Cooperative narcissism and meta-communication

I think we can describe virtually all group cohesion as “cooperative narcissism.”

Groups are pretty much all self-aggrandizing and almost all of them show callous disregard for other groups, unless they are connected in a narcissistic super-group.

Sports teams are a very basic example of narcissistic groups; players and fans revel in their selfishness and contempt for competing groups. That we generally consider those emotions to be playful and healthy demonstrates my point.

Another example might be a parent who dedicates excessive time and energy to a group outside of the family. To the extent that that parent’s participation in that group is excessive it is narcissistic. Excessive in this context would entail some degree of self-aggrandizement and callous disregard for the family. Some degree in this context is open to question but often can be decided.

Once again in this context, the family itself might be considered a narcissistic group if it demands an excessive degree of group allegiance from the parent. What excessive means here can often be reasonably decided.

The reason I raise the above topic is I think that most groups most of the time have so much difficulty with honest meta-communication, they simply cannot allow it.

Groups, of course, excel at the meta-communication we call conformity. Honest meta-communication that does not support conformity, though, usually causes discord. Generally it is perceived as being disruptive, aggressive, rude, “other.” We like those who are like us and dislike those who are not.

Honest meta-communication is not only dangerous for group cohesion but also for interpersonal bonding. This is so because virtually all interpersonal bonding is a type of group bonding. We like the same things, believe the same things, so we can bond; we are friends because we already are members of the same group(s).

When people are very close and have formed their own group that is stronger than any other group they feel they belong to, meta-communication is much less likely to produce discord.

For example, my partner can say she doesn’t like my shirt or the way I cut my hair without bothering me at all. In fact, I am grateful if she tells me that because I trust her and can easily fix the problem. If she criticizes me for something I can’t fix, that’s another matter (and another subject for another day).

If a new friend or colleague criticizes my shirt or hair, I probably will not take it in the same spirit as I did when the comment came from my partner. Rather than feel grateful (which I still might do), I am more likely (than with my partner) to hear my colleague’s comment as aggressive, rude, or disruptive. Rather than strengthen our bond, it can damage it.

This is a basic reason why so many groups and so much human communication is so dissatisfying, so dukkha. As such, we simply cannot say interesting meta things to most people without risking strife.

Some other examples of dangerous meta-communication that should be neutral but are not for people with strong beliefs or group allegiances are:

  • doubting the veracity of religion or science
  • saying anything bad or good about vaccines
  • saying anything bad or good about political parties, political philosophies, or politicians
  • saying anything bad or good about ethnicity or ethnic history, regions or regional histories or politics, symbols, flags, etc.

Lists like this could go on for miles. And that is because most people normally organize their minds along lines like that. When you engage in meta-communication about any subject that organizes someone’s mind, they will have trouble with it. Propaganda even uses that basic reaction as part of its basic formula.

Cooperative narcissism very often exists in intimate relations between two people. This happens because the dominant means (conformity, agreement, general semiotics) people use to communicate within groups are brought into the intimate relationship as a “natural” part of it.

The problem with that is it is much too confining for individual minds. This point is probably obvious to many readers. But I wonder if those same readers have a means to overcome it. How many intimate partners can do clear meta-communication with each other extensively without causing discord?

I bet it is not so many. The reason there are often problems in this area is partners restrict themselves to doing meta-communication on meso and macro subjects only.

“I think you are this kind of person.” “I believe your personality is thus and so.” “I think you are like this because you have that background.” Etc.

These sorts of meta-conversations can be fun and informative, but they also tend to go in circles while generating massive misunderstandings. At worst, we come to believe them—to reify “main points”—and bind each other to forms and stereotypes that are not deeply real.

The way out of this problem is to escape through micro communication. As long as two people have a prior agreement (as in FIML practice) to honestly do micro corrections on as much of their communication as possible, they will overcome the problems of cooperative narcissism and the damage it does to human communication at all levels.

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.

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.

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.

