by Lucas Derks
Many people see NLP its reputationjeopardized by incursions of superstitious (new age) frames of reference. The low treshold marketing policy of most NLP institutes facillitates the mixture of NLP with whatever other `facinating stuff'. So when I started to give presentations about NLP and aliens, I triggered alergic reactions among many of my NLP collegues. However, my reason to explore this subject is strictly scientific. It is part of a reconnaisance beyond the outer edges of human social cognition.
Aliens are social constructions of a different kind. These cognitive anomalies may help clarify the structure of what we consider obvious, normal and natural. The question put central in this article is: What is the subjective structure of the human concept of humans? Will the answer lie in our concept of `non-humans'?
This article is based on a workshop presented at the Dutch (IEP) conference for NLP april 2002. A three minute selection of beautiful scenes from the science fiction move `The Fifth Element' was shown before the 60 participants were asked to answer the next questions.
The alien belief questionare (ABQ)
1) Do you believe that life is restricted to earth? yes or no?
2) Do you believe that extra terrestial life forms may exist, but humans will never come across them? yes or no?
3) Do you believe that aliens indeed do exist and we one day will meet them? yes or no?
4) Do you believe that alien life exists and some people already had encounters? yes or no?
5) Do you believe that aliens live among us? yes or no?
6) Do you believe that you yourself have encountered an alien? yes or no?
7) Do you believe that you had an intimate relationship to an alien? yes or no?
8) Do you believe that you are an alien yourself? yes or no?
9) Do you believe all humans are aliens? yes or no?
10) Do you believe that all life on earth stemms from sources outside our solar system? yes or no?
Scoring the questionare
Add for every `yes' answered in the above questionare the number standing before the question to the score. So if someone answered `yes' on question 3, than add 3 to the other yesses and the summ of their question numbers.
The lowest passible score on this instrument is ‘1’.
The highest score is ‘52'. For your orientation: The author scores ‘5' on this list.
3 and below are the sceptics. 4 to 13 are the open minded.14 to 26 are the real believers.27 and more are astro biologists.
The structure of social experience.
NLP makes us focus on how people create their subjective experience. This transferred to the social domain, confronts us with the vast human unconscious ability to create a rich map of social reality. And it opens up the search for the cultural, common and individual patterns in this tacit knowledge. What is the structure of another person in your mind? How do you experience a group or even mankind at large?
The hypothesis, that a great skill to map out social reality houses in allmost everyone is easy to validate; becouse, to be able to act socially as sophisticated as most people do, they need an elaborated representation of their social environment. In other words, given human social behavior, the social mental software to make that happen must be in place. But how this unconscious social cognition is given shape is a totally different level of enquiry.
To explore a broad segment of subjective experience like ‘the social' we need to do what I call ‘population modelling'. This is qualitative research with the aid of introspective interviews of a large number of subjects. It takes the modeling of many individuals to enearth the structural patterns in how people think of people. After trying this in vain for some time, it came up on me that this also took a new modeling tool. A tool to deconstruct the human experience of ‘humans'.
Aliens teach the composition of humans
Recent astronomical observations suggest that most of the universe is ‘steralized' by frequent bursts of intense radiation caused by exploding superstars. This implyes that life is very inproblable, and we are just an exception that is waiting to be naturally nuked to oblivioun. Other astronomers argu that the same nuclear phenomena are the source of all complex matter (amino acids), and that life is in fact concieved that way. So since the whole universe is scattered with exploding super nova's, life must be everywhere.
However rare or abundant alien life may be in the cosmos, as a psychologist I believe that aliens are very important to mankind. Non human, highly intelligent and powerfull entities are occupying crusial positions in many peoples models of the social world. The key roles in many acient mythologies are reserved for a variety of non-human social beings: yes, you got me right, many Gods are in fact aliens. To see this point you do not have to believe it to be realistic like Von Daeniken suggested in the sixties.
In this article we will contrast our concept of aliens with our concept of humans in oder to get a clearer picture of what WE are. Without aliens we may stay unaware of what our unconcious conception of ourselves is like.
The alien encounter exersize.
