Despite its being only seven letters long, science is a big word. There may be nothing that has taken a more dominant role in modern culture. Most people hold science to be both a force that drives for objectivity, and an objective, real force that shapes who we think we are, what we think we can do, and how we think we should do it. We bow before this force.
That said, it is also true that although it is held to be an objective thing-out-there, a clearly-defined practice with clearly-defined results, different people hold science differently, even among any given community of scientists. Let me be as transparent as possible about my position on what science is, and how that position plays a role in the genesis of psychotopology.
To me, science lives on a spectrum. At one end, we find highly-trained physicists or biochemists, for example, whose expertise encompasses the most exotic properties of the natural world. At the other end is a child, learning insatiably about conscious life in a body, in a world, among others.
In both cases, at both ends of the spectrum, we have people who use a map to navigate a world. Let’s dig in to see what we can learn from this comparison, starting by looking at the most fundamental process of everyday life.
In every moment of our lives, we navigate the world, ourselves, and the interface between the world and ourselves. The sum total of the territory we navigate is rich and complex beyond our capacity to fully know or understand. It includes “out there,” the objective world we can correlate with others’ experience. It includes “in here,” the subjective world we share with no one else. And it includes “between us,” the inter-subjective world of our agreements and differences, shared meanings and experiences, and much more that lies in the space between ourselves and others.
Our world is the sum total of all possible experiences available to us.
I am posting this incomplete draft in the off-chance that someone will happen across the site before I've completed the piece, and it will spark some interest. Conversations are welcome!
To navigate means to act as an agent, creating change in one or more elements of our world.
To navigate means to act as an agent, creating change in one or more elements of our world. Simply choosing to bring awareness to our breathing and counting to ten in order to help calm our temper is an example of navigating. So is organizing our life activities to earn a good living and buy the kind of house we want to own.
We use maps to navigate. Some of our maps are explicit, like a cookbook. Some are implicit, like our muscle memory of how to walk. Some we adapt from others, like life principles learned from an inspiring teacher. Others we construct on our own, making sense of our experience and striving to have more of the experiences we want, less of the ones we don’t.
Our maps help us act in ways that result in satisfying a purpose or intention we hold either in a moment or across a lifetime. Walking across the room to get an apple to satisfy a hunger pang is a simple example. Raising our children in ways support their enjoyment of a fulfilling life is a more involved one. In referring to our maps, we make predictions, either consciously or subliminally, about the outcomes of potential actions, and we choose those actions we deem most likely to bring about the outcomes we want.
Along the way, as we navigate toward our desired outcome, we monitor our progress. Does our experience match our prediction well enough to continue on our chosen path? Or do we need to reconsider and adapt?
Sometimes when our predictions fail to match our experience, we assess the fault to be in our execution, or our assessment of our current state. Or we might decide our goal is unreasonable, or we’ve discovered a better one, and we re-orient to our new goal and choose a new navigation.
Alternatively, we might determine that the fault is in our map. (Our maps also belong to the territory we navigate!) We usually try to avoid this, though. If we have a lot invested in our map, if we have used it often and successfully, it is a lot of effort and can be very disorienting to throw it away and find a new one. Instead, we might make small modifications, or find workarounds to minimize the disruption of revising a whole map. The important thing is that the map be good enough to serve our goals, not that it be perfect or even “true.”
A map is a set of world representations used to predict the outcome of a possible navigation.
In contrast to the process of navigating in service to life, where our priority is in serving our intentions and the maps are mere servants to our objectives, in science, the map is the goal. Science also navigates the world. It tests predictions made from maps, or theories, and collects observational data in attempts to find where the map fails to provide an accurate prediction. Its efforts are directed toward developing more reliable, more accurate, more comprehensive, more universal maps of our world that we can all use.
In the natural world, science has been doing a reasonably good job of this. Anywhere in the world, people can refer to scientific textbooks and papers for clear maps of how to navigate specific portions of physics, chemistry, and biology with reasonable expectations for success, depending on the guiding navigational intention.
