A Brief History of Logical Levels


Robert B. Dilts

The notion of logical levels refers to the fact that some processes and phenomena are created by the relationships between other processes and phenomena. Any system of activity is a subsystem embedded inside of another system, which is embedded inside of another system, and so on. This kind of relationship between systems produces different levels of processes, relative to the system in which one is operating. Our brain structure, language, and social systems form natural hierarchies or levels of processes.

As a simple example, consider the rate of change, or "speed" of an automobile. Speed is a function of how much ground the vehicle covers in a certain amount of time (e.g., 10 miles per hour). Thus, speed is the relationship between distance and time. The car's velocity in moving from the garage to the highway can be said to be at a different level than a car, garage, highway, or clock, because it is a property of the relationship between them (and does not exist without them).

Similarly, the "profitability" of a company is at a different level than the machinery used by that company; and an idea is at a different level than the neurons in the brain which produces that idea.

An Idea Is at a Different Level than the Particular Neurons in the Brain which Produce that Idea

Logical Levels of Learning and Change

The concept of logical levels of learning and change was initially formulated as a mechanism in the behavioral sciences by anthropologist Gregory Bateson, based on the work of Bertrand Russell in logic and mathematics. Bateson identified four basic levels of learning and change- each level encompassing and organizing elements from the level below it, and each having a greater degree of impact on the individual, organism or system.

The term logical levels, as I have used it in NLP, was adapted from Bateson's work, and refers to a hierarchy of levels of processes within an individual or group. The function of each level is to synthesize, organize and direct the interactions on the level below it. Changing something on an upper level would necessarily "radiate" downward, precipitating change on the lower levels. Changing something on a lower level could, but would not necessarily, affect the upper levels. These levels include (in order from highest to lowest): (1) identity, (2) beliefs and values, (3) capabilities, (4) behavior and (5) environment. A sixth level, referred to as "spiritual," can be defined as a type of "relational field" which encompasses multiple identities, forming a sense of being a member of a larger system beyond one's individual identity.

Historical Background

I first became acquainted with the notion of different logical types and levels of learning, change and communication while attending Gregory Bateson's Ecology of Mind class at the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1976. Bateson (1904-1980), an anthropologist by training, had the greatest depth and scope of thought of anyone I have ever known. His lectures would cover topics ranging from communication theory, to Balinese art, to Maxwell's equations for electromagnetic fields, to schizophrenia, to genetic deformities in beetles' legs. His talks, however, were never a disjointed collection of thoughts or jumbled group of ideas as the diversity of topics might suggest. Bateson's version of cybernetics and systems theory was able to tap into the deeper structure, or "pattern which connects," all of these topics into a single fascinating weave of life and existence.

Reflecting back, attending Bateson's class was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. I would sit in his class, listening to his deep voice and distinctive Cambridge accent, which sounded to me like the voice of wisdom. To me, he was, and remains, a type of "spiritual guide." Thoughts, ideas and revelations would flow into my mind, some relating to his lecture and some from completely other areas of my life, education, and experience. Usually they came so quickly I couldn't write them down fast enough. (It was also in Bateson's class that I first met wife to be, Anita. Sharing Bateson's wisdom has always been one of the strongest bonds between us.)

These were "heady" times, when NLP was first taking shape. A year earlier Richard Bandler and John Grinder had published their first book, The Structure of Magic Volume I. Grinder, also a professor (of linguistics) at UC Santa Cruz, had shown Bateson the manuscript of the book, which outlined the language patterns known in NLP as the "Meta Model." Bateson was impressed with the work, and wrote in a preface, "John Grinder and Richard Bandler have done something similar to what my colleagues and I attempted fifteen years ago. . . . They have tools which we did not have-or did not see how to use. They have succeeded in making linguistics into a base for theory and simultaneously into a tool for therapy. . . making explicit the syntax of how people avoid change, and, therefore, how to assist them in changing."

It was after reading The Structure of Magic that Bateson made arrangements for Bandler and Grinder to meet Milton Erickson, a long time colleague and friend, to see if they could create a similar model of the complex communication patterns used by Erickson in his hypnotic and therapeutic work. This led to more books, and some of the most seminal work in NLP.

