8
Ch. 9
Ch. 10
Ch. 11
Ch. 12
Negating Old Programs
Empowering Ideas
— Transforming Limiting Beliefs
— Meta-Yes-ing
Understanding Background Knowledge
Valuing Things of Importance
Reframing Meanings
Meta-Patterns for Running Your Brain with Excellence
Ch. 13
Ch. 14
Ch. 15
Changing Personal History
Inserting Resourcing Ideas
Externalizing & Reading "Submodalities"
Putting It All Together
Ch. 16
Ch. 17
Ch. 18
Ch. 19
Meta-Stating Excellence in Action: The Magic of Richard Bandler
Meta-Detailing Frames
The Higher Level Magic
of Genius
Meta-Principles for Excellence
After Word
Appendix A
Appendix B
Appendix C
Appendix D
Appendix E
VAK & Submodality Chart
Meta-State Principles
Meta-Model Description
Submodalities Prior to NLP
Systemic III Model
Institute of Neuro-Semantics

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