Simplicity and complexity in the public and private spheres

I will contend in this post that human communication tends to be simple unless agreements to be complex have been previously made and rules for greater complexity have been previously established.

Human communication can be understood in fractal terms. Conditions that characterize the small world of a single person can be understood as a fractal of the conditions that characterize the world of many people (communities, cultures, nations, etc.).

This can be easily seen in the ways public figures present simple stories about themselves to communicate with many people. And it also can be see in the ways individual people present simple stories about themselves to communicate with whatever social group they may be part of.

A successful public figure is almost always someone who presents a simple picture of themselves while associating themselves with simple views—liberal, conservative, party boy, sensitive babe, intellectual, etc.

For not famous individuals, the story is much the same—simple concepts are the norm. In most social settings, most people want to know others and be known themselves in simple terms, such as nice guy, good personality, reliable, good-looking, etc.

I don’t think there is much we can do with present technology to make the public communications of public figures more complex. The race for president or events in Paris will be displayed and spoken about in simple terms no matter what. Mainstream essays or talk shows that examine the candidates or the terrorists with more complexity will only add a bit of dressing to the already simple narratives, changing nothing for the vast majority of people.

Good science is based on previously establish rules and agreements to be complex and therefore good science does not shy away from complexity. One joins the scientific community and is expected to endure a long apprenticeship learning the rules of science before one is allowed to speak as a scientist. In the ideal, this is very good. In practice, not so much due to human failings and human tendencies to reduce complexity to simple expediency by cheating, lying, being biased, being paid for holding a view, etc. The same can be said about any field.

On an individual level, how do we introduce more complexity to our understandings of ourselves and others? If I expect you to see me in the simple terms of what my personality is or what my simple biography is and if you expect me to see you in similarly simple terms, how can we change that to add complexity and greater enjoyment?

In most cases, you can’t because it is too unsettling for most people to even contemplate doing that. In some cases, though, it can be done by making prior agreements to be more complex and by establishing rules for how to delve into and handle that complexity.

I do not believe it is possible to communicate with satisfying complexity with others unless you first establish clear rules and agreements with them.

If you want, you can make up your own rules and agreements. Or you can use the FIML rules and agreements, which can be found at the top of this page and which are discussed in the majority of posts on this site.

I strongly urge readers to do FIML or something like it. It will gradually free you from a veritable prison of delusive simplicity in both the ways you interact with others and with yourself.

Repost: Consciousness, Big Data, and FIML

Modern neuroscience does not see humans as having a discrete consciousness located in a specific part of the brain. Rather, as Michael S. Gazzaniga says:

The view in neuroscience today is that consciousness does not constitute a single, generalized process. It involves a multitude of widely distributed specialized systems and disunited processes, the products of which are integrated by the interpreter module. (Source)

Computer and Big Data-driven sociology sees something similar. According to Alex Pentland:

While it may be useful to reason about the averages, social phenomena are really made up of millions of small transactions between individuals. There are patterns in those individual transactions that are not just averages, they’re the things that are responsible for the flash crash and the Arab spring. You need to get down into these new patterns, these micro-patterns, because they don’t just average out to the classical way of understanding society. We’re entering a new era of social physics, where it’s the details of all the particles—the you and me—that actually determine the outcome.  (Source)

Buddhists may recognize in these insights close similarities to core teachings of the Buddha—that we do not have a self; that all things arise out of complex conditions that are impermanent and changeable; that the lion’s share of “reality” for any individual lies in being attentive to the moment.

Notice how similar Pentland’s insights are to Gazzaniga’s—the whole, or the common generalities (of society), can be far better understood if we can account for the details that comprise them. Is an individual mind a fractal of society? Do these complex systems—societies and minds—both use similar organizational processes?

I am not completely sure how to answer those questions, but I am certain that most people are using similar sorts of “average” or general semiotics to communicate and think about both minds and societies. If we stick with general averages, we won’t see very much. Class, self, markets, personalities don’t give us information as sophisticated as the detailed analyses proposed by Gazzaniga and Pentland.

Well then, how can individuals cognize Gazzaniga’s “multitude of widely distributed specialized systems and disunited processes” in their minds? And how can they understand how “the products” of those processes are actually “integrated” into a functional “interpreter module”?

And if individuals can cognize the “disunited processes” that “integrate” into a conscious “interpreter,” how will they understand traditional psychological analyses of the self, personality, identity, biography, behavior?