Bateson's earlier work, to which he referred in his preface to The Structure of Magic, was his attempt to apply principles of cybernetics and communication theory to psychotherapy and the understanding of psychological pathology. Stimulated by Norbert Wiener (the founder of cybernetics), Bateson had adapted cybernetic thinking to human communication and interaction in order to develop generalizations about the behavior and mental characteristics of individuals, groups and families, and the influences behind functional and dysfunctional systems. Bateson's ideas fueled a whole generation of behavioral scientists, and psychotherapists. People such as Virginia Satir, Mara Selvini Palazzoli, Jay Haley, John Weakland, and others, for example, applied Bateson's formulations to the treatment of individual and family problems.

One of the central ideas introduced by Bateson into the behavioral sciences was that of "logical types" of communication and learning-which he called the "most important" criterion of "mind" in his book Mind and Nature (1979). Bateson derived the notion of different logical types of communication and learning from Bertrand Russell's mathematical theory of logical types-which states that a class of things cannot be a member of itself. According to Bateson (Steps to an Ecology of Mind, p.202):

As an example, the class of even numbers cannot itself also be an even number. Similarly, the class of cats is not a particular cat. Likewise the physical object "cat" cannot be treated the same as the class of cats. (The class of cats does not require milk and kitty litter, but the members of the class frequently do.) In other words, the notion of logical types distinguishes between a particular "map" and the "territory" to which the map relates; i.e., between a mental "form" and its "content."

The Origins of Bateson's Model

Bateson first formally introduced the concept of "logical types" in his article A Theory of Play and Fantasy (1954). In it Bateson argued that "play" involved distinguishing between different logical types of behavior and messages. Bateson noted that when animals and humans engage in "play" they often display the same behaviors that are also associated with aggression, sexuality, and other more "serious" aspects of life (such as when animals "play fight," or children play "doctor"). Yet, somehow, animals and humans were able to recognize, for the most part, that the play behavior was a different type or class of behavior and "not the real thing." According to Bateson, distinguishing between classes of behavior also required different types of messages. Bateson referred to these messages as "meta messages"-messages about other messages-claiming that they, too, were of a different "logical type" than the content of a particular communication. He believed that these "higher level" messages (which were usually communicated non-verbally) were crucial for people, and animals, to be able communicate and interact effectively.

Animals at play, for instance, may signal the message "This is play" by wagging their tails, jumping up and down, or doing some other thing to indicate that what they are about to do is not to be taken for real. Their bite is a playful bite, not a real bite. Studies of humans also reveal the use of special messages that let others know they are playing, in much the same way animals do. They may actually verbally "meta-communicate" by announcing that "This is only a game," or they laugh, nudge, or do something odd to show their intent.

Bateson claimed that many problems and conflicts were a result of the confusion or misinterpretation of these messages. A good example is the difficulties that people from different cultures experience in interpreting the non-verbal subtleties of each other's communications.

In fact, Bateson next applied the concept of logical types as an explanation for some of the symptoms of serious psychological problems and mental illness. In Epidemiology of Schizophrenia (1955), Bateson maintained that the inability to correctly recognize and interpret meta messages, and to distinguish between different classes, or logical types, of behavior, was at the root of many seemingly psychotic or "crazy" behaviors. Bateson cited the example of a young mental patient who went into the pharmacy of the hospital. The nurse behind the counter asked, "Can I help you?" The patient was unable to distinguish whether the communication was a threat, a sexual advance, an admonishment for being in the wrong place, a genuine inquiry, etc.

When one is unable to make such distinctions, Bateson contented, that individual will end up, more often than not, acting in a way that is inappropriate for the situation. He likened it to a telephone switching system that was unable to distinguish the "country code" from the "city code" and the local telephone number. As a result, the switching system would inappropriately assign numbers belonging to the country code as part of the phone number, or parts of the phone number as the city code, etc. The consequence of this would be that, again more often than not, the dialer would get the "wrong number." Even though all of the numbers (the content) are correct, the classification of the numbers (the form) is confused, creating problems. [It should be noted that this is a fundamentally different communication problem than simply having "noise" on the telephone line which obscures the numbers. The causes of logical typing confusions are quite different than the causes of noisy signals.]

In Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia (co-authored with Don Jackson, Jay Haley and John Weakland, 1956), Bateson applied the notion of different logical types as a key element of the "double bind." According to Bateson, double binds (special situations in which a person finds himself or herself "damned if I do, and damned if I don't") resulted from confusions and paradoxes created by conflicting messages of different logical types, which consequently led to conflicts of behavior.

