Landmark Forum: a religiobiological perspective (III)

We complete our three-part examination of Landmark Forum from the religiobiological perspective (Part I, Part II), wherein we ponder the plausibility of Landmark’s efficaciousness based on the neurotheological or religiobiological assumption: that religious experience and development is correlated with biology and/or neurology.

Body-mind aspects. The religiobiological assumption would lead us to expect religions and personal development programs to be more effective to the extent they address the body side of the body-mind issue. This could range from rules or practices for eating, to various forms of physical practice. Zen, for instance, has its kinhin walking meditation, as well as its ōryōki eating system. A high level of religious or personal development would seem to be impossible without a smooth integration of body and mind, and thus we would expect the religion or program to talk about it or address it through its practices.

Landmark Forum completely ignores the body side of the equation. Of course, so do many other religions and systems, but the fact remains that here, at least, we find no particular support for Landmark’s promised effectiveness.

Philosophy. I’ll go out on a limb here and attempt to summarize the Landmark philosophy.

  1. People form and then get stuck in suboptimal identities and worldviews.
  2. The present contains the seeds of myriad possibilities.
  3. Language creates reality.
  4. Things are meaningless.

Philosophy—we could equally well call it ideology, or theology, or theory—forms an integral part of most religious frameworks, although in some, like Zen, it plays a lesser role. It can serve as a a guidepost and motivator and provide context to experiential development. From a religiobiological standpoint, philosophy per se is suspect in terms of its religious effect since its higher-level cortical impact is unlikely to (or we don’t know how it might) lead to any long-term changes in neurobiological structure. In order for it to be an effective part of the religion or system, at a minimum it needs to be sustained and highly coherent and targeted.

In Landmark’s case, the teaching of the philosophy is not sustained, by definition, since the program lasts only three days, although there are a number of follow-on programs. Nor, in spite of my basic sympathy for the four points above, is it coherent or targeted. It’s more like an appetizer platter.

Although it’s not my role here to critique the Landmark philosophy, I do have to object to or comment on some of these ponits.

Point 1—that people form and become prisoners of their identity and concepts—is hardly new, but certainly worthwhile to present, especially to a demographic that probably has spent little or no time pondering such things. But Landmark presents this in a vacuum, the entire discussion assuming a disembodied “I” outside the process that is apparently free of misshapen identities but explored no further.

Point 2—that language creates reality (this is not my interpretation—Landmark itself says “language may in fact be what brings that world into being”)—is actually wrong. Doubtless language is a powerful instrument for channeling and reinforcing ideas, and calling attention to that fact is useful. But as a Go player, for instance, I know the sequence of moves I plan in my mind is perfectly real, long before it takes any linguistic form, if indeed it ever does.

Point 4—that nothing means anything—is startling in the lack of connection to anything else coming before or after it on the platter. And given Landmark’s focus on terminology, or “distinctions”, it’s doubly odd that they would present this as the linchpin of their philosophy without bothering to talk about what “meaning” means.

Summary. From the religiobiological standpoint, we find nothing in particular about the Landmark program that would indicate it’s likely to be effective.

So why, to revisit the issue raised in our second post, do so many people feel they have benefited from programs such as Landmark Forum? One commentator sums it up well:

The programs have given people a positive direction and focus, and surrounded them with like-minded folks for reinforcement. They have helped them achieve peace of mind or to accomplish goals they had been unable to accomplish heretofore. They have helped with personal relationships with spouses and children or helped them justify getting out of relationships with their friends and family. The program has forced them to be more self-conscious, forced them to think and examine their lives, something most people don’t do on an ordinary Tuesday. Any time a rational person reflects on his or her life, or on some of the bigger issues in life, it feels good or it puts things in perspective. Either way, it is usually satisfying.

In other words, even if you interpret my three-part analysis as weakening Landmark’s claim to being effective (as opposed to the alternative, namely weakening the religiobiological assumption), Landmark seems to be a perfectly good program for a certain category of people and is almost certainly worth the time and money for them.

Recap. Below I bring together the six aspects that I identified in this series as being relevant in examining any framework from the religiobiological stance.