I would maintain that our understanding of what it is to be a human will change deeply if we can learn to observe with reliable clarity the “disunited processes” that “integrate” into a conscious “interpreter.” That is, we will arrive at a completely new understanding of being that will replace the “self” that truly does not exist in the ways most societies (and people) understand it.

FIML practice shows partners how to observe with great clarity the “disunited processes” that “integrate” into a conscious “interpreter.” Once these process are observed in detail and for a long enough period of time, partners will realize that it is no longer necessary to understand themselves in the “average” terms of self, personality, identity, biography, behavior, and so on.

Partners will come to understand that these terms denote only a more detailed version of a naive, static view of what a person is. Most psychology is largely a more detailed version of a naive, static view of what a person is.

We see this in Gazzaniga and Pentland’s findings that are derived from complex analyses of what is actually happening in the brain or in the multitude of real transactions that actually comprise a society. We can also see very similar insights in the Buddha’s teachings.

It is my contention that FIML practice will show partners the same things—that their actual minds and actual interactions are much more complex (and interesting) than the general semiotic averages we normally use to understand them.

From a Buddhist point of view, when we “liberate” ourselves from “attachment” to “delusive” semiotic generalities and averages and are truly “mindful” of the “thusness” of the ways our minds actually work, we will free ourselves from “suffering,” from the “ignorance” that characterizes the First Noble Truth.

The New York Times’ 9/11 Propaganda

The New York Times led the propaganda behind 9/11 and the 9/11 Wars. It did so by ignoring many of the most relevant facts, by promoting false official accounts, and by belittling those who questioned the 9/11 events. The Times eventually offered a weak public apology for its uncritical support of the Bush Administration’s obviously bogus Iraq War justifications. However, it has yet to apologize for its role in selling the official account of 9/11, a story built on just as many falsehoods. Instead, the newspaper continues to propagandize about the attacks while putting down Americans who seek the truth about what happened.

link to original

It has always amazed me that the NYT, which is based in NYC, has not produced a single decent investigative report on 9/11. It is alarming that this one paper is still the main “official” arbiter of what issues are important for the USA and how they should be interpreted. The NYT is the paper that is read by members of Congress and largely provides them with a scripted “reality” they are all but forced to support. The NYT script is also largely followed by all other mainstream news outlets in the USA, so no matter what you read or watch in mainstream journalism, you are getting a good deal of NYT spin.

I am solidly in the camp that 9/11 has never been honestly investigated by any “official” US institution or pursued even close to adequately by mainstream media. Kevin Ryan, and many others, have done a great deal of the investigative work on 9/11 that the NYT has failed to do. His blog and books are all well-worth reading. There are hundreds of fascinating 9/11-related stories that could fill the pages of the NYT for years, but that is not going to happen any time soon. I also recommend looking into the anthrax attack that happened shortly after 9/11. Graeme MacQueen’s The 2001 Anthrax Deception: The Case for a Domestic Conspiracy is an excellent summary of that event. ABN

Semiosis, symbiosis, and optimization

In this post, I want to avoid words like psychology, personality, instinct, normal, abnormal, etc. to describe human beings. I want to throw out all of those usual ways of thinking about people and replace them with just three terms–semiosis, symbiosis, and optimization.

In this context, semiosis means all symbols, meaning, language, philosophy, belief, value, etc. An easy way to grasp semiosis is to equate it with the way an individual’s culture, or subculture, works within their mind. Symbiosis denotes relations to other people. An easy way to grasp symbiosis is to equate it with an individual’s social group(s)–their marriage partner, family, friends, clubs, religious groups, job, etc.

All humans are a combination of some sort of semiosis and symbiosis as defined above. What we want to aim for in our lives is optimization of our semioses and symbioses. The only way I know how to do this is with FIML practice because only FIML practice gives partners the tools to grasp and manipulate–to understand and improve–their semioses.

The main area where this optimization occurs in FIML practice is in the symbiosis of partners’ semioses. Semioses are shared. Partners share in a symbiotic relationship the semioses they both carry around in their heads. FIML partners must become conscious of this level of human interaction because it happens whether you are conscious of it or not. If partners are not conscious of it and/or can’t deal with it, they will not be able to optimize their relationship (or their own lives). Rather, they will be forced to cling to public semiotics, private neuroses, or most commonly both.

If partners are optimizing the symbiosis of their shared semioses, their core behaviors will spring from dynamic principles rather than static codes, vows, or agreements. FIML is nearly contentless in that it does not tell partners what to think but rather how to observe and analyze their shared semioses.