Unfortunately, for the purposes of our navigating the realm of inner experience or the inter-subjective space, science has so far failed miserably. I don’t use the words “failed miserably” to be dramatic. In my opinion, knowing what is actually possible as I stand on the other side of a major discovery, to say current efforts have failed is no exaggeration.
I have my own experience, for example, of being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1987. All that science could offer was a lifetime of increasingly toxic medication and diminishment in quality of life. That offer has not been updated in the 35 years since then. Meanwhile, using the earliest, most clumsy and ill-formed version of my discovery, I was able to shed new light on the nature of bipolar disorder and permanently end my driving cycles of mood, thought, and behavior in the space of a single day in 1995.
Why is this? Quite simply, science constrains both the territory it allows itself to navigate and the maps it permits itself to construct. Looking at the world of science, we can see that in comparison to the world we navigate as part of life itself, science has limited itself to a small subset.
This deliberate constraint most likely emerged from a period in the early stages of psychological science in which scientists became frustrated with failed attempts to navigate and observe inner experience with sufficient precision and reliability. It was difficult to correlate experience from one person to another and discern more universal patterns that applied accross diverse people. It became easier to hold that such science was impossible, and to focus on what was possible, starting with the study of behavior.
So here we are today, with a science that does very little to support the actual experience of thriving. Psychotopology aims to send a ripple through the established limitations to open things up for new possibilities. Here is a brief survey what has been done so far.
The old sciences of subjective experience faltered because their methods were not up to the task of producing the kind of reliable, precise navigation or observation necessary to build maps of inner territory that were not bound by idiosyncracy and limited in their application. We might think of it as a situation of attempting to study cells before the microscope was invented.
Or perhaps a different metaphor is more appropriate.
In the development of atomic theory, if we look at the leaps from Dalton to Thomson, and from Thomson to Rutherford (see this article at CompoundChem.com), we see a similar process at work. Dalton’s view of the atom was that it was monolithic, indivisible. J.J. Thomson messed around with cathode rays and found they were attracted by positively-charged and repelled by negatively charged metal plates. By measuring the charge he deduced that the rays were made of particles much smaller than atoms. He proposed a theory of electrons in which these positively charged particles floated in a uniform cloud of positive charge to make atoms.
A few years later, Ernest Rutherford fired particles at a thin sheet of gold, predicting that based on the Thomson model, they should pass through on relatively straight paths. When a small percentage bounced back like tennis balls off a wall, he made sense of this behavior by proposing a theory of a very small, dense nucleus at the center of the atom.
Both these discoveries were made possible by new capabilities in both navigating the realm of the atom and observing the results. It was not a simple matter of gaining a new lens for observing, there were also new capacities to interact with the underlying atomic structure to observe the effects of that interaction. Both breakthroughs provided insight into a quality of the atom that was previously invisible to us, about which we could not even hypothesize because there was nothing previously to suggest its existence.
Of course, it was possible that someone could have proposed such theories before the methods for demonstrating their qualities existed. But in science, we hold a high bar for what gets to count as a theory. First, its features must have support in existing experience of the world. We cannot fantasize that tiny horses live inside every atom and their interaction creates chemical reactions. Second, it must be at least hypothetically testable. We need to be able to navigate (manipulate) the objects of study in such a way as to be able to make predictions about what will happen, and to set up the conditions that allow us to test those predictions.
We have not been able to do that in the realm of subjective experience. At least not well enough to build theories that enable us to navigate well enough to test the theory’s predictions, and to find these predictions hold up across diverse people. Without this capacity, we are unable to build maps enabling us to universally navigate inner experience to produce thriving.
In the past, science has attempted to navigate and observe the inner, subjective world by focusing on the contents of consciousness. “Redness,” for example, is the quintessential representation of what is called “the hard problem” in consciousness science — explaining how consciousness exists at all in a world of matter, and how my experience of the red of a rose is similar to your experience of that same color. Similarly, psychology has focused on beliefs, thoughts, and perceptions, or on underlying physiological correlates of these.
