Sheppard, Simon : The Tyranny of Ambiguity

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An Account of the Development of a System of Human Behaviour Analysis called
Procedural Analysis

Preface to the paperback Edition

‘The closer you sail to the wind, the faster you go.’ This was the case when I undertook the investigations documented in this book, for I was certainly skirting the threshold of safety for myself. They don’t seem to have done me, personally, much good at all. After a shaky start though, that ceased to be my intention. As I say early on, you are never alone with a problem, and the challenge became to understand how Western societies can thrive on male efforts yet so thoroughly dismiss male needs and concerns. These are not problems which can be remedied by one man alone. The object – if not at first, then it became so – was to discover how men have been manipulated into the position in which they now find themselves. Mine is a small sacrifice if that is achieved.

This book came about through a very unusual combination of circumstances. The Dutch encouraged unreserved openness in a culture in which it was said “Alles kan” – Everything is possible, anything goes. Revisiting this text, I confess that I would find some of the accounts difficult to believe had I not been there myself. I suppose the reader can fall back on Orwell’s dictum, that autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. My occasional mental fragility is nothing to be proud of, though to have achieved so much in spite of it, is. Perhaps it even helped in some way. I think the only person who was harmed by these investigations was me. It is not merely in jest that I say that these investigations were Pavlovian and I was the dog.
Many of the experiences detailed in these pages were arduous, even traumatic. Reading for a paper on neurosis I came across an unusual trial from 1964. Some men, hospitalised for alcoholism, volunteered for an experiment. After presentation of a 600Hz tone on its own several times, the test group heard the tone and were then administered Scoline, which caused respiratory paralysis lasting about 100 seconds. Every one of the subjects was petrified, believing they were going to die. Some of the men ran away immediately afterward, no doubt to the nearest pub for a stiff drink!

It was a classic Pavlovian experiment of conditioned responses, using a polygraph to measure stress. When the researchers attempted to extinguish the conditioned response however (sounding the tone without application of Scoline), instead of diminishing, the fear which had been instilled in the men actually increased. It was reported that even 300 subsequent trials with the tone failed to diminish the polygraph response.
According to Eysenck this is incubation, the opposite of extinction, and it involves the same kind of conditioning as in sexual neurosis. (See J. J. Plaud, ‘Pavlov and the Foundation of Behavior Therapy’ in The Spanish Journal of Psychology, 2003, for an overview and references.) I quote this not just because it was an interesting experiment, but because it illustrates how extraordinarily persistent neurosis can be. Yet it seems that contemporary psychologists have practically abandoned the concept.

As a model for human behaviour, Procedural Analysis has stood up remarkably well – if it had been successfully challenged and found to be inconsistent as a theoretical model I would have had to recant. This account of its origins may be one of the frankest and most honest revelations of inner thoughts ever published. Maybe if it had not had to be self-published some parts would have been omitted, under the advice of an editor, but I did not have that luxury. Editing it, one’s own work, was one of the hardest things I have ever done. This new paperback edition follows from the second hardback edition, with a few minor amendments.

Paperback edition 2019, ( First published 2002, second hardback edition 2013)
Copyright © Simon G. Sheppard 2002
ISBN 978 1 901240 35 1