SF Inspiration #4: Meet Ulf or the absurdity of inner concepts

Dominik Godat & Elfie Czerny

Wherever we go we hear about inner concepts. The unconscious, the subconscious, personality structures, the inner child, the ego, and many other inner concepts seem to be everywhere. They have become general knowledge and many people believe in them. And this despite the fact that they are tautological and thus not only highly unlikely but also unscientific. Or would you believe in a little invisible man in you steering you?

Your inner Ulf is nothing more than tautological made up stuff.

%

Inner concepts that are not tautological!

%

Made up stuff with a circular logic!

Meet Ulf or the absurdity of inner concepts

1. Meet Ulf the invisible man in you

A few years ago, I realized that my right shoulder felt heavy. It was then when I discovered that there is a little invisible man in my shoulder steering my behavior. I called him Ulf and realized that Ulf is not only invisible, but also mysterious and inaccessible. He is like a hidden force influencing and steering me. I never know what he is up to next. And I realized that everyone has an Ulf in them. I talked to others about Ulf. Nobody believed me. But since Ulf doesn’t want to get caught, their behavior is a clear proof of the existence of Ulf.

You don’t believe me either?

2. The circular (il)logic of inner concepts

So, how come you believe in inner concepts, like the unconscious, the subconscious, the inner child, personality structures, character, inner team, ego, … or others that work with the same circular (il)logic?

Inner concepts all work in the same way:

  • Your behavior is steered or at least influenced by
  • this hidden “thing” in you, e.g. the unconscious or the ego, that
  • is not accessible by us
  • and since we have no direct access to it our behavior is proof that it is there.

“What’s wrong with that?”, you might ask.

This circular logic – Your behavior is steered by something hidden in you and therefore your behavior is proof of its existence – is exactly how the logic of Ulf works: He steers us, but since he is hidden and not accessible our behavior is proof of his existence.

Somehow, we seem to believe in some tautological concepts, but not in others.

3. Tautologies (logic) and inner concepts

In logic, a tautology is a formula or assertion that is always true, in every possible interpretation. The sentence “The ball is there or not there.” is always true. The sentence is true no matter where the ball is. And even if there were no ball, the sentence would be true. The sentence cannot be denied. And since it cannot be denied, the assertion cannot be proven wrong. It is always true, no matter what.

In modern science however, ever since Karl Popper, an Austrian-British philosopher and professor, we want to be able to empirically test a theory and see if it is right or wrong. And if it is wrong, we then adapt the theory. To be able to do this, a theory needs to be falsifiable. That means that there must be a possibility that it can also be wrong. It does not make sense to test a theory that cannot be wrong to find out if it’s true or false. For Popper what is unfalsifiable is unscientific, and declaring an unfalsifiable theory to be scientifically true is pseudoscience. If an assertion cannot be proven wrong, it is merely a matter of belief. We either believe in it or not.

All inner concepts have a circular logic. They are tautological and can therefore never be proven wrong. Try to falsify inner concepts. It cannot be done, because their logic is built in a way that they cannot be falsified:

  • The unconscious e.g., hidden inside you, steers your behavior, and your behavior is proof of its existence. No matter how you behave, you can never proof that the unconscious is not there. Like Ulf, it’s just a matter of belief.
  • Let’s look e.g. at personality structures. Tests that assess personality structures evaluate your behavior, how you do things or how you fill out the test form, and then they “invent” an inner personality structure, hidden in you, with which they predict your future behavior. When you then behave differently than predicted, they will tell you that your personality structure changed. With this setup it’s impossible to proof that there is no personality structure inside of you.
  • Ego is a great example too. No matter how you behave, this inner hidden thing called ego, is always there. It’s just more or less dominant. There is no way of falsifying this concept. Due to the circular logic it’s impossible to say there is no such thing as an ego inside of us.

Try to falsify other inner concepts like character, your inner child or inner team or others. Or try to falsify Ulf. You will not succeed. They are tautologies. They are all, like the example of Ulf shows, made up stuff with a circular logic. And some people tend to believe in them and others not. Nothing more and nothing less.

4. Probabilities or could Ulf still be there?

“But if they can’t be falsified, that doesn’t mean that they still could be there and work like that?”, you might reply. That’s true. It is however highly unlikely or (nearly) impossible. Imagine how many inner concepts with a circular logic you could come up with. There are infinite possibilities. You could invent limitless other forms of Ulfs or inner structures. And since there are infinite possibilities, the probability of being true is 0, and thus (nearly) impossible. That means that Ulf, the unconscious, ego, or any other inner concept could be there and work like that, but it’s highly unlikely or even more, it’s (nearly)[1] impossible

5. The absurd belief in inner concepts

I made up Ulf, others made up the other inner concepts. They can all never be proven wrong and thus can’t scientifically be tested. It’s just a matter of belief. And since there are infinite possibilities of inner concepts, they have a probability of 0 to be true and are thus (nearly) impossible.

Would you advise someone to bet on an event with 0 probability? Probably not. You might even call it absurd to belief in something, like Ulf, that is made up and can never be proven right or wrong. And it’s the same with every other inner concept.

And still many people let these made up circular inner concepts influence their lives quite a lot. They treat those tautological ideas as if they were real things living in us. And there is a whole armada of professionals who want you to believe in those. However more people believing in inner concepts don’t make them more probable or even true.

In Solution Focus we don’t focus on made up stuff inside of someone. We do something different. We focus on the interaction between people. The interaction you can see. Here you can come up with a theory and test it [2]. And if it’s proven wrong, you can adjust it or come up with another theory. Nothing hidden needed.

 

[1]An event with a probability of 0 could still occur. Therefore I call it (nearly) impossible and not impossible.

[2]Listen e.g. to this episode of our SIMPLY FOCUS Podcast with Janet Bavelas about Microanalysis of face-to-face dialogue.

2 Comments

  1. SF on Tour mit Elfie Czerny & Dominik Godat

    from Ingrid Reisch: Your inspiration makes me want to add some thougths and I wonder what for. Of course the reason can not be that I follow any inner concepts . But I meet many people who express themselves with the help of inner expressions/ concepts. So if your Ulf would have a bad time we could explore what would be different for you if your Ulf is better. How would others recognize ,… I agree that a lot of inner concepts for me don´t make sense. For example things get even more complicated if you start to talk about a problem with the concept of an inner team, .. .So if we could make these inner concept as simple as one little Ulf … May the the point is not that the inner concepts are absurd like an inner Ulf – it seems to me, that most of the time they are complicated and therefore make a good impression but they don´t help, the mess gets even bigger
    Thoughts in Progress –
    Thank you for your inspiriation and have a nice day

    Reply
    • SF on Tour mit Elfie Czerny & Dominik Godat

      Thank you, dear Ingrid, for your great comment. I like you saying that it makes things more complicated and with inner concepts the mess gets even bigger. I completely agree. And I think it’s worthwhile to distinguish who is talking about that: 1.) Is it the client’s perception in a conversation (And yes, clients might talk to us in that way how they perceive their inner. And that is very reasonable. ) or 2.)Is it some “expert”, e.g. a practitioner, a scientist or philosopher etc., talking about how the world or how the (e.g. coaching/therapy) practice works. My aim is to make the second group think about their construction of the world. And I firmly believe when “experts” stop this inner bullshit and start talking about other more logical concepts, that then our clients will follow and their descriptions will change. What do you think about that?

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest