I have often heard people say, "Biogenetic structuralism sounds all well and good, but how do you DO biogenetic structuralism?" This is a question that is easier asked than answered, for biogenetic structuralism is a synthetic theory of human consciousness and culture, and is therefore really a set of theories. And because most of the theories making up the grand perspective are theories about the relationship between the cognizing brain and reality, the entire perspective is in the most abstract sense "methodological."

It used to be much more straightforward to address methodology in science. That is because people believed that the neopositivist account of things was an accurate picture of how science operates (see Suppe 1977). Science, according to the positivist account, was a process of confirming or disconfirming theories about reality. Theories were sets of propositions constructed in natural language or mathematical symbolism. At least part of the theory was about non-observables. Sets of propositions about the world that were totally observable were called "empirical generalizations" or descriptions. Theories were about hidden causation. Because they were about hidden causes, and thus could not be confirmed by simply looking and seeing for yourself, it was necessary to deductively draw hypotheses from the theories that are in fact observable. If the hypotheses turn out to be the case, then observations add credence to the theories. If the hypotheses turned out to be false, then the theories from which they were deduced were also disconfirmed.

As I say, the positivist picture of how science proceeds was all nice and neat and straightforward. And, of course, part of the neatness was in the fact that one's ontology (what one claims to know) didn't get all mixed up with one's epistemology (how one comes to know what one claims to know). Positivism took care of the epistemology -- which for quite a while was considered non- problematic -- so all you had to do was follow the recipe and, voila!, you produced good, sound scientific knowledge.

The trouble is, science does not, nor has it ever actually been carried out in the nice neat way that the positivist account would have us believe. Actually, the positivist view was more like a rationalization (or justification) of a much deeper, more mysterious and problematic process of discovery (Hanson 1958). Thomas Kuhn (see Suppe 1977) changed our view of science in a very radical way. Basically he showed that science is a social institution for the production of cultural knowledge with its attendant social organization, politics, economics, ego-centered decision making, and all the other aspects we as anthropologists have come to expect from human endeavour.

Most importantly for our purposes, Kuhn and others have demonstrated that our knowledge (ontology) and our methods (epistemology) are inextricably bound up as parts of the same process -- two sides of the coin, so to speak. What we claim to know about the world or ourselves entails how we come to know what we claim to know. An obvious example is that we cannot possibly know something that we are cognitively incapable of learning.

Indeed, from the biogenetic structural point of view, to have a human nervous system implies that we are already conditioned to know certain things, to be able to learn some things and not others, to be able to experience some things and not others. To have a human brain implies that we know what we know from a distinctly human point of view (see Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990: Chapter 12 on neuroepistemology). It doesn't matter what we claim to be studying, human neuroepistemology always conditions what and how we can know. So the methodological issues in any discipline inevitably come back to the same fundamental questions about how we as biological organisms grow or develop our knowledge within the constraints set by our genetic possibilities. This was Jean Piaget's lifelong quest, and his great contribution to epistemology (he called his perspective genetic epistemology; see Piaget 1971. 1977, 1980, 1985).

Methodology in Biogenetic Structuralism

Within this broad neuroepistemological understanding, biogenetic structural thought has delved into a number of methodological issues over the years. Keep in mind that our work has taken a quarter of a century to develop, and methodological issues have been discussed as they have arisen and are to be found scattered in a variety of places in our writings. Because separating knowledge from how knowledge is constructed is considered a false dichotomy, we nowhere solely address methodology, and almost everywhere touch on methodology to some extent. However, there are places in our literature where certain methodological issues are addressed more completely.

If you wish to read more that I have to say on methodological issues, click here . I go into far more detail on methodology in biogenetic structuralism in the self-guided tutorial . You may wish to continue on here to a bibliography of our own and related writings. If you are interested in neuroepistemology generally, the I would suggest you consult Laughlin and d'Aquili 1974, Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990. But if you have more particular concerns, then I would suggest the following categories and references:

Biology, culture and consciousness

Integrating a biology of knowledge into cultural studies of symbolism and learning (also the mind-body problem), see Laughlin 1989a, 1991, Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990: Chapter 1, Rubinstein, Laughlin and McManus 1984. On the concept of neurognosis, see Laughlin 1996d.

Biophysical and quantum dimensions

Integrating biophysical and quantum physical data and insights into biogenetic structural models, see Laughlin 1996d, n.d.a, Laughlin and McManus 1995.

Philosophy of science

For general philosophy of science issues relative to how science occurs and what science is relative to human cognition, see Rubinstein, Laughlin and McManus 1984.

Designing a biogenetic structural project

How a biogenetic structural research project is designed, especially related to ritual. How to operationalize concepts so that they do not in principle exclude relevant biological, ethological and comparative neurological data, see d'Aquili, Laughlin and McManus 1979:Chapter 1.

Bridging levels of systems

For the Rule of Minimal Inclusion, see Rubinstein and Laughlin 1977, Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990:17, Rubinstein, Laughlin and McManus 1984:93. The Rule states that any explanation of a behavior must take into account any and all levels of systemic organization efficiently present.


Contemplation (disciplined introspection, mature contemplation, phenomenological reduction) as a methodology, see Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990: Chapter 11, also see entire special issue of Zygon 28(2) in 1993.


Phenomenology as an important tool in anthropology and science, see Laughlin 1996a.


Neurophenomenology -- that is, methodology of wedding information about the brain and information gleaned from direct introspection -- see Laughlin 1996b, Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990.

Transpersonal experience

Methodology of, or techniques leading to transpersonal experiences (transpersonal anthropological methodology), see Laughlin 1989b, 1989c, 1994a, Laughlin, McManus and Shearer 1983, Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990:18.