Notes

  • Most of what we think of as the “self” are limited constructs that allow the individual to feel connected to, fulfilled by the sociology and politics of whatever culture they are in.
  • Personality, social roles, self-image, goals, needs, greed and so forth are some of the main constructs that do this.
  • Another way to say this is the self is cut from the same cloth as the sociology the individual identifies with.
  • When people do not do FIML-type micro-analyses of their speech and communication, they are at the mercy of meso and macro sociological constructs.
  • Just a few results of the above are group-think, false confessions, the need to think one thing, believe one story, have one self, one personality, have single explanations where only complex explanations will actually explain anything.
  • More of these are willful distortions of history, fantasies about the past, about other people or peoples, simple heuristics which become psychopathic in many of their applications.
  • A false-confession is a particular type of resonance between an individual and the sociology surrounding them. It is a kind of hypnosis that achieves verbal stasis with others at the expense of the truth, which is much messier and far more difficult to explain. The confessor, I am sure, experiences a sort of relief as the truth as they really know it recedes into the background.
  • We all accept social falsity frequently. Society is based on our doing that.
  • A false confession, of which there are many and many kinds, is just a particularly strong version of social falsity.
  • Reflexively and quickly agreeing wholeheartedly with your doctor’s brief diagnosis of something is also an example of a sort of false confession or false agreement with something based on lack of thinking for yourself.
  • If we look at totalitarian societies, it is easy to see all of the above in action. The “self” of a North Korean today or a Bolshevik ninety years ago are obvious examples of individuals being subsumed within a matrix of social absurdity and madness.
  • Totalitarian thinking still appeals to many people because it provides security for the ill-constructed “self.”
  • Totalitarian thinking is characterized by simple heuristics which tend toward psychopathy in many applications. It is intolerant of discussion or debate and ostracizes (or kills) individuals who hold opposing views.
  • “Political correctness” is a (usually) mild form of totalitarianism, though it can still be dangerous.

Creation of meaning and human behavior

Humans create meaning because they have to.

Virtually all humans need meaning and a sense that their minds are organized or unified by meaning. The macro-meanings of religion, science, and politics are obvious examples of the sorts of “organized” or “unified” meaning people want and need.

Gangs are another type of organized meaning that unify the minds of their members.

An exceptionally cruel example of the importance of meaning can be seen in the recent story of a young man who was killed for wearing red shoes—gang colors—in the wrong neighborhood (Teen shot after refusing to give up shoes).

This story illustrates how small a bit of meaning can be and yet still elicit violent reactions.

Most people don’t do stuff like that but most people can be and often are as petty if not as violent. In so-called “polite” society a poorly expressed opinion or a deviant political stance can lead to ostracism.

People go nuts over tiny misunderstandings because practically anything can threaten their sense of meaningful unity or organization. In this vein, notice how many people are attracted to institutions that define them. Define their beliefs, values, thoughts, vocabularies, semiotics, even their hairdos and clothes.

In FIML practice, partners also often deal with small bits of meaning. But rather than fight over them or accept them as definitions of anything, partners analyze them and work to understand how those bits of meaning are functioning, what they are doing. A FIML analysis is a process that works toward shared understanding rather than a static—even a programmed—response that is often instinctual, if not violent.

If you take meaning for granted—your uniform, candidate, religion, ethnicity—you will be owned and used by it or by the people who created it, often before you were born. In contrast, if you analyze meaning you will own it and be able to use it freely and as you choose.

While riding in the car, I spoke with my partner about the ideas expressed above. She thought for a moment and said, “You know how if a parasite kills its host quickly it is a sign that it is a recently evolved parasite?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, isn’t what you’re saying similar? Those hunks of cultural meaning have been around for centuries. They are like successful parasites that condition the behaviors of millions of people at a time.”

“Nice,” I said.

“FIML is recent and it may not survive because it is hard to pass on to others. It’s not a parasite, though. It frees us from the parasitism of convention. It doesn’t allow us to get locked in.”

Stress voice

Humans are semiotic animals that respond to human signals as primary percepta.

Some obvious examples are sex in advertising, pictures of hamburgers, people enjoying a natural view from a balcony in a hotel brochure. Each of these relies on an “instinct”—sex, hunger, an animal’s response to nature—while at the same time signaling a complex human contribution to the basic signal.

Another type of human signal that arouses instinct is tone of voice. A good example of this is the “stress” or “alarm” voice that is used by most if not all mammals and birds.

The basic instinctive stress or alarm voice is a shriek. If words are used, the shrieking tone will be accompanied by rapidly spoken words—“stop! stop! stop!” or “Watch out! it’s falling” or “get down! get down!” etc.

In basic situations involving real danger, the alarm voice is very important. We definitely want to have both the voice and the sudden energized response it draws from us.

In many situations, though, the stress voice can cause problems when it arises due to simple miscommunication. For example, I say or do something different from what you asked or implied and it causes you—virtually involuntarily—to use an alarmed tone that involves a bit of a shriek and rapid words.

For example, you asked me to cut some mushrooms for a broth we are making. What you meant is you want the mushrooms to go into the clear broth after it has been made but I toss them into the pot with the chicken bones and vegetable scraps that will be strained and thrown away.