But to study the world of thought, we need some way to observe it, and the only means available is through self reporting. We ask someone, “What did you experience?” and we must trust what they tell us. But thought and its correlates is mind-bogglingly complex, far-flung, and mostly inhabits a space just behind the consciousness that is able to dredge it into language. Not only that, but every person’s thought patterns and contents are different from the next person, and finding patterns that hang together into theories is next to impossible.
In 1994, I stumbled across a glimmer of a hint of a solution. A year later, this glimmer had strengthened into a beam of illumination strong enough for me to put a permanent end to my bipolar disorder. In the 27 years since then I have been striving to understand exactly what it was that I discovered and how to bring this new discovery to the world.
I will tell the story of my journey elsewhere here. The results are what is important for this discussion of the science.
Very simply, I stumbled across an innovation in how we are able to bring our awareness to the experience of feeling. This innovation takes the form of a few simple questions that fine-tune our attention in order to gather new information about our actual, subjective experience. These questions invite us to compare the experience of feeling with more common experiences of the material world. For example, one of the questions asks how our subjective experience of a specific feeling state resembles qualities of substance, including that of a solid, liquid, gas, light, or energy. The full set of questions includes:
Inviting our awareness to move to the actual, felt experience of a named feeling state and asking these very specific questions about the qualities of that experience provides very detailed, consistent, repeatable answers. It is as if our inner experience of feeling is indeed constructed of these virtual substances, and inviting their qualities into our awareness brings the experience of veridicality. We finish answering the questions and feel a kind of confirmation that we have unveiled the identity of a particular feeling. The experience is much more one of mapping an existing territory than of creating a new, imagined representation.
This new tool of observation by itself is significant. By applying it to diverse people, we very quickly discover several key ways in which our actual experience of feeling differs from the expectations of current theory.
What do we do with this information, though? How can we apply it to research into the dynamics of feeling experience if, for example, we are confronted with immense diversity in mapping sadness among different people? What does that tell us, and how do we dig into it?
One thing at a time. Already, we have crossed into a new world where feeling is something more than and different from the somatic sensations generated by physiological processes of emotion. But we are just getting started. This technique is literally a form of mapping. By using this refined awareness process, we are able to observe the unique topography of an individual’s feeling experience. But in order to launch a true science, we will need to add the capacity for true navigation. We need to be able to engage with that topography to be able to make and test predictions for any higher-order map we might construct.
We are already applying one form of navigation to our investigation, that of bringing a refined awareness to the experience of feeling, revealing features that were previously invisible and enabling a kind of “travel” through the topography of our inner feeling life. That is tremendous, and perhaps there would be opportunities for combining this kind of enhanced report of feeling experience with other sorts of data collection like brain scans to learn more about the relationship between brain activity and feeling experience. But the real opportunity requires no sophisticated equipment.
First, let me mark where we are. We have established a way to reveal in precise detail the actual, felt experience of a subjective feeling state in such a way that enables us to compare one state with another, one person with another. But at the same time, we are not entirely confident about what exactly we are mapping. Is there really a “something” there which generates the answers to the mapping questions, or is this more like a guided fantasy? This next revelation will provide key answers.
The multisensory images we create in mapping specific feeling states are much more than snapshots of experience. They also function as handles by which we are able to directly manipulate that experience.
When we have mapped the experience of a specific feeling state, it turns out that we are able to directly manipulate the multisensory map, and by manipulating the map, the feeling experience itself changes in complementary ways. Below is a series of four stages undergone by a person interacting with a feeling state she called Shame. In each stage, she engaged the feeling map by changing one or more of its properties, tracking the shift in the felt experience, and choosing to move in a direction that felt better to her. In the space of several minutes, the Shame transformed into an empowering new feeling state she called Life Force.
Now we are finally getting somewhere! Now to be clear, this is not a case of the person imagining “what it would be like” to have the feeling be different. The feeling actually becomes different in the manipulation of its properties.