Imagine, you lay in bed one morning. Deeply relaxed, eyes closed, breathing as when sleeping. Than you wake up sligtly, to hear a voice at your bedside. It's unlike anything you ever heard before, and it whispers: ‘You think ME'. It is a voice that talks as if its owner is in pain, but also with a refined articulation. And as it continues to speak: ‘I will teach you YOU. So keep ME in mind.'
The alien encounter reality exersize.
Now, go into a deep self-hypnotic trance and imagine the above alien encounter to be real!
But as you saw, there were no images, no lasers, no strange feelings, no handshakes, no ‘I come in peace'. Just these small minimal sentences. So I wonder what adjustmens must be made in the submodalities of your alien encounter to make it truely real to you? Consider that for a moment. How must this voice sound like and from where exactly should it orginate to make it convincingly realistic to you?
I can't believe it's real.
My own alien encounter exersize did put me face to face with a dramatic example of social cognition. Becouse I failed to make the alien real. Primarely I missed the visual and the kinesthetic. And the submodalities of the auditory were to wierd too. So I believed this experienece, in sofar I noticed anything at all, to be a sort of hynagogic hallucination. My primary conclusion was, that I made up a fragmented social being in my mind.
In the dictionary one finds the verb `to personify'; which means, treating an non-human object as if it had human characteristics. When we talk about a computer and say that it is `wanting' something or is `feeling' something or is `thinking' something, we are doing just that. We are personifying a machine. By looking in the disctionary again, we may also find the noun `personification', wich means a human who symbolizes abstract ideas and ideologies. Like: Madonna is the personification of post feminism.
The dictionary suggests that `to personify' and `personification' are mental activities that need to include non-human concepts. But the alien encounter excersize made clear to me that this is a typical mistake, stemming from us being blind for our own unconscious abilities. The truth of the matter is that we personify humans all the time and all over; and just rarely we apply the same cognitive skill on non-humans. But only in the latter case this may catch our (and the dictionary writers their) attention; becouse this time it strikes us as being something strange. While on the other hand when we personify real human beings, we will stay totally unaware of the proces, becouse it seems so `natural and normal' to us. But my alien tutor showed me that it is neither natural nor normal: it is a great miracle.
When one orginates from outside the solar system it seems to be very clear that the proces of `personification' consists of the creation of mental constructs that are equal in structure to the construct of oneself. Humans expect other humans to be rather similar to themselves becouse they are human too. Aliens who expect humans to be largely similar to them, make often fatal mistakes. For instance, when they assume humans to also be composed of crislatized gas they tend to break down by a sheer lack of resonance in the higher frequencies. Than aliens goes PLAPPP!!!
So most aliens see that humans create man according to their own image. But things that stand out to an alien, may take considerable time to be comprehended by an earthling. Luckely, after a while I began to envision some outlines. For instance: In the course of our social developement as a child, we start to recognize elements in our own experience. We notice our feelings and desires. From discouvering these in ourselves we start to generalize them to others. We start to believe that others are similar to us. We project what we find inside ourselves to others on a regulary basis. We have feelings, so we suppose others to have feelings too. We have desires, so we also attribute these to our peers. Believing that what others experience is similar to what we do experience ourselves, is the core of the personification process.
With the aid of the alien lesson that brought me the concept of personification, I gained insight in how we think of something, to make it subjectively into a human being. Dreaming about aliens is fun until suddenly there stands a real one at your bedside. Would you be mentally fit enough to emediately pace and lead? And to stay calm and curiuos? What resources does it take to ask some relevant questions? For instance: `Hai Alien! Do you as an outsider know the difference between social and non-social human maps of reality?' And would you be clear minded enough to pick up the answer? Suppose the alien idea about this is: "Your social map of the world is mainly composed of personifications. Your non-social map is filled up with everything else: mainly `objectivations'. And you may see `objectivications' as the mental constructions that represent things. People are also things, but more. They are objectivications plus. Personifications." Would you be able to remember such an answer?
But if you could recall this answer and take it seriously, it will lead up to only one conclusion, which is, that, the human ability to personify helps us to discriminate between humans and things, humans and plants, humans and animals, humans and humanoids and between humans and aliens.
