An example of a psychological morpheme

A psychological morpheme is defined as the smallest unit of a psychological response.

This term is used in FIML practice to distinguish psychological micro responses from meso and macro responses which are more general and less amenable to change and productive analysis.

There are many kinds of psychological morphemes and every individual has a multitude of them that are unique to them. Some are associated with personal memories and emotions that were aroused in the past. Others are new and arise in the present moment.

Still others are internalized social responses which at their most basic feel almost like disembodied responses, responses that precede thought, that begin creating the world we live in before we even know it. They are part of us, but can be slightly astonishing when we notice them for what they are.

A good example of one happened yesterday. My partner was away on a short trip and since it was a warm day I was working at home in my birthday suit. At some point I decided to call my partner, who would think nothing of seeing me in my birthday suit, but before I did I found myself reflexively putting on a pair of shorts.

I stopped and wondered why I was doing that and realized I was being “directed” by an almost completely emotionless and thought-less psychological morpheme.

Since I was going to speak, I was going to engage in a social act. And since I was going to engage in a social act, some part of me decided I needed to put on a pair of shorts.

This morpheme is interesting because it is so elementary. I was going to speak over the phone, long-distance to someone I have been living with for many years. And yet even still a very weak and basic sense of propriety that I had learned from my culture arose in me and got me to put on a pair of shorts.

It was like a single cold spark. And yet it was strong enough to move my system. It was a sort of “logic” like the logic of a small pattern in sand, or a twist in a tree’s bark. It was “me” putting on the shorts, but the “logic” of my doing so seemed to belong more to nature or a physical process than “my” being.

Psychological morphemes of this type are wonderful to observe. They belong to an almost blank class of responses that work like directional signs that induce us to move one way or another, to do something or not.

Other kinds of psychological morphemes induce us to feel, think, or believe something with no more “charge” than the single small spark that got me to put on my shorts.

Psychological morphemes are the most basic data of FIML practice. They are the small signs that make up the “language” of our psychologies, our minds. Understanding them leads to a rich understanding of your own and others’ behaviors, feelings, and thoughts.

Repost: Micro, meso, and macro levels of human understanding

This post is concerned with the micro, meso, and macro levels of existential semiotics and communicative thought, and how those levels affect human understanding.

  • Micro levels are very small units of thought or communication. These can be words, phrases, gestures, etc. and the “psychological morphemes” that accompany them. A psychological morpheme is the smallest unit of an emotional or psychological response.
  • Meso levels lie between macro and micro levels. Longer discourse, a sense that people have personalities or egos, and the basic ideas of any culture appear at this level.
  • Macro levels are the larger abstract levels that sort of stand above the other two levels. Macro levels might include religious or scientific beliefs, political ideologies, long-term personal goals or strategies.

Most people most of the time socialize on the meso level, often with support from shared macro level beliefs or aims. For most people, the broad outlines of most emotions are defined and conditioned at the meso level. This is the level where the nuts and bolts of convention are found. This is the level that tosses the beach balls of conversation back and forth across the dinner table and that defines those balls. The meso level defines our subculture and how well or badly we conform to it. The meso level is necessary for much of social life and sort of fun, though it is by definition not very detailed or profound. It is something most people can agree on and work with fairly easily for an hour or two at a time.

Many people define themselves mainly on the meso level and judge others by their understanding of this level. Many subcultures become stifling or cloying because meso definitions are crude and tend to leave out the rich subjectivity of individuals. Macro definitions are not all that different from meso ones except that they tend to define group feelings more than meso definitions. Groups band together based on macro level assumptions about ideologies, science, religion, art, style, location, ethnicity, etc.

Since most people are unable to fully access micro levels of communication the rich subjectivity of the individual mind is rarely, if ever, communicated at all and almost never communicated well.

In other fields, micro levels are all important. For example, the invention of the microscope completely changed the way humans see and understand their world. All that was added by the microscope was greater resolution and detail in the visual sphere. From that arose germ theory, material sciences, modern biology, modern medicine, and much more.