Step back for a moment and consider what I just said. This kind of behavior in the realm of feeling is unprecedented. Nothing in current standards of mental health treatment would expect such a thing to be possible. There is no current model that can accommodate this experience, yet it can be easily replicated among any number of subjects. Once you get the hang of bringing this enhanced awareness to the actual, felt experience of specific feeling states, shifting a state in any direction becomes straightforward. It is not rocket science, does not require equipment that costs millions of dollars, and does not require decades of commitment to an esoteric practice.
Having this capability opens a wide door to investigate the nature of subjective feeling experience. Once the door is open, exciting discoveries beckon. I will go into these discoveries in greater depth elsewhere in my writing. (Quite a lot is included in the Book Draft here on this site.) For this brief introduction, let me leave you with one of the most significant revelations emerging from applying this technique of deliberate manipulation of feeling states.
Given current concepts about the nature of affect, it would be reasonable to hypothesize that the inner experience of feeling is an infinitely contiguous state space in which all feeling states have access to all other feeling states. Well, that should be fairly easy to test, now that we have our technique for direct manipulation at hand. What happens if we attempt to turn one feeling state into another?
I’m going to use an example from the Structure section of the current Book Draft. Sam mapped a group of four states together: Sadness, Fucking Furious, Restraint, and Fear. She was able to feel them all at the same time, and here is what they looked like when drawn together:
Let’s just pick two at random to illustrate what comes next. First I will provide the mapping information for Fucking Furious and Fear, along with the description of what each state became when shifted to its ideal.
Tense, teeth grinding. In my pelvis, sacrum. (Directly attached to Abandoned, my mom expecting me to validate her. “I'm not supposed to be your mother, you're supposed to be mine!") Coming up clearly last time, mapping The Hole, felt like somebody ripped something from me, and somebody was supposed to be looking out for me, and nobody was. And nobody should even have to because nobody should want to hurt little children. Everybody should have been looking out for me, because I was a little kid!
Three sensations: one in gut, one in sacrum, one in throat. (The gut one is The Hole.) The fury is in my sacrum. Something else in my throat goes all the way up to behind my sinuses.
Fury in sacrum. Size of a grapefruit. Solid, hard, like a cannonball. It's like a cannonball because it's full of fire.
Fire: is the furiest part, furious at being in this container. Like fire. Hot, burning in a really satisfying way, like I can imagine how fire must delight in a fresh piece of wood. Deliciously, destructively, furiously hot. Not unpleasant at all. Red and orange and yellow. It burns straight up. Sound is the wind of a fire, like how a big, huge fire sucks air, the flames make a wind. No crackling, the flames make a wind of their own.
This has always felt really destructive and scary for that reason. But it's exciting too. It feels like boundless energy, uncontrollable.
It wants food. It wants to gobble up evil and push out all the dark. It wants to burn up everything hurtful, every injustice and every malice. It makes my throat really tight (*).
It has a god-like feeling to it. If I am just that flame, it feels immense and so limitless, like invincible. I could see how a person could go the wrong way with that. (I suddenly understand Lex Luther. It's a consuming, intoxicating sense of power in that fire.)
The fire is good; it's like, frantic for food, it feels like the fire itself has a scarcity complex. Like it has to get bigger and bigger and bigger, otherwise it might go out. A steady, intense flame would be great. If there was just a really clear knowing that the one essential source was constant, none of this devouring-ness would be there.
A nice, dense fireball in my pelvis. No cannonball required. A beach ball size, but more dense in the middle. Freakin' hot, fire colors; movement is a radiating - the dense core is radiating out to beach ball size. Kind of swirly too. Looking down for its fuel, feels connected to earth.
This fireball is inside of me, but it's like the whole universe is inside it. There's a paradoxical way that I can't completely experience it as inside of me or coming from outside of me, because all there is, is that source. Sound is good, soulful singing, me or any number of women I can think of, like Pat Wright. It's really fixed. Fire seems like this ephemeral thing, but this is more like, if fire could be solid. It's not transient or airy. It's like a solid fire.
