The Doctor Who Hallucinated the Map

(In NLP-related terms, to "hallucinate" is to make something up inside your head, and treat it as being true,
with due reference to whatever relevant external information may be available)


Onwards and Upwards

When Dr David Major contributed the material on NLP to New Religions, he was listed as:

"Director of the Centre for Work Related Studies at Chester College of Higher Education, England and former Lecturer in in Theology and Religious Studies at the same college.  As well as articles on neuro-linguistic programming, his publications include Witness in a Gentile World: A Study of Luke's Gospel (with E. Johns, 1991) and Shaping the Tools: Study Skills in Theology (with Roger Ackroyd, 1999).

Which was something of a change from his situation in 1996 when he had an article on "NLP" and beliefs published in the journal NLP World.  At that time he was described thus:

"David Major teaches theology and religious studies at University College Chester."

A recent online search (February 2009) revealed that Dr Major has now moved onwards and upwards to become Dean of the Faculty of Lifelong Learning at the University of Chester.

Impressive progress, in his own field, but how, one might ask, does this background qualify Dr Major as one of the "experts drawn from around the world" (back cover) as far as NLP is concerned?
In two words: It doesn't.

*** The Short Version ***

(Status, at time of publication)
David Major:   Professor of Psychology at the University of Southern California.

(Note: This article is often (incorrectly) attributed to Professor C. Partridge, perhaps because the people concerned have never actually read the material and have simply copied the citation from elsewhere.)

Critical Material:
Neuro-Linguistic Programming, in Partridge, C., (ed.), New Religions - A Guide.  Oxford University Press, New York:2004.  pp.402-404

Nature of criticism:
Not so much a criticism as a case of tunnel vision.  The author is convinced that the FoNLP must have something or other to do with religion, or spirituality, or beliefs, or post modernism, or something like that.

Original.  Though based on the author's own article that appeared in the journal NLP World.


The article is largely based on the author's thoughts about the Logical Levels model, which he presumably imagines is a bona fide element of the authentic FoNLP (field of NLP).


Although the subcommittee members are supposed to have interviewed Richard Bandler in person, and attended a "Workshop on NLP techniques" run by Robert Klaus - both in July 1986 - they came up with very little of any consequence, and there is certainly not enough accurate material to warrant the notion that this is a useful resource.
The fact that the report has been cited in numerous other criticisms of "NLP" merely demonstrates the lack of effective vetting academic psychologists and the like apply to information, about "outsiders", that is generated within their own community.

As far as the FoNLP is concerned, the people who commissioned he report were entitled to a 100% refund.

*** End of Short Version ***

*** 'Director's Cut' ***

Is that a Bronze Age stone circle?
Or a photograph of a motorway service station?

In fact Dr Major's contribution on what he thinks of as "NLP" (about two and a half columns in length) seems to owe a lot more to his imagination than it does to any reliable information:

"Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) may be best thought of as a system of psychology concerned with the self-development of human beings."

No.  Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) should only be thought of as a specific modelling technique.  The "field" of NLP may be thought of as a collection of techniques and applications of those techniques which grew out of the development of that modelling technique.

It claims ...

No.  Since NLP is not a sentient being it clear cannot, by word or deed, claim anything.

To those who know NLP this may be patently obvious, but I mention it for a specific reason.  Self-styled NLP "experts" frequently refer to NLP as though it were a thing because that makes it easier to sustain the illusion that any view of NLP is valid, regardless of how far it may diverge from the descriptions provided by the only two genuine authorities on NLP - Richard Bandler and John Grinder.  Dr Major, however, has gone one step further in developing his "map" of NLP.  He has, as far as I can tell, ignored the fact that he drew the "map" himself - and now treats it as though it were authoritative!

Thus in his article for the now defunct NLP World, Major wrote:

"It seems to me that the lynch-pin of NLP is the area of belief."
(1996, p.21)

And at the bottom of the same page:

If I am correct in maintaining that belief is the lynch-pin of NLP then it may be that more work needs to be done in defining belief in NLP terms."
(1996, p.21)

In fact that would a little premature since the initial claim is simply incorrect.  As Eric Robbie (an NLP trainer who has worked extensively with Richard Bandler, John Grinder and members of the original team of students) explained on one of the NLP Connections discussions some months back, although beliefs are obviously a highly subjective topic, and as such rightly belong under the FoNLP (field of NLP) banner, in practice the developers did not get involved in this particular area of investigation until the early 1980s, around 1983 in fact.