Science fiction movies show that the distinction between `human' and `alien' often may mean the difference between who will live and who will be eradicated. And most of our contemporary youngsters learn to press their playstation buttons as crazy when the images of aliens show up on the screen. But asked for it, my alien friend said not to worry about that. It said: `These computer game aliens don't look like us at all.' And it went on: `So nobody will ever shoot us. They are simply not able to recognize us as aliens!'
It's no miracle, that knowledge about human social representation was the first alien lesson I received. Becouse for the aliens themselves this knowledge may be quite crusial for their survival. It is the foundation of their day to day strategy of blending in into our world.
The big alien question exersize
Imagine, if you would meet an highly intelligent alien, what are the three `big questions' you want to ask? Write these down to be prepared. Have them at hand for in case. Many people said they were totally stunned at the critical moment. So be clear about it!
I must admid I had a pretty hard time when my alien tutor started to critisize NLP. NLP, of which I had always thought off as something without restrictions. `If one alien in the world can do something, there is no reason to believe that you will ever be able to... NLP provides you only with unlimited power within limits,' my alien tutor joked. `NLP is the ideal tool to stay put within the human matrix... People believe what accomodates them, false or true...' (these being the last alien words I remember).
I must have lost consciousness for a while... When I woke up again I was happily thinking of NLP: I dreamt of beautifull outcomes, in wonderfull submodalities and realized by outstanding unconscious parts. And I concluded that I rather cling to my human limitations than try to model a real alien. So I went on `modeling' people about how they created other people in their subjective experience.
The first anwers to this queste showed the great importance of mental space in social thinking. We think of a person as existing on a certain location within the imaginary space around us. In general, all social constructs are tight to some location, and most people use the sheer limitless variety of possible locations as their way to encode the different qualities of their relations. Numerous experiements did validate the premisse; saying that the quality of a relation is given shape by the location where the person is experienced.
Than one night my alien mentor returened to warn me once again for NLP's dead end streets, saying: `NLP will take you to the limits of human thought, but no further. You will become an expert in human subjectivity. But as soon as you want to move beyond the neural truth, you will drift off in ever higher levels of abstraction. You will end up in meta space... And he also said that the mere absorbtion of neutral black energy would free me from spot bound mentation... '
In defence I explaned to him that my modelling project had led to the developement of a new tool called `the social panorama'. And that with its help one can analyse and change the subjective patterns making up human relationships, in any disired direction.'
`Is that so?' the alien challanged me, with a cinical tone and wispered: `ANY direction, hu!' Immediately after this it dissapeared, to never return again. Indeed, I could not figure out in what direction it went...
This caused a sort of earth quake in my mind. I felt guilt. Did I break a cosmic taboo by being just pragmatic? My beliefs all tilted back and forth; cracks crumbling their foundations. Only with the greatest of mental efforts I managed to return to the assumptions of NLP again. The map is not the terretory; at least on earth and for mankind. Finaly NLP proved to be an effective antidote against my alien infestation. Thus, remember well my dear readers: minds contaminated with neutral black energy can be washed clean with Frogs into Princes and the like.
Now the crusial role of the submodality location in social life had become an undeniable fact to me. Which gave rise to the clean language question: `And Alien whereabout are you?'
Anyway, it was no longer beside me. It was fully out of sight. However, when I still tried to imagine it, it seemed to have taken on the submodalities of false memories. And although aliens may be located everywhere, mine seemed gone. Did it realy return to Alpha Centauri, to leave only some faint neural traces in my brain? Or were these synaptic links in my nervous system its only real existence?
Just as in the case of a loved one, the spot where we believe that an alien is located is all decisive. Wether an alien is at close range or 10 million light years away makes all the difference. But statistically speaking we must see that the distribution of aliens in the universe makes them as problable at great distance as just around the corner. And also, the universe is such large, that even when aliens were one million times their size, chances to meet them would not significantly increase.
So location is the critical submodality in social life. And it is very difficult to imagine aliens that have no specific location at all. But strange as it may seem, this type of alien is very familiar to many of us. So familiar indeed, that we can hardly speak of it as an alien. In our culture great numbers of people believe in the existence of one great powerfull alien that is all over and everywhere. Isn't that facinating!