  1. Talking (vs. doing). What is the balance between talking/preaching and doing?
  2. Language (terminology). Does the system define and use a coherent terminology mapping to its worldview and practices?
  3. Practice. Is there a structured, regular practice which would correlate to long-term neurobiological development?
  4. Therapy. Does the system deal, directly or indirectly, with traumatic or damaging life experiences which can hinder early stages of development?
  5. Body-mind aspects. Does the system address the body side of the body-mind equation?
  6. Philosophy. Is the philosophy coherent, targeted, and sustained?

Clearly, there is ample room to improve on this list.

5 Responses to “Landmark Forum: a religiobiological perspective (III)”

  1. MikeFrog Says:

    “In order for it [philosophy] to be an effective part of the religion or system, at a minimum it needs to be sustained and highly coherent and targeted.”

    Still with the assertions! What you say there may be true, but I didn’t see any argument or evidence for it.

    Rather than just introduce an asssumption like the above, and conclude that Landmark can’t be effective, even though it seems to be so—why not explicitly state that you are testing that assumption, observe that landmark appears to be effective, and conclude that your assumption must have been false?

    As the commentator you quoted said: “The program has forced them to be more self-conscious, forced them to think and examine their lives”—and it seems to have helped, even over a couple of days. SO the question I’d be really interested in investigating is, how brief can an “enlightening” or a “conversion” or just an “important” moment be? Can one change one’s life in a few moments of revelation, with exactly the right input and help, or is it, as your stance seemed to assume, necessary to work on it over a very extended period?

  2. Missing old Friends Says:

    About nine years ago I had two friends go head-over-heals for Landmark. I noticed ‘the change’ after they attended the second 3-day in-service. After that second time, both of them returned, smiling like jackals. They became unable to distinguish reality from illusion. Everything that bothered them in the past that was once a topic of conversation was forever off limits. The pregnancy scare – the cancer diagnosis – hey those things didn’t really happen, right?

    My friends were clean and new and reborn into “myriad” possibilities.

    I hope that getting jobs in Denver fulfilled this new reality, because that’s what they did. To me, that endeavor is nothing more than growing up, getting a life, bringing home the bacon etc. They just got steady jobs and bought a house. Standard stuff.

    Over the years the two of them have pumped hundreds of dollars into this group-think. When I do speak to them (not often) their narratives are still loaded with Landmark buzz words and terminology.
    What a waste.

  3. David Maciewski Says:

    A couple of months ago I had an acquaintance in a circle of friends invite me to attend an orientation and I did. My intuition from material given at the first session was that the focus was radically decontextualizing of a person’s life. Since then thoughts that have come up is that the “I don’t know what I don’t know” is phenomenological absurdity(as in a better bet is “It’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know that isn’t so.”) It occured to me that the idea that language creates reality is implausible and smacks of something like Descartes. When one with some ounce of integrity(which Landmark touts as being so important) they would have to look at it’s founder(Werner) and shake their heads and wonder. Both from the first introduction I attended(by a marketing firm manager who buys hot tubs or something like that when she breaks up with a boyfriend) to the polished company exec who gave a presentation, what with all of the hand clapping, felt like sitting on an infomercial, I couldn’t help but conclude that it is money-making scheme that offers people the solipsistic euphoria to go out and make some more dough, some of it hopefully to benefit the organization. Pardon the long, disconnected rant, I just gave $100 for a deposit on a Forum that I am going to lose, but just wanted to thank you for your exploration on its effectiveness.

  4. TRM Says:

    Here is a link to six lectures in Neurotheology.

    These talks cover a wide range of subjects, including Persinger’s “God Helmet” (actually the Koren Helmet).

  5. mike Says:

    A friend and I were invited to a “party” that turned out to be a sales pitch for the Forum. The speaker sat up on a tall director’s chair just as shown in an undercover video of a weekend Forum “seminar”. The rest of us had to sit on low seats and listen to ridiculous claims of checks arriving miraculously in the mail after taking the seminar. Finally my friend was asked to share if he would commit to attended, and he said, “I’m scared to say.” And the speaker said, “What, do I intimidate you?” And my friend shouted, “Hell, yes, you’re sitting up there in that all chair like you’re some expert and we’re all sitting way down here!” It was perfect. All of the other people that were uncomfortable with the manipulation but afraid to say something got up and made polite exits.

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