Thick participation

Specifically pertaining to "thick participation" (Brian Given's term; see Given 1993) as a methodology in transpersonal anthropology, see Laughlin . By thick participation is meant participation in the native system to the extent of attaining the essential and apodeictic insights upon which the native cosmology is grounded. See Laughlin 1994a, 1994c.

Evidence and belief

On the relationship between evidence or experience and beliefs about the world or self (also the relationship between meaning and truth), see Laughlin 1992.


For the Rule of Multiple Interpretation, see Laughlin 1994c:121. The Rule states that all experiences, including all intuitive insights and all transpersonal experiences, are amenable to multiple interpretations. Put negatively, the rule states: There is no such thing as an experience or an intuition that admits of only one interpretation.


On the epistemological problem of absolute certainty of intuition, knowledge and interpretation in experience, especially transpersonal experience, see Laughlin 1994c.


The problem of intuition, and how intuition relates to other kinds of knowing (ratiocination, reason, language), see Laughlin 1996a.

Fuzzy categories

Fuzziness of semantic boundaries in natural categories and knowledge; fuzzy set theory in ethnological methods, see Laughlin 1993.

Radical empiricism

The relationship between biogenetic structuralism and William James' radical empiricism, see Laughlin and McManus 1995.


Archetypal knowledge, experiencing the archetypes, Jungian methodology and biogenetic structuralism, see Laughlin 1996c.


[Please Note: References to my writings with a `$' before them are available on the Selected Articles page of this homepage.]

D'Aquili, E.G., C.D. Laughlin and J. McManus (1979) The Spectrum of Ritual. New York: Columbia University Press.

Given, Brian (1993) "Zen Handgun: Sports, Ritual and Experience." Journal of Ritual Studies 7(1):139-161.

Hanson, N.R. (1958) Patterns of Discovery. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Laughlin, C.D. (1989a) "Brain, Culture and Evolution: Some Basic Issues in Neuroanthropology." in A Different Drummer (ed. by B. Cox et al.). Ottawa, Canada: Carleton University Press.

$ Laughlin, C.D. (1989b) "Transpersonal Anthropology: Some Methodological Issues." Western Canadian Anthropologist 5:29-60.

Laughlin, C.D. (1989c) "Transpersonal Anthropology: What Is It, and What Are the Problems We Face in Doing It?" in A Different Drummer, (ed. by B. Cox, V. Blundell, J. Chevalier). Carleton University Press, pp. 17-26.

$ Laughlin, C.D. (1991) "Pre- and Perinatal Brain Development and Enculturation: A Biogenetic Structural Approach." Human Nature 2(3):171-213.

Laughlin, C.D. (1992) "The Relationship Between Evidence and Belief" in Anomalous Experiences & Trauma (ed. by R.E. Laibow et al.) Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: The Center for Treatment and Research of Experienced Anomalous Trauma.

$ Laughlin, C.D. (1993) "Fuzziness and Phenomenology in Ethnological Research: Insights from Fuzzy Set Theory." Journal of Anthropological Research 49(1):17-37.

Laughlin, C.D. (1994a) "Psychic Energy and Transpersonal Experience: A Biogenetic Structural Account of the Tibetan Dumo Practice." in Being Changed by Cross-Cultural Encounters (ed. by D.E. Young and J.-G. Goulet). Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press.

Laughlin, C.D. (1994b) "On the Relationship Between Science and the Life-World: A Biogenetic Structural Theory of Meaning and Causation," in The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science. (Ed. by W. Harman and J. Clark). Institute of Noetic Sciences Books.

$ Laughlin, C.D. (1994c) "Apodicticity: The Problem of Absolute Certainty in Transpersonal Anthropology." Anthropology and Humanism 19(2):1-15.

Laughlin, C.D. (1996a) "The Nature of Intuition: A Neuropsychological Approach." in Intuition: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. (Ed. by Robbie Davis-Floyd and Sven Arvidson). Routledge (in press).

$ Laughlin, C.D. (1996b) "Phenomenological Anthropology." in Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology (ed. by D. Levinson and M. Ember). HRAF Press (in press)

Laughlin, C.D. (1996c) "Archetypes, Neurognosis and the Quantum Sea." Journal of Scientific Exploration (in press).

Laughlin, C.D. (1996d) "Properties of Neurognosis." Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems (in press).

Laughlin, C.D. (n.d.a) "The Trouble With Consciousness: A Neuro- Anthropological Perspective." (typescript only).

Laughlin, C.D. and E.G. d'Aquili (1974) Biogenetic Structuralism. New York: Columbia University Press.

Laughlin, C.D. and J. McManus (1995) "The Relevance of William James' Radical Empiricism to the Anthropology of Consciousness." Anthropology of Consciousness 6(3) (in press).

Laughlin, C.D., J. McManus and E.G. d'Aquili (1990) Brain, Symbol and Experience: Toward a Neurophenomenology of Human Consciousness. New York: Columbia University Press.

Laughlin, C.D., J. McManus and J. Shearer (1983) "Dreams, Trance and Visions: What a Transpersonal Anthropology Might Look Like." Phoenix: The Journal of Transpersonal Anthropology 7 (1/2): 141-159.

Piaget, J. (1971) Biology and Knowledge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Piaget, J. (1977) The Development of Thought. New York: The Viking Press.

Piaget, J. (1980) Adaptation and Intelligence. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Piaget, J. (1985) The Equilibration of Cognitive Structures: The Central Problem of Intellectual Development. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Rubinstein, R.A. and C.D. Laughlin (1977) "Bridging Levels of Systemic Organization." Current Anthropology 18:459-481.

Rubinstein, R.A., C.D. Laughlin and J. McManus (1984) Science as Cognitive Process. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Suppe, F. (ed.) (1977) The Structure of Scientific Theories (2nd ed.). Urbana: University of Illinois Press.