Bateson believed that the ability to sort out the different logical types of messages and classifications which were at the root of such double binds was essential for effective therapy. Bateson's ideas about the applications of the theory of logical types to communication and psychotherapy were further explored by his colleagues Watzlawick, Bavelas and Jackson in Pragmatics of Human Communication (1967).

Applications to the Process of Learning

Bateson's next application of the theory of logical types was to the process of learning. In The Logical Categories of Learning and Communication (1964) he extended the notion of logical typing to explain different types and phenomena of learning as well as communication. He defined two fundamental types, or levels, of learning which must be considered in all processes of change: "Learning I" (stimulus-response type conditioning) and "Learning II," or deutero learning, (learning to recognize the larger context in which the stimulus is occurring so that its meaning may be correctly interpreted). The most basic example of Learning II phenomena is set learning, or when an animal becomes "test-wise"-that is, laboratory animals will get faster and faster at learning new tasks that fall into the same class of activity. This has to do with learning classes of behavior rather than single isolated behaviors.

An animal trained in avoidance conditioning, for instance, will be able to learn different types of avoidance behavior more and more rapidly. It will, however, be slower at learning some "respondently" conditioned behavior (e.g., salivating at the sound of a bell) than some animal that has been conditioned in that class of behavior earlier. That is, it will learn quickly how to identify and stay away from objects that might have an electric shock associated with them but will be slower at learning to salivate when a bell rings. On the other hand, an animal trained in Pavlovian type conditioning will rapidly learn to salivate to new sounds and colors, etc., but will be slower to learn to avoid electrified objects.

Bateson pointed out that this ability to learn patterns or rules of a class of conditioning procedures was a different "logical type" of learning and did not function according to the same simple stimulus-response-reinforcement sequences used to learn specific isolated behaviors. Bateson noted, for instance, that the reinforcement for "exploration" (a means of learning-to-learn) in rats is of a different nature than that for the "testing" of a particular object (the learning content of exploration). He reports (Steps to an Ecology of Mind p. 282):

The ability to explore, learn a discrimination task, or be creative is a higher level of learning than the specific behaviors that make up these abilities- and the dynamics and rules of change are different on this higher level.

Bateson also identified several other levels of learning-each responsible for making corrective changes and refinements in the other class of learning upon which it operated.

Bateson's "Logical Levels" of Learning

Bateson also defined a level of Learning IV, which would involve change in Learning III. That is, Learning IV would involve changes in the larger "system of systems."

I have addressed this model extensively in From Coach to Awakener (2003), providing examples and an exercise which specifically applies each of Bateson's levels of learning to help someone update his or her "survival strategy." (See pages 266-280.)

Chapter 6 summarizes Bateson's levels of learning in the following manner:

To use a computer analogy, data stored in a computer is like Learning 0. It just sits there, unchanging, to be used over and over again whatever programs are running on the computer. Running a spell checking program on that data would be like Learning I. A spell check program makes corrective changes in a particular set of data.

If the data being checked, however, is not text but numbers and financial figures that need to be updated, no amount of running the spell checker will be able to make the proper corrections. Instead, the user would have to switch to a spread sheet or some type of accounting software. Getting "out of the box" of one program and switching to another is like Learning II.

Sometimes the computer one is using is incapable of running the needed program and it is necessary to switch computers altogether, or change operating systems. This would be like Learning III.

To develop a completely new device, such as a programmable molecular computing machine composed of enzymes and DNA molecules instead of silicon microchips, would be like Learning IV.

The Development of "NeuroLogical Levels"

Bateson went on to apply the theory of logical types more generally to many aspects of behavior and to biology. To him, logical typing was a "law of nature," not simply a mathematical theory. He contended that a tissue that is made up of a group of cells, for instance, is a different logical type than the individual cells-the characteristics of a brain are not the same as a brain cell. The two can affect each other through indirect feedback-i.e., the functioning and connections of the overall brain can influence the behavior of a single brain cell and the activity of a single brain cell contributes to the overall functioning of the brain. Indeed, a cell may be said to affect itself through the rest of the brain structure.

As a student in his Ecology of Mind class, Bateson instilled in me the importance of considering logical types and levels in all aspects of life and experience. And, because I was exposed to these ideas at the same time I was becoming involved in NLP, Bateson's approach has always been an integral part of my understanding of NLP. His distinctions about different logical types and levels of learning seemed of particularly profound significance.

