Psychology has changed much over the past two hundred years. What was once largely a collective effort to observe and describe "who we are" has devolved into a compendium of logical explanations for "why we are who we are." Said pragmatically, the wonderful "what am I observing" questions of the psychologists of old have for the most part been replaced by the "why do you think you did what you did" questions of present day talk therapists.
This has led to generations of well-intentioned but blank-minded therapists blindly seeking solutions to people's ills. Here the proof for this somewhat startling assertion is easy enough to see. Try asking yourself something like why you are reading this and at the same time picture anything. What you'll find is that doing both is impossible. You cannot pose a logical question without causing your mind to go blank.
Know the blankness I'm referring to here does not imply the mind is empty. An empty mind contains nothing. A blank mind can contain ideas and feelings. The thing is, the mind can't contain an idea or a feeling and at the same time picture things. Hence by "blank mind" I mean a mind devoid of visual content; a mind where the screen is blank.
Having a hard time believing this? Then try the following self-experiment. Roll the credits at the end of a movie wherein there is action going on behind the words. Now try to simultaneously read those credits while taking in all the action. What you'll find is that with effort, you can alternate between the two. But no matter how hard you try, you will not be able to watch what is happening and simultaneously read the words.
What is also important to see is that these two experiences are mutually exclusive. Doing either prevents you from doing the other. If you read words, you cannot picture. And if you picture, you cannot read words.
This means each time you read, at best, you can alternate between words and pictures. In addition, your mind will be blank at least a good portion of the time. The exception to this occurs when you get drawn into a scene. In these times, you hear the words as part of the picture, as if you're overhearing them. Even here though, you still cannot read words and picture the scene. You're either reading or you're hearing the words.
Know the same two things hold true for feelings and picturing. You cannot do both simultaneously, and doing either prevents you from doing the other. For example, try placing your hand on your leg. Now try to experience the feeling of your hand on your leg while simultaneously picturing your hand. Again, with effort, you can alternate between the two. But you cannot feel your leg and simultaneously picture doing it.
the Problem with Therapist's Questions
At this point, if you've tried the self-experiments and compared them to my words, you'll be close to a rather astonishing realization about talk therapy. Put very simply, each time a therapist asks a client for an idea or a feeling, this will cause the client's mind to go blank. Moreover, if the therapist then tries to help with a follow-up question, the client's blankness will deepen. And herein lies the root of talk therapy's struggles.
Put very simply, you cannot change what you can't see. Indeed, you cannot even choose anything you cannot see. For example, imagine you are in a restaurant and ordering from a menu. Now imagine you're looking down at this menu and the pages are blank. Were you to now point to some area on this menu and tell the waiter this is what you want, you would indeed get something. But this something can hardly be called a choice. Choices can be seen.
Now consider what this means when your mind is blank. You literally can't see your choices. Indeed, you make be able to articulate these choices and still be unable to take them. This is why I am saying that anything which deepens blankness impairs your ability to change. And since most therapists' questions result in blankness, most talk therapy actually keeps people from changing.
What about realizations wherein you discover a new idea or uncover a previously unnoticed feeling? In truth, were you to carefully monitor those times, what you'd find would surprise you. Despite the nonvisual nature of these realizations, they are always preceded by at least a momentary visual realization. And this brings us to what is surely the most powerful realization of all, the idea that all therapeutic breakthroughs begin as visual epiphanies. In essence, these pleasantly-surprising visions are the doorways to all new ideas and feelings. Moreover, if you think back to any time when you yourself experienced a breakthrough, you'll quickly realize the first thing you accessed was a momentary vision.
No coincidence the books we consider most holy are filled with stories wherein people have pleasantly-surprising visions. Only after we hear these stories are we expected to have logical and emotional realizations. Moreover, this order putting visions before ideas and feelings is no accident. It's dictated not by logic but rather by human nature.
the Significance of Blankness
The problem of course is simple. No one teaches us to pay attention to blankness. Ironically, were you to monitor yourself for even one hour, you'd quickly find most of what you experience is either ideas or feelings. In either case, your mind will be blank through no fault of your own. And the more you try to figure things out, the more blank you get.
Imagine trying to balance your checkbook without seeing the amounts on the checks? Imagine driving on a six-lane super highway with a blindfold over your eyes? How about teaching someone algebra without being able to see the problem.
If what I'm saying is true then most talk therapy more resembles blind people driving cars than psychologists improving lives. This makes therapists like proverbial blind men trying to understand an elephant, each with his own perfectly logical but literally false explanations. And again, since you can't change what you can't see, making changes, especially permanent changes, is next to impossible.
The Science of Discovery
(why do scientists so rarely make breakthroughs)
Everything scientists do is intended to lead to discoveries. No coincidence, we reward scientists who make meaningful discoveries with things like the Nobel Prize. Clearly, discoveries are the universal holy grail of science. Yet strangely, close to 100% of scientific efforts fail to discover anything. Why? And why does no one ever mention this?
This book will claim the problem lies not with scientists but rather, with their method. And in the opening chapters, this book will describe a method which guarantees discoveries every time out. This method will then get applied to everything from sleep problems and weight loss issues to the nature of deafness, cancer, meditation, and learning the times tables.
How do these ventures trun out? Prepare to be amazed.
Like most of what he writes, this book is as dense as lead. After all, Steven has Asperger's. Thus this book is a tough read. If there's anyone in your life who you think just doesn't want to communicate with you though, or if you tend to lose your words in arguments, or if you know or love someone diagnosed with ADHD, then this book is for you. Guaranteed to change your life.
Let me be honest with you right up front. This book is also a tough read. But if you're as tired as I am of a world wherein we're told human nature is one long list of dysfunctions, then you'll love this book.