Landmark Forum: a religiobiological perspective (I)

Does Landmark Forum seem likely to affect your brain? If so, how? This question is an example of the religiobiological stance , an approach for analyzing phenomena related to religion. (“Religion” here has a broad interpretation which encompasses the personal growth that Landmark claims to enable.) If we can identify ways in which Landmark could affect your brain, that makes it more plausible that it actually does have a long-term impact on behavior or happiness, and of course the converse is true as well.

We will split this analysis into two posts.

The Landmark Forum is a three-day seminar, put on by Landmark Education, which claims to be specifically designed to bring about positive and permanent shifts in the quality of your life. These shifts, it says, will be the direct cause for a new and unique kind of freedom and power. 94% of participants surveyed said The Landmark Forum made a profound, lasting difference in the way they live their lives. Nearly a million people are said to have undergone the training. Landmark Education offers a number of other follow-up programs, but here we will confine ourselves to the Forum.

Let’s jump right in and take the religiobiological stance in addressing some of the major aspects of the Landmark Forum.

Talking. Although the Landmark website characterizes the forum as a “conversation” or even a Socratic dialog, rather than a “lecture”, in fact the 45 hours or so are dominated by the facilitator (picture is of Jerry Baden) talking at the 200 or so attendees. It’s actually jarring to some extent, to hear the leader announce that he is going to have a “conversation” and then proceed to talk for the next 15 minutes.

The talking is occasionally interrupted by questions from other attendees, or by quick interludes of sharing with surrounding participants.

In general, mere talking is a very poor bet for causing any meaningful neurostructural changes, even when the person doing the talking is an engaging, charismatic speaker as all Forum leaders are, unless it is talking about something of huge emotional significance. Therefore, Landmark’s focus on one-way oral communication would argue against its potential effectiveness, from the religiobiological stance.

Language . Throughout the Forum new terminology is introduced, such as “get it” for in-depth and/or visceral understanding; “racket” for repetitive, self-defeating behavior patterns; “possibility” for seeds of future potentiality embedded in the present; and “distinguishing” for identifying and highlighting a useful concept.

In my opinion, the centrality of language processing in the higher human brain layers is such that new terminology can, in fact, act as a lens leading to new modes of perception and consequent neurological change. Unfortunately, Landmark’s new terminology is both piecemeal and overused to the point of meaninglessness. For instance, “distinction” is used for any old concept. Taking the religiobiological stance, then, the promise offered by Landmark’s new terminology to correlate to neuroplastic events remains unfulfilled.

Practice. One way to apply the religiobiological stance is to start with known ways to affect neurophysiology and see if the phenomenon being examined might contain anything related. The single most well-known way to change your brain in a religiously meaningful way is some sort of sustained meditation, concentration, or mindfulness.

We see nothing even vaguely reminiscent of such a practice in Landmark, either done within the seminar or taught to participants to do on their own later. The only part of the Forum that has meditational tinges to it is a single exercise involving closing your eyes and experiencing fear. Adopting the religiobiological stance in looking at Landmark, then, we find no ongoing exercises of the type that could be expected to reliably result in structural changes in the brain.

We will continue this discussion in the next post.

4 Responses to “Landmark Forum: a religiobiological perspective (I)”

  1. Mikefrog Says:

    I have not attended any Landmark training and I’m not aware of knowing anyone who has, so I have no first hand knowledge.
    However, if as you say, 94% of attenders experience profound and lasting effects, and your criteria suggest that there should not be any, then it’s the criteria that need revising?

    For example, you assert (without further evidence or reasons given in this piece) that “talking is a very poor bet for causing any meaningful neurostructural changes” – are you sure? I’m sure I learned a few things that way…

  2. Scott Greiff Says:

    As I have taken the Landmark Forum, I for one agree with Mikefrog’s perception that this piece lacks context. Not only does it lack context, but it lacks detail.

    While one could argue that there’s a lot of presentation from the front of the room, you left out the part that another central tennant of the course is that the participants get involved by examining their own lives and put all the “talk” into practice.

    As for your definition of “practice” being “sustained meditation, concentration, or mindfulness,” the Landmark Forum may not be about meditation, but it’s all about concentration and mindfulness. While you could sit in a cave and stare at the wall until your arms and legs fall off, I would argue that mindfulness and conversation is the most effective path to making a significant change in your “mind.”

  3. Supersonic Says:

    I have just completed the Landmark Course and I found it inspiring and life changing. There are no funny tricks to it and no one is forced to do anything but think, share and be willing to change perspective.

    We have been so brainwashed by media and those around us about what life is all about but do we criticise the ad agencies bombarding us with what we should have in life, who we should be or how we should act? Do we question the things said by those we love that shape the view we have of ourselves?

    Nothing said in the Landmark is new. It is a collection of ideas and concepts of what we knew before we actually were brainwashed. It’s like paint stripper to the nonsense we have painted on our minds of as I said earlier, who we think we should be, how we think we are supposed to act or what we think we need in life in order to be happy.

    I would recommend anyone I know to do this course. I bet the same people who think that is brainwashes people are the same people who think humans came from monkeys. No offense to anyone and if that is what you think then that is what you think or shall I say that is what you believe you should be thinking.

  4. Numenware, a blog about neurotheology » Blog Archive » Landmark Forum: a religiobiological perspective (III) Says:

    […] 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 […]

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