In a paper I wrote in November 1976 (published in Roots of NLP, 1983), for instance, I attempted to distinguish between logical types and logical levels. I vividly remember discussing the power of Bateson's notions of logical levels and logical types with a participant in an NLP course that I was teaching in Oslo, Norway in 1986. The person was also familiar with Bateson's work and we were reflecting on the deep importance of logical types and levels of learning. We both agreed, however, that these ideas had not been applied as fully and pragmatically as they could be. I recall saying, "Yes, someone really should apply the notion of logical levels in a more practical everyday sense." As soon as the words left my mouth, it was as if I had given myself the command.

I was already empirically aware that there was an important distinction between people's physical actions and behaviors and the deeper cognitive representations and strategies which took place in their minds. It was also obvious that processes on a behavior level were different than those on a mental level. Tying someone up, for instance, could stop that person from physically taking revenge, but could not keep him or her from continuing to plan revenge; in fact, it will often encourage it. It was also clear that developing a cognitive capability involved different dynamics than simply influencing someone physically. My work with learning strategies, for instance, had convinced me that it was much more expedient to teach a person to spell by providing an effective strategy for spelling rather than to simply punish them whenever they misspelled a word.

I had also begun to work with people's beliefs and belief systems. As I did, it became evident that they were not simply another type of strategy. Instead, they often tended to operate upon particular strategies. That is a certain belief could either function as motivation or interference to the development of a strategy.

This seemed to be to fit with Bateson's notion of a "hierarchy" of logical levels. The term "hierarchy" comes from the Greek hieros, meaning "powerful, supernatural, or sacred," and arche, which means "beginning" or "rule." The implication is that the levels of a hierarchy get closer and closer to the source or beginning of that which is most sacred or powerful. This implication has also led to the use of the term hierarchy to refer to any graded or ranked series, such as a person's "hierarchy of values," or a machine's "hierarchy of responses." The connotation of this being that those elements at the top of the hierarchy "come first," or are "more important" than those at the lower levels.

It was this aspect of hierarchy that first led me to choose the particular labels I have used to describe the various levels in my NeuroLogical Levels model. As with all key NLP distinctions, these labels did not arise as a result of some rationalization. Rather, as part of my NLP training work, I was frequently teaching seminar participants the usage of a set of verbal reframing patterns I had developed, known as "Sleight of Mouth." This often involved people responding to negative statements made about them by others. I began to notice that certain types of statements were typically more difficult for people to handle than others, even though the type of judgment being asserted was essentially the same. For example, compare the following statements:

The judgment being made in each case is about something being "dangerous." Intuitively, however, most people sense that the "space" or "territory" implied by each statement becomes progressively larger, and feel an increasing sense of emotional affect with each statement. For someone to tell you that some specific behavioral response made was dangerous is quite different than telling you that you are a "dangerous person." I noticed that if I held a judgment constant and simply substituted a term for environment, behavior, capabilities, beliefs and values, and identity, people would feel progressively more offended or complimented, depending on the positive or negative nature of the judgment.

Try it for yourself. Imagine someone was saying each of the following statements to you:

Again, notice that the evaluations asserted by each statement are the same. What changes is the aspect of the person to which the statement is referring.

This intuitive sensibility seemed to reflect something fundamentally "neurolinguistic" in relation to these statements.

These distinctions fell into place even more solidly when it occurred to me that they corresponded to the six fundamental "W" questions that we use to organize our lives: where, when, what, how (the backward "w" question), why and who.

It was in the Fall of 1987 that I first applied the labels in common usage today as the "ABC's of NLP":

The Neuro-Logical Levels Model of NLP

The current Neuro-Logical Levels model (Dilts, 1989, 1990, 1993, 2000, 2003) adds another level. According to the model, there are six different levels, paralleling those defined by Bateson, that influence and shape our relationships and interactions in the world:

The most fundamental level of influence on our relationships and interactions is the shared environment-i.e., when and where the operations and relationships within a system or organization take place. Environmental factors determine the context and constraints under which people operate. An organization's environment, for instance, is made up of such things as the geographical locations of its operations, the buildings and facilities which define the "work place," office and factory design, etc. In addition to the influence these environmental factors may have on people within the organization, one can also examine the influence and impact that people within an organization have upon their environment, and what products or creations they bring to the environment.

