Repost: Microaggression and FIML

I have been seeing a lot of stuff about microaggression recently.

The term interests me because FIML is all about micro impressions.

When done with a caring partner, FIML is designed to correct mistaken impressions or interpretations that often derive from micro impressions and/or manifest as micro expressions.

Anyone who has done FIML for more than a few months surely must be aware that we create wrong impressions of even our most trusted partners frequently.

A wrong impression often snowballs, leading to a wrong interpretation that after festering can be much harder to correct than the original micro impression.

So between friends, and especially FIML partners, the perception of micro aggression can and should be noticed and dealt with immediately or as soon as possible. It is basic to FIML practice that even a single uncorrected wrong impression can lead to serious divisions between people.

In this sense, I heartily accept the idea of microaggression being a thing. In fact, I believe it is such a thing that it happens all the time, especially if you mean micro mis-impressions and not just microaggression.

But the term microaggression means something different from the above, though the central concepts are related. Wikipedia has this short definition of microaggression:

…the use of known social norms of behavior and/or expression that, while without conscious choice of the user, has the same effect as conscious, intended discrimination.

The main difference is “without conscious choice of the user.” FIML is all about being conscious. Both parties being conscious.

If I perceive something in your speech, demeanor, or behavior that makes me think that maybe you are disrespecting me or mad at me or or suspicious of me or something like that, then if you are my FIML partner I am basically required to ask you about it if there is time.

In FIML, the asking is done without prejudgement. I simply ask “what was in your mind when you made that expression or said those words or did that thing.” Your answer must be honest. If you don’t trust your partner to be honest, you can’t do FIML (though you can start trying and see if either or both of you changes).

If your partner answers honestly and you do not perceive an iota of what you thought was in their mind, that part of the event is finished. If when the person spoke or acted they had no nothing about doing what you thought they might be doing, you are done with it. You no longer have any right to further impute your thing onto them.

You can if you want, and this is encouraged, continue to discuss the matter. For example, you might say: “From your response, I can tell that you were not disrespecting me and I am delighted to find that out. That’s a huge relief for me because I have spent much of my life reacting to people who do that as if they were disrespecting me. It’s weird to hear that I am wrong in this case and it makes me wonder if I have been wrong in other cases.”

Then the two of you can discuss that. I know one person who frequently reacts to educated northeast American accents as being “imperious” or “arrogant” when they are not. (Don’t get me started on all the many phrases and attitudes in culture that wrongly limit speech and thus culture itself—“condescending,” “know-it-all,” “argumentative,” “imperious,” etc.)

So, if two friends are having problems between themselves with microaggression, they are prime candidates for FIML practice. Of course, any two friends who are having any problems with micro impressions (all friends all the time) are prime candidates for FIML. (You cannot but have these problems.)

But microaggression as the word is being used today is not something FIML can deal with directly because it is

…the use of known social norms of behavior and/or expression that, while without conscious choice of the user, has the same effect as conscious, intended discrimination.

The important words here are “known social norms,” “without conscious choice” leading to “discrimination.”

I don’t know how to unpack that. From a FIML point of view, my guess is behaviors that could potentially be identified as “microaggression” according to that definition would be in the range of dozens per day per every person in the world. Maybe more.

An example many readers will remember is Michelle Obama reacting to a customer in Target asking her to hand them something they could not reach.

I tell this story – I mean, even as the first lady – during that wonderfully publicized trip I took to Target, not highly disguised, the only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf.

If even the president’s wife can get something so ordinary so wrong, you can see the scope of the problem. In the same interview, the president himself mentioned being “mistaken for a waiter.”

Both later downplayed their comments because they had to. Microaggression is an inherently super-ambiguous term open to a multitude of interpretations every time it is used.

In FIML, we find that micro-mistakes are real and dangerous. They are not ignored but addressed immediately because they can be so serious. Relevantly, in my experience with FIML a great many micro-impressions that I form are simply dead wrong. Most of them are wrong. I can’t enter that as evidence because the world does not have enough FIML practitioners for me to do a study on it. However, I do suspect that a great many micro-impressions of or impressions of microaggression are wrong.

Many of us laughed or thought it was ridiculous for Michelle Obama to bristle at having a short person ask her for help because we all have been on one side or the other of an exchange like that and thought nothing of it. I have been mistaken for a store employee or construction worker more than once and never thought anything of it, except maybe to feel slightly flattered that someone thought I looked like I knew what I was doing.

Another problem with the notion of politicizing microaggression (because that is what the term is about) is whose microaggression against whom?

I have strabismus, lazy eye. Even though the condition has been surgically corrected, I still cannot maintain a direct friendly gaze for long periods of time. This means that many people are led to misinterpreting my micro expressions (I start to look down) as me being bored, tired, or not friendly when all that is happening is my eye is so tired it starts to blur and needs to look away.

