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INLPTA Article - How the game is changing

Neuroscience and NLP: How the game is changing

By Grant Soosalu (M.App.Sc., B.Sc.(Hons), Grad. Dip. Psych, INLPTA Master Practitioner), and

Marvin Oka (INLPTA Board of Director and INLPTA Master Trainer)

 [Published in the July 2012 INLPTA Journal 20th Anniversary Special Edition]

A new context for NLP

With the 20th Anniversary of INLPTA upon us, it’s an apt time to pause and reflect on how far we have come as an organization and how far NLP has come as a field. As Richard Bandler so eloquently expressed it all those years ago, “NLP is an attitude and methodology that leaves behind a trail of techniques”. The attitude is one that embodies curiosity and thirst for generative creativity. And the methodology involves the application of the tools and mindset of behavioral modeling to the domain of ‘the structure of human excellence and human subjective experience’. An amazing marriage that has produced a progeny of NLP techniques that continues to flourish throughout the world today.

And as we look back, we note that the world of science and knowledge has come a long, long way since those early days in the mid ‘70’s when Richard, John and a core of adventurers set out to explore the relatively unchartered waters that became NLP. With the advent of powerful and inexpensive computing and electronics, and driven by the exponential and accelerating growth of scientific knowledge, we now have incredible imaging and mapping devices that can peer inside a person’s brain and graphically display neural activity and processes. Numerous medical, biological, psychological and engineering advances have opened up and deepened our knowledge of how our brains, bodies and biochemistry works.


"And the significance to NLP is profound."


We are still (and always will be) learning and advancing our understandings of human process, but we now have pivotal distinctions and incredible insights that were previously unavailable to the early behavioral modelers. And this not only changes our understanding of NLP, it also opens up entirely new possibilities for a new range of techniques.

A modern approach to behavioral modeling

Over the last 2 years, in the pioneering spirit of the beginnings of NLP, we have commenced a modern approach to behavioral modeling based on the latest findings in neuroscience. With a passionate sense of wide-eyed curiosity, we’ve begun using the latest scientific advances in neuroscience to inform and direct our behavioral modeling research into new areas that were originally hidden to the epistemology of earlier NLP development.

What we have uncovered has been truly astounding and has created a feast of new and powerful distinctions that significantly advance what is possible in NLP. In this current anniversary issue, we will introduce you to the first set of ‘game changing’ findings and distinctions that we have recently published in our book ‘mBraining – Using your multiple brains to do cool stuff’, and in subsequent issues of INLPTA NLP News we will cover more of our work and what we have developed in detail.

We don’t just have one brain!

Over the last decade or so, Neuroscience researchers have uncovered a set of astounding facts … we have complex and functional neural networks in both our heart and our gut. Called the cardiac and enteric nervous systems respectively, they have been shown to exhibit all the hallmarks of a ‘brain’, and like the brain in our head, they have the following characteristics:

  • Large numbers of neurons and ganglia, including sensory neurons and motor neurons
  • Neural cells with inter-neurons; neurons re-entrantly interconnecting in complex ways with other neurons
  • Support cells and components such as glial cells, astrocytes, proteins, etc.
  • Functional attributes: perceiving/assimilating information, processing information, memory storage and access, neural plasticity and adaptiveness (i.e. the ability to ‘learn’)
  • Able to mediate complex reflexes via an intrinsic nervous system (i.e. it doesn’t need the head brain to direct it, it functions even in the complete absence of the head brain)
  • A chemical warehouse of neurotransmitters (those found in the head brain are also found in the gut and heart brains)

These complex neural networks display amazing levels of functional ‘intelligence’ and there is a growing array of evidence that these ‘brains’ are deeply involved in the control and processing of numerous functions and core behavioral competencies.

How can this be?

The heart and gut brains are primal in both an evolutionary sense and a developmental sense. The gut brain for example evolved long before the head brain, and can be found in organisms such as sea slugs, sea cucumbers and spineless helminthes (a type of parasitic worm). Sea cucumbers are echinoderms, a part of the chordate phylum, and have been found to have very sophisticated enteric nervous systems.

When you think about this for a moment, it makes sense. As life developed on our amazing planet, the first organisms were single celled and then multi-cellular creatures that floated around in the ocean, moving towards food and away from danger. As they developed more complexity they needed a neural network - an intelligencing system - to process the information required to:

          a) obtain, digest and assimilate food,

b) track for danger and safety, and

c) move within their environment accordingly.

