Everything is Connected

The two objectives of this article are:

  1. to highlight that everything we do is connected up to a shared reality of the world around us;
  2. to demonstrate that Human Givens psychology is a practical and effective approach to dealing with all sorts of complex people behaviours and outcomes.

The study of complex systems is an approach that fits well with the application of Human Givens psychology and its an area of scientific discovery that is generating a lot of interest across many different professional disciplines.  Through understanding more about the interconnectedness of everything we do, we can begin to bring the different articles and information on this web site into a unified story.

Human Givens psychology is based on an organising approach spanning thinking across a number of scientific specialisations such as biology, evolutionary biology, psychology and neuroscience. As such it promotes a deeper understanding of the human mind as a beautiful example of a Complex Adaptive System [CAS].

CAS’s are all around us, they are this web site, they are communities, they are businesses, they are governments, they are the universe. They are us and they are the environment. They adapt to changes in the environment while becoming the change agent of other CAS’s . Once a CAS has formed it can be used in the process of forming another higher order CAS – such as when cells organise into systems then into organs and people, people into groups, groups into communities into societies and civilizations….

A scientific critique of complex system theory is beyond the intended scope of this article. However it is fair to say that complex system theory is full of confusing jargon and still very theoretical. It has yet to generate much in the way of practical, robust useful applications of the theories outside research institutions. Why then is it important to the understanding and application of Human Givens psychology? The answer is that the study of complex systems across many fields of science involves a new way of thinking. Just as Human Givens psychology is an organising approach that incorporates knowledge and thinking from disperate fields of psychology, neurobiology and social sciences [to name a few], the study of complex systems will involve the bringing together of many disparate fields of science to connect up the dots. “Complexity” in complex systems pertains to the fact that a great number of parts in the system interact in a great number of ways. This interconnectedness and potential for unpredictable behaviours to emerge, makes them very difficult to study using traditional reductionist “cause and effect” scientific approaches. If the natural world is viewed as linear and mechanistic, cause-and-effect solutions can be expected to explain the complex phenomena of nature, It is now obvious that nature is organic , nonlinear, uncertain and unpredictable. Linear models of scientific discovery have served us well, but complex systems thinking has the potential to improve our understanding even more. A central theme of complex system research is that apparently dissimilar systems (businesses, brains, weather systems, bee colonies, galaxies) share fundamental patterns that have the potential to be represented by mathematical models.

The building blocks of all complex systems are the independent parts of the system that interact with one and other for the benefit of the total system. In complex adaptive systems [CASs] the independent parts collaborate and adapt to become capable of manipulating their environment for the good of the CAS and for the good of each of the parts. During the interactions between parts, feedback loops can be formed. In complex system jargon this is all called self-organising. Complex systems constantly reshape themselves, and self-organise and self-organise ad infinitum. A key feature of a CAS is that unpredictable but organised behavior emerges from the interactions of the many parts. one small change in one element of the CAS can have large unpredictable impacts– the example of a butterfly flapping its wings in one country and causing an avalanche in another country, is a much cited example of this happening in a weather system. See the articles on Brain Power and Memory & Meaning for a more detailed understanding of how our brains/minds work as interconnecting CASs, when neurons interact to form neural networks, neural networks interact to become intelligent systems [our memories and cognition] and people interact to form relationships and social groups. Other properties shared by CASs include, the development of specialized parts and patterns of cooperation and competition. Complex systems are nonlinear, meaning that the system response to the sum of its inputs is not merely the sum of their separate parts– translated into something understandable this means that in coaching, counseling or psychotherapy, more sessions do not necessarily correlate with better outcomes.

Complex system therapies [as influenced by complex system thinking] are a recent phenomenon and Human Gives Psychology is one of the newest. By tracking progress from Freudian psychoanalytical approaches through to the early introduction of cognitive therapies, it is possible to appreciate how an improved understanding of our minds as complex adaptive systems can create improvements in the outcomes of psychological interventions. Freudian psychology was to a large extent a deterministic process – some specific events in our early development leading to mental stresses in the present. Freud developed a framework of theories describing specific developmental influences that could lead to maladaptive development of our personality and thought patterns.  The classical approach to understanding antisocial or criminal behavior, is to look at the personality or the environment for a cause and effect answer. We now understand that it’s the interconnected transactions between the personality and the situation that generates outcomes and deviant behaviour is not always an exception to deterministic rules. Many people who have a difficult start in life, perhaps uncaring or even abusive parents, develop into successful, well adjusted adults. Freud’s work and the work of others at the time, advanced the study and knowledge of psychology enormously, for example he give us the concept of “ego”. Freud also got some things very wrong but psychoanalytical approaches still prevail even today.

In the 1960’s cognitive psychologists began to shake things up. Cognitive psychotherapy was informed by theories of human information processing and beliefs about the rationality of our minds. However from a complex systems perspective a lot was missing from the approach. Cognitive therapies give little consideration to the role of human development and even more importantly, our emotions are considered as a by product of our thoughts. “As you think so you will feel” a quote by Beck in 1977. Developments in cognitive psychology have resulted in an upsurge in the use of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy by the NHS. A further development in the field of psychology occurred in the 1980’s with the development of Constructivist Psychotherapies, in which attachment theories [particularly the work of Bowlby] made an important contribution. All these approaches advanced our understanding of our human psyche and brought about some changes in the application of Talking Therapies. Many of these approaches do not entail a detailed understanding of our minds as complex adaptive systems, constantly self organizing and interacting with other complex adaptive systems. In Human Givens psychology complex systems thinking is a fundamental part of our story and the future of the mind. In adopting a complex systems approach Human Givens practitioners avoid becoming psychology fundamentalists. They do not believe that all other approaches are so inferior that they should not exist. They recognize and encourage contributions from other fields of psychology and science – that is the whole point of complex systems thinking.

CASs are not necessarily optimal and despite being amazing our brains are no exception to this. Typically, day to day they are good enough to get us through, good enough for us to survive but sometimes they actually block us from thriving. However, we do have choices, we can use our brains natural abilities to adapt to situations and improve our mental fitness, to flourish rather than just survive, whatever life throws at us. Human Givens practitioners work with clients to identify how even small changes can make a big impact to their life. It is possible through brief but skillful interventions, to bring about major changes in even entrenched behaviours.

Article by Ingrid Blades January 2015

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