Coming down to earth

Well it probably won’t surprise you but having completed Part 1 of the DProf I have withdrawn from Middlesex University. In my email I said that it had not been a very enjoyable 18-months, which since April is a very big understatement. Firstly, since they merged all Administration, it’s been terrible: Two of three submissions since April might still be sitting waiting if I had not phoned up and asked what was happening with them.

Second, the conduct of the people in the presentation was the final straw for me. I am still not sure how raising your eyebrows is an acceptable response to someone attempting to put across their case when ‘questioned’. Maybe it’s because ‘questioned’ is a term which I use loosely in this context: Judgmental statements with question marks seemed to feature highly which is very threatening. To be honest, I don’t think they really wanted to hear an answer, it was more like a prod to get a reaction. So, there I am, needing them to ‘pass’ my project and wondering if they understand the phrase “a productive and informative session”. To add to the situation, the written feedback I received made me wonder if the submission had been read as two items stated as missing are there.

Well, it was very informative in that it informed me that I did not want to put up with this again and that my style is different to theirs. Also, it did get a response – as a customer I am not prepared to pay them to behave like that towards me – so I am off.

As a final laugh or cry, I had to email them to get them to process my withdrawal as they seemed to have not done that since they said they would. Well at least they are predictable. I’ll let you know what’s going to happen going forwards once that’s sorted.

Yesterday I read something that made me grimace. It was the phrase ‘neuro diversity’ which seems to be being used for grouping together dyslexia, autism, dyspraxia etc. It bought up for me my ‘old chestnut’ about ‘the self’, ‘this is who I am’, ‘out of character’, ‘the real me’ and ‘mini-selves’, etc as I think these are outdated thinking – we are all neuro diverse, every single person. From the point the egg is fertilised we are being shaped and we never stop being shaped by every moment we are alive as our synapses and chemicals are constantly changing, which all add up to changes in us. As a person, we have many many facets that could and will show up at any moment due to internal and external situational combinations.  So, it is always you, you are always you. It might not be an aspect of you, you see very often or have seen before but it is you. In ‘complex systems’ it seems that some aspects have a higher probability of happening and this is what I think we call ‘who I am’. And ‘out of character’ means we’re seeing an aspect of that person we don’t usually see but it is still part of them and who they are. The impact of all their years sits in front of me as a coach and although coaching is unlikely to explore much of that, it does influence the coaching. I feel we are a blend, a continuity, we are analogue rather than discrete, packaged or one thing. So, when a coachee does something ‘out of character’ I see that as glimpsing into another aspect of them and therefore, useful information.

I have also now read ‘The myth of mirror neurons’ by Gregory Hickok. It was not too technical and an enlightening read in getting me to think about the soundness of the research that is being done. I think it was the end of any glamour or dazzlement that I had for this area. And the media have a lot to answer for as well as they grab a glamour headline, forget its limitations and put it up as a miracle answer to something complex.

Anyway, mirror neurons. Way back I read Ramachandran’s book, which was great, except that he made what I thought was an irresponsible comment about an experimental observation involving mirror neurons. And I remember thinking at the time that mirror neurons just seemed to activate because they saw another monkey picking up a nut. Ramachandran interpreted it by saying it was if the monkey had mindread the other one’s intention. The debate appears to centre around whether mirror neurons give us understanding of the intentions of others. This book is a very well written account around which research results were ignored, how many conclusions seem to make a leap of connection and how a number of the arguments for mirror neurons are circular and underpin each other. Also, very interesting was how the training of the monkeys prior to the experiments and the setup of the experiments probably contributed to the results. The experiments seemed to test for what they were looking for and did not appear to test for variations or to disprove their theories. For example, in the training and experiment set-up the monkeys saw the people pick up food and bring it to the mouth a lot. Hickok talks about the conditional training that this would have created and the fact that if there was food the experimenters always picked it up and brought it to the mouth.

He then goes on to discuss where mirror neurons do seem to help us. Imitation, which is what mirror neurons do a lot, is important as we learn so much through it quickly. Also, he says that we respond during movement better than we should be able to therefore mirror neurons maybe part of a feedforward system which allows us to adjust movement by predicting where we’ll end up and where we need to end up.

Lots of food for reflection.