Micro levels of communication are basic to how we understand ourselves and others. Poor micro communication skills consign us to communication that occurs only at meso or macro levels. This is a problem because meso and macro levels do not have sufficient detail and also because meso and macro levels become the only tools we have to decide what is going on. When we are forced to account for micro details with the crude tools of meso thought, we will make many mistakes. Eventually we become like the long-term cigarette-smoker whose (micro) alveoli have collapsed, destroying full use of the lungs.

Without the details of the microscope, people for millennia happily drank germ infested water. Without a way to resolve micro levels of communication, people today, as in the past, happily ingest multitudes of micro error—errors that make them ill.

Micro communication errors make us sick because we make many serious mistakes on this level and also because our minds are fully capable of comprehending the sort of detail we can find at the micro level. We speak and listen on many interpersonal levels like crude beasts when we are capable of very delicate and refined understanding.

FIML or a technique similar to it provides a method for grasping micro details. Doing FIML for a long time is like spending a long time using a microscope or telescope. You will start to see everything differently. Detailed micro analyses of interpersonal communication changes our understanding of micro communication and also both the meso and macro levels of existential semiotics and communicative thought. Microscopes allowed us to see germs in water and also to understand that some of those germs can kill us.

Meaningfulness or emotional valence of semiotic cues

A new study on post traumatic stress disorder shows that PTSD sufferers actually perceive meaning or emotional valence within fractions of a second.

This study bolsters the FIML claim that “psychological morphemes” (the smallest psychological unit) arise at discrete moments and that they affect whatever is perceived or thought about afterward.

The study has profound implications for all people (and I am sure animals, too) because all of us to some degree have experienced many small and some large traumas. These traumas induce a wide variety idiosyncratic “meaning and emotional valence” that affects how we perceive events happening around us, how we react to them, and how we think about them.

The study in question—Soldiers with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder See a World Full of Threat: Magnetoencephalography Reveals Enhanced Tuning to Combat-Related Cues—is especially interesting because it compares combat veterans without PTSD to combat veterans with PTSD.

It is thus based on a clearly defined pool of people with “similar” extreme experiences and finds that:

…attentional biases in PTSD are [suggestively] linked to deficits in very rapid regulatory activation observed in healthy control subjects. Thus, sufferers with PTSD may literally see a world more populated by traumatic cues, contributing to a positive feedback loop that perpetuates the effects of trauma.

Of course all people are “traumatized” to some degree. And thus all people see “a world populated by traumatic cues, contributing to a positive feedback loop that perpetuates the effects of trauma.”

If we expand the word trauma to include “conditioned responses,” “learned responses,”  “idiosyncratic responses,” or simply “training” or “experience” and then consider the aggregate all of those responses in any particular individual, we will have a fairly good picture of what an idiosyncratic individual (all of us are that) looks like, and how an idiosyncratic individual actually functions and responds to the world.

FIML theory claims that idiosyncratic responses happen very quickly (less than a second) and that these responses can be observed, analyzed, and extirpated (if they are detrimental) by doing FIML practice. Observing and analyzing idiosyncratic responses whether they are detrimental or not serves to optimize communication between partners by greatly enhancing partners’ ranges of emotion and understanding.

In an article about the linked study (whose main author is Rebecca Todd), Alva Noë says:

…Todd’s work shows that soldiers with PTSD “process” cues associated with their combat experience differently even than other combat veterans. But what seems to be driving the process that Todd and team uncovered is the meaningfulness or emotional valence of the cues themselves. Whether they are presented in very rapid serial display or in some other way, what matters is that those who have been badly traumatized think and feel. And surely we can modify how we think and feel through conversation?

Indeed, what makes this work so significant is the way it shows that we can only really make sense of the neural phenomena by setting them in the context of the perceptual-cognitive situation of the animal and, vice-versa, that the full-import of what perceivers say and do depends on what is going on in their heads. (Source)

I fully agree with the general sense of Noë’s words, but want to ask what is your technique for “modifying how we think and feel through conversation?” And does your technique comport well with your claim, which I also agree with, that “we can only really make sense of the neural phenomena by setting them in the context of the perceptual-cognitive situation of the animal”?