It is hard to see how beliefs could be the "lynch pin of Neuro-Linguistic Programming" if it wasn't even an area of investigation until most if not all of the original phase of development was complete.  Thus far from being based on a sound assumption, this article, like the one in NLP World, is far more indicative of Dr Major's own field of interest than of the real nature of the FoNLP.

So how did Dr. Major come by this belief:

"What, therefore, NLP [sic] terms belief, in the context of the logical levels, I contend, is mainly concerned with personal beliefs and, if this is the case, it helps us to get clearer on what the nature of "belief" is in the context of NLP."
(1996, p.29)

Notice the word games Major plays here:

If I am correct in ... [my belief] that belief is the lynchpin of NLP ..."

In fact, Major provides no evidence whatsoever, in the article, that his assumption is correct.  Which is a rather crucial, given that the entire contents of both articles (1996 and 2004) are pointless and valueless unless their author can substantiate this claim.

"What ... NLP terms belief, ..."

As we've already seen, NLP is not a thing and therefore doesn't term anything "belief".  But by using this phrase, Major skips out of discussing a truly authoritative source: Bandler's discussion of beliefs in Using Your Brain for a Change (1985) - Chapter 7, pages 103-115 (Major uses just one 14 word quote from that source), and wanders off to discuss opinions from a variety of non-authoritative sources instead.

" ... in the context of the logical levels"

Here Major creates a very strange false link between "NLP" (whatever he thinks that is) and the so-called logical levels model by implying that they genuinely go together.  This is "strange" for at least three reasons:

  • It implies a link that doesn't exist.  Mr Dilts was invited by John Grinder, in 2001, to explain how his logical levels model qualified as a genuine element of the FoNLP (field of NLP).  And as of May 2010 no explanation has yet been forthcoming;
  • Major talks about "NLP" 'in the context of the logical levels' - as though the whole FoNLP were to be understood in terms of "the logical levels", even though none of Dilts' "levels" models are part of the authentic FoNLP;
  • Major talks about "the logical levels" without, it seems, understanding that the various elements are NOT genuine "levels" and certainly do not have any kind of "logical" relationships in any conventional sense of those words.

In short, this one sentence inadvertantly little or understanding of the nature of the FoNLP in 1996.  Unfortunately, going by various comments in the 2004 article, nothing has changed in the intervening eight years.

What's also interesting (in the 1996 article), is the way that Major effectively acknowledged that his whole article was nothing more than a product of his own imagination when he wrote: "It seems to me ...", "If I am correct ...", "... if this is the case ...", and so on.  Seeing so many caveats built in to his discussion, I have to wonder why he (apparently) never stopped to consciously think through the possibility that he seems to have been hinting at - "What if I'm mistaken?"
But then again, we've seen that he was, at the time, a teacher of "theology and religious studies", and as we see time and time again in this FAQ, academics who comment on NLP routinely adhere to the "Man with a Hammer" error.  That is, if Major is a expert on theology and religion then, according to the academic mind map, NLP "must" be something to do with theology and religion.
Thus by the time he came to write the article for New Religions (2004), despite his change of roles, Dr Major was still working from his seriously flawed map of 1996 (albeit the spelling was slightly different):

"The justification for an entry on NLP in this volume is that it may be seen that the linchpin of NLP is the area of belief."
(2004, p.403)

This is a crucial element in Major's reasoning.  And it's wrong.
In fact NLP is primarily focused on "perceptions"; but coming from a background in theology, and mistaking the Logical Levels model for an authentic NLP model, Dr Major ends up confusing perceptions with beliefs.  And he continues, in both cases, with a further piece of misinformation:

In the system of logical levels, Belief occupies a mid-way position between Capability, Behaviour and Environment, on the one hand (which, in one way or another, express belief), and Identity and Spirituality, on the other (which inform belief).
(Major, 1996)


Within NLP's system of logical levels (that is, their identification of different facets of being human), belief occupies a midway position between, on the one hand, capability, behaviour and environment (which, in one way or another, express belief), and identity and spirituality, on the other (which inform belief).
(Major, 2004)

Unfortunately, neither of these quotes tells us anything about the authentic FoNLP, as set out by the co-creators, Bandler and Grinder:

  • The reference to "NLP's system of logical levels" does not equate with anything in the real world.
  • Who is Major talking about when he refers to "their identification"?  Certainly not the co-creators of the field.
  • And in any case, given the deeply flawed nature of the so-called "logical levels" model, it really doesn't matter where "beliefs" comes in the alleged hierarchy since there is no genuine relationship between the elements and the arrangement, which is pretty much entirely arbitrary.

