Multiple perceptions, perspectives and perceivers

A postmodern approach to subjective reality
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Presented to The Developing Group 7 Jun 2003

This year we will explore six aspects of the philosophical basis for Symbolic Modelling:

Multiple Perspectives
Developmental perspective
It’s happening now

These six aspects are highly interconnected and form part of a larger ‘cosmology’. Our purpose in constructing such a cosmology is to enhance your ability to facilitate others to self-model their own constructs and to evolve in ways that are aligned with their system’s natural development. Our aim is to operate out of constructs that are sufficiently flexible, open, inclusive and responsive that they enable us to:

  • minimally contaminate the client’s perceptions
  • be maximally informed by the client’s language and behaviour
  • construct a model that is maximally isomorphic with the client’s model
  • retain our own independence and integrity.

3. Multiple perspectives

In the notes for the April 2003 Developing Group day on constructivism we quoted Ken Wilber:

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 a multi-perspective approach 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 attributes:

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.

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, we will concentrate on investigating multiple perspectives and multiple perceivers.

Advantages and Disadvantages

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.

Multiple Models 

Almost all forms of psychology make use of the notion of multiple perceivers, they just use different metaphors to label them:

PsychoanalysisFreudid, ego, superego
Transactional AnalysisBerneego states (parent, adult, child)
Family SystemsSatirparts parties and Satir Categories
Gestalt TherapyPearlstop dog/underdog
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: Client; Facilitator and Observer who records the client information using the following form. Note 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.

* Postscript 28 Jan 2024

Christian Knudsen has suggested a third way:

“I could suggest ADDING a perspective to an existing perceiver as a separate way of doing it. That could also be called a “different perspective” but I think there is a distinct difference?”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
body * { color: inherit !important; }