When you first see what I have done, you experience slight confusion, even cognitive dissonance, and say in an alarmed voice, “What are you doing with the mushrooms?”

In turn, I respond directly to your stress voice and to the now evident miscommunication with my own confusion and stress voice, “I thought you wanted them in the broth!”

If we are friends, this minor contretemps will probably be easily overcome and we may even laugh about it. If we have had many unresolved contretemps of this type, however, one or both of us may escalate the problem by being accusatory or even abusive.

Even though the mushroom contretemps is very simple and insignificant, it can still be dangerous even between good friends because this type of contretemps can quickly get blown out of proportion due to the primal, instinctive quality of the stress voice.

Similar problem situations might be miscommunicated directions while driving or working, messed up meeting times, or getting the wrong thing from the store.

These problems are generally easy to resolve, though they may still generate discord or stress both because a confusing miscommunication happened and also because the stress or alarm voice just is that way; it causes stress or alarm in and of itself.

If you can see and deal with concrete situations such as the ones described above, imagine how similar situations may arise in less concrete forms and how they can be even more dangerous and lead to even more serious problems.

Miscommunicated emotional, sexual, psychological, or intellectual signals can also give rise to primal stress or alarm tones and, in turn, generate further stress and alarm. Contretemps like these can be much harder to pinpoint, analyze, and understand than simpler ones involving concrete communication about mushrooms or directions.

In FIML practice, if partners can mutually understand a few concrete contretemps and how and why they generate stress and confusion and use these forms as basic paradigms for more complex contretemps, they will go a long way toward removing stress and confusion that is entirely blameless, unconscious, unmotivated, and unintended by either of them.

Repost: Memory is not reliable but changes to fit present circumstances

“Our memory is not like a video camera,” Bridge said. “Your memory reframes and edits events to create a story to fit your current world. It’s built to be current.” (Source)

The unreliability of human memory is not a new topic, but this study fairly convincingly shows how our memories conform to what we are doing and/or how we have been using them.

One can plausibly extrapolate from this that humans change how they remember and understand themselves and others based on the data of now. A moment of frustration, for example, may cause us to see someone near us in a different light, through no fault of theirs.

If our frustration is with how we are being (mis)understood or with our difficulty in expressing our thoughts, the implications for how we understand the person we are speaking with may be even more serious.

Experienced FIML partners will surely have realized that even minor misunderstandings can lead to large acts of “reframing” events in an emotional way that can be seriously distorted.

Edit: Beyond innocent misunderstandings (which, unfortunately, can have tragic consequences), this area of shifting memories is where a good deal of interpersonal abuse occurs. In the worst cases, one (or both) partners abuse normal human malleability to lie. In less bad cases, one (or both) partners is easily excited by their own distortions and quickly comes to believe them, effectively lying to themselves as well as their partner.

In other cases, individuals or entire groups of people may decide to tell a significant lie (slanted history, for example) and then hurl their lie passionately at others. This frequently causes the person being lied to to react with shame or concern based on the liars’ emotional display and not on the facts of the matter. A person being subjected to such verbal abuse will often conclude that if the other person is so passionate, they must have a serious point that should be considered. Doing this with a deliberate liar allows emotions to unbalance or reframe facts in a way that serves their purpose.

The ambiguous commons and human culture

In a post some months ago, I introduced the idea of an “ambiguous commons,” a region of shared public meaning that is both central to any and all cultures and inherently vague.

I think it is fair to say that virtually all human communication takes place in and around an “ambiguous commons,” a common area of meaning that can be variously interpreted and is liable to always be ambiguous. (Source same as above)

All cultural meaning arises through the communicative interactions of the members of that culture.

The ambiguous commons is defined  by (and provides definition to) a dynamic push-and-push-back of the members of the community. This is a never-ending dynamic, even a struggle, that members of the community engage in as long as they live.

There is rarely, if ever, any clear resolution of meaning because common meaning is constantly changing due to the dynamic forces of many communicants.

I am speaking less about big ideas (though it is much the same for them) as the smaller ideas of individuals who interact with other individuals. Your sense of my responsibilities may be different from mine, thus causing a push-and-push-back to occur between us should we require a definition of responsibility in any given situation.

The same can be said for any other cultural value, sign, or concept. My notion of justice will be different from yours in some situations, as will your sense of fairness be different from mine.

Since it is frequently difficult for people to resolve differing interpretations of the ambiguous commons, emotions or status claims often come into play. The emotions that arise in commons disputes can be remarkably childish or primitive, and the same can be said of status jockeying.