Now, as an example, let’s say you experience a mix-up with your partner. Something didn’t go right; one of you misspoke or did something bothersome; then you had an argument or at least difficult emotions arose. So what should you do? At times like these, many people will separate for a while to cool down and then gloss over whatever it was when they get back together later on. At that point they will rely on some sort of static notion of their relationship and on that basis try to recapture good feelings. This technique works to a point, but it is not the best because it does nothing to optimize the relationship. It just covers up the problem. When you avoid a problem, you underscore your inability to deal with it while allowing it to grow.

A much better way for partners to deal with a problem like the one above is recognize that it is definitely going to affect your shared semiosis. Once you both accept this fact, you will probably find it easier to stick with the issue. Rather than separating for a while, face the issue and start a FIML discussion by analyzing what has happened and why. Even if it takes you an hour or more to reach a resolution, it will be well worth it because you will be optimizing your relationship. By doing a FIML discussion, you will avoid hiding from a problem while profoundly increasing your mutual understanding.

This is how mutual transformation often works in the real world. If you do small things like this enough, both you and your partner will become convinced that you can really live and interact on a higher level than what you probably had thought possible before.

Mutual transformation

The right goal of interpersonal relations should be mutual transformation. To be more precise, mutually beneficial mutual transformation.

Most of us would agree with this and most of us would hope that that is what we are doing in our important relationships. But are we?

I am sure many of us have joined groups or pursued friendships where we felt that this was what we were doing–often both parties have felt this way–only to discover that, eventually, something goes wrong and the mutual part or the transformational part gets lost or damaged.

This happens because one or both parties begin seeking stasis rather than transformation. Or one or both become selfish rather than mutual. And these sorts of outcomes occur because–assuming both parties were sincere in the beginning–they cannot maintain mutual understanding. They develop “artistic differences,” as the saying goes, or become “incompatible” in one way or another.

Sometimes people part ways and sometimes they soldier on, accepting the moderate warmth of stasis over the coldness of loneliness and starting over.

If we base our relations on emotions only–love, affection, friendly feelings–and fail to make them  consistently mutually transformational, they are bound to founder or become unsatisfying. One way people try to get around this is to make their relations mutually beneficial in material ways. All this does is mutually trap people in material conditions and a material outlook.

Children often form mutually transformational relationships with each other because they are growing quickly and have loads of new material to digest and understand. Isn’t that one of the main reasons we sometimes miss being kids, being able to act like kids? We miss childhood not just because we had less responsibility then but also because we grew along with our friends in ways that were mutually transformational. Of course, it was never all like that. But life for most of us surely does get flatter or more static as we become adults. Where kids are dynamically socializing, adults too often are socialized into static subcultures that do not even permit transformation. As adults, we have to play the angles, get along, be careful what we say, etc. Being a “mature” adult usually means being socialized into a static subculture that requires us to maintain the same beliefs and practices for years, if not decades.

You cannot expect mutual transformation in most jobs or in most clubs or in most religious groups or in most groups of friends. Why? Because groups usually are held together by static semiotics–they have rules, codes, beliefs, attitudes, required behaviors. And those things foreclose transformation away from those things.

Mutual transformation is a good standard for assessing what is happening in your life. It can help us gain insight into a wide range of human relationships. Mutual transformation depends on equality and lateral communication. Equality and lateral communication is fundamental to finding your way out of the overweening semiotics of whatever culture or subculture you belong to. Cultural semiotics are mental events. They happen within our minds. How can you transform them or transform yourself out of them if you cannot grasp them and discuss them with your most intimate friend?

Mutual transformation requires that both parties be able to change. Rather than be unwilling to admit we are wrong, we should be delighted to discover that we have been wrong because now our lives have one less error in them. Politics is generally boring largely because politicians almost always have to be consistent and never admit fault. That is the opposite of mutual transformation, personal growth, or real Buddhist practice.

The purpose of FIML practice is to help partners mutually transform themselves. FIML gives partners the tools to use language in ways that transform both of them for the better. In a way, FIML lets us be kids again–kids with adult brains that have at last come to understand how to use our minds and tongues to speak honestly, creatively, wonderfully to each other.

Study supports FIML practice

This study—Neural Correlates of People’s Hypercorrection of Their False Beliefs—supports the contention that FIML practice can produce deep, wide-ranging, and enduring changes within the brain/mind of practitioners.

The basic finding of the study is:

Despite the intuition that strongly held beliefs are particularly difficult to change, the data on error correction indicate that general information errors that people commit with a high degree of belief are especially easy to correct. (Emphasis added.)

According to the study, this happens due to:

…enhanced attention and encoding that results from a metacognitive mismatch between the person’s confidence in their responses and the true answer.

