When two wrongs make a right

I say something that sounds bad to you. You query me and I tell you what I meant. You realize that what I meant was not bad at all but actually quite nice. That’s one wrong that you discovered. Then you tell me what you thought you had heard and I realize that the tone I used could all too easily be misinterpreted. That’s one wrong that I discovered. For a total of two wrongs. What we made right is how we understand each other. Since both of us learned something valuable about ourselves and each other, we have actually made more than one right. So two wrongs can make even more than one right.

This is one reason it is good to see how and why you are wrong when doing FIML. You help your partner and you help yourself, and going forward you make it easier to communicate with your partner clearly and with great detail. If we face our wrongs in the right way by using FIML practice, we will learn to take pleasure in being wrong because being wrong about communication hurts both partners, while fixing what was wrong helps both of them.

In the example above, if when you heard the tone of voice that sounded bad to you and you did not make a FIML query, you would have essentially accepted a mistaken interpretation of your partner. In a short time, you would probably forget the incident that led to your forming that mistaken interpretation but the emotions generated by it and the stimulation of deeper associations due to it would now be a thing in your mind. You would have started forming a mistaken impression of your partner. If you had made other prior mistakes about your partner, this one would be added to them. Even though none of your impressions had been correct, they still would snowball in you mind. In contrast, if you had made a FIML query as soon as you heard the tone that sounded bad, you would have seen your mistake and prevented it from snowballing. Thus, you should feel happy to learn you were wrong.

From your partner’s point of view, they too should feel happy because your query has stopped you from misunderstanding them while at the same time showing them that maybe that habitual tone of voice isn’t as good as they thought it was. Additionally, both of you will be able to trust each other even more because you now know you can do that. You can fix small mistakes in real-time as they arise. This skill will allow you to take on many new subjects that may have seemed too complex in the past. And that should make you happy too.

When FIML practice relieves us of mistakes, we can and should feel happy. Many wrongs can lead to many rights if we have the right technique.

What FIML is

FIML practice is mainly an act of the intellect.

A FIML discussion and resolution is largely guided by the intellect. Whatever emotions arise during a contretemps* can and should be observed, but not given in to.

Emotions are more chemical than thought and thus they last longer and are slower to subside. Knowing this helps us observe emotions unemotionally while they are happening.

The FIML meta-position is an intellectual position that provides a clear, mutually agreed upon vantage from which to observe and analyze a segment of communication that has gotten derailed. Both partners should participate in the analysis and the resolution that follows a complete analysis.

A FIML resolution should be accompanied by a satisfying feeling of relief or accomplishment because something important will have been figured out and agreed upon by both partners. Whatever was figured out, furthermore, will serve as an example for future resolutions. The more successful resolutions partners have, the easier it gets.

If FIML is correctly understood, it should be easy, even enjoyable, for partners to admit they were wrong or at fault or in some way the source of the contretemps. For example, if you discover that it was your tone of voice that disturbed your partner and that that is what led to a contretemps, you should feel good to see that. You might have spoken in irritation because you hadn’t slept well the night before or because you were worried about something. You may feel that you were just bantering, but now you know it didn’t sound that way. Or maybe it did—maybe your partner was simply mishearing you because they were tired or worried. The two of you ought to be able to figure all of this out if you understand how to do FIML and have made a prior agreement to do it.

Every time you figure it out and achieve a satisfying resolution, you will get better at doing FIML and much better at understanding each other. Most importantly, you will get better at communicating with each other. The inevitable glitches and bumps in the road that happen with great frequency to all human beings will be as nothing to you and your partner because you are secure in your ability to deal with them.

A word about the word intellectual. To me a real intellectual is someone who willingly uses their mind all the time. When we use our minds to analyze the process of communicating with another mind, we are using our intellects in an inestimably valuable way. In like manner, a real artist is someone who responds aesthetically and deeply to life’s details all the time. You don’t have to write a book to be a very fine intellectual and you don’t have to make sculptures to be a very fine artist. Sloppy art and sloppy intellectual behavior, to me, would be being bound by general semiotics or being lost in the emotions of interpersonal contretemps or cultural stupidity. In my mind, some of the worst intellectuals and artists that ever lived were Stalin and his henchmen who used their minds and feelings to destroy through mass murder and other means entire societies. I single them out because they were the first people in the modern world to go down that terrible “intellectual” path.

With practice, FIML partners should feel that there is not a cloud in the sky between them. And both should be confident in knowing that should a small cloud appear in either one of their minds that it will be dealt with immediately, or as soon as possible. Nothing to fester, nothing to fear, no lies, no paranoia, no unresolved contretemps. What could be better than that?

FIML practice teaches us to speak, listen, and think differently. It is a kind of higher language or a higher way to use language. FIML allows us to grasp and analyze details that cannot be grasped in any other way.

___________________

*A contretemps in FIML is a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of a communicative act, usually a small act lasting just a few seconds, though there can be larger contretemps. A communicative misinterpretation in one person’s mind clearly must involve the other person, so in this sense all contretemps are mutual. FIML practice is always done between two (or more) people, though FIML habits will definitely favorably affect the introspection and thoughts of a single person while alone.

Detail and complexity

If we look, we can find detail and complexity essentially everywhere.

The following video shows in detail a Giant Texas Katydid adult male breathing, grooming, and just hanging out. It is fascinating to watch.

If only we humans were as careful about what we say and how we listen.

The most important area that humans do not pay enough detailed attention to is interpersonal communication. We have the ability to observe, analyze, and comprehend our communications with much greater detail than most of us ever do.

FIML provides techniques for being as careful about communication as the katydid is about his body. The katydid is complex. So is what you say, hear, and observe. All of the details matter.

FIML practice helps you understand these details and their ramifications in real-time. If you don’t catch important details in real-time, chances are you won’t catch them at all. Sometimes a single missed detail can lead to a cascade of misunderstanding that never gets fixed because the detail has been forgotten.

If the katydid fails to groom properly, he will become sick and die. When we fail to maintain detailed and complex understanding of communicative acts with people we care about, similar outcomes are more likely than not.

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.

End-user cultural consumption as narcissism

I don’t really like the term narcissism because it is vague and in important ways can be applied to almost anyone.

The concept does have value though in that it is widely recognized and understood and does seem to point to something real.

Narcissism basically means being excessively selfish, self-centered, or vain. We can imagine a narcissist as someone who is trapped in a hall of mirrors, or trapped in their own imagination. Being trapped by your own imagination sounds paradoxical. But we can indeed become trapped when the terms, elements, or substance of our imagination is trapped in something else. Just as our bodies can be trapped in a prison cell, so our minds can be trapped within limited concepts, a limited sense of our options.

I contend that end-users of culture (virtually all of us) are trapped. A better term than end-user might be retail consumer. In this sense, we could say that retail consumers of culture are trapped by what they are consuming. I avoided the word retail above because it implies buying things with money. What I mean is accepting cultural norms as real or complete or good enough when they are not.

Rather than define narcissism in the usual ways, let me now define it based on signaling. A narcissist is someone who exhibits “unnecessarily reduced signaling.”

What does that mean?

Unnecessarily in this context means it doesn’t have to be that way. Reduced means there could be much more. Signaling means any and all communicative signals—words, expressions, gestures, actions, etc., but especially words.

A retail consumer of a culture, thus, unnecessarily accepts reduced signaling. To put it another way, end-users of culture are trapped  by what they have consumed or “bought.”

Retail implies wholesale while end-user implies that the thing used was made or designed by someone else. For cultures, this implication is exactly right. Very few people make culture, though culture most definitely is made by some people.

Why are end-users or retail consumers of cultures narcissists?

They are narcissists because they are trapped within the reduced signaling of the culture they have “bought.” The wholesalers of culture, those who have made it, don’t think the signals are “unnecessarily” reduced; they want them to be that way. They want end-users to accept their ideas and do what they say, which is what most people do.

Most end-users have no idea they are trapped and do not consider themselves narcissists. But they are narcissists because they are completely stuck at the retail level. They have little or no control over how they understand things. And they have almost no control over how they speak to other end-users or how they hear other end-users.

How do I know this? One way is this: people almost everywhere are capable of complex understanding, be it tying flies for fishing, knitting, doing engineering, designing a home, etc. Nearly everyone exhibits complex understanding of at least a few things.

But almost no one exhibits a complex use of communicative signals. This is so because communicative signals move quickly and usually move through sound (speech).

Without training, it is very difficult to isolate and analyze communicative signaling in real-time. And if you don’t do it in real-time, there is no other way to do it. Even if you have a tape and a video of a communicative exchange, it is impossible to be sure of your analysis after the fact.

Real-time signaling is quick and complex. A single mistake can change the course of a conversation in one person’s mind without changing it in the other person’s mind. From that point on, mistakes will multiply.

What all of us normally do almost all of the time to correct for this problem or difficulty is we reduce our signaling.