I would contend that you cannot make very good “sense of neural phenomena” by just talking about them in general ways or analyzing them based on general formulas. Some progress can be made, but it is slow and not so reliable because general ways of talking always fail to capture the idiosyncrasy of the “neural phenomenon” as it is actually functioning in real-time during a real “perceptual-cognitive situation of the animal.”

The FIML technique can capture “neural phenomena” in real-time and it can capture them during real “perceptual-cognitive situations.” It is precisely this that allows FIML practice to quickly extirpate unwholesome responses, both small and large, if desired.

Since all of us are complex individuals with a multitude of interconnected sensibilities, perceptions, and responses, FIML practice does not seek to “just” remove a single post traumatic response but rather to extirpate all unwholesome responses.

Since our complex responses and perceptions can be observed most clearly as they manifest in semiotics, the FIML “conversational” technique focuses on the signs and symbols of communication, the semiotics that comprise psychological morphemes.

FIML practice is not suited for everyone and a good partner must be found for it to work. But I would expect that combat veterans with PTSD who are able to do FIML and who do it regularly with a good partner will experience a gradual reduction in PTSD symptoms leading to eventual extirpation.

The same can be said for the rest of us with our myriad and various traumas and experiences. FIML done with a good partner will find and extirpate what you don’t want knocking around in your head anymore.

More on TV

Cultivation theory:

In its most basic form, cultivation theory suggests that exposure to television, over time, subtly “cultivates” viewers’ perceptions of reality. Gerbner and Gross say: “television is a medium of the socialization of most people into standardized roles and behaviors. Its function is in a word, enculturation”

Institutional process analysis:

This investigates how the flow of media messages is produced and managed, how decisions are made, and how media organizations function. Ultimately, it asked: What are the processes, pressures, and constraints that influence and underline the production of mass-media content?

A good example of institutional process analysis:

According to the Jewish Journal, Kohan’s “refusal to limit herself in her show’s creative content has made moral ambiguity a Weeds trademark. No topic is too grim, no character too depraved.” In giving her the scope to explore these depraved characters, and to mine them for humor and ask questions, Kohan claimed that Weeds allowed her to get in touch with her Jewish identity, noting that, “For me, the essence of my Judaism is to ask questions — ask why, ask more. And in a way, the show allows me to follow that path of Judaism.” (Source)

Obviously, the people who produce TV shows have a significant influence over the effects of those shows on audiences. TV is worth thinking about because, as cultivation theory states, it is a dominant factor in the process of enculturation for all who watch it, and especially for those who watch it without analyzing its effects.

TV

Today’s public negotiation over the “meaning” of the Confederate flag is a good example of how the ambiguous commons works in public life.

Obama weighing in with his single definition of the flag (it’s “racist”) illustrates how power influences how definitions are made on the ambiguous commons.

TV, with the power of station owners to control the message, works on the ambiguous commons sort of in the same way as Obama in the above example. Of course, TV as a medium is more complex and carries many more messages, but the comparison is still valid because TV promotes some messages while ignoring or downplaying others.

Here are some good photos on the power of TV: Idiot Box. Notice the kids’ eyes, which indicate passive trance states that are accepting information without questioning it.

In some ways one can say that TV is a bad medium because there is far more airtime than there are quality shows to fill it. The other reason one can call it bad—even though the medium itself cannot have any intentions—is it can easily be controlled by powerful people and groups that do have intentions.

The public ambiguous commons is greatly controlled by presidents and other talking heads on TV. If you watch Jon Stewart, chances are you agree with almost everything he says even when the subject is a new one that you have given no thought to.

If the general idea of a public ambiguous commons makes sense, and if it is understood how people (and presidents) negotiate “meaning” on the ambiguous commons, then I hope it will also be clear that we humans as individuals and in small groups are negotiating shared meanings all the time.