This nervous system, in organisms like sea cucumbers, is basically a tube designed for feeding and replication, and it eventually evolved into the enteric brain in higher organisms. It predates the head brain and central nervous system.

Fascinatingly, the development of our own brains during gestation mirrors evolutionary sequencing. As the fetus begins to grow, cells form into what will eventually become the various brains. A neural plate first forms and then rolls into a neural tube. This tube eventually becomes the spinal column and goes on to generate the cephalic head brain. However, at the point where the edges of that neural plate meet and form the tube, an outpoaching called the neural crest forms. As this develops it begins the process of generating the gut brain as the crest-derived cells colonize the developing gut. So before the neural tube has elongated and rolled up to form the encephalon and ultimately the complete head brain, the gut brain has already begun forming and populating the visceral region. Along the way, as the neural tube develops there is another outpoaching of what ultimately becomes the vagus nerve system, and this forms the cardiac plexus and the innervation of the heart.

A bit more on the gut brain

While some NLP’ers may be familiar with the heart brain mostly due to the popularity of the work from the Heartmath Institute, the majority are probably not as familiar with the gut brain.

Dr. Michael Gershon is one of the leaders in the newly emerging field of neurogastroenterology, and has published a ground-breaking book entitled, ‘The Second Brain: Your Gut Has a Mind of Its Own’. Dr. Gershon’s book is being hailed as “a quantum leap in medical knowledge” and that it provides “radical new understandings about a wide range of gastrointestinal problems.”

The gut brain contains over 500 million neurons and has the equivalent size and complexity of something like a cat’s brain. It sends and receives nerve signals throughout the chest and torso and innervates organs as diverse as the pancreas, lungs, diaphragm and liver. The gut brain is a vast chemical and neuro-hormonal warehouse and utilizes every class of neurotransmitter found in the head brain. Major neurotransmitters found in the enteric brain include serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, norepinephrine and nitric oxide. 70 percent of your immune system is in the gut, and according to Dr. Gershon over 95 percent of the serotonin used throughout the body and brain is also made in the gut. Diseases of the head brain also affect the neurons in the gut and heart brains. Patients with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases often suffer from constipation due to the same damage to their gut brains as is occurring in their cranial brains.

The ‘So What’ test: Modeling the functions and competencies of our multiple brains

We have learned well from Dr. Wyatt Woodsmall to always apply the ‘so what’ test to any new distinction, model, or piece of content. Science has shown we have three functioning brains, interesting but so what? Well, from a pure medical science viewpoint, it’s useful information that has medical value. However from a behavioral modeling and NLP perspective, the implications and applications for behavioral change are groundbreaking and profound.

Given we have multiple brains and not just a single brain in our head, it was obvious to us that the control and processing of complex emotions and behaviors is unlikely to only be performed in the head brain. And this is exactly what we have found. Each of the three brains is optimized and involved in mediating specific core functions with specific core competencies.

We studied well over 600 scientific research papers, articles and books regarding the heart and gut brains and used these findings to inform our behavioral modeling action-research (if you would like a full listing of these references, visit us at www.mbraining.com). As we modeled and explored the various behavioral patterns associated with each of the three neural networks, one of the first sets of distinctions that emerged was what we call the Prime Functions.

The 9 Prime Functions

It's an important guiding principle for working with your multiple brains to understand that each of the brains has its own prime function. Each brain has a fundamentally different form of intelligence; they utilize different language, have different goals and operate under different criteria. In other words, your head, heart and guts have different ways of processing the world, communicating, operating and addressing their own concerns and domains of expertise.

What we found from all of our modeling research is an overwhelmingly consistent pattern showing how these different brains have clearly distinct prime functions and underlying core competencies. In hindsight they are obvious and intuitive, which you will be able to validate in your own personal experience. So what are they?


·         Emoting

·         Relational affect

·         Values



·         Mobilization

·         Self-Preservation

·         Core identity



·         Cognitive perception

·         Thinking

·         Making meaning


[Please note; we are not saying these functions are limited only to the particular brain their associated with. Obviously, the head brain with its approximately 100,000,000,000 neurons is far more complex than is either the heart or gut brains and is involved in all functions at some level. However, the evidence from our behavioral modeling work indicates that each neural network is a key or prime driver for the functions listed above.]

In future issues of INLPTA NLP News, we will explore in more detail the significance of these Prime Functions and how to work with them through a suite of tools that we’ve termed ‘multiple brain integration techniques’, or mBIT for short.