And what do we reduce it to? We reduce it to cultural norms. Like narcissists, we assume that other end-users think like us, speak like us, and hears things in roughly the same way we do. If there is any confusion, most of us run quickly toward the nearest retail cultural artifact, thus blurring the real exchange and permanently trapping ourselves in end-user culture.

The mores, taboos, and preferences of culture become what we think we are. And that is a profoundly reduced package from what we are capable of. If you have any complex skill or understanding of anything, take a moment to compare it to how you conceive of your own mind during acts of communication. Or the minds of others during acts of communication.

I bet your understanding of how to take care of your tropical fish or do your favorite hobby is better and more detailed than how you conceive of your communication with others.This is the narcissism of the cultural end-user. It’s a small, made-by-others, prison of ideas within which the individual, maddeningly, resides.

If you do have a complex conception of communication, I bet it is strategical, designed to get you what you want and is thus narcissistic in that sense.

Rather than end on this depressing note, I can add the way to fix this problem. Do FIML or something very much like it. Once you can control, analyze, and fully understand real-time communication, you will be free of or have the means to get free of the reduced terms of retail culture.

____________________

Update 11/4/14: Another way to view end-user cultural narcissism is through the concept of “narcissistic supply,” which is “…a type of admiration, interpersonal support or sustenance drawn by an individual from his or her environment and essential to their self-esteem.”

Retail consumers of culture require narcissistic supply that validates their cultural consumption, admires it, praises it, agrees with it, and conforms to it. Retail culture is deeply characterized by fairly set patterns of mutual narcissistic supply that permit only slight deviation from whatever its norms are. My guess is scam artists and psychopaths learn how to work the patterns of narcissistic supply to get what they want. Scam artists often deflect moral judgement against themselves by saying that they were only able to fool people because those people wanted to believe. There is much truth in this defense though, of course, wanting to believe is not the same as wanting to be fooled or cheated. In a similar vein, retail cultural narcissists are capable of a sort of psychopathic behavior themselves in that they cannot bear to have their supply-values ignored or disrespected and will lash out, often with great vehemence, at anyone who does not comply with their need for supply.

Signals and morality

A valuable and basic definition of morality might simply be “clear signaling.”

If I harm you, I am messing with your signaling, making it less clear. If I deceive you, I am doing the same.

If my own internal signaling is unclear, confused, or contradictory, I am probably going to cause harm to others whether I mean to or not.

If we see humans as signaling networks at various levels of clarity or confusion, we can remove terms like self, personality or ego. “I,” then, am a system or network of signals that interfaces and interacts with other signaling networks.

By extension, there is no need for terms like “narcissist” or “abusive personality” or any of the other many, many words we normally use to describe human signaling networks.

For example, we can see that each human does social management within their own signaling system and as that system interacts with other human signaling systems. We compose a signaling system that we want others to see and then display it.

When a person often uses social signaling to manipulate, control, or deceive others, we can say they are doing malignant or immoral signaling instead of saying they are “narcissists” or “abusive personalities.”

The advantage of removing those traditional terms that assume an intentional personhood (narcissist, etc.) is we can see much more clearly what is actually happening.

With respect to narcissism,  we can clearly say what a “narcissist” is. When narcissism is redefined as a signaling problem, we can also see that many narcissistic acts are done out of ignorance more than “selfishness.” People believe that they are supposed to be selfish or secretive or withhold important information simply because they do not know another way to act or have had long experiences with others who signal in those ways.

Of course, all of us manage our signaling systems to put us in a good light, at least to some extent. Refraining from gross behavior at the dinner table is a form of manipulating the signals you send to others. Since that is objectively a kind act, it is not narcissism.

Signaling integrity between adult friends is rarely perfect or even very good. Not because many of us don’t want that, but because we don’t know how to do it. Rather than make virtually all signals clear through a technique like FIML, we are forced instead to use off-the-shelf cultural norms to communicate our “personalities” to others.

Besides the few crude markers like punctuality, basic honesty and reciprocity, basic pleasantness, etc., it is very difficult to know another or even oneself without detailed control over the signaling we do with them.

If morality is seen as fundamentally a signaling issue, then the soundest ethical position would be to make our signaling clearer, more honest, less manipulative. Clarity depends on detail. In this light, we can say that there is a sort of moral imperative to do FIML or something very much like it.

Repost: FIML as a “loose” method of control for chaos in interpersonal communication systems

Interpersonal communication systems can become chaotic when there are misunderstandings. And they can become wildly chaotic when the misunderstandings are serious and/or involve emotional responses.

Normally, in virtually all cultures, out-of-control interpersonal communications are settled by authoritarian decree, by reverting to pre-established roles, by fighting until one side tires, or by ending communication all together.