Regardless of any personal opinion Dr Major may have on the matter, it is a fact that the co-creators of the field of NLP have never made any such claim.  And neither, of course, has the mythical "NLP being".  Claims about NLP and spirituality have indeed been made by various people, most notably Robert Dilts (who invented the "logical levels" models, but this is not an authoritative claim and is made despite the fact that any dealings with spirituality belong wholly outside the field of authentic NLP.  Thus when Dilts' claimed, some years ago, that:

"I [Dilts] ... helped connect NLP to deeper aspects of life such as spiritual aspects."

John Grinder responded:

"Mr, Dilts, in spite of the direct tutelage offered by each of the co-creators of NLP has managed to miss the point with astonishing consistency.  It is precisely because there is no requirement to subscribe to particular beliefs and values that NLP moves so easily across cultural and linguistic barriers and is easily and respectfully incorporated into these distinct systems.
What he is taking credit for is a degradation of the very technology in which he makes his living."

How, then, do we harmonise that unambiguous rejection with Major's assertion that:

"Although it also claims that its techniques provide a way of relating to the spiritual side of human experience, it is essentially neutral with regard to religion."

The answer seems to lie in Dr Major's lack of knowledge about the origin and development of NLP.  This would certainly explain his comment:

Its [NLP's] origins lie in the United States in the 1970s and amongst its earliest exponents are Richard Bandler and John Grinder with their ideas of self-improvement through studying, and then modelling, the behaviours of people who excel in their respective spheres of operation."

Which itself introduces more important errors:

  • Bandler and Grinder weren't just "amongst [NLP's] earliest exponents" - Bandler laid the foundations, so to speak, and Bandler and Grinder co-created the whole field of authentic NLP as we know it today!
  • Bandler and Grinder were not primarily interested in "self-improvement" as such but rather in communication.  How their early exemplars communicated, and how to effectively communicate the results of modelling the exemplars.  Again Major gets entirely the wrong end of the stick.
  • The suggestion that Bandler and Grinder advocated "studying, and then modelling" anything is as contrary to what they were actually doing as it gets.  The whole essence of NLP modelling is that there should be absolutely no conscious study of the subject of a modelling project.  This is not based on theory - it's based on what Bandler actually did.

Research?  What Research?

So, Dr Major's description of NLP is inaccurate, apparently by virtue of Major's adherence to the 'Man with a Hammer' error.  It is therefore relevant that we make it clear that by picking whichever definition suits his purposes, Dr Major has elected to base his comments on an invalid map.

Even the simple statement that:

"[NLP] claims to provide a set of skills and techniques that enable its practitioners to achieve competence and excellence in any field."

isn't really accurate.  Training in NLP and the related techniques and applications provides the trainees with knowledge.  As with any skills training, however, the extent to which trainees will "achieve competence and excellence in any field" will depend on what they do with what they have learned.

What seems most strange about Major's 2004 article is that he presents himself as an expert, but apparently without ever getting to grips with what the field of NLP is really all about.  Where did he do his research?  As far as the "spirituality" question is concerned, for example, it is only fair to acknowledge that Major could not have read this passage in John Grinder's 2005 article for the French NLP magazine PNL-Repere:

Mr. Dilts is the author (or co-author in some cases) of these content models.  Along with the content impositions proposed in his Neuro-logical Levels (a full critique is offered in Whispering), he has managed to confuse the public by presenting content patterns and models - patterns and models that violate one of the ethical standards of NLP - the commitment to respect the form (or process, if you prefer) content distinction.

But, if he was/is presenting himself as knowledgeable on NLP-related topics, how on earth did Major manage to overlook the relevant section of Whispering in the Wind (2001), pages 302-305, where Grinder writes with no ambiguity whatever:

We have demonstrated that [Dilts' Neuro-logical Levels model] is clearly NOT an example of this ordering principle of logical inclusion and therefore is NOT an example of logical levels.  The answer to our invitation to Dilts to specify the ordering principle behind its structure will determine whether, indeed, it is a legitimate formal pattern or a content model, possibly useful but clearly not within the domain of NLP.

Insofar as Major is entirely mistaken in his basic argument, his entire edifice of poor scholarship is invalidated.  And since the rest of the article is merely a ramble through Major's personal ideas on the subject of beliefs and his misinterpretation of NLP, there is nothing to be gained by examining the rest of it here.  There is, however, one short claim that comes near the article and which exemplifies Major's tendency to force everything into a pigeonhole of his own devising rather than letting the facts speak for themselves:

"NLP's focus on subjective experience and it's view that we cannot comprehend objective reality means that it fits well as an example of postmodern thought."

