Saturday, 11 October 2014

What Science Can Learn From Breathwork

Keynote Lecture at the Global Inspiration Conference (GIC)
of the International Breathwork Federation (IBF)
in Ireland July 2014

Dr. Wilfried Ehrmann  and Dr. Wolfgang Fellner

(For personal use only, please do not quote!)


For our practical work with clients, we do not need science. Scientists are scientists, and breathworkers are breathworkers. But we use science whether we want to or not. Science operates in the background of our presence, our interventions and our communication. Science is part of the world we live in and so it is a formative part of us, whether we know it or not, and whether we use it or not.

As a consequence, it can only be beneficial for us as individual breathworkers and for the whole community of breathworkers to have a clear relationship with science.  And, as we will see later, science would benefit from listening to the insights of breathwork and learning from them. A discourse between the two can help breathwork to become more accepted in society and it can help science to broaden its knowledge of man and, as we will see, its own methodology.

Breathworkers can use science to clarify their view of reality and make clear distinctions between knowledge and fantasy. There are things which can be known as they are accessible by our outer senses and by communication, and there are things which are created inside ourselves, as product of our associative brain. It is an important quality for all therapists to be able to make a clear distinction between reality and fantasy, as only with this quality they can help their clients to develop a sober sense of reality themselves.

Finally, science and breathwork have a common goal. They are both aimed at creating a peaceful world with free/self-determined people and at striving for it by their means.

What is needed for creating a fruitful relationship between breathwork and science?

We need a framework of epistemology. Epistemology belongs to the realm of philosophy of science and basically deals with the question of what man can know about the world.

Secondly, we need a framework of methodology. Methodology signifies a theory on how to produce valuable and useful insights about reality.

Thirdly, we need methods and complementary concepts of how to make the findings of research applicable for healing work in practice.

All of these goals can be met in close cooperation between practice and theory, between breathwork and science.

First Person Perspective and Third Person Perspective

When we talk about science, we conventionally mean science based on a Third Person Perspective (3PP). This is science based on objective data and conclusions based on rules which are based on established and broadly accepted rules of reasoning. Scientific results are supposed to be valid and replicable (reliable), to be checked by other members of the scientific community. This is the principle of falsification as formulated by Karl Popper.

Although this is the usual form of science we know it is not the only one. What is science based on a First Person Perspective (1PP)? Its data are subjective and are accessible by the inner senses. Consequently, they are singular and unique. There is no possibility of reduplication and falsification in the traditional sense. Yet its data and theories derived from them can be communicated, evaluated and compared.

When science started to conquer the world of cognitions, 1PP-science was as important and approved in society as 3PP-science. Yet, in the course of the 20th century, 3PP-science became dominant, and dictated the "gold"-standards for science, thus ousting 1PP-science to the edges of the world of cognitions. Additionally, 3PP-science gained a leading role in society and politics by claiming the central role in explaining the world and in delivering the basics for reasonable decisions in the life of individuals as well as of states.

The advantages of 3PP are obvious and belong to a common-sense notion of truth. 3PP-knowledge is derived from data received by the outer senses: view, sound, touch, smell, etc. In these ways we perceive objects. The perception of objects is shared by everyone: Those who have been to Paris can state that there is an Eiffel tower. Those who have not been there can go there and prove the perception of others. But they also can believe in what others report, "I have seen the tower with my own eyes." This becomes a reliable truth when a certain number of people agree.

When one person says, "I have seen a spaceship landing in my garden," we would only believe this person if a sufficient number of others stated the same. Then we could form a consensus about the objective existence of the spaceship. If one person comes and cannot see the object, we can question his senses or mind. Yet, when a sufficient number of people deny the existence of the object, we have to give up the objectivity of its existence. (By the way: 20 percent of US-citizens believe in alien abduction – just imagine that only those are included in that survey who have returned from abduction and could answer a questionnaire – and what will we do when the number rises above the magical 50%?).

So for a theory to be approved, the data and the conclusions from these data have to be approved by the scientific community. Without its blessings, any findings from research remain private speculation.

Members of scientific communities act according to scientific standards. They need a form of ethical integrity to stick to the rules of science and act accordingly. So a 1PP-standard is required for 3PP-science to function. To act scientifically is not a normal form of behaviour, but a very exclusive and extravagant way of interacting with the world. It requires thorough training and the discipline for studying objects with patience and without prejudgements. It means e.g. staring through a microscope or on a computer screen for hours, days and weeks.

Someone who is not willing to take up a discipline will not be able to reduplicate and falsify the theories of any discipline. So 3PP-science relies on 1PP-qualities to work the way it works.