This is exactly what happens when a FIML query shows the questioner that his/her assumptions about what their partner’s thoughts or intentions were were wrong.

Initially, FIML partners may experience some embarrassment or disbelief at being wrong. But since FIML queries are generally based on negative impressions, after some practice being shown to be wrong will typically produce feelings of relief and even delight.

A FIML query will generally arise out of a state of “enhanced attention” and usually further increase it by being spoken about. Incidentally, this is probably the most difficult aspect of FIML practice—controlling the emotions that accompany enhanced attention, especially when that attention concerns our own emotional reactions.

With continued practice of FIML, however, even strongly held erroneous interpersonal beliefs will be fairly easily corrected whenever they are discovered during a FIML discussion. Correcting core false beliefs (mistaken interpretations) has a wide-ranging, beneficial effect on all aspects of a person’s life.

Since the hypercorrection effect discussed in the linked study only occurs during moments of enhanced attention, the FIML technique of focusing quickly on good data agreed upon by both partners can be seen as a way of inducing states of enhanced attention that will lead to deep changes in both partners. This technique (using good data) also turns the discussion from one about feelings to one about “information,” which the study finds makes errors “especially easy to correct.”

Furthermore, since FIML practice tends to deal with very small incidents, the enhanced attention FIML induces works like a laser that quickly and painlessly excises erroneous thoughts and feelings while they are still small and have not been allowed to grow into full-blown emotional reactions.

Semiotics and stress

A common explanation of human stress includes physical stress (heat, cold, etc.), hierarchical stress (low status, competition, etc.), and lack of social support (horizontal communication, belonging).

Supposedly, humans and other primates tend to stress themselves because we are smart enough to have a lot of free time (time not spent gathering food). As the neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky puts it:

“If you live in a baboon troop in the Serengeti, you only have to work three hours a day for your calories, and predators don’t mess with you much. What that means is you’ve got nine hours of free time every day to devote to generating psychological stress toward other animals in your troop. So the baboon is a wonderful model for living well enough and long enough to pay the price for all the social-stressor nonsense that they create for each other. They’re just like us: They’re not getting done in by predators and famines, they’re getting done in by each other.” (Source)

Sapolsky makes good points but I want to add something to what he says.

Humans are “semiotic primates.” That is, we live as much or more in a semiotic environment as a natural one.

This means that we stress ourselves not just by our place in a natural hierarchy, but also by how we understand where we are, what we are hearing and saying, and what others are hearing and saying when around us.

Since most humans have no way of fully adjusting their interpersonal communication, the semiotic environments they live in are ambiguous, frequently mistaken, sometimes dangerous. Our intimate semiotic environments are typically unsatisfying or stressful because the communication upon which they are based and which defines them is rarely, if ever, optimal.

When interpersonal stress is relieved through one of the three ways mentioned in the first paragraph above, people may exercise more, work harder to climb the hierarchy, or seek out more horizontal support from a club or temple.

Exercise is good, climbing the hierarchy is OK if that’s what you want, and adding social support never hurts. None of these methods will optimize interpersonal communication, however. They are substitute semiotics of a different kind.

The reason this is so is the core stress-inducing problem most people have is poor intimate interpersonal communication with their primary interlocutor.

It’s not bad to think of yourself as having a psychology and a psychological history, but this line of thought rarely, if ever, leads to optimal communication with your primary interlocutor. When we psychologize ourselves, we tend to generalize ourselves and others. We see ourselves as defined by theories (extrinsic semiotics) rather than by the the dynamic reality of our moment-by-moment interactions with the person(s) we care about most.

FIML optimizes communication between primary interlocutors and in so doing relieves some of the most deleterious human stressors by removing them as they arise. If your intimate interpersonal communication is good, you won’t care very much about where you are on the hierarchy.

Why so much Jewish fear and loathing of Donald Trump?

There is some anxiety among Jews about Donald Trump’s candidacy. In fathoming why this might be, one could perhaps start by asking how Trump departs from the ideal presidential candidate. For Jews, the ideal candidate is (1) predictably and fanatically pro-Israel; (2) predictably liberal/left on social issues, particularly anything related to immigration and multiculturalism; and (3) in need of big campaign money contingent on satisfying (1) and (2).


This analysis by Kevin MacDonald is well-worth reading. ABN

Disruption of neurotic response in FIML practice

By analyzing minute emotional reactions in real-time during normal conversation, FIML practice disrupts the consolidation, or more often the reconsolidation, of “neurotic” responses.