I know this from years of experience and because some people tell me what they are thinking. One in twenty or twenty-five people have strabismus. Add in other eye conditions with similar problems and you will get much higher percentages. Add hearing problems, attention-deficit problems, autism problems, and so on and you can include most people in the world having difficulties with micro-expressions and how they are being interpreted by others.

If someone from a different culture or race or neighborhood interprets my strabismus as microaggression (boredom with them or condescension toward them rather than simple fatigue), they will get it all wrong. And there is little or nothing I can do about it.

I even tell people about strabismus sometimes. I explain what it does. They say they understand, but very few of them really do. Only very close friends or people who have similar eye problems understand well enough that it stops being an issue with them.

Moreover, strabismus and other eye problems can lead to problems with facial recognition. So the person in the store that asked Michelle Obama for help may have also had facial recognition problems. I have that problem, too, and I seriously doubt that I would recognize Michelle Obama if I saw her in Target.

So, sorry, I don’t have any really good answer to how to understand microaggression or deal with it. On a personal level with friends or FIML partners, micro-impressions are what we want to work with as much as we can. On a societal level, you can hardly do anything about it. A super-smart person might be able to become aware of a good many of the difficulties faced by people in the world, but even that person will miss many of them or misinterpret what they perceive even if they “know” the right thing to do.

At the abstract heart of the problem there is probably a measurement or resolution problem. Simply stated, no person can ever possibly do perfect microanalyses all the time in all situations with all people. Far from it. Thus, it is a sort of “reverse microaggression” to demand or expect that they can or will or should.

I suppose we can and should become more aware of how complex people are and how difficult it is to know even one other person well, or even to know yourself well. But nothing that I can think of will ever relieve us of the difficulty of dealing with the immense number of micro-impressions we all give and receive every minute of every day.

Repost: Semiotic proprioception in dreams and waking

Proprioception means “one’s own” or “ones’ individual” (Latin proprius) “perception.”

We normally use this word to refer to our physical position in the world—whether we are standing or sitting, how we are moving, and how much energy we are using.

When we dream, our capacity for physical movement, with rare exceptions, is paralyzed. But we still do a sort of proprioception in dreams—a semiotic proprioception, or proprioception within the semiology of the dream.

In dreams, we grope through semiotic associations and respond, gropingly, to them. People and things often look smaller in dreams, or distorted, because we do not have either the need or the capacity to calibrate our physical proprioception as we do in waking life.

Dreams move from one semiotic proprioception to another via our individual four-dimensional (3D plus time) groping/associative function. In one short segment of a dream we are at home, then we go through a door only to find ourselves on a boat in the ocean. Our 4D semiotic proprioception within dreams readily accepts groping, associative shifts like this.

Much of what we perceive when we are awake is memory. We glance at a room we know well and call up our memory of it rather than actually look closely at the room.

I am fairly sure that the memories we call up to aid perception while we are awake are much the same as the groping proprioception we experience in dreams. A major difference is when we are awake we can and do check our waking proprioception with the people and objects around us, while in dreams the associative function has a much freer range.

Notice how dreams move from scene to scene rather slowly. Things can go quickly, but normally dreams grope somewhat slowly along the 4D path of semiotic proprioception.

In waking life, our dreamy use of memory and association to aid perception of the world happens constantly.

When we speak with another person, we use this function to make groping associations concerning what we think they are saying. We grope and respond to them as in a dream while at the same time searching for clues that indicate we are both on the same page.

These clues that two people may sort of “agree on” while speaking are normally standard public semiotics that belong to whatever culture(s) they share. By “agreeing” on them, we form a sort of agreeable camaraderie with whomever we are speaking, and this can be satisfying, but if we only get this, it can also become deeply unsatisfying.

The four dimensional groping/dreamy function of our mind is far richer than any standard collection of public semiotics. In our public lives—professional, commercial, based on organizations, etc.—we have, at present, little recourse but to accept normal public semiotics, to agree with them and manifest agreement.

We can express some deviation from them and sometimes makes jokes about them, but we are generally fairly bound to the semiotics of the culture or organization that generates the context of our speaking. Consider how people in the same church or school are bound by the semiotics of those institutions.

In our intimate relations, however, we do have recourse to investigate and understand how our groping, 4D semiotic proprioception works. This is what FIML does. It allows partners to observe, analyze, and understand the semiotic proprioceptions of their minds as they are actually functioning during interpersonal communication.

If you constantly avoid FIML types of investigations, you will be stuck with a mix of dimly shared public/private semiotics that will tend to become highly ambiguous, even volatile, or very shallow.

The power of words and habit formation

How we use and hear words becomes a habit.

A recent study on personal space, reported in Personal Space Is a Fear Response, shows that this fear response can be stimulated by words alone.