Another finding as a result of my alien research had a more NLP-like character. It became clear that the difference between a human and a non-human is made with the aid of a set of unconsciously applyed criteria. A number attributes a something needs in order to become classified as a somebody.
Knowledge about these criteria becomes of great importance when you are in the busisness of human to non-human communication: including contacts with spirits, angels, plants, minirals, parts, gohsts, animals, gods, personified machines and also... aliens.
As soon as I started to explore the edges of the social domain, it became evident to me, that most aliens do not satisfy the criteria for a common human. They fall short of some of them and do have additional extras in other areas. However, aliens seem to be more appealing to us, when they are more equal to us and share as many human characteristics as possible. For instance, when we discouver an alien with the intelligence of a patato, it will be far from as exciting or bothersome as when its intelligence is little above our own. Also, an alien who cannot express its intentions, beliefs or feelings will be a great disssapointment to manny of us. We prefere aliens that look cute and are socially a little clumsy but technically very advanced. Sort off, pet like nerds. Like Spielberg's E.T.
As suggested above, for regarding something to be an other human being, it needs to meet a number of criteria. I call these the `personification factors'. When we create a mental construct and put these factors all in, we end up with the idea of a `person'. This fully unconscious proces of cognition helps us to produce the builing blocks of our social panoramas. Let me list the most important ones for you.
personification facors: --- Spielberg's E.T.:
1) location one, small
2) abilities high tech but weak
3) feelings home sick
4) compassion yes
5) emotions curiousity
6) motives, intentions, needs wanted to go home
7) self-awareness refers to self
8) own perspective on the world seemingly
9) consciousness clearly
10) spiritual connection maybe
11) symbolic expression, a voice languages
12) reason, logic, intelligence profound
13) a name E.T.
14) sensory experience yes
15) sensory perceivability we all saw him
Although this list is incomplete, it's a great tool for the exploration of the structure of social experience. Since with the help of a list like this we can scrutenize any social construct. For instance, as you may have noticed, I have looked at Spielbergs E.T. and found it had properties in all these 15 categories.
For seeing the relevance of this, you must select at random one of the personification factors and take it out. You emediately end up with a more alien person.
The interesting thing for social psychology is, that all these personification factors are regularly applied to humans. But in the same way that a person will be crippled if you take out self-awareness or symbolic expression, so will this turn a human into something alien. At wartime, in psychiatry and in the human history of racism and colonialism, we see opponents or minorities represented as failing crusial personification factors.
Aliens we need You
When we wonder if we are alone out here, and maybe hope this is not the case, we are of course not thinking of evil aliens. In the movie `Indepencence day' like in many others, we are presented aliens that for shure do have their own perspective on the world (factor 8) and saw us mainly as a source of nurishment (energy). They were motivated (factor 6) to consume us, and had an overload of technical skills and power (factor 2) to make that happen. They seemed to know the feeling of pain (3) but showed no compassion (4). Most people rather are alone in the universe than in the company of violent egocentric, psychopatic aliens.
So let's get serious... What would it mean to you if there were aliens out there? Would you like to make contact as if you were swimming with dolphins? And communicate to them as if they were chimps who spoke sign language? What is your fantasy? What are your hopes and wishes?
And what difference would it make for the way you see yourself and mankind if they would parade trough our cities?
Some movies show how humanity come to be finaly united when aliens threathen our existence. Other scenario's have people and aliens become intemate friends. In all these cases aliens come to learn us to make peace. In some movies and in some people's minds nothing else comes up as having sex with aliens. It seems that the `otherness' of gender, age, race, handicap and culture can cause extra sexual arrousing; the sexappeal of other species and beings from extra terrestial origin may show the far end of hetero sexuality. Some people hope to be visited by the type of aliens that are reputed to abduct people with a similar intention. Or with the aim to experiment with genes, minds and bodies. These aliens do what our scientist would do with them when they had a chance to. These abductive aliens have been taken very seriuosly by some therapists. Case research shows that some of these therapist in their turn have abductucted some of their clients and even their children to safe them from aliens induced traumas. We may say that the aliens in the minds of therapist and patients teach us about the weeknesses in our mental healthcare and legal systems.