It's really important for me to know that it's not influenced by any outside circumstances. It's about power. We may be more or less aware of it, depending on our need for it. I need to really know it's always there. When it was a big, devouring flame, that wasn't the power. The power is in the solid part. That was a devouringness, and this isn't at all. Though, the fact that it burns is not insignificant.
That was based on lack, this now knows it has fullness, always, and that is power. What comes up for me now is that constancy, that I am solid. Which creates a fearlessness. Therefore I can act without fear. I can't be obliterated, I can't be cracked or destroyed. I thought I had a big hole in me and I don't! It makes it feel like there isn't a risk that wouldn't be worth taking for what was right. Any risk is worth taking for what's right.
I feel relieved, and I already feel tension in my body working itself out slowly.
Bracing myself for a blow. Any time I would take a risk to express unhappiness or a need, I was taking the risk that someone would get mad at me. Even sharing this stuff with you, you're going to see how fucked up I am and you're going to go away. (Abandoned.)
Today, this came up in conjunction with Furious. Fear is a response to this, “Just bite your tongue and get through this."
Constriction at my throat, with Fucking Furious and Restraint. A really physical sensation. Size of a big walnut. Feels like a cap. Caps the fire that streams out of the fuse hole of Restraint. It's blue, opaque. Like rubber. Neutral temp.
It can change its size, because sometimes it's not doing it's tightening up capping thing; sometimes it's just disparate particles, waiting until they need to do their job and contract into their rubber cap-ness. When capped, no movement. I just feel it fused with my tissues. No sound.
I have to keep my experience to myself because nobody understands, and it scares people. My full genius terrified people when I was little. And the ideas that I had terrified people. And the way I saw the world was always very threatening to everyone. So it was very important to keep it all to myself, and to just figure out how to go along with the play, or I'd be completely alone. There's a lot more, but I don't know it any more. I was a lot smarter when I was six.
Softer... feels like another skin suit (I have others); warm and fluid skin suit, like the consistency of chocolate syrup in motion, flowing, this dynamic, moving, warm, thick liquid. A centimeter thick. Blue, opaque, a little bit shiny/reflective, like a sticky, thick syrup would be. No sound.
I can hear myself better with it on. It's like a little resonating chamber of my own. Like when you make sound under water, how it sounds like it's only inside of you. It's like that.
Also... the fear cap thing automatically implied some imperative to get something out, but the fear was capping it and keeping it in. But with this skin suit feeling, the imperative to outwardly express my inner experience is actually kind of muted. It feels complete just to be inside of that skin, it's not really about getting a feeling out or keeping a feeling in. Just having the experience of it is complete.
I can go to my deepest depths and feel my biggest feelings, and... I feel like a deep sea diver, in a completely safe state.
Inside the skin suit, everything is sort of amplified in a good way, in a way that makes things really clear, but also really safe. There's nothing threatening inside of my skin suit. It's like, I could imagine a little Sam, swimming around inside the skin suit. There's nothing inside that's threatening. Everything that goes on is ok, it's safe to experience.
It feels like I'm an ocean inside of there; there are oceans of me to explore, and they are all safe places. Even though what I might see might be fantastic, or scary, it's all safe. My deepest subconscious dreams are always underwater dreams.
Now it is clear that both Power and Internal Resonance Suit are feeling states available to Sam. Both these ideal states inhabit her complete state space. According to our hypothesis, we should be able to access either one, starting from anywhere.
To test our hypothesis, all we need to do is to attempt an experiment. In our experiment, we will conduct eight tests.
Our first four tests are our controls. They will confirm for us that Sam has access to Power through Fucking Furious and back again inside one consciousness silo, and that she has access to Internal Resonance Suit through Fear and back again inside a second consciousness silo. These tests will also confirm that she is able to switch silos at will by shifting her attention from one to the other. The four tests will confirm that all four states are fully available to her, and thus are part of her complete state space.