At another level, we can examine the specific behaviors and actions of a group or individual-i.e., what the person or organization does within the environment. What are the particular patterns of work, interaction or communication? On an organizational level, behaviors may be defined in terms of general procedures. On the individual level, behaviors take the form of specific work routines, working habits or job related activities.

Another level of process involves the strategies, skills and capabilities by which the organization or individual selects and directs actions within their environment-i.e., how they generate and guide their behaviors within a particular context. For an individual, capabilities include cognitive strategies and skills such as learning, memory, decision-making and creativity, which facilitate the performance of a particular behavior or task. On an organizational level, capabilities relate to the infrastructures available to support communication, innovation, planning and decision-making between members of the organization.

These other levels of process are shaped by values and beliefs, which provide the motivation and guidelines behind the strategies and capabilities used to accomplish behavioral outcomes in the environment-i.e., why people do things the way they do them in a particular time and place. Our values and beliefs provide the reinforcement (motivation and permission) that supports or inhibits particular capabilities and behaviors. Values and beliefs determine how events are given meaning, and are at the core of judgment and culture.

Values and beliefs support the individual's or organization's sense of identity-i.e., the who behind the why, how, what, where and when. Identity level processes involve people's sense of role and mission with respect to their vision and the larger systems of which they are members. Identity can be viewed as being composed of two complementary aspects: the ego and the soul. The ego is oriented toward survival, recognition and ambition. The soul is oriented toward purpose, contribution and mission. Charisma, passion and presence emerge naturally when these two forces are aligned.

Typically, a mission is defined in terms of the service performed by people in a particular role with respect to others within a larger system. A particular identity or role is expressed in terms of several key values and beliefs, which determine the priorities to be followed by individuals within the role. These, in turn, are supported by a larger range of skills and capabilities that are required to manifest particular values and beliefs. Effective capabilities produce an even wider set of specific behaviors and actions, which express and adapt values with respect to many particular environmental contexts and conditions.

There is another level that can best be referred to as a spiritual level. This level has to do with people's perceptions of the larger systems to which they belong and within which they participate-we could call this level one of "trans-mission." These perceptions relate to a person's sense of for whom or for what their actions are directed, providing a sense of vision, meaning and purpose for their actions, capabilities, beliefs and role identity.

The way in which these levels interact with each other is directly parallel to Bateson's levels of learning:

Relationship of Bateson's Levels of Learning to NeuroLogical Levels

Each level functions by integrating and operating upon the level beneath it. Clusters of change or activity at any particular level will also influence the level above it. Consider the following examples:

Notice that this type of "hierarchy" involves more than an arbitrary rank ordering of elements. In science and mathematics, for instance, hierarchy is used to denote "a series of ordered groupings of people or things within a system." Usually these groupings have "few things, or one thing, at the top with several things below each other thing," like an inverted tree structure. Examples from computer science include a directory hierarchy, where each directory may contain files or other directories, a hierarchical network, or a class hierarchy in object-oriented programming.

NeuroLogical Levels are "hierarchic" in this way. That is, each level in the hierarchy is related to groupings of phenomena or experiences from the level below it. Thus, the system of levels can be represented as an inverted tree structure.

NeuroLogical Levels Can Be Represented as a Series of Ordered Groupings in the Form of an Inverted "Tree Structure"

When we reach the level of "spirit" and field, we can flip the tree structure so that it extends upward like the branches of a tree. This illustrates the successively larger systems and "fields" of which we are a part.

Total System of Neuro-Logical Levels

The implication of this tree structure is that a single identity is shaped by, and reflected in, a particular group of beliefs and values. Each belief and value, in turn, is related to a particular group of capabilities. The capabilities relate to specific groupings of behaviors, and the behaviors ultimately relate to particular clusters of environmental conditions.

At the level of behavior change, behavior is the prime focus. Internal representations are only relevant to the extent that they support behavior.

At the capability level of change, internal representations are the primary focus. Behaviors, in the form of accessing cues, are relevant only in so much as they support the establishment or development of internal representations. Once internal representations are formed, behaviors can be generalized.

Change at the level of beliefs and values focuses on the relationships between representations. The content of the representations is much less important than their submodality qualities. This is why changing submodalities produces such significant affective responses. (Changes in submodalities- i.e., making a picture larger, smaller, more colorful, still or moving, etc.- tend to provoke "approach/avoidance" responses such as fear, pleasure, desire, etc.)