Strongly asserted primitive emotions, not clarity of thought or reason, frequently will win the game of defining whatever the issue is. (This also shows that for people, human communicative semiotics are primary percepta and that humans tend to react to them through the “natural” “instincts” of fear, violence, warmth, aggression, congregation, etc.)

For example, if person A says that person B is arrogant, person B is somewhat obligated to respond. B might accept the accusation and apologize or B might push back, either defensively or aggressively. If B declines to do anything, it is a sign that B has left the commons and no longer shares or wants to share that aspect of the commons with person A.

In the abstract, both A and B may use the word “responsibility” in similar ways and appear to mean the same thing. When the rubber meets the road, however, and A disapproves of B’s sense of responsibility in a particular situation, a squabble over their shared common meaning often will ensue.

Either party may attempt to enlist others to their side and so on.

When people do FIML practice, since their capacity for apprehending shared meaning is much better than those who do not, disputes in and around the ambiguous commons will be much less common. Differences will still arise, but they will be much easier to settle since emotional pushing-and-pushing-back is no longer needed to arrive at shared definitions and interpretations.

FIML is not fundamentally about speaking in (fake) nice tones and having (limited) good manners or manifesting (stock) respect. FIML is about removing ambiguity from the meanings shared by partners. FIML partners have still been raised in cultures that function through ambiguous commons, but between themselves there is much less ambiguity and much less need to assert a position by emotional force.

Repost: Identity as a vortex or tautology

Our identities are fundamentally made up of semiotic matrices. That is to say, in part, that our identities have meaning; they mean something to us.

Often they mean a great deal to us and from them we derive the semiotics of motivation, intention, life-plans, many of our central interests, and so on.

Identities have strong emotional components, to be sure, but our emotions are ambiguous or diffuse if they are not positioned on a semiotic matrix and focused or defined by that matrix.

Identity is usually tautological in that its components, interests, and associations tend always to lead back to a few central elements. Often these elements have been inculcated in us by training. Some, we learn on our own. These elements are our values and beliefs, and also how these values and beliefs are understood and pursued.

The semiotics of identity must mean something to the person identifying with them. In this sense, they are almost always tautological. I do what I do because that is how I learned how to do it, think it, feel it, perceive it.

Most people are more adept at moving the parts of language around than they are at moving semiotic elements around. For many, semiotics are either an unknown, unconscious level of being or abstractions that belongs in scholarly journals.

To think like that is a big mistake. Semiotics are very real and they affect us constantly on many levels.

When semiotics are unconscious, they act like a vortex pulling perception, emotion, and understanding always toward the center of the identity. I think this is another way to say, in the Buddhist sense, that the self is empty; that it has no “own being.”

We can pursue an understanding of an empty self through Buddhist thought and practice, but I believe we will get better results more quickly if we add a practice that deals directly with the semiotics of our identities.

Since there is no book you can go to to look up how your unique semiotics of identity works, you have to see for yourself how it works. You can do much of this on your own, but eventually you will need a partner because there is no way you will be able to get an objective perspective on yourself acting alone.

FIML practice is the only way I know of to fully see into and through the semiotics of your “identity.” Beneath identity there is a sort of artesian well of pure, undefined consciousness. FIML helps us experience that well while keeping us from rushing back into the tautological matrix of identity, or static self-definition.

FIML is able to do this because FIML is process. FIML itself has no definition, only a procedure. It is not a tautology because it has no semiotic boundaries.

The limits of general semiotic analyses as applied to human psychology

Much of the work done in human semiotics involves analyses of semiotic codes.

Semiotics and semiotic codes are often treated like language or languages for which a grammar can be found.

One obvious problem with this sort of approach is semiotics indicates a set that is much broader than language. Stated another way, language is a subset of semiotics.

Human semiotics also include music, imagery, gesture, facial expression, emotion, and anything else that can communicate either within one mind or between two or more minds.

It is very helpful to analyze semiotic codes and it is very helpful to try to figure out how cultures, groups, and individuals use them. We can compare the semiotics of heroism in Chinese culture to that of French culture. Or the semiotics of gift-giving in American culture to that of Mexican culture. We can analyze movies, literature, science, and even engineering based on semiotic codes we have abstracted out of them.

We can do something similar for human psychology.

Analyses of this type are, in my view, general in that they involve schema or paradigms or grammars that say general things about how semiotic systems work or how individuals (or semiotic signs themselves) fit into those systems.

This is all good and general analyses of this sort can be indispensable aids to understanding.

General semiotic analyses are limited, however, in their application to human psychology because such analyses cannot effectively grasp the semiotic codes of the individual. Indeed general analyses are liable to conceal individual codes and interpretations more than usefully reveal them.