When placed in an MRI—and told a person was standing over the machine—[people with normal amygdalae] showed heightened activity in their amygdala; when they were told the person was further away from the machine, the activity returned to normal. This shows, says the study’s leader, Ralph Adolphs, that the belief that someone is too close for comfort is enough to spark the same activity as if they actually are.

You could also say that hearing the words that “someone is too close for comfort is enough to spark the same activity as if they actually are.”

I doubt I need to illustrate this idea as most readers are surely aware that all people have many strong emotional responses to words, gestures, facial expressions, as well as personal space encroachments.

Another recent study, unsurprisingly, shows that forming a habit leaves a lasting mark on specific circuits in the brain. In more detail:

In the basal ganglia, two main types of paths carry opposing messages: One carries a ‘go’ signal which spurs an action, the other a ‘stop’ signal.

Experiments by Duke neurobiology graduate student Justin O’Hare found that the stop and go pathways were both more active in the sugar-habit mice. O’Hare said he didn’t expect to see the stop signal equally ramped up in the habit brains, because it has been traditionally viewed as the factor that helps prevent a behavior.

The team also discovered a change in the timing of activation in the two pathways. In mice that had formed a habit, the go pathway turned on before the stop pathway. In non-habit brains, the stop signal preceded the go.

These changes in the brain circuitry were so long-lasting and obvious that it was possible for the group to predict which mice had formed a habit just by looking at isolated pieces of their brains in a petri dish. (same link as just above)

The study on habits is about mice with sugar habits, but I think it is fair to hypothesize that something similar happens with humans in their use of communication cues.

Humans, in my view, habituate to semiotic stimuli in much the same way that mice habituate to sugar.

The Duke study shows that the stop pathway grew as much as the go pathway in the mice, the main difference being that the go pathway turned on before the stop pathway.

Since human language and its uses is more complex than mice habituated to too much sugar, there must be many more stop and go pathways within the language and communication networks of human beings.

Many of these pathways will be similar among people in the same culture, but many of them won’t. Each human being is a repository of a multitude of idiosyncratic emotional and semantic responses and outputs.

So how do you figure out what your pathways are? And how do you correct ones that aren’t working well? And similarly, how do you figure out your partner’s pathways?

FIML practice helps partners to both identify their idiosyncratic communication habits and correct ones that are not working well. FIML finds and corrects pathways through micro-analysis.

It seems very likely to me that a FIML-style analysis corrects mistaken communication pathways by bringing the stop pathway to the fore. When a particular mistaken response is stopped a few times and under analysis seen to be wrong, the go pathways for that response will tend to be extirpated.

By using words to analyze micro units of miscommunication, FIML partners tap into the power of words to change actual pathways of neurons in their brains, thus reorganizing the deep linguistic basis of habitual psychological responses, no matter how idiosyncratic.

Tone of voice as a transitory manifestation of psycho-physiology

A very important and often ignored dimension of tone of voice is that it frequently is a manifestation of the transitory psycho-physiological state of the speaker.

When this transitoriness of tone of voice with its many complex subjective dimensions is ignored or more commonly misinterpreted by the listener, communication can be seriously disrupted.

In simple language, to listen to someone speak is to be in a state of figuring out what they mean, emotionally and otherwise.

Tone of voice is mostly an emotional marker.

When we listen to someone speak, we determine the fullness of their meaning by guessing and anticipating what their point is; by comparing and remembering what they are saying now to what they said in the past; and by monitoring their tone of voice for cues about their emotional state, either toward us, toward their topic, or toward something else.

Since tone of voice involves emotions—both the speaker’s and the listener’s—it can have very subtle and complex ramifications. And this is especially true because so much tone of voice is nothing more than a transitory manifestation of the speaker’s psycho-physiological state.

This point is super important and is worth pausing to consider even if you are sure you know what I mean.

Spoken language moves quickly through a great many transitory states, including word choice, corrections, varying intentions, feedback from the listener, to say nothing of non-linguistic clues like gesture, facial expression, and so on.

Tone of voice is one of these. If we misunderstand it, big problems can result.

A simple example is this. Early this morning I was sleepily standing near my partner watching her cut some scallions. The moment was very pleasant. As I stood there, the microwave beeped. I ignored it and she said, “You can remove that stuff if you want.”

I said something I can’t recall exactly, to which she replied, “Are you irritated?”

(She said that because we are actively pursuing an investigation of tone of voice.)

I stopped and thought about it. Yes, maybe 15% of my psycho-physiological state—my ready and on communication state, fuzzy as it was—had a deep-seated bad feeling about statements like that one: “You can do whatever…”

After more thought, I realized that the 15% bad feeling was coming from an event that had happened years before. One of the rudest things someone ever said to me was “you can leave now.”