Create an alien exercize
On april 9 2002 I presented a workshop on the subject matter of this article in the Netherlands. The next excersize happened to be great fun and took no more than 15 minutes.
- Form pairs of A's and B's.
- A will be turned into an alien by B.
- For that purpose A and B pick two personification factors from the list above. These are considered not to be present in A anymore. Instead of these A and B pick two `alienation factors' from the list below.
- When done, B will train A to become an alien. Both think about the behavioral and communicational implications of the changes. As soon as A knows how to be an alien, the next stage of the exercise will start off.
- A will move over to another pair, to have an encounter with the A from that other pair. So all B's try to make contact with aliens that were trained by other A's.
- The aim is to ask the alien your three `big alien questions'.
1) Invisebility or luminosity or transparancy
2) Being at many locations simultaniuosly
3) Being composed of negative matter: flash at contact.
4) Ability to mind read and mind write
5) Hydrophobia (like in the movie `Signs')
6) Ultra high frequency laser eye communication
7) Hyper echolalia (repeats all signals presented)
8) Ultra sound vocalization (talks like an elephant)
9) Composed of christalized metal (hyper fragile)
10) Lacking a self concept
11) Without emotions
12) Speaking numbers
13) Command dependent
15) Hyper kinesthetic
Alien lesson in logic
Once I asked my alien tutor: `Are you real?'
It emediately gave me an extra human intelligent answer. Although people normaly tend to forget the things they cannot grasp; I do remember this in every detail. The alien said: `Reality is contingencies and contiguities in patterns that can never exceed the amount of units within the substrate. And althaugh the entry gates into the substrate may vary; so why waste energy on being anything more than a pattern of just the right amount of units?'
Did you grasp that? No? Try harder!
In our modern society most people do have some concepts of aliens. However, those who are married to one will have quite different ideas than those who doupt their existence. In fact some people have done much more work in this area than others, but most humans these days, do have some thoughts about extra terrestial beings.
For the NLP-type explorer of subjective alien experience it is nice to know that most people can be our research subjects. We may interview them zn the subjective status of their `personal aliens', and ask them: When you think of aliens, what is it that you see, hear or feel in your mind?
However, alien research does not take experimental subjects, it can as easely be taken on alone, sitting in front of your tv with a cold beer at hand, sampling with the aid of your tv-dial. Aliens seem to be attracted to tv-sets, and they will easely come to you!
But if you want to study aliens in the field, I have one simple recommancation to make. Sleep with open windows and go to the movies. It may be true that Hollywood's aliens are not real, but for an NLP-er the difference between reality and imagination is just a matter of submodalities. And by the way, however realistic an alien is, their teachings are all identical. Every alien teaches us about us. In all alien encounters we get a clearer picture of ourselves while at the same time we lose sight on them. And many scholars who have followed the whole course of alien teachings, tend to reach at the conclusion that what they show us, is that we are alien to ourselves but familiar to them. Aliens see the limits of our ratio and the greatness of our unconscious mind. And given his familiarity with the psyche, and according to this lesson, Milton H. Erickson must have been an alien in human disguise, who helped to infest earth with the science fiction psychology that later became NLP. This conclusion may however be one step to far ahead for the moment.
Aliens teach creativity.
The most common movie aliens consist of an actor playing an alien that has taken on the shape of a human. Such aliens are said to be transmorphic, and are only recognizable becouse they fail one or more personification factors. For instance, they cannot feel emotions. When they are also supposed to have a certain alienation factor to them, this is often the thing that unmasks them. You problably olso saw a dozen or so examples of these... I came to dislike these movies. But these cheap aliens still teach us how easely people can step into a story. When John Travolta played the role of an angel (=a certain type of alien) the audience is easely made to belief that he is not Travolta but an inmortal. It is just an hypnotic phenomenon; like most of the things going on in a movie theatre. Aliens that are morphed into the shape of a human, don't even have to dress up to teach us about ourselves.