Multiple braining NLP

Working with three brains rather than one adds significantly to how you do NLP. It also adds significantly to what is possible with NLP. The process of communicating with, aligning, and harnessing the intelligences of your three brains is what we call ‘mBraining’, which stands for ‘multiple braining’. True to the NLP distinction of denominalizing when appropriate, we’ve used the constructed verb of ‘braining’ to indicate this process.

Even at first glance, the impact of these findings for NLP quickly becomes apparent. Here is a quick listing of just some of the immediate applications to the existing body of NLP techniques:

  1. Working with ‘parts’ - to which neural network does the part belong?
  2. Secondary gain – which Prime Function needs to be fulfilled?
  3. Use of olfactory and gustatory sensory channels – these two modalities which have long been neglected by NLP are key drivers for the heart and gut neural networks, respectively. The inclusion of these two sensory channels opens up entirely new classes of NLP techniques utilizing smells and tastes.
  4. Calibration - the different neural networks express themselves through specific accessing and processing cues. Also, in addition to calibrating the use of olfactory and gustatory predicates, there are also linguistic metaphors and figures of speech that indicate which neural network is in play and how it is functioning.
  5. Sequencing – in a manner similar to working with NLP strategies/TOTEs, the three brains work together in a neural syntax that may be empowering or disempowering in relation to an outcome.
  6. Resourceful states – each neural network can function in a sympathetic mode, a parasympathetic mode, or a balanced state of autonomic ‘coherence’. Certain resourceful states are accessible or inaccessible depending upon the autonomic state of the relevant neural network (more on these distinctions in a future article).
  7. Values work – understanding how the heart brain creates emotional salience to influence the gut and head brains is essential for precision when working with values.
  8. Ecology – each neural network has its own criteria for ecology. Additional ecology issues arise if there is a lack of alignment between the three brains, or if they are functioning in a problematic sequence (neural syntax).
  9. Working with Identity – identity issues are in the domain of the gut brain as one of its Prime Functions. The gut brain needs to be facilitated to effectively processes any identity work. As a neural network, the gut can be facilitated to generate new neural patterns for transformative identity ‘upgrades’.
  10. Future pacing – much greater precision and generativity is possible with future pacing than just that of doing associated or dissociated visualising with anchored states or strategies. The heart brain needs to be specifically integrated into the future pace for values-based salience, and the gut brain needs to be facilitated to ensure the changes are integrated into an identity that takes motivated action.
  11. Integration – facilitating all three neural networks is required for deep epistemological and ontological integration.
  12. The legs of nlp, well formedness conditions for outcomes, etc. – many of the foundational models of NLP take on new levels of effectiveness when revised to include the heart and gut brains, and how all three brains need to interact and integrate.

Please keep in mind that this list is just a very small sample of how mBIT and mBraining can enhance how we approach NLP. There are many more distinctions we have discovered of which the 6 Prime Functions is only the starting point. And as we have already mentioned, we are excited to share these distinctions and new models with you in future articles.

An exciting time for NLP

From the filters of mBraining and mBIT, modern neuroscience is proving what ancient wisdom traditions have been saying for over two and a half thousand years. The intuitive harnessing of all three neural networks is embodied in practically all wisdom teachings ranging from the Enneagram which explicitly identifies the head, heart and gut/instinctive/moving centers, to Chinese Taoist philosophy that maintains there are three energy centers known as the Three Tan Tiens, the Upper, Middle and Lower Tan Tiens located in the head, heart and lower abdomen respectively.

These ‘new’ findings in neuroscience, which are old insights in the various wisdom traditions, bring exciting new possibilities to NLP.

Do you remember when you first learned NLP? The excitement of seeing patterns in human communication and human behavior that have been there all your life but that you’d never really noticed or had ever really ‘seen’ before? Like viewing the world afresh for the very first time, there were feelings of amazement and delight from being able to track and utilize patterns that had previously been hidden to you.

This is the excitement of mBIT. Upon learning mBIT and mBraining, we’ve had seasoned NLP trainers comment repeatedly to us that “it’s like learning NLP all over again!” The world of human process is made afresh. New possibilities open up. New patterns emerge. New generative choices become available. The original sense of excitement and adventure returns.

And on the 20th Anniversary of INLPTA, isn’t it apt that new and exciting directions emerge for NLP at this time? With a continued focus on generative change, a passion for curiosity and creativity and a desire to make a positive difference to our world, we can continue to build on the success of the foundational methodology of behavioral modeling by evolving NLP into burgeoning new directions with innovative applications.


Further info

For further information on mBIT and mBraining, please check out www.mbraining.com and our source book ‘mBraining – Using your multiple brains to do cool stuff’.