I won’t go into that event, but I can trace some of my my sense of that phrase back to that event. It has nothing to do with my mom or dad or Sigmund Freud. It was just something a rude person said and it made me feel bad and I have not forgotten it.

That event was not in my mind when my partner spoke in the kitchen this morning, but it had long ago colored my reaction to the phrase “you can…” and thus affected my transitory emotional state this morning. That state was fleeting but part of me was in it when I spoke and thus my partner heard a tinge of irritation in my voice.

If we were not FIML partners we would have ignored my tone of voice and moved on. I would have retained a small dose of irritation hormones and associations in my mind and my partner would have retained a small dose of her version of that as the person who heard me speak that way.

Since we do FIML, we were able to avoid all of that while at the same time upgrading our understanding of each other and how we communicate.

This is a good example of how wonderful and excellent it is to find a mistake through FIML practice.

My tone was a mistake. Discovering it helps me offload the bad associations I have with that phrase. Hearing my explanation of my mistake helps my partner dismiss whatever reaction she had to my tone. Furthermore, both of us are more deeply sensitized to how significant transitory emotions can be, how they can affect tone of voice and communication between us.

This example will now serve as a paradigm for future instances of misguided tones of voice between us.

Just as micro mistakes in communication can have long-lasting and outsized ramifications, so micro analyses through FIML practice can provide very large benefits to partners. Rather than muddle along with a stupid misunderstanding, partners improve their lives by figuring out what actually happened and using that to prevent further mistakes in the future.

Repost: Errors in listening, cogitating, and speaking

Interpersonal communication errors can occur for many reasons during the acts of listening, cogitating, and/or speaking.

For example, in a conversation involving two people (A & B), person A may mishear (listening error) what B said; and/or person A may misunderstand or miscogitate what they heard; and/or person A may misspeak.

Errors in any part of that communication process will cause some sort of confusion between A and B. Errors can be of many types. The speaker may mispronounce, misenunciate, use the wrong word, be inadvertently misleading, hit a wrong tone of voice, etc. In turn, the listener may mishear, be inattentive, be overly attentive to one aspect of what the speaker is saying, not know a word or a reference, etc. Next, even if the listener heard correctly, they may misunderstand or miscogitate by making wrong associations, drawing wrong conclusions, etc. Any unconscious error in hearing or cogitating will probably lead the listener to misspeak when it is their turn.

Errors of these sorts if not corrected will compound and cause the conversation to become unsatisfying or confusing.

It is the goal of FIML practice to catch these errors as soon after they arise as possible. FIML partners should strive to be perfect with each other in all three of these communication areas–listening, cogitating, and speaking. The best way to do this is to pay close attention to yourself. If you feel an emotional jangle, be sure to confirm with your partner (by doing a FIML query) that your jangle is justified. If it is not, you have discovered an error. Correct the error and continue.

One very simple and common jangle involves feeling irritated (even very, very slightly) at your partner because they did not understand what you said (probably not so clearly). Take it as a given that our uses of language are frequently less than perfect. You must expect that a good many of the things you say will not be stated as clearly as they could be; many more of them, though clear enough, will contain ambiguities or misleading word choices. If as a speaker you become irritated at your partner for something that is inevitable in your own speech, you are making a huge mistake.

Another common jangle involving cogitation is feeling stupid or inattentive when your partner makes an association that you did not get even though you heard all of their words correctly. This jangle could also involve thinking your partner is stupid or not making sense because you did not get what they said. Either way, it is crucial that both FIML partners know that these kinds of mistakes in cogitation are quite common. Identify them when they occur–as soon as you can–and correct them.

A third common jangle, this time involving hearing, is attributing a wrong emotion or intention to the speaker’s tone of voice. The human  speech apparatus is not that highly developed. To speak, we have had to re-purpose our teeth, lips, and tongues, which other animals use for eating, to make noises that convey sometimes sophisticated meaning to other people. How could things not go wrong with that? We also breathe, vomit, kiss, and do other stuff with that same oral cavity. FIML partners must recognize that we are working with a primitive “wind instrument” when we talk and that this instrument may blow too hard, get clogged with phlegm, or experience many other kinds of mishaps that can distort the sounds of our voices. A person with a high, soft voice can easily be misunderstood as being a light-weight, while a person with a deep voice and large lungs can easily be misheard as being aggressive when they are not. Each one of us should be aware of how our voices might be misunderstood and then apply this level of detail to understanding, at least, our partner’s voice.