Negotiating meaning (by arguing, cajoling, ignoring, using emotional displays or reason, etc.) is one of the main things we humans do when we communicate. It is for this reason that very stable social groups can be so boring. No one wants to rock the boat by saying anything that makes anything seem more ambiguous or confusing.

It is also for this reason that narcissists and abusers insist on their interpretations, their meanings, over anyone else’s. Pretty much wherever you find an individual or group that will brook no dissent and/or that gets angry when there is dissent or even the simple appearance of a different idea, you can be all but certain you are dealing with a narcissistic bully trying to maintain (or gain) control of the ambiguous commons.

The Confederate flag

The various arguments and passions today concerning the Confederate flag are good examples of how emotionally-charged semiotics (the signs and symbols of communication) can be.

Flags are often used as examples of how simple signs can arouse strong feeling. The arguments about the Confederate flag are arguments about how to define a symbol, which of its many possible meanings is the one.

A more important point to be made here is that each of us has a myriad of semiotic symbols in our minds and emotions can be touched off by any of them at any time.

If you don’t know ho to communicate about these kinds of explosive symbols/signs—many of which are idiosyncratic—you will have problems, some of which will get defined as “psychological” when they are not.

It is beneficial for Buddhists (and others) to contemplate the emptiness of semiotics like the Confederate flag and then apply this understanding to how we think, perceive, feel, and communicate about other signs.

Edit: Concerning the flag, notice that the community (whichever one) is forced to come to some sort of “decision” about the flag’s meaning. This is so because the flag has to mean something since it is a prominent public sign/symbol. The “community” can’t avoid ascribing some meaning to it. Notice also that that is what Obama and many others have been doing, ascribing meaning to the flag. This is how elites (and the media that highlights or ignores them) influence culture, by influencing how we react to symbols and what those symbols are and/or mean. Disputes over semiotic meaning are very common in both the public and private spheres.

Edit 2: Just because the community is forced to give the flag meaning doesn’t mean it will give it the right meaning. And it also doesn’t mean that any of the widely available meanings are right.

Discussion of rebirth with Jim Tucker

This interview is quite good and well worth reading no matter what your perspective. (link to interview)

Tucker’s “main research interests are children who claim to remember previous lives, and natal and prenatal memories.” He is based at the University of Virginia.

I myself have past-life memories and understand that experiences like that can be difficult and/or frustrating to talk about with others, a point made in the linked interview.

In my view, it is impossible for a science which requires strict reproducibility to deal fully with memories of this type, which are specific to individuals and which obviously cannot be reproduced any more than any memory specific to an individual and contingent on them can be reproduced. Science can only reproduce phenomena that everyone can see.

I am fully cognizant of the materialist scientific paradigm and work. live, and reason within in it a great deal. At the same time, I cannot honestly tell myself that my own life experiences and memories, none of which are reproducible, have no value.

My guess is that redefining “materialism” to mean “physicalism,” a point not made in the interview, can help people who feel deeply rooted in the scientific world-view entertain other possibilities.

In a nutshell, physicalism means simply “obeying the laws of physics.” Since we can never be sure that we know all of the laws of physics and do not today even understand how the laws we do know hold together, physicalism can work as a sort of mind-opener for materialists, an avenue of unknowns that includes more of the deep realities of sentient existence without always consigning them to fantasy or superstition.

Repost: The five skandhas and modern science

A recent study on emotional response—Amygdala Responsivity to High-Level Social Information from Unseen Faces—indicates that the Buddha’s five skandha explanation of consciousness has it right.

From the study’s abstract:

The findings demonstrate that the amygdala can be influenced by even high-level facial information before that information is consciously perceived, suggesting that the amygdala’s processing of social cues in the absence of awareness may be more extensive than previously described.

Note that all important phrase “…before that information is consciously perceived.”

