Article Categories
[ Show ] All [ Hide ]
Clean Language
Article Selections
[ Show ] All [ Hide ]

First presented to The Developing Group, 7 June 2003

Multiple Perceptions, Perspectives and Perceivers

Penny Tompkins and James Lawley

In the notes for April 2003's Developing Group day we quoted Ken Wilber saying that:

"the first two important truths of postmodernism [that we construct reality and that meaning is context-dependent] mean a multiperspective approach to reality is called for."

And this is the subject of June's Developing Group day.

Wilber goes on to say:

Any single perspective is likely to be partial, limited, perhaps even distorted, and only by taking multiple perspectives and multiple contexts can the knowledge quest be fruitfully advanced.  And that 'diversity' is the third important truth of general postmodernism.

Jean Gebser coined the term integral-aperspectival to refer to this pluralistic or multiple-perspectives view, which I also refer to as vision-logic or network-logic.  "Aperspectival" means that no single perspective is unduly privileged, and thus, in order to gain a more holistic or integral view, we need an aperspectival approach.  

Gebser contrasted integral-aperspectival cognition with formal rationality, which tends to take a single, monological perspective and view all of reality through that narrow lens.  Where perspectival reason privileges the exclusive perspective of the particular subject, vision-logic adds up all the perspectives, privileging none, and thus attempts to grasp the integral, the whole, the multiple contexts within contexts that endlessly disclose the Kosmos, not in a rigid or absolutist fashion, but in a fluidly holonic and multidimensional tapestry.

Gebser believed that vision-logic was an evolutionary development beyond monological rationality.  Many schools of transpersonal psychology and sociology, see dialectical vision-logic as a higher and more embracing mode of reason. (The Marriage of Sense and Soul, p. 124-125)

Definitions and Distinctions

The first important distinction to make is between a 'perception', a 'perspective'
and a 'perceiver'. In Symbolic Modelling:

A perception is that which is perceived. The experiential outcome of the
process of perceiving.

A perspective is "1. A mental view, a cognitive orientation, a way of seeing a situation or a scene. 2. The arrangement of the parts of a whole scene as viewed from some conceptual, physical or temporal vantage point." (Penguin Dictionary of Psychology, 1995)

A perceiver is a symbol with a point of perceiving/perspective that has two special

Perceivers (by definition) have a means of perceiving.
Perceivers (almost always) have intentionality.

Note, a perceiver can take any form that is capable of perception:
e.g. A younger/older self, another person (living or dead), a fictional character, an inanimate object, an abstract concept, etc. etc.
[See Metaphors in Mind, pages 122-123, 126-128, 142 and 197]

The key is to notice where your attention is directed to by these definitions:

 A perception goes TO the perceived, while a perspective comes FROM the perceiver.

We can have multiple perceptions, multiple perspectives, and multiple perceivers:

Multiple perceptions - One perceiver noticing different perceptions from the same perspective:

 I see a cat.
 I see a dog.

 Same perceiver, perceiving different forms
I remember Paris.
I remember New York.

 Same perceiver, perceiving different locations
I've learnt in the past.
I can learn in the future.
 Same perceiver, perceiving different times

Multiple perspectives - One perceiver using different means of perceiving,
and/or from different locations or times to gain different perspectives:

 I see a cat.
 I feel a cat.

 Same perceiver, using different means of perceiving
I see the cat from in front.
I see the cat from behind.

 Same perceiver, from different locations
When I was young I would have said something else.  Same perceiver, perceiving from different times

Multiple perceivers - Different perceivers with different perspectives:

I [James] see the cat.

I [Penny] see the cat.

I [the cat] see Penny and James.

It is, of course, possible to have all sorts of combinations of multiple perceivers, using multiple means of perceiving, from multiple locations, perceiving multiple perceptions.

As multiple perceptions are relatively commonplace and the ways to explore and encourage them are well documented, on the day we will concentrate on multiple perspectives and multiple perceivers.
Multiple perspectives bestow great advantages. Most of the Strategies of Genius
modelled by Robert Dilts included multiple perspectives:

An important characteristic of genius is the ability to entertain several different perspectives of a particular subject or process.  Genius often comes from finding a new perspective that no one else has taken.  Leonardo, in fact, equated "knowledge" with having at least three different views of a particular object or phenomenon.  Einstein's theory of relativity is in its essence a description of the interaction between different perspectives.  Freud's analytic methods ... were designed to find details that did not fit with traditional perspectives, in order to find a completely new point of view. (p. 391, Vol. III).