Speaking for myself; if a movie alien is not superbly animated or wearing a specatacular outfit, it will not work for me. To my pity they are often not good enough. Movie aliens demonstrate the inability of the human mind to conceive of something inconceivable. What I mean is, that even the weirdest movie aliens, when deconstructed, will always consist of bits and pieces of crockodiles, spiders, ants, snakes, sharks, octopusses, dinosaurs, flying insects and primates. The totally fresh, new, unseen, unheard concept is alien to our mind. Even the great animation artists of the silver screen build their aliens out of scaps of very familiar stuff. That is why most of their creations are no more than men wearing funny suits. Real aliens never will look that familiar, believe me.
Bored as I am with some of them, I may on the other hand, be totally facinated by what in fact is the cheapest category of Hollywood's aliens: the invisable ones. The invisable alien teaches us that social experience is all in the mind. It does not even take a material opponent to have a conversation. We can hate people we have never met in person. We can love imaginary play mates and virtual idols. Even sex is a matter of fantasy. Does it take a real person? No, they might just disrupt your erotic dreams. Invisable aliens join the ranks of spirits and gods in having a great influence and still be nowhere to be seen, heard or felt.
Aliens teach us to be alone
At first sigth there are the friendly and the unfriendly aliens: compare friendly E.T. with the horrible ones of Independence Day. The alien that tought me my first alien lessons tried to explane to me that thinking in terms of friends and foes, good and evil, kept people from realizing what their place in the universe realy is... But I myself never fully understood this teaching. I came no futher than: `If we would experience humanity as a unity, we would be able to be just that single one speck of awareness in a vast endless ocean of black matter. But being occupied in social turmoil, economics, science and politics, we are kept busy in the middle of an ongoing puppittheather with a never ending story.' This interpretation sounds reasonable to me, but the alien just as well may have ment something else. What it did make stand out to me, is the common human fear of being alone in the cosmos. We tend to avoid the full realization of what we are. When most people look up to the stars they think: `Shit! I hope we are not alone out here!' Because they see that we hardly seem to cope. That makes the prospect that never ever, any hyper intelligent and compassionate alien ever takes care of us, very hard to digest.
Why is this an issue? It shouldn't be one? Consider the fact that we live on earth with an enormous variety of species, some of which are so weird, that we understand them far less than we understand aliens. But for one reason or the other they seem not to be good enough to be taken into account as our company. We may delete them alltogether and imagine ourselves to be totally lost in empty space. But to them, we may just be what we ourselves seek in intelligent, compassionate and helpfull aliens.
Indian tribesmen in the Amazonian rain forrest never feel alone in the cosmos (it seems). They are surrounded by the spirits and souls of their ancesters, plants and animals and all kinds of monsters. In their social panoramas is no room for loneliness. They seem never to consider aliens. So it takes a western view to create a social panorama around oneself that opens up the questen: `Are we alone?'
The hyper lonelyness exersize
So the question to fucus on is: Are we alone in the universe? Are we the onlyones that are aware?
Now consider:`Yes we are!'
Some meditators explaned to me that feeling oneself alone in the universe, as the sole spot of awareness, comes close to one of the most healing spiritual experiences of all, still better than a near death experience. But on the other hand, the feeling of being the only living soul in the cosmos is being feared as hell (or seen as its equivalent).
Most of us prefer the idea of having company.
Aliens teach us space travel
In the seventies we learned that earth is a perfectly designed space craft. Together with the rest of the solar system it races through the galaxy. Conclusion, space travel has alwys been our business. And we have traveled inconceivable distances this way. Did we meet aliens in the course of our flight? Did they build Atlantis and help the Egyptians create their culture? Some say that spores of ferns and fungy may actually leave the earths admosphere to spread out into space. Thus, we may also be inavaded by spores from other planets in the same way. Some pieces of cosmic ice may reach the earth and deposit organic matter in between us.
Last night I looked up to mars. Looking back from mars to earth will be approximately the same sight; maybe a little bigger, maybe a little blueer. NLP can be part of the science fiction psychology we need to be able to cope with long distance space travel. We need to be able to maintain peace within a team enclosed in a narrow capsule. The fears that may overwhelm a space traveler entering alien terretory need acute treatment with effective means. NLP-like imagination excersiszes may help to simulate in advance the crossing of mental barriers that will nessasarely pop up when we fly so far away. When we become wandering aliens ourselves.