By the end of the last century continuing into the new millennium, new tendencies have been arising out of science approaching the borders of 1PP. Neurosciences have made a considerable progress and continuously work along the interface of brain processes and experience, of objectivity and subjectivity, of 3PP and 1 PP.

Research on the placebo effect has produced paradoxical and contradictory results. These enigmatic phenomena can most likely only be explained when a 1PP is added.
Another branch of research work is based on the embodiment theory: Body and mind must not be seen separate. Any study of the human mind has to include the complementary processes in the body and consequently has to include a 1PP.

Epigenetics, another new brand of modern scientific research, has shown that genes constantly interact with their cellular environment adapting its functions to the actual needs of the cell and of the whole organism. Finding methods for regulating and modulating this interactive process for healing purposes can open a fruitful field of joint 1PP and 3PP research.

Other areas for a combination of objective and subjective science can be found in psychotherapy science and in new approaches of medicine like person-centred medicine.

So the theory of science has to consider new possibilities in the cooperation and integration of 1PP and 3PP.

Without losing the advantages of 3PP, which lie in a commonly accepted reliable way of generating objective insights and relative, useful truths, a scientific 1PP should be added as an indispensable access to data which cannot be retrieved by 3PP and are essential for a complete explanation of reality and for thoroughly understanding its functioning.

Therefore we see an inclusive form of scientific knowledge on the horizon. It will be needed for safeguarding human well-being on one side and of scientific reliability on the other side. It will have to include a 2-Person-Perspective as well, which is the knowledge arising from interhuman relationships, and a 1-Person-Plural-Perspective, which is the knowledge which can be found in collective insights, in the wisdom of groups, communities and larger societies.

We need to include these perspectives into scientific research, when we want to create a holistic scientific model of the world. Data from various sources of perception should equally contribute to the scientific progress as an equivalent to a democratic society. Then we also can find new approaches to the questions on health which can be accepted by people who have sceptically turned away from scientific thinking because of its lack of 1PP experience.

By establishing this inclusive scientific knowledge about the world in general and about humans opens up new perspectives on the important questions: What is health? What is man? What is the self as horizon for inner growth?

Excursus: Ontology

In this excursus, we will look into the basic concepts about the reality of reality. How can we understand the nature of reality? By simplifying, we can describe two polar alternatives: Materialistic reductionism and constructivism.
The pure materialistic view is that there is just matter and nothing else. The world is outside without any relevant inside.
Radical constructivism states that reality is created by the mind, so there is no matter but just information. The world is inside without any relevant outside.

We propose a mediated or intertwined view: Any phenomenon consists of matter and of information. All there is, needs both to exist: matter and information. These two aspects can only be seen from different perspectives although they are basically the same. So everything in reality has an inside and an outside and can be understood and studied only when combining a look on both sides. The nature of reality and of our interaction with it can only be grasped when 1PP is included which provides the access to the area of information. A central aspect of information is meaning which can only be read by 1PP. Information without meaning is useless.

Since the beginning of modern times, the systematic exclusion of 1PP has served as success formula for 3PP-science to gain a position outside religious limitations in the first place and later on beyond the social and political discourses. The price was the denial of its foundation and origin, which is the search for meaning based on 1PP-insights. By this, science has moved into a secluded corner by limiting the possibilities of transferring science back to society when it does not systematically include the meaning-giving 1PP.

One side effect of this ontological position is the possibility of marking a clear distinction between science (including 1PP) and esoterics which is characterised by category fallacies as it usually bases 3PP on 1PP, reduces 3PP to 1PP or camouflages 1PP as 3PP.

Complexity and Simplicity

Furthermore, we look into the concept of complexity. "Ideal science" requires simple objects, so one goal of scientific research is the reduction of complexity. Yet, every reduction loses details which might be important for other scientific purposes. The basic reduction used by 3PP-science seems to us the omittance of 1PP. We consider this exclusion as detrimental for humanity on the long run.

Simplicity has the advantage of an easy transfer from knowledge to practical conclusions. With one simple cause of every form of cancer, treatment would be simple, as only one method would be required. Yet the reality of cancer is not that simple, so cancer treatment has become a highly complex field of specialisation. Humans are complex, and as elegant as simple theories can be, as many of them are needed to approach an all-inclusive description and explanation.

Simple models of cause and effect serve the need for control and safety but appear naïve and illusionary when the complexity and variety of humans comes into play. With more complexity, more perspectives have to be included to complete the picture. As humans have the 1PP always with them, they only can apply science in their life when it is combined with their inner senses. Insofar as science starts including this perspective, it will increase the benefits for humanity.