But they also have their disadvantages:
  • Too many and complexity increases exponentially.
  • Insufficient links between perspectives and communication between perceivers can reduce integration.
  • Incongruence (Sequential or Simultaneous) between perspectives and perceivers can lead to confusion, conflict, and binding patterns.
Almost all forms of psychology make use of the notion of multiple perceivers,they just use different metaphors to label them:

Psychoanalysis Freud id, ego, superego
Transactional Analysis
Berne ego states (parent, adult, child)
Family Systems
Satir parts parties and Satir Categories
Gestalt Therapy Pearls top dog/underdog
Psychosynthesis Assagioli sub-personalities
Psychopathology   dissociative disorders/multiple personalities
NLP   perceptual positions and parts

Gregory Bateson often used the metaphor of binocular vision to extol the advantages of multiple perspectives.  It's important to note that while having two viewpoints has its benefits, the real advantage comes with being able to take both viewpoints and create something new, i.e. depth perception.  Or, in the words of Ken Wilber, "to transcend AND include" both perceptions.  In this way multiple viewpoints, ambiguities and contradictions do not necessarily need to be resolved but can be modelled instead. They can be recognised as inherent and a product of certain perspectives at particular levels of organisation.

A shift in perspective can occur in two ways:

A change to the perspective of an existing perceiver
A change to another perceiver.

Indications of these changes are:
  • A change in location of the point of perception (where perceiving from)
  • A change in form (e.g. age, relative scale, knowledge, intention)
  • A change to a means of perceiving (e.g. seeing to feeling)
As a general rule, a change of perceiver is always accompanied by a change in the point of perception i.e. the location from where the perceiver perceives from.  An exception to this is where a perceiver 'grows up' in the same location.

Different parts of the body can indicate multiple perceivers simultaneously.  For example a client can be describing an experience in words from one perspective while their nonverbals indicate a different perspective/perceiver. Often clients' unconsciously act out what they are describing as an observer (see Metaphors in Mind p. 126 for an example).

And to quote from p. 296 of Metaphors in Mind:

In the world of metaphor, rather than thinking in the traditional psychological terms of 'association' or 'dissociation', it is more useful to consider 'where is the perceiver perceiving from', and 'what is their means of perceiving' (as the perceiver will always be 'associated' into a symbolic form, and perceiving from a place in perceptual space).

Two advantages of thinking of perceivers in the Symbolic Modelling way are:
  • They are defined by the experience of the client themselves (rather than an observer labelling it with their metaphor).
  • It recognises that there are many, often subtle, ways for a person to experience multiple perceivers and perspectives.
Further information can be found in the article, "The Perceivers", produced by The Metaphor and Clean Language Research Group and published in Rapport, Issue 57, Autumn 2002

Finally, David Grove's latest process, Clean Space directs the client to both identify multiple perspectives (spaces) and repeatedly revisit them.


In a group of three. A is the client, B is the facilitator and C is record client information using the following form. C notes down under the relevant column for each perceiver:

Who they are - their name
What they are perceiving - the perceived
How they are perceiving - the means
Where they are perceiving from - the point of perception
What they would like to have happen - their intention

Name of Perceiver
Name of Perceived

Means of Perceiving
Point of Perspective

Intention of Perceiver


How does this inform you about how the client is organising their inner world?

If you want to do this activity on your own then use a transcript or an audio/video recording of a Symbolic Modelling session and complete the form yourself.

Penny Tompkins & James Lawley
Penny and James are supervising neurolinguistic psychotherapists – registered with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy since 1993 – coaches in business, certified NLP trainers, and founders of The Developing Company.

They have provided consultancy to organisations as diverse as GlaxoSmithKline, Yale University Child Study Center, NASA Goddard Space Center and the Findhorn Spiritual Community in Northern Scotland.

Their book,
Metaphors in Mind
was the first comprehensive guide to Symbolic Modelling using the Clean Language of David Grove. An annotated training DVD, A Strange and Strong Sensation demonstrates their work in a live session. They have published over 200 articles and blogs freely available on their website:
Other related articles
 »  Home  »  Models and Theory  »  Models of Perception  »  Multiple Perceptions, Perspectives and Perceivers
 »  Home  »  The Developing Group  »  Multiple Perceptions, Perspectives and Perceivers
Article Options

Taste of


What's Emerging?

10-11 June 2017

West Kirby, UK

view all featured events