The five skandhas are form, sensation, perception, activity, consciousness. A form can arise in the mind or outside of the mind. This form gives rise to a sensation, which gives rise to perception, followed by activity (mental or physical), and lastly consciousness. In the Buddha’s explanation, the five skandhas occur one after the other, very rapidly. They are not a continuous stream but rather a series of discrete or discernible moments. A form arises or appears, then there is a sensation, then perception, then activity, then consciousness.

Advanced training in meditation and mindfulness is probably necessary for most people to be able to observe the five skandhas individually, as they are actually “firing,” but it can be done. A good deal of Buddhist practice is based on being able to do that.

Though all brain imaging studies must be taken as provisional since the technology is not completely reliable, they still are providing us with some very interesting information worth considering.

The amygdala study cited above seems to confirm that people form significant emotional reactions to faces without being conscious of their reactions at all. In Buddhist terms, their reactions are (or take place at) the second skandha—sensation.

The skandha of sensation is defined as a reaction to a form that is either positive, negative, or neutral. That is, we either like, dislike, or don’t care about the form. In the amygdala study the form is the face that is flashed very briefly on a screen. The face appears so briefly, for just a few milliseconds, that it is not possible to actually “see” or be aware of having “seen” it.

I think it is fair to extrapolate from this study that we humans are forming sensations all the time without being aware of what we are doing. As the authors of the study say, the study “[suggests] that the amygdala’s processing of social cues in the absence of awareness may be more extensive than previously described.”

“…processing of social cues in the absence of awareness” is pretty good description of what the Buddha called delusion, especially if we realize that the delusions we “process” from forms arising outside of us are entwined with and not very different from delusions we process from forms arising within us.

The Buddha’s five skandha explanation, thus, provides a way to observe and analyze our minds to prevent our becoming deluded by the tug of sensations that happen in the “absence of awareness.”

A few days ago, I reposted an essay that touches on this subject from a different angle and a different study: we do not sample our world continuously but in discrete snapshots.

Here is a pretty good article on the study cited above: Friend Or Foe? Even When Faces Are Not Clearly Visible, Your Brain Unconsciously Makes Judgments.

Micro, meso, and macro FIML

Micro FIML practice is basic to all FIML practice.

(A description of micro FIML can be found here: How to do FIML.)

Basic or micro FIML provides a very sturdy foundation for many other kinds of interpersonal discussions. This is so because basic FIML makes partners confident that they can say what they think without fearing that their partner will significantly misunderstand them.

Why is that? The reason is if your partner interprets what you have said in a strong—and especially a negative—way, they will ask you about it. Once they have asked you, you can clarify what you meant, change it, expand on it, explain it, or do anything else you want with it as long as you are being honest.

Basic FIML covers all new clouds that appear on the horizon. If your partner speaks or communicates in a way that causes a small cloud to appear on your horizon and you have time, bring it up immediately using the basic FIML technique linked above. If you don’t have time to bring it up immediately, do it later when you do have time if the cloud is still there. Even if the cloud is gone, it can still be interesting to bring it up later because you can discuss the incident and learn more about yourselves from that. Very small incidents are often the most interesting because data points are clear and strong emotions are not likely to be aroused.

No FIML partner should ever carry around a shadow of misgiving or negativity about their partner without saying something about it. This is where meso and macro levels of FIML come into play.

Meso and macro FIML come into play when you discover that even though you have been doing basic FIML perfectly and dealt with every cloud that appeared on your horizon, still there is a shadow or haze developing in your mind.

You can’t remember when it started or how it started, but you know it is there.

If you have been doing basic FIML and are reasonably skilled in it, you should be able to bring up the matter of a gathering haze in your mind and clear it with your partner. Maybe you partner is spending too much time away from you or too close to you. Maybe you are starting to feel weird about something they keep saying. No single incident of their saying whatever it is has bothered you enough to mention it, but they keep saying it and that is getting to you. Once you notice anything like that, just bring it up and discuss it at a meso level while relying on basic micro FIML practice to steer you toward a good resolution that works for both of you.