Sounds frightfully clever, doesn't it?  But does it actually mean anything at all?

Major's comment as a whole is so ambiguous as to be essentially meaningless:

  • What does he mean by "objective reality"?
  • Is he implying that we can, in fact, comprehend objective reality, and any claim to the contrary is mistaken?
  • What are the implications, in his mind, of the claim that "[NLP] fits well as an example of postmodern thought"?

In fact Major has completely missed the boat on the question of subjectivity and objectivity in the FoNLP.
At the very end of the article he writes:

Along with the theory of social construction of reality of modern-day sociology and psychology, of critical theory in philosophy, and of reader-response theories in literature, we have, in NLP, a system of self-development that, to a large degree, focuses on individual subjectivity."

But this isn't what the co-creators of NLP were saying.

Where social constructivism in psychology, for example, involves people creating their own maps of reality in order to avoid some event(s) that bother(s) them, in NLP the focus is on the far more down to earth observation that our maps of reality are personal because we only have a limited ability to take in everything coming in at us through our senses, and thus we can only be consciously aware of a subset of all the available information.  Thus Haney (1960) describes an experiment in which a room full of students witness several, carefully staged, almost simultaneous events.  A majority of the students get details of at least one of the events wrong, and some find it difficult to get any details right.  But this isn't because they would be upset if they get the details correct.  It is simply a matter of our limited capacity, as human beings, to deal with all available information.

In practice:

  • The co-creators of NLP spent no time examining or discussing whether "objective reality" does or doesn't exist.  And they certainly don't claim that it doesn't.
  • They also recognized that by virtue of our limited brain functionality we are each of us bound to be selective about what sub-set of that information we are consciously aware of.  And since it is totally unlikely that any two people will have received/selected exactly the same information, it is highly unlikely that any two people will be consciously aware of exactly the same sensory information.
  • In fact the field of NLP is concerned with epistemology - how we know, what we think we know.  Thus it includes various tools - the mta model, representational systems, meta programs, etc. - for studying HOW people create their mental maps (process) and not on judging whether any particular map is "correct" - (content).  In this respect it is indeed focused on individual subjectivity.  As is any field of study which does not limit itself to sweeping, impersonal generalizations

In his 1996 article Major wrote:

"In my reading of NLP literature I have not come across what I consider to be an adequate definition of belief or a serious discussion of the nature of belief."

In research terms this was a very curious statement, firstly in that Dilts co-authored an entire book on the subject, called Beliefs, with Tim and Hallbom and Suzie Smith, published only a few months after Changing Belief Systems With NLP, which Major does mention.  And secondly because, with a more flexible attitude Major might have asked himself, "If Bandler does not spend much time discussing beliefs, could that be because beliefs are not, in fact, as central to the field of NLP as I think they are?"

If only Major had taken his articles and substituted the appropriate version of the word "perception" wherever he had written some version of the word "belief" - and then rewritten the articles accordingly - he might actually have achieved a reasonably accurate understanding of the field of NLP.  But he didn't, and consequently his articles tell us little or nothing about the authentic FoNLP, only about the author's own personal misunderstanding of the subject.  His claim that NLP has anything to do with "New Religions" is totally without foundation or merit.

If "NLP", then Who Else?

And finally, it might be useful to consider the implications of Dr Major's claims in areas outside of the FoNLP.  Because if getting people to consider and work on their beliefs is enough to put them into some kind of religious grouping, then this sucks in at least two well-known and widely used forms of therapy - CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and REBT (Relational Emotive Behaviour Therapy).
In fact, if we looked at psychology in general, we would have to apply Dr Major's beliefs to that whole field of study.
Is that really what Dr. Major has in mind?


Haney, W.V. (1992 ed.), Communication and Interpersonal Relations.  Irwin, Boston, Massachussetts.  Pages 233-236, citing Otto, M.N. (1919), Testimony and Human Nature.  Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, May, I9I8.  Pages 98-104.

Major, D. (1996), A Critical Examination on the Place of Belief in NLP.  In NLP World, Vol. 3, No. 3, November 1996.  Orzens, Switzerland.  pp.21-34)

Major, D. (2004), Neuro-Linguistic Programming, in Partridge, C., (ed.), New Religions - A Guide.  Oxford University Press, New York.  pp.402-404