Our last eight trials are the experiment. If they succeed, they will demonstrate that Sam has access to all four of her states, no matter which of the other three states she uses as her starting place. Success will demonstrate that within either silo, all four states are accessible. This result will support our hypothesis. But if Sam is unable to access states across the boundaries of the silos, these results will shoot a hole in our hypothesis for sure.
We can label the pathway between the reactive and the ideal states as A and B. So Reactive (A) becomes Ideal (A) and Reactive (B) becomes Ideal (B).
Now we conduct the eight trials, first confirming the shifts on the A and B pathways before attempting to move between reactive state A and ideal state B, and between reactive state B and ideal state A, forward and back.
What results do you predict?
Taking Sam through this exercise, the result is clear: It. Just. Doesn’t. Go. No amount of faking will make Fear transform into Power. No amount of forcing will convince Fucking Furious to turn into Internal Resonance Suit. Similarly with Fucking Furious and Fear, or with Power and Internal Resonance Suit. No way.
Again, this runs contrary to both our most cherished intuitions and our most hard-won principles about inner life. Here we have a clear demonstration of an unprecedented phenomenon. How do we interpret this?
We are right up against the most dynamic phase of the navigation and map-making process I described earlier — where we are confronted with a significant disparity between prediction and outcome, and we are faced with the possibility that our map might need to be updated. Significantly.
When I came across this phenomenon about nine months after discovering the capacity for both enhanced observation and deliberate manipulation of feeling states, I felt strongly that I had entered altogether new territory. I was definitely no longer in Kansas, and I devoted myself to learning all I could about this new land of feeling.
My working hypothesis at that time was that consciousness at the level of feeling is modular, that we have distinct “parts” that operate in parallel with one another, build relationships with one another, and contribute to an experience of an emergent, whole self. This hypothesis has stood the test of many thousands of mappings and movings over the 27 years since this discovery.
Today, much more has been revealed about the underlying structure and dynamics of what I have come to call feelingmind.
Articles to come will go into much greater depth about what I have discovered about the structure and dynamics of the actual inner experience of consciousness. For now, I want to leave you with the concept of topology.
It is as if previous efforts to understand conscious experience have focused on the spray being blown from the top of the waves. The mapping process I have described graphs the topography and motion of wave patterns within an individual’s unique experience. Using this capacity to map a deeper level of shape, structure, and interaction, I have been able to discern underlying patterns of wave formation common to all people. The most appropriate name for these deeper patterns is topology.
Psychotopology identifies fundamental structures of modular consciousness, connects those to living experience, and gives us powerful capacities for engagement, intervention, and cultivation.
This newly-revealed topology includes three levels of structure in the conscious mind.
Feelingmind lies at the foundation. Here we find the modular structures of the felt experience of being underlying every moment of conscious experience.
Sensingmind is built atop feelingmind. Here we encounter structural fields which host the imagery of various sensory channels. Each of these fields is inextricably linked to a specific feelingmind module.
Patternmind is built atop sensingmind. Here we discover what we normally refer to as “thought” — patterns of specific sensory images linked by language, logic, and other rational structures.
One of the most provocative discoveries of all is the universal, nine-part structure of feelingmind. Feelingmind assembles nine distinct modules to construct a functional self. Each of the nine modules carries a very specific, universal function while exhibiting dynamic forms unique to each person. These functional selves are many, showing up in a proliferation of coordinated inner personas, each playing one of many roles in the navigation of life as a whole person.
Welcome to the new science of psychotopology! All of these topological structures are readily available to your own investigation by developing the enhanced awareness skills of psychotopology and applying them to your own inner experience.
I have a hell of a lot more to share with you — this is barely scratching the surface — and I encourage you to take a look through the book draft and the Feelingwork Online section here on this site. Please dive in and actually try out the practices outlined. Just reading about it cannot convey the deeper understanding provided by direct experience.
Good luck, and please reach out if you would like to take things further.