Change at the level of identity focuses on the relationships between the beliefs and values which make up a person's belief system.

A change in spirit derives from the collection of identities which make up the 'field."

NeuroLogical Levels and the Nervous System

In 1988 I encoded the concept as the model of "NeuroLogical Levels," which relates Bateson's levels of processing to the nervous system. Bateson himself (Steps to an Ecology of Mind pp, 249-250) contended that the hierarchy formed by the various levels of learning would correspond to "hierarchies of circuit structure which we may- indeed, must- expect to find in the telencephalized brain," claiming that "we should look forward to a classification or hierarchy of neurophysiological structures which will be isomorphic with [the various levels of learning]." The concept of "NeuroLogical Levels" proposes that different "logical levels" are a function of different types of neurological organization, and mobilize successively deeper commitments of neurological "circuitry."

The level of neurology that is mobilized when a person is challenged at the level of mission and identity, for instance, is much deeper than the level of neurology that is required to move his or her hand. To experience the environment, a person can passively adjust his or her sense organs. To take action in a particular environment, a person needs to mobilize more of his or her nervous system. In order to coordinate those actions in a complex sequence, such as dancing or driving an automobile, a person has to utilize even more of the nervous system. Forming and manifesting beliefs and values about capabilities, behaviors and the environment, requires an even deeper commitment of neurology (including those related to the "heart" and "guts"). A sense of self arises from a total mobilization of the nervous system at all of the other levels. In general, then, higher levels of process mobilize a deeper commitment of the nervous system.

A particular environment is made up of factors such as the type of external setting, weather conditions, food, noise level, etc., that surround an individual or group. Neurologically, our perceptions of the environment relate to information coming from our sense organs and peripheral nervous system. To perceive a particular environment, for instance, an individual views it with his or her eyes to see any relevant objects, listens with his or her ears to hear significant sounds, smells odors through his or her nose, and feels the temperature of the air on his or her skin. The person also makes many subtle and unconscious adjustments to maintain balance, respond to changes in the intensity of light and sound, acclimate to temperature changes, etc. Thus, the peripheral nervous system essentially relays information related to the environment to and from the brain. It is responsible for producing sensations and purely reflex reactions.

Behavior relates to the specific physical actions and reactions through which we interact with the people and environment around us. Neurologically, our external behavior is a result of activity in our motor systems (the pyramidal system and cerebellum). Non-reflexive behaviors involve the psychomotor system, a deeper level of neurology than the sense organs. The psychomotor system coordinates our physical actions and conscious movements.

Capabilities have to do with the mental strategies and maps people develop to guide their specific behaviors. While some behaviors are simply reflexive responses to environmental stimuli, most of our actions are not. Many of our behaviors come from "mental maps" and other internal processes whose source is within our minds. This is a level of experience that goes beyond our perceptions of the immediate environment. You can make pictures of things that do not relate to the particular room you are in, for instance. You can remember conversations and events that took place years ago. You can imagine events that may happen years from now. Behaviors without any inner map, plan or strategy to guide them are like knee jerk reactions, habits or rituals. At the level of capability we are able to select, alter and adapt a class of behaviors to a wider set of external situations. Thus, "capability" involves mastery over an entire class of behavior- i.e., knowing how to do something within a variety of conditions. Neurologically, developing cognitive capabilities is a function of higher level processing in the cortex of the brain. It is in the cortex (or gray matter) of the brain that sensory information is represented in the form of mental maps, associated with other mental representations, or pieced together in imagination. This type of processing is usually accompanied by semi-conscious micro movements, or "accessing cues" (eye movements, breathing rate changes, slight postural adjustment, voice tone shifts , etc.).

Values and beliefs relate to fundamental judgments and evaluations about ourselves, others and the world around us. They determine how events are given meaning, and are at the core of motivation and culture. Our beliefs and values provide the reinforcement (motivation and permission) that supports or inhibits particular capabilities and behaviors. Beliefs and values relate to the question, "Why?"