In FIML, a neurotic response is defined as “an emotional response based on a misinterpretation.” The misinterpretation in question can be incipient (just starting) to long-seated (been a habit for years).

The response is disrupted by FIML practice and, thus, tends not to consolidate or reconsolidate, especially after several instances of learning that it is not valid.

A neurotic response is a response based on memory. The following study on fear memories supports the above explanation of FIML practice.

Memories become labile when recalled. In humans and rodents alike, reactivated fear memories can be attenuated by disrupting reconsolidation with extinction training. Using functional brain imaging, we found that, after a conditioned fear memory was formed, reactivation and reconsolidation left a memory trace in the basolateral amygdala that predicted subsequent fear expression and was tightly coupled to activity in the fear circuit of the brain. In contrast, reactivation followed by disrupted reconsolidation suppressed fear, abolished the memory trace, and attenuated fear-circuit connectivity. Thus, as previously demonstrated in rodents, fear memory suppression resulting from behavioral disruption of reconsolidation is amygdala-dependent also in humans, which supports an evolutionarily conserved memory-update mechanism. (Source: Disruption of Reconsolidation Erases a Fear Memory Trace in the Human Amygdala)

FIML practice works by partners consciously and cooperatively disrupting reconsolidation (and initial consolidation) of neurotic memory (and associated behaviors). FIML both extirpates habitual neurotic responses and also prevents the formation of new neurotic responses through conscious disruption of memory consolidation.

FIML probably works as well as it does because humans have “an evolutionarily conserved memory-update mechanism” that favors more truth. Obvious examples of this update mechanism can be seen in many simple mistakes. For instance, if you think the capital of New York State is New York City and someone shows that it is Albany, you will likely correct your mistake immediately with little or no fuss.

Since FIML focuses on small mistakes made between partners, corrections are rarely more difficult than the above example though they may be accompanied by a greater sense of relief. For example, if you thought that maybe your partner was mad at you but then find (through a FIML query) that they are not, your sense of relief may be considerable.

The quintessence of interpersonal cooperation

FIML is the quintessence of interpersonal social behavior. FIML is the quintessence of interpersonal cooperation. As such, it transforms what we call “personality” by altering the basis of experience.

If social behavior is understood quantitatively, then “more social” means more social contacts.

If social behavior is understood qualitatively, then “more social” becomes “better social”; i.e. more honest, true, profound, fulfilling.

It is not possible to have high-quality interpersonal interactions without a precise way to manage and correct errors in communication as they occur. What we loosely think of as “personality” is based on interpersonal experiences. Change the experiences and you change the personality.

Roger Williams

Roger Williams (c. 1603—1683) was an English Protestant theologian who was an early proponent of religious freedom and the separation of church and state. In 1636, he began the colony of Providence Plantation, which provided a refuge for religious minorities. Williams started the first Baptist church in America, the First Baptist Church of Providence. He was a student of Native American languages and an advocate for fair dealings with Native Americans. Williams was arguably the very first abolitionist in North America, having organized the first attempt to ban slavery in any of the original thirteen colonies. (Source)

This Wikipedia article is worth reading. Williams was a strong and early advocate of freedom of religion and separation of church and state. His ideas probably influenced the principles expressed in the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

Buddhists, and others, would do well to reflect on the great importance of the First Amendment, which reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

“Religion” means something different today than it did during Williams’ life, but Williams’ underlying belief that each individual must be free to follow their own religious convictions is as fundamentally important today as it was back then.

American Buddhists obviously benefit from these protections, but even hard atheists and those who dislike all religions should ponder the profound importance of the individual right to believe what you want and to profess your beliefs without interference from the state.

Good discussion on government corruption and how and why it is covered up

There is a lot of information on the nuts and bolts of corruption in the US government in this video. The discussion includes James Corbett, Sibel Edmonds, Wayne Madsen, and Peter B. Collins.

The posted title of this video is Pedophiles Run the Government and No One Gives a Damn. I don’t care for this title because pedophilia in itself is not morally wrong unless acted on. As for why no one gives a damn, well, we do, but know they have us cornered. All societies everywhere in history have been cruel or corrupt. There is nothing humans can do, given present technology, to change this.

Marijuana legalization favored by a majority of Americans

The very long time it has taken to change marijuana laws is a lesson in why you always want to be careful when enacting new laws.

A recent Gallup poll shows the move to legalization of pot is gaining. From the article linked below:

  • Majority favors legal marijuana for third consecutive year
  • Younger generations more supportive than older generations
  • Older generations more supportive than they were in the past

Source: In U.S., 58% Back Legal Marijuana Use