Another common listening jangle/error that can occur, even if you clearly understand all of the above, is a speaker’s tone of voice can be seriously misunderstood if we think it refers to us when it is referring to the subject at hand. For example, you say something about the car needs fixing and your partner responds in an irritated tone of voice. If you hear that irritation as referring to you when your partner is just sick of the damn car, you will be making a serious mistake. If you say nothing, you may simmer with wrong bad feelings for some time, which often leads to yet more bad feelings. If you do say something, you may start an argument and/or otherwise greatly compound the original problem. All that actually had happened was your partner expressed a fairly primitive emotion (irritation at the damn car) which you misunderstood to mean irritation at you. Your partner used our crude speech apparatus to grunt irritation at a very common problem and you used your crude ears and listening abilities and crude tendency to think everything applies to you to make a big mistake, one that will only add to the original problem.

As you and your partner continue doing FIML practice, you will get better and better at finding and correcting these kinds of errors the moment they arise. It’s not always easy, but it is always very satisfying if you discuss the matter long enough for both of you to achieve a real resolution.

Basic signaling and what it explains

Basic signaling can be described or explained as follows:

  • A signal is information sent from one place and received at another.
  • A signal can be big or small.
  • A signal can be true or false.*

These are the most basic features of all signals. More complex signals contain these three basic features and also exhibit other features, such as:

  • having complexity or context
  • being conscious or not
  • being consciously designed to have an effect

From the three features of basic signaling, we can say a lot about human signaling.

The first feature of basic signaling simply defines what a signal is. I can signal to myself or I can signal to you. A simple example is I check my hair in the mirror (signal to self) and then present myself to you (signal to you). Insofar as my hair signal to you has a conscious element of how my hair looks or doesn’t look (sloppy, messy), the hair signal I sent to myself via the mirror is now being sent to you via my imagination.

This hair signal can also illustrate the second feature of basic signaling—how big or small the signal is. My hair signal may be important to me while I am looking in the mirror (big signal) or not very important (small signal). In like manner, my hair signal may be big or small in your mind.

This hair signal can also illustrate the third feature of basic signaling—its truth or falsity. If I have dyed my hair, in some sense I am sending a false signal. If I have not dyed my hair but you think I have, then you are receiving a false signal.

One could also say that dyed hair is not a truly “false” signal because it is common for people to dye their hair. Similar arguments can be made for combing or cutting hair or anything we do with our hair. The truth or falsity of many human signals is open to interpretation in this manner.

Normally, we use the three basic features of complex signals described in the second bullet list above to decide which interpretation to use. Changing the context and complexity upon which our interpretation is based will tend to change our interpretation of the signal.

Notice how many signals achieve their effects primarily by being big. Big signs, bright lights, loud music, heavy make-up, loud sexual signals, perfume, odor, big muscles, fake boobs, expensive cars, big houses and yachts, etc. all work in part by being big signals. Bigness or smallness is point two in the list above.

Bigness alone can explain why people lie, slant, or falsely accuse. As long as a signal is big, some people will be attracted to it and come under its spell. If someone accuses you falsely of something and spreads their accusation around, you may be faced with a big problem. If the lie is big enough and artful enough, you now are forced to defend yourself. If you do not even know what is being said about you, you can’t even do that.

Another version of the effectiveness of a big false accusation is one made to your face. As soon as it is uttered, the scene and context will shift dramatically. You are normally required to immediately defend yourself, derailing whatever rational exchange of ideas preceded the accusation.

We can see how this works in interpersonal communication and we can also see how it works on a larger scale. When nations go to war, they invariably lie about each other. Politicians lie, cultures lie, groups lie, religions lie, sports fans lie, and so on.

Lies or false accusation work because they send big signals that require a defense and, since they are lies, can be hard to defend against.

To me, this is a depressing side of human communication. Lies and false accusations very often win against the truth.

Simply stated, false accusations are aggressive lies, but we also know them in milder form as spin, slanting the facts, one-sidedness, tailoring the message, and so on.

Note: I got the idea of the importance of false accusations from a book I am reading on alcoholism: Vessels of Rage, Engines of Power: The Secret History of Alcoholism.

The author of this book, James Graham, makes the claim repeatedly that alcoholics very often engage in false accusations. In discussing this book with my partner, we came to conclude that Graham is right about this—false accusations do seem to be common among the alcoholics we both know.

Since I like to break things down into basic principles, my partner and I came up with the principles outlined above.

A false accusation sends a big signal into a social group while at the same time protecting the alcoholic from criticism. It allows them to say, “You see it is not me or my drinking that is the problem here, she is the one who is crazy!” Or, “Can you believe what he did to me?” Of course, he didn’t do anything but to a drunk, the accusation feels good and often works with others because it is big.

On a larger scale, false accusations in public today often take form as PC dictates. That’s “racist,” “sexist,” “micro-aggressive,” “privileged,” “homophobic,” etc. Just knowing that we might be accused of one of these attitudes has been enough to keep most people from saying anything that could even be tangentially interpreted in that way.

Note two: FIML practice entirely removes false accusations and any basis for them between partners. No FIML partner should ever say, “You did too mean that!” Or “I know why you did that!”

