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Complex Equivalence

Two determined ambulance men went to the wrong address, grabbed a healthy Norwegian, slapped him onto a stretcher and rushed him to a hospital in Kragero, 40 miles away, despite his vociferous objections. Meanwhile the real patient, who had the same name and lived in the same village, despite suffering from severe anaemia, drove himself to the hospital, where he had problems registering because the clerk insisted he was already there.

Fortean Times


Linguistically a complex equivalence will take the form of: A = B.

One trap many students fall into is that they incorporate new information into a pre-existing map in the form of: "Electrons whiz around the nucleus, just like the planets revolving around the sun." The framework of understanding something else is in place, it is just the content that gets shifted around a bit.

In training, this is something that you want your listeners to avoid doing. If this is how people attempt to acquire new information, they will not expand their model of the world, they will only reinforce their pre-existing conceptions.

Most NLP practitioners will already be aware of the linguistic structures of these, but for a complex equivalence to be represented on a sensory level we can presuppose that because the two items have differing content (left hemisphere) the relationship between the person to the items will be the same (analogue - right hemisphere); thus they will be codified with the same submodalities.

One client that consulted me was having difficulty in many areas of his life the recurring theme with the relationships he formed was that he tried to create the same relationship with differing people. For example he regarded his employees as his "family" and treated his employees the same way as he would his own children or spouse. The converse of this was also true, in that he would treat his real family in the same way. The relationships he tried to build were incongruent with the context in which the relationships were forged and this man found that very few people held him with the respect he had intended to achieve. Yet he remained confused, since to "treat everyone the same way" was a criteria he held high.

During my brief time working for the army, I noticed that in the military environments the analogue relationships were preformed by the military environment itself. Various visual cues existed in the shape of uniforms, apparel and most importantly, ritual, so that everyone knew where they stood in relation to everyone else, even if they are strangers to one another. The vigorous army discipline held these relationships mostly constant. Thus a corporal meeting an officer for the first time already knows a significant portion of the analogical relationship between him and the officer.

"Who are you?" he said.
"McNab, sir."
"I'm Corden-Lloyd," he beamed as he shook my hand. Then, in a brilliant piss-take of the sort of bone questions senior officers seem to need to ask squaddies when they visit, he said, "Enjoying yourself? Mail getting through? Food all right? Any problems?"
This was great, a Colonel shaking my hand, taking the piss out of himself, asking me how I was

Andy McNab. Immediate Action.

Where an identical analogue relationship is forged in two differing locations and with two differing items, they will feel the same. For example the client who said, "I have an interview and it feels like I am going to an execution" felt the same way about the interview as she would feel about an execution. Linguistically, this follows the structure of "(feeling of A) = (feeling of B)". As far as I can tell, in most peoples "maps" and indeed in the "real world" these things are simply not equal.

Elicitation of the submodalities of complex equivalencies will invariably show them to have almost identical submodalities. The will be some variation between them - after all, try to create an exact complex equivalence between a picture of a big black square and a big white one, and you will have some difficulty. A question I toyed with for some time was, "just when does a submodality become a content?" For example, turn the brightness of a representation all the way up until the picture goes completely white. Assuming the representation was square framed, do we now have a white board/square?

The next inevitable question for me to ask was, "if we extend along the continuum, just when does content become manifestation?" I soon realized that it became as manifestly real as Sai Baba's holy ash.

The other question I liked to toy other NLPeople with is: Is it possible to create an exact auditory complex equivalence with different content?

A violinist sat playing her instrument might play a recognizable tune, or as part of an orchestra, might play in a way that synthesizes into the music to create a concerto. The overall concerto is what the unattuned listener hears, rather than the individual efforts of the players. When it comes to the submodalities of spoken language, we can liken to actual words to the overall effect of the concerto and the formation of these words being the total effect of the individual players.

The situation for an exact auditory complex equivalence becomes complicated. If we have two different sized orchestras, consisting of different players playing different instruments, they might play the same concerto. However, to the attuned listener, they will not be the same.

When I first started using the swish pattern (during which time I went swish pattern crazy) I initially used a content swish - as I had been taught to do by an "NLP Trainer". In this technique one preferred picture bursts its way through the undesired picture, without any attention paid to the submodalities of either (I didn't actually know about them then). I found this produced immediate effects, but these effects were short-lived and some clients returned complaining of feeling worse. It took me some months to realize what it was I was actually doing to these people. An effect illustrated by this amusing story:

After three days of uninterrupted heavy metal music from the flat next door, Gunthwilde Blom, 63, of Klagenfurt, Austria, began to get cross. She hammered on the walls and put notes under the door of the offending flat. All this had no effect so she confronted her neighbour, Wilma Kock, directly. Kock protested her innocence, but Blom did not believe her, calling her a "venomous herring". When the noise continued Mrs Blom finally went berserk and pushed 20lbs of fresh herring through her neighbour's letter-box. Ms Kock called the police, who discovered while interviewing Blom that the music was actually coming from a radio she had inadvertently left on beneath her own bed. Unrepentant, she declared, "They didn't understand, Kock's a cow."

Fortean Times.