Neurologically, beliefs are associated with the limbic system and hypothalamus in the midbrain. The limbic system has been linked to both emotion and long term memory. While the limbic system is a more "primitive" structure than the cortex of the brain in many ways, it serves to integrate information from the cortex and to regulate the autonomic nervous system (which controls basic body functions such as heart rate, body temperature, pupil dilation, etc.). Because they are produced by deeper structures of the brain, beliefs produce changes in the fundamental physiological functions in the body that are responsible for many of our unconscious responses. In fact, one of the ways that we know that we really believe something is because it triggers physiological reactions; it makes our "heart pound," our "blood boil," or our "skin tingle" (all effects that we cannot typically produce voluntarily). This is how a polygraph functions to detect whether or not a person is "lying." People show a different physical reaction when they believe what they are saying than when they are being untruthful or incongruent.

It is the intimate connection between beliefs and deeper physiological functions that also creates the possibility for them to have such a powerful influence in the area of health and healing (as in the case of the placebo effect). Because expectations generated by our beliefs affect our deeper neurology, they can also produce dramatic physiological effects. This is illustrated by the example of the woman who adopted a baby, and because she believed that "mothers" were supposed to provide milk for their babies, actually began to lactate and produced enough milk to breast feed her adopted child!

The level of identity relates to our sense of who we are. It is our perception of our identity that organizes our beliefs, capabilities and behaviors into a single system. Our sense of identity also relates to our perception of ourselves in relation to the larger systems of which we are a part, determining our sense of "role," "purpose" and "mission." In our neurology, our identity can be associated with our nervous system as a whole, and probably involves deep brain structures such as the reticular formation. The reticular formation is a large group of cells deep within the brain stem. Fibers from this area project via thalamic nuclei to large association areas in the cortex. The reticular formation is a regulator of the state of alertness; its destruction at the midbrain level results in a state of coma. (In contrast, large areas of the cortex may be destroyed without a loss of consciousness.)

Identity is also physiologically related to the immune system, endocrine system, and other deep life sustaining functions. Thus, change or transformation of identity can have a tremendous and almost instantaneous effect on one's physiology. Medical research on individual's with multiple personalities (Putnam 1984) shows that remarkable and dramatic changes can occur when an individual switches from one identity to another. For instance, the brain wave patterns for the different personalities are usually completely different. Some people with multiple personalities carry several different pairs of eyeglasses because their vision changes with each identity. Other individuals will have allergies in one personality and not in another. One of the most interesting examples of physiological change with different identities is that of a woman, admitted to a hospital for diabetes, who "baffled her physicians by showing not symptoms of the disorder at times when one personality, who was not diabetic, was dominant . . ." (Goleman, 1985).

Spiritual level experience has to do with our sense of being part of something, on a very deep level, that is beyond ourselves. It is the awareness of, what Gregory Bateson called, "the pattern which connects" all things together into a larger whole. We, as individuals, are a subsystem of this larger system. Our experience of this level is related to our sense of purpose and mission in life. It comes from asking the questions: "For whom?" and "For what?" This is the level that I believe Bateson was indicating when he referred to Learning IV.

Neurologically, spiritual level processes have to do with a type of "relational field" between our own nervous systems and those of other people, forming a type of larger, collective nervous system. The results of this field of interaction are sometimes referred to as a group "mind," a group "spirit," or a "collective consciousness." This field also includes the "nervous systems," or information processing networks, of other creatures and beings, and even our environment.

As Bateson described it:

It has been speculated that this level of processing and change influences our environment and ourselves through what Rupert Sheldrake termed "morphogenetic fields." It is often used to explain phenomena which involve action at a distance, such as healing through prayer and the effects of "the hundredth monkey;" i.e., situations in which change in a part of a population stimulates change in another member of the population, or the group as a whole, without any direct physical contact.

In summary, NeuroLogical Levels are made of the following "hierarchy" of neurophysological structures:

The first books formally mentioning this formulation of Logical Levels were Changing Beliefs with NLP and Beliefs: Pathways to Health and Well-Being, both published in 1990.

The Logical Levels model has continued to be developed and enriched, and has become the basis of many recent NLP processes and techniques. My book From Coach to Awakener (2003) applies the model as a primary roadmap for the process of personal coaching. NLP II: The Next Generation provides a an in-depth description of the Neurological Levels model and its relation to Set Theory, Mathematical Group Theory, hierarchical levels, Korzybski's levels of abstraction, Russell's logical types, Arthur Koestler's (also used by Ken Wilbur) notion of "holons" and "holarchy," and simple "chunking."

Copyright © 2014 by Robert B. Dilts