Partners who have established a habit of frequently checking their interpretations of each other should experience very few occasions to feel that their interpretation of something their partner signaled is better than their partner’s interpretation.

_______________

*A false signal that is not conscious might be a non-poisonous snake or insect that has evolved to look like a poisonous one.

Repost: Emotional “meaning”

  • I challenge readers to find an emotion that does not have “meaning.”
  • Emotions that have no meaning do exist, but are not common and are generally ignored.
  • What is “meaning” in this context?
  • Meaning here means, quite specifically, “that which is connected to (interconnected in) a semiotic network.”
  • Emotions arise due to bodily functions, metabolism, external events, communication events, life events, etc.
  • Once an emotion arises it is either discarded (given no “meaning”) or it is taken up into a semiotic network.
  • Once it is taken up into a semiotic network, an emotion will resonate within that network, have an import and “meaning” based on that network.
  • For example, a single impression of microaggression will almost certainly be defined by prior learning, by the prior existence of a semiotic network that accepts and defines this sort of perception.
  • That is to say, if the perceiver has been trained or self-taught to perceive and react to microaggression, their preformed sensibilities (its “meaning”) will respond to it, often far more strongly than conditions warrant.
  • A similar analysis applies to any emotion.
  • Watch yourself as you discard the brief feeling you might get from looking at a nondescript wall or a leaf curled on the ground. Compare emotional reactions you don’t discard, such as ones involving human expressions, tone of voice, things left unsaid, etc.
  • This shows that we will learn more about emotions by analyzing the semiotic networks that give them meaning rather than trying to trace them back to their intangible origins or follow their ambiguous development.
  • Emotions do develop as the networks that “hold” them develop and/or as the emotion itself is given greater or lesser prominence within its network(s).
  • In this sense, emotions can grow very large or become very small.
  • Ones that had meaning can and do disappear. But no emotion will appear and maintain itself for long without being taken into a semiotic network, given a meaning or assigned a meaning.
  • Notice how you have sensibilities and emotions connected to how you have been trained. And notice how these emotions and sensibilities are different from others who have not been trained as you have.
  • A trained gardener, salesperson, doctor, cook, surfer, etc. has emotions and sensibilities that are different from people who have not had their training, whether that training is formal or informal.
  • If you just spend time thinking about something you will be “training” yourself, developing different sensibilities and emotions about whatever it is.
  • Humans are semiotic animals that spend most of their time in semiotic environments.
  • A semiotic network communicates both with the self and with others.
  • Semiotic networks include everything that can be communicated, including language, ideas, emotions, beliefs, values, memories, skills, and so on.
  • If you were trained in a certain safety procedure and you agree with it (thoroughly putting out campfires, for example), it will drive you nuts to see someone ignore the basics. This is true for almost anything you were trained in and agree with.
  • Training gives us richer and different emotions, either in kind or in degree.
  • Training strengthens and broadens the semiotic network(s) holding or defining emotions, thus making them stronger, more sensible, more reasonable or, conversely, weaker, less sensible, less reasonable.
  • “Personalities” develop through training, some of it formal, much of it informal and idiosyncratic.
  • Some training is good and some of it is bad.

The importance of seeing the small in the large and the large in the small

When the subject is human behavior and we see the small in the large and the large in the small, we will be much better able to appreciate the spectrum of thought, feeling, and behavior that underlies whatever is in question.

For example, the self-centeredness of individuals scales from the individual (small) to society (large) and everything in between. Two friends can be self-centered together as can larger groups and entire societies comprising millions of people.

Similarly, when we see self in other and other in self, we are more likely to grasp the spectrums of thought, feeling, and behavior that underlie the actions of all individuals.

For example, alcoholics often make false accusations against others as their conditions worsen. They take the seed of unreasonable defensiveness that resides in all of us and expand it into malicious attacks against “adversaries” that do not even exist.

In FIML practice, partners will discover many kinds of small mistakes in themselves. Usually, it is easy to see how these small mistakes, if left uncorrected, can lead to much more serious misunderstandings and bad (because it is based on a mistake) behavior.

For example, the alcoholic who falsely attacks a friend is almost certainly magnifying some little misunderstanding into something huge, something  worrisome or insulting that demands revenge.

Nations can behave like children and all good people have at least the seeds of a malicious drunk in them.

FIML discussions can be greatly enhanced by seeing almost everything as part of spectrums that underlie all people and societies.

Repost: How delusions are formed

Delusions must start somewhere.

A recent study (Emoticons in mind: An event-related potential study) convincingly demonstrates that our responses to emoticons as simple as a colon next to a parenthesis :) are similar to our responses to real human faces.

Clearly, this response has been learned. No infant is born with that response and no one anywhere had it just a few decades ago.