Imagine standing in a concert hall. At one end are some players playing their instruments out of harmony with one another, a couple of them might even be playing completely out of tune and at a totally different volume to the rest. The conductor is on vacation. The sound is terrible and gives you a bit of a headache. So, rather than tuning them up and bringing them in harmony, you place a beat-box at the other end of the hall, and turn it up so loud that you drown out the orchestra. It might be effective, but the orchestra still plays badly and now they play in competition with the beat-box.


Where the submodalities define the relationship between the person and the item, it is almost inevitable that people will seek to form relationships in ways with which they are familiar. All too often in seminars, I hear someone say, "oh, what you are saying is just like X, Y, Z" where in fact, what I am saying is nothing of the sort alike. When I hear statements like this, I realize that I have not used effective enough frame setting in order to nest the information into the right context for the listener.

Whilst working for the army, I noticed that many of the army personnel were fantastic hypnotic subjects. Once I was started to be introduced to people as "Andrew, watch out, he's a hypnotist!" some useful frames were set for me. One person, on first meeting, shook my hand whilst staring at me in fear. When I let go she remained frozen in space in a deep hypnotic state. I had not done anything intentionally to create this.

The presupposition for this lady was that as a hypnotist I must have some sort of strange power. The presuppositions arising from the way we were introduced to each other meant that she codified our encounter as in some way meaningful to a hypnotic encounter. I was saying hello, she was going into trance - because of the frame setting of being introduced to a hypnotist. McKenna suggests that the banner that states "HYPNOTIC STAGE SHOW" acts as the biggest presupposition when doing stage hypnosis.

The submodalities of the spoken words of the hypnotist will also provide the submodality drivers of the listener's representational systems. Given the way submodalities reflect the persons real world experiences congruence is vital. For example, in the real "out-there" world, how often does a human have the experience of an object moving farther away and getting bigger? Whilst creating submodality shifts such as this can give arise to some pretty interesting states, incongruent voice tones are not likely to lead to success. For example, encouraging someone to begin to quieten their internal dialogue whilst shouting, or telling them to go deeper with a rising pitch, may not exactly result in the desired outcome.

Incongruencies in presentation can however provide an interesting experience. Consider Ayres Rock in Australia. Long steeped in mystical significance and admired by many thousand visitors, viewing at dawn or dusk can provide an experience that few people forget. Similar to the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, the dimming sunlight provides a spectacular sight. Seeing the Taj made me wonder just how often we get to experience this particular combination 'submodality shift' in the outside world and whether when we do, we might easily attribute something magical or mystical to it? For example, maybe our relationship to that external item cannot be categorized into something with which we are already familiar with from our internal mapping strategies.

Inevitably it becomes something else.

If this is the case, maybe the uniqueness of the experience is due to the "submodality set" that is unique to that particular experience - ie we cannot form a complex equivalence from it; we cannot easily say, "oh yes, that big rock, when the sun goes down, it's just like X, Y, Z"

The creation of a complex equivalence has long been a propaganda move by various governments, regimes and advertisers. The placing of Timothy Leary and Charles Manson into the same prison cell block produces an interesting response from people who know little about those political times: "Charles Mansonhmmm.he was bad, wasn`t he? Learyhmmmwas he bad too?"

The trick for the advertiser is to get the potential customer to codify the product with a submodality set that feels good to the customer. One method is to tell the customer to codify the product with V, X, Y, Z submodalities, but somehow I suspect that this won't work too well. The other method is to create a desirable state and anchor the product to it. The sequence is easy and all too commonly observed in advertising: Show something sexy, show product.

Advertisers have known about this for years. Teachers and lecturers on the other hand have an interesting ability to unwittingly do something else: Create boredom/pain and anchor it to the subject being taught. From observing the disparity between theory and practice of therapists, no greater disparity appears to occur than that of teaching. From my work with teachers, I have observed a sizable disparity between what the teacher thinks he/she is teaching and what it actually being learned by the children.

At least it is direct and you know what is being done to you and who is doing it. You know who your enemy is. But most of the harm that is done to children in schools they can't and don't resist, because they don't know what is being done to them or who is doing it, or because, if they do know, they think it is being done by kindly people for their own good.

John Holt. The Under Achieving School. p23.

Currently we are seeing an increasing use of psychopharmacology as a method of pacifying children in the classroom and the pharmaceutical companies have needed propaganda to effectively convince well meaning parents and teachers to drug their children. The model is simple: Pathologise behaviour, find drug that reduces that pathology. The mantra is simple and persuasive: A child with ADD needs Ritalin like a child with diabetes needs insulin. This creation of a logical complex equivalence has been remarkably effective, especially in a society where the average Joe appears to gain the majority of new information from a daily tabloid newspaper and bi-weekly soap opera. We would be wise to head the words of the occultist, Aleister Crowley:

even the finest mind is bound to perish if it suffers the infection of journalism. It is not merely that one defiles the mind by inflicting upon it slipshod and inaccurate English, shallow, commonplace, vulgar, hasty and prejudiced thought, and deliberate dissipation. Apart from these positive pollutions, there is the negative effect. To read a newspaper is to refrain from reading something worthwhile. The natural laziness of the mind tempts one to eschew authors who demand a continuous effort of intellectenge. The first discipline of education must therefore be to refuse resolutely to feed the mind with canned chatter.

Aleister Crowley. Confessions. p201