18.   Transderivational WHAT?


(Transderivational is pronounced: "trans" (as in transport) + "deri" (rhymes with "merry") + "vation" (rhymes with "nation") + "al" (as in boy's name "Albert").

I was quietly reading a new book on NLP, the other day, when I cam across this statement:

"Transderivational search
Definition: 'The process of searching back through one's stored memories and mental representations to find the reference experience from which a current behaviour or response was derived' (Dilts, 1990)."
(Italics as in the original text)

Which isn't the definition I learned when I got involved in NLP more than a decade ago.
At that time, as I understood it, the standard definition went something like this:

"Transderivational search is the means by which language is connected to experience.  It is by the process of transderivational search that the client associates the words used in the metaphor to his/her model of the world.  Thus, each client's interpretation of the metaphor will be unique because the words used in the story become associated to his/her personal internal sensory representations."
(Maps, Models and the Structure of Reality, Kostere & Malatesta (1990). Pages 92-93)

See also the section on Transderivational Phenomena in the appendix to Richard Bandler's book Magic in Action (Meta Publications, 1992).

There are, it seems, two crucial differences between these two definitions:

  1. Dilts' definition makes no mention whatever of the linguistic element of a transderivational search
  2. Whereas the original version describes a flexible process, Dilts' definition addresses a very rigid situation.

The original definition, as I understand it, refers to the way in which we all accumulate our own internal dictionary.  Whenever we hear or read other people's words we tend to define them according to that internal dictionary - except where the word is unfamiliar to us and we have to look it up in an external dictionary.

So, as a simple example, I might say to someone, "I had a really nice pie for lunch."
How many ways can that be interpreted?
Did I have the pie as my main course, or for dessert?  Was it a steak and kidney pie, an apple pie, a cottage pie, a lemon meringue pie, or what?  Unless you ask me appropriate questions you might imagine that it was any one of these alternatives, and many more.  And it's all down to you using your internal dictionary to try to understand my description of my experience.
And there's more.

The linguistically-oriented definition allows for changes over a period of time.  The meaning of "a nice family car" in 2004 is going to be quite different from the meaning of "a nice family car" in 1964.  And in the UK, at least, the phrase "house prices" in 2004 means something quite different - in terms of real life experience - compared with "house prices" as recently as 1994.

Quite obviously the later version of "transderivational search" is substantially different from the established meaning at a practical level.
Apart from anything else, as we said before, it is severely limited.  There can only be one "reference experience" from which a given "current behaviour or response [is] derived".  Moreover, "experiences" tend to be rather more complex than a single word or phrase since they will be represented in all five senses on both sides of the comparison.
That is to say, the word "apple" may conjure up a multi-sensory memory, but the word itself is only a word.  An "experience", on the other hand, is equally multi-sensory whether we're talking about the way you behaved today or the root experience from 10, 20, 30 or more years ago.

Having said that, it seems to me that, if we take the presupposition seriously which says that "every behaviour is appropriate in some context" then there will be circumstances where it can be useful to recover root experiences - as long as we don't get bogged down in pseudo-Freudian psycho-archaeology in the procees.
Moreover, it is important to remember that some of our most powerful and influential "root experiences" may occur at that earliest period of our life when we have NO language, in the verbal sense, to describe the experience, even though we retain memories of the sight(s), sound(s), feeling(s) and smell(s) and taste(s) which made up that experience.

On this basis I have coined a new term for Dilts' definition: Transexperiential seach, which I believe exactly summarises the process he has in mind, whilst removing the need to conflate two significantly different processes, and definitions, under a single label.
(And with the added bonus that nowhere on the whole of the Google-listed sites is anyone else using the term "transexperiential search".)

The Transderivational Lock-out

The "Transderivational Lock-out" is a variation on the regular transderivational search in that instead of picking up several possibilities from which one will be chosen, it only ever picks up one meaning.  That is, whatever meaning supports the "searcher's" agenda.

Putting this in the context of the allegedly scientific research on what each researcher thinks of as "NLP", time and again we see that the self-styled experts pick up words and phrases and interpret them in a way that is relevant to their own area of genuine expertise.  Thus sociologists and experts on religion find religious connotations; experts on psychotherapy and or hypnosis find that the language of NLP indicates that it is a form of psychotherapy and/or hypnosis; and linguists and psycholinguists insist that NLP is trying to break into their areas of expertise.

But how can this be?  If NLP is a form of religion then it isn't psychotherapy or psycholinguistics.  If it is a form of psychotherapy then it isn't a religion or psycholinguistics, and so on.  Or if it is indeed two things combined, how come none of the experts has commented on this?

In practice, by the very fact that each expert activates his or her own transderivational lock-out when discussing NLP presents us with a kind of 'Tower of Babel'.  In this scenario each group, or more likely each individual, is offering comments based on their own subjective maps of the situation - just as NLP-related concepts would lead us to expect - rather than from a rational appreciation of the 'facts', as each expert would have us believe.  Yet somehow these 'experts' apparently never notice what it is they are really doing.