Our tendency to respond to :) as a face arose with its use in email and texting. This response is now a well-established “public” response to a “public” semiotic. In this context, public means “understood and shared by many people.”

A public semiotic is a sign with wide currency. It is a unit of culture and often of language itself. We can see in the case of the emoticon :) that a new sign can arise due to unique circumstances and that that sign can come to have a deep meaning for many people.

The sign :) seems quite beautiful to me because it is very simple, very easily produced, and very telling about how our minds work. If the elements of the sign are reversed (: people no longer respond to it as a face, though of course we could learn to do that if the reversed sign were used that way more frequently.

I remember the first time I saw a derivative sign ;) and wondered briefly what it meant. If you had a similar experience, you may be able to remember how such a simple sign can bloom in your mind and go from something that is unknown to something of considerable significance in just a few seconds.

That is an example of the birth of a sign, the birth of a semiotic in your mind.

When the semiotic is public, we strive to learn what other people mean by it. When it is private—that is, with a meaning known only to us—there will be other, often very significant, implications.

What would a “private sign” be like? A straightforward example might be a code we use in a diary. Such a code would have at least one visual sign whose meaning is known only to us.

Another kind of private visual sign might be a facial expression that we have come to interpret differently from other people. My guess is everyone has a good many of these. That is to say, the “idiolect” of facial expressions we each use to understand other people is at least as various as different idiolects within a spoken language.

Now add tone of voice, posture, accent, word choice, topic choice, and so on to this mix. Each of those areas of communication uses signs that can and always will be interpreted in a wide variety of ways, including private ones.

Now, consider how an individual may get lost in all this. If someone ever smiled at you as they hurt you, you may have learned to be suspicious in your interpretation of human smiles. Or you may employ your own smile in ambiguous ways.

Now consider all the signs of communication and how many possible interpretations there are. Then consider the study linked above which shows how deep our responses can be to something as trivial as the sign :).

One way we form delusions occurs when our interpretations of communicative signs become too private and/or do not correspond well with the interpretations employed by other people. The other way we form delusions occurs when our interpretations of signs does correspond well with the interpretations employed by other people, but those other people are wrong.

In “public” situations—professional, commercial, business, school, etc.—it is fairly easy to communicate well enough based on established norms. But in interpersonal communication, you can only take “established norms” so far. At some point, you will have to understand your partner and be understood by them in much greater detail than “established norms,” or public semiotics.

Here is a newspaper article on the study linked above:  Happy days: Human brain now registers smiley face emoticon as real facial expression.

Rapid extirpation of complex contretemps

The process described below is a common event that happens often between humans. FIML practitioners will benefit from identifying and understanding this process as understanding it leads to harmonious resolutions while not understanding it often leads to fighting and bad feelings.

In this context, a contretemps is defined as a misunderstanding between two or more parties during an act of communication.

Contretemps are resolved or extirpated through FIML practice or something similar.

Complex contretemps are contretemps that have more than one or two terms and that require several exchanges of information to be resolved

Complex contretemps often proceed rapidly as clarifying information and explanations quickly go back and forth between participants.

This kind of resolution or extirpation of complex contretemps is a process that should be recognized or identified by FIML practitioners (and others). Recognizing it as it happens greatly facilitates a harmonious resolution.

This process might also be called a “ricocheting extirpation process” in the sense that meaning and information ricochet rapidly between partners.

The rapidity happens because partners are both trying to make their points and may fear losing hold of what they mean or meant. This process causes stress, sometimes considerable stress, and generally induces stress tones in speakers.

If it is identified and understood while it is happening, it will resolve more quickly. If it is not identified and understood, the stress voices, stress hormones, and confusion of meaning typically will cause fighting or bad feelings.

I usually give examples of what I mean, but in this case see if you can identify some complex contretemps on your own. They are characterized by the rapid exchange of information and explanations, by stress tones, and stress hormones. They usually are not pleasant. However, if they are identified and resolved quickly, partners should experience feelings of clarity and elevated thinking.

I see them as being like physical exercise. They make you work, but the result is good for you. These kinds of contretemps are common and completely unavoidable. They should be understood as a feature of language and as an inevitable part of interpersonal communication.

After a complex contretemps has been resolved or extirpated to the complete satisfaction of both partners, it is all but inevitable that stress feelings will remain for some time. I believe this is due to emotions having a significant chemical basis that requires time to dissipate. The mind may be clear, but the stress hormones are still in the system.

On Freudianism and the assertion of interpersonal meaning

Freudianism is an extreme example of the assertion of meaning where there is none, or very little.

It is extreme for two reasons: 1) because it is scientifically groundless and 2) because so many people believed it.

Communism, many religious beliefs and practices, fads, styles, ethnic myths, many “historical” misinterpretations, and much more are examples of false meanings that are asserted and believed by large numbers of people.