Inclusive Science and its Standards

Modern science succeeded by promising the ultimate control over nature and by granting safety and wellbeing for a growing population on the ground of simple cause-effect models. It also succeeded in exorcising mysticism by this “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”, as a German proverb goes. One goal of these reflections is to draw a clear line between fear-based superstition and mind freeing mysticism.

For a useful methodology of an inclusive science, we need to work on the following topics:

•    Which methods are appropriate for a certain field of research resp. for a certain scientific question?
•    Different groups of science according to the complexity of phenomena:
Science of nature, science of humans

  • How can we refine the 1PP from a purely subjective and arbitrary function as it appears in the stream of consciousness model of literature or in esoteric speculations? What are methodological requirements for the 1PP as science?

A holistic science of humans has to include 1PP, otherwise it runs the risk of commodification or reification, which means to turn processes into objects. Reification serves to found and legitimise ideologies but not scientific research.

    Criteria for Inner Research

    Here is a list of requirements which allow a controllable way of inner research and make 1PP comparable to 3PP:
    • A high degree of self-reflection and ethical integrity as an entrance criterion for the scientific community: 1PP is prone to charlatans and swindlers
    • Discernment between sensations, feelings, fantasies and interpretations: A researcher of the inner world has to be trained in differentiating/discriminating between different classes of inner information related to different material processes in the organism.
    • Reproducibility and comparability: Researchers who enter a certain state of inner awareness with the help of standardised procedures come to the same or to comparable results.
    • Systematic abstraction of experiences: Research data from standardised introspection can be combined to produce theories which then can be applied in the healing work in practice.
    • Criteria for plausibility: Due to economic reasons, many phenomena cannot be researched up to a point of "absolute" certainty, to a point of evident scientific proof. Yet, research work combining 1PP and 3PP can reach a high level of plausibility which allows for further testing the theories in practical work. In addition, plausible results of research can enter the general discussion and media communication as what they are: plausible findings. This could be a new category which can serve our needs for orientation similar to the category of scientifically proven results.
    • Standardised training: As any scientist needs training in methodology and in objectivity (which is a 1PP-quality), 1PP-scientist need training in systematic introspection which can be standardised. For example, to gain the ability to differentiate inner sensations, a training in awareness, mindfulness or conscious breathing is helpful. After a certain amount of training with these methods, certain skills are acquired which then also can be measured with 3PP-methods like EEG or MRT.
    • Rules for translation processes: Information from inside the organism which only can be accessed by a 1PP appears in different "languages": e.g. the "language" of body sensations, the "language" of feelings etc. The rules for translating between these structures of information have to be explained and standardised.

    As addition to the last point: We can distinguish between two directions of translation:

    1) Bottom-up: From the "language" of the organismic processes to the language of mental concepts and words. There are several distinct steps in this direction of translation: Body sensations (the basic form of information to experience consciously), feelings, symbolisations, words, sentences, ideas.
    2) Top-down: From mental concepts to organismic processes. This direction includes the skills of mental concentration, visualisation, body scanning, affirmation work, mindfulness practices etc. It is an important aspect of any therapeutic work.

    Inner vs. Outer Knowledge

    Inner Knowledge is self-evident and immediate. As it is only accessible by the experiencing person, it is subjective and needs to be translated into verbal language for intersubjective use.
    Outer knowledge can be verified by virtually everyone. This qualifies for objectivity and a high degree of reliability. It can be communicated, but needs contexts for acquiring meaning.

    The Role of the Breath in 1PP-Science

    Breathing has a special and singular position in the field of inner research. When we observe our breathing, we notice a movement in our upper body which can also be seen from outside (3PP). At the same time, we notice a movement on the inside, e.g. the movement of the diaphragm. This movement can also be made visible from outside via supersonic or X-ray. Observing the breathing, connects the inner and the outer senses. So it provides an interface between 1 PP and 3 PP. As easily as with breathing, there is no other way to enter into a direct conscious experience of an organic process "in real time".

    So training the inner sense by observing the breathing, as it is taught in many schools of meditation as well as in breathwork, has not only beneficial results by calming the mind and balancing the nervous system, but also for building up skills which are valuable for systematic scientific research

    In this way, we can consider breathwork as a method of scientific research and breathworker as scientists, when they are willing to use their skills for these purposes. They are experts in tracking the pathways of inner experience, which is the only way to collect inner knowledge. They are also trained in refining these pathways and in deepening the levels of experience so that the earliest traces of the cellular memory can be brought to consciousness for evaluation. They also know about the rules of translation between the different levels of inner experience.

    By standardising these skills, breathwork can find a sound and publicly acknowledged position between esoterics and materialism.