Another example of a meso discussion might be something like: you are a bit tired, your partner says something and you respond in what seems a pleasant way to you and they respond to that in a way that seems sharp or restrictive to you. Since you are tired, you don’t do basic FIML at the right moment but instead respond sharply to what you had perceived as their sharpness.

If your partner questions you on that and/or if you notice it yourself, just do a meso FIML discussion that brings in all of the factors you are aware of. Your habit of doing basic FIML will make it much easier to have conversations on meso or macro levels than if you had never done basic FIML at all.

A macro level FIML discussion might entail a growing shift in your understanding of any macro subject—science, religion, philosophy, politics, etc.

As with meso discussions, macro discussions will be much easier and more enjoyable if partners know how to do basic FIML.

Basic FIML solves most communication problems by helping partners be honest with each other in ways that are helpful and productive without being phony. Basic FIML also helps partners sail past the many minor snags that can occur in conversations, such as quibbling over word choices, minor details, tone of voice, gestures, and so on.

This happens because basic FIML will already have provided many examples of small snags and how to overcome them. It does take some practice to get to this point, but it is not much harder than learning to sew or make pizza. Requires some work and there are better and worse results, but once you get going the benefits should be clear enough to keep you going.

In my view, FIML will not work for partners only if a misinterpretation is not addressed, not honestly addressed, or not substantially addressed from the micro level on up. If you always jump in at meso and macro levels, you will almost certainly cause more problems than you will solve.

___________________

See also: Micro, meso, and macro levels of human understanding.

Abhaya Sutta: To Prince Abhaya (On Right Speech)

….[1] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial (or: not connected with the goal), unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them.

[2] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them.

[3] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, but unendearing & disagreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them.

[4] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, but endearing & agreeable to others, he does not say them.

[5] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, but endearing & agreeable to others, he does not say them.

[6] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, and endearing & agreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them. Why is that? Because the Tathagata has sympathy for living beings.”

Source

translated from the Pali by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Metacognition and real-time communication

Metacognition means “awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes,” or “cognition about cognition,” or “being able to think about how you think.”

To me, metacognition is a premier human ability. How can it not be a good thing to be aware of how you are aware and how you think and respond to what is around you?

In more detail:

The term “metacognition” is most often associated with John Flavell, (1979). According to Flavell (1979, 1987), metacognition consists of both metacognitive knowledge and metacognitive experiences or regulation. Metacognitive knowledge refers to acquired knowledge about cognitive processes, knowledge that can be used to control cognitive processes. Flavell further divides metacognitive knowledge into three categories: knowledge of person variables, task variables and strategy variables. (Source)

Most people do metacognition and are aware of doing it. We do it when we plan, make decisions, decide how to get from one place to another, how to relate to one person differently from another, and so on.

Where we don’t do metacognition is in real-time communication in real life, where it matters most. This is not because we are not able to do it. It is because very few of us have the right technique, Flavell’s “acquired knowledge,” that allows us to do it.

If we have the right technique, we will be able to gain a great deal of knowledge about real-time cognitive process while also learning how to control them.

FIML practice is a metacognitive practice based on, to quote the above source, “acquired knowledge about cognitive processes… that can be used to control cognitive processes.”

In the case of FIML, the “acquired knowledge” is the FIML technique which allows us to gain conscious “control over cognitive processes” of real-time interpersonal communication.

FIML is different from other analytical communication techniques in that FIML provides a method to gain control over very short or small units of communication in real-time. This is important as it is these very short real-time units that are most often ignored or not dealt with in most analyses of human communication.

If you know how to catch small mistakes, they become sources of insight and humor. If you don’t know how to catch them, they often snowball into destructive misunderstandings.

FIML is fairly easy to do if you understand the importance of correcting the minor misinterpretations that inevitably arise between people when they speak and communicate. By using the FIML metacognitive method, partners gain control over the most elusive kinds of interpersonal error which all too often lead to serious interpersonal discord.

FIML can and does do more than catch small mistakes, but first things first. If you cannot correct small errors in real-time communication, you are not doing anything even resembling thorough metacognitive communication.