You could say that pretty much all human culture is a similar stew of strongly asserted falsehoods mixed with some facts.

Freud was an interesting writer and his ideas were and are worth considering, but they should have remained minor points in the history of psychology and never become “meanings” that influenced the entire Western world.

In this respect, Freudianism is an excellent sociological or macro example of what individuals do psychologically, on micro and meso levels with themselves and others.

Humans are extremely prone to append or assert meaning where it does not belong either because there is no “meaning” in that context or because the “meaning” being asserted is incorrect.

Freudianism shows how powerfully and massively wrong we often get meaning and how wrong our analyses of human thought, emotion, and behavior can be.

At the macro level of trends like Freudianism, we can and should have asked for evidence.

At the micro and meso levels of human psychological understanding we can and should ask for evidence or confirmation from the person or persons about whom we are asserting psychological meaning.

If you do this frequently with a trusted partner, you will begin to see that many of the “meanings” you append to that partner and to yourself are false.

If you see an Oedipal complex in your partner, chances are you will be seeing something similar in yourself.

False macro meanings like Freudianism can be corrected through science. At the micro or meso levels of the individual, wrong meanings can only be corrected through a practice like FIML.

In the future we may be better able to understand micro and meso levels of interpersonal meaning through the use of brain scans, but even brain scans need interpretation and will be difficult to use during real-time, interpersonal interactions.

See Micro, meso, and macro levels of human understanding for more on what is meant by these levels.

How can I be sure?

If it’s about what your partner says, thinks, feels, or intends, you can’t unless you ask and your partner is honest.

The following link contains four videos made by actors who were

asked to convey one specific intention through their speech and actions: to be sincere, or to tell ‘white lies’, or to be teasing, or to be sarcastic. (How can I tell if she’s lying?) (emphasis added)

Well-worth viewing, the videos are instructive because they show how difficult it is to grab a single intention from a short segment of speech, or to portray one.

If a single intention is difficult, how can you grab complex intentions from real conversations with real people who are really interacting with you?

You really can’t. Of course, sometimes you will be right, but much of the time you won’t. And if you are wrong just once, your mistake may lead to other mistakes, compounding into something much bigger.

Every day someone is murdered somewhere due to someone else mistaking their intentions. And, I am just as sure, every day many thousands of couples slide toward incompatibility due to accumulating mistakes in their communications.

FIML practice is designed to deal with problems of misspeaking, mishearing, miscogitating, and miscommunicating between consenting partners. FIML practice is based on the recognition that such problems are common, ubiquitous, and inevitable.

A problem with intention—sarcasm, irony, ill-will, etc.—in communication is there is no way to define it or establish any standard for it. With words, we can all agree on rough standards for pronunciation, but when you put a bunch of words together and mix in tone of voice and intention, there arises only an ambiguous standard, at best.

The videos linked above show how difficult it is to isolate even simple intentionality. The communication systems of both listeners and speakers are simply too complex to effectively standardize the majority of normal human communication. If this is understood the value of and reason for doing FIML practice should be clear.

The importance of analyzing tone of voice

Tone of voice is difficult to define clearly or control. It can also be very seriously misunderstood.

Nonetheless an algorithm designed by researchers has succeeded in predicting the outcomes of marital counseling with 79% accuracy, which is better than what human counselors predicted.

The study shows that tone of voice is measurable with decent accuracy and thus is an objective aspect of language to a point. I qualify that statement because tone of voice can also be misunderstood and misunderstandings can become habits and/or become serious hindrances to understanding if they are not properly analyzed.

One of the researchers had this to say of the study:

Psychological practitioners and researchers have long known that the way that partners talk about and discuss problems has important implications for the health of their relationships. However, the lack of efficient and reliable tools for measuring the important elements in those conversations has been a major impediment in their widespread clinical use. These findings represent a major step forward in making objective measurement of behavior practical and feasible for couple therapists. (Source)

Note the line: “…the lack of efficient and reliable tools for measuring the important elements in those conversations has been a major impediment in their widespread clinical use…”

This is good news for clinics, but what do you do at home years before you need to seek counseling for a rocky marriage?

What you can do is analyze at home using FIML techniques or something similar.

When FIML partners focus on analyzing tone of voice long before they are experiencing problems in their relationship, I am confident most of them will not develop problems, and surely most will never develop problems related to tone of voice.

Tone of voice is accessible to rational analysis and understanding if partners make FIML-type agreements to do so. Besides avoiding marital discord, FIML analyses provide many other other kinds of insights into the idiosyncratic specifics of partners’ unique relationships and circumstances.

The study can be found here: Still Together?: The Role of Acoustic Features in Predicting Marital Outcome.

An article about the study can be found here: Words can deceive, but tone of voice cannot.

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.