This is so because all individuals are always complex repositories of many general semiotic codes as well as many individual ones. And these codes are always changing, responding, being conditioned by new circumstances and many kinds of feedback.

Individuals as repositories of many codes, both external and internal, are complex and always changing and there is no general analysis that will ever fully capture that complexity.

For somewhat similar reasons, no individual acting alone can possibly perform a self-analysis that captures the full complexity of the many and always-changing semiotic codes that exist within them.

Self-analysis is far too subject to selection bias, memory, and even delusion to be considered accurate or objective. The individual is also far too complex for the individual to grasp alone. How can an individual possibly stand outside itself and see itself as it is? Where would the extra brain-space come from?

How can a system of complex semiotic codes use yet another code to successfully analyze itself?

Clearly, no individual human semiotic system can ever fully know itself.

To recap, 1) there is no general semiotic analysis that will ever capture the complexity of individual psychology, and 2) no individual acting alone can ever capture the complexity of the semiotic codes that exist within them.

Concerning point two, we could just as well say that no individual acting alone can ever capture the complexity of their own psychology.

We are thus prevented from finding a complex analysis of human psychology through a general analysis of semiotics and also through an individual’s self-analysis when acting alone.

This suggests, however, that two individuals acting together might be able to glimpse, if not grasp, how their complex semiotic codes are actually functioning when they interact with each other. If two individuals working together can honestly observe and discuss moments of dynamic real-time semiotic interaction between them, they should be able to begin to understand how their immensely complex and always-changing psycho-semiotic codes are actually functioning.

An approach of this type ought to work better for psychological understanding of the individuals involved than any mix of general semiotic analyses applied to them. Indeed, prefabricated, general semiotic analyses will tend to conceal the actual functioning of the idiosyncratic semiotics and semiotic codes used by those individuals.

The FIML method does not apply a general semiotic analysis to human psychology. Rather it uses a method or technique to allow two individuals working together to see and understand how their semiotics and semiotic codes are actually functioning.

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.

Mindfulness and FIML

Here is one definition of mindfulness from the Buddha himself:

And what, monks, is the faculty of mindfulness? Herein, monks, a noble disciple is mindful and is endowed with the highest prudence in mindfulness; he is one who remembers and recollects even what is done or said long ago. This, monks, is called the faculty of mindfulness.

— S V 197 (Source)

This short film illustrates another definition of mindfulness:

Mindfulness can mean many things, but central to the definition is deep and abiding awareness of what is actually going on, what is actually being thought and perceived, what is being said and what is being heard. Buddhists practice basic mindfulness in ways shown in the film, but we can also be mindful of how we communicate, how we listen and how we speak.

How can we be mindful of how we listen and speak? One way is to pay attention to ourselves. But if we only pay attention to ourselves, we will become solipsists or narcissists. We can also pay attention to others, but how do we normally do that?

Most people pay attention to others by using heuristics as Anderson Cooper does in the film linked above. He is very sophisticated, smooth, pleasant, and surely a good listener. But what that really is is an act, a professional mixture of American semiotics and American heuristics, slightly individualized in Cooper.

Cooper is not deeply aware of the people he is interviewing, though he may be moved by what they say. At best, he can only be aware of what he hears and how he interprets that. Similarly, the mindfulness master in the film, Jon Kabat-Zinn, is not a mind-reader. He cannot be any more deeply aware of others than Cooper can, or than others can of him. Yes, some people have more life experience or are smarter than others, but this only increases their deep awareness a little bit, if that. It might even lead them to worse deep awareness.

The only way to be deeply aware of another person—to be deeply mindful of what they are saying or hearing—is to ask them. And the only way to do that deeply is to do FIML.

If you just ask in the usual ways and they just answer, you will experience an exchange like the one in the film. Interesting, but there is no profound subjective data coming from either Cooper or Kabat-Zinn.

If we rely exclusively on cultural heuristics like those in the film to interact with our closest friends, we will succeed in interacting with them solely on that level*. And when we are restricted to that level, as most of us are, we cannot be deeply mindful of any other human being.

We can be mindful of what they are wearing what we think they said or meant or felt, but not them. Only FIML gives us deep access, mindful access, to others. And in the sense that how we communicate with others affects how we communicate with ourselves—how we understand ourselves—we can only become deeply aware of ourselves if we practice FIML with at least one other person. FIML might even be called “dynamic mindfulness.”

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* Adding quantity—many exchanges with another person—does not fix the problem. Your relationship will look and feel more complex, but it still is not one characterized by deep awareness.