It is nothing short of tragic when this happens in close relationships during significant or profound communication acts.

FIML is designed to fix communication problems that occur during communications between two (or more) people who care deeply about each other.

FIML is a “loose” method of control in that FIML largely does not have any content. It is a technique that allows partners to discover their own content and their own ways to fix their contretemps.

As with so many potentially chaotic systems, interpersonal misunderstandings can become wildly unstable for even very small reasons. A single misheard word or a single misinterpreted expression can lead to destructive chaos within the system, no matter how dedicated the communicants may be to each other.

Evidence that supports the use of a “loose” method of control like FIML can be found in this paper: Stalling chaos control accelerates convergence.

To paraphrase from the abstract of that paper and apply their conclusions to FIML, we can say that FIML works “…by stalling the control, thereby taking advantage of the stable directions of the uncontrolled chaotic” system.

By not having a set outcome in mind, by not allowing static interpersonal roles to control the outcome, FIML can succeed in fixing even very serious contretemps between caring partners. FIML accomplishes this by providing partners with a means of achieving a meta-view of their contretemps and from that point of view gently nudging their analysis toward mutual agreement, mutual transformation for both parties based on a complete and completely shared understanding of the unique conditions that generated the problem.

In this, FIML takes “advantage of the stable directions of the uncontrolled chaotic” system. The stable direction is the complete and mutually agreed upon resolution of all aspects of the contretemps. It is a “return” to the stable state of caring that preceded the problem, but a “return” with a significant upgrade because the new stable state will now include the experience of repairing the chaotic state that just passed.

The pleasure in a full FIML resolution can be very great because the semiotic systms of both partners minds will also achieve an upgraded level of stability and awareness. This kind of resolution, clearly, strengthens and resonates with the core of conscious beings who live in the midst of and use (often not so well) semiotics to understand themselves and others.

An article on the study linked above describes the “loose” control method as an “approach that cleverly exploits the natural behaviour of the system.” (See: Control is good, freedom is better)

FIML exploits the natural behavior of two people who seek mutual caring and mutual positive transformation by providing a method that allows them to intelligently deal with the chaos that is 100% bound to arise during some of their acts of communication. Rather than flee from communication due to the fear of chaos, FIML partners have a reliable method of controlling it and reestablishing harmony on a higher, better level.

How we perceive and what to do about it

Human perception is massively based on human memory, expectations, and schemas already formed and present in the brain.

A recent study on visual perception came to this conclusion:

Altogether, these results show that many neurons in the medial temporal lobe signal the subjects’ perceptual decisions rather than the visual features of the stimulus. (Source)

This study is about visual perception and it focuses on neurons in the medial temporal lobe of the brain, but it’s conclusions have been discovered in many other studies—that is, we very often perceive what we already know or expect to perceive visually, aurally, verbally, semiotically.

Humans are capable of seeing new things and forming new conclusions and perceptions, but our default brain state is that most of the time we react to what we already think we know, consciously or unconsciously.

And how could it be otherwise? We could not function if we had to reassemble every pixel in a photo or our visual field every time we looked at anything. Same for sounds, sentences, concepts, and semiotics in general. If we are unable to quickly generalize and categorize something as something we already know about, we will find ourselves utterly lost in a maze of astounding complexity every second of our lives.

We cannot live without that default state, but when we use it during interpersonal communication we frequently run the risk of applying an erroneous “perceptual decision” about what someone is saying or about how we think they have heard us.

If you make erroneous perceptual decisions at a normal pace, which can be several times per hour, you will almost certainly begin to build up bigger and bigger wrong perceptions of the person you are doing it to. If that person is a spouse or close friend, you will have problems.

How do we usually deal with or work around problems of that type?

  1. We ignore them.
  2. We spend time away from the person.
  3. We get mad openly or seethe quietly.
  4. We resort to the simple generalities of basic friendship—shared activities, safe topics, declarations of loyalty or friendship.
  5. We believe or hope that mistakes will average out and not matter much.

In order:

1) If we ignore problems that arise from erroneous “perceptual decisions,” we are merely pushing them aside where they will continue to fester. Some people are truly able to completely ignore or forget, but do you really want to do that to your memory? And what replaces what you have forgotten? Isn’t it just another false “perceptual decision?”

2) This works to dilute feeling and perception, but not to improve or upgrade it. In most cases, this is a losing strategy with close friends.

3) Getting mad is better than most responses if you have the tools to fix the problem. Seething silently is a horrible way to go, though unfortunately a very common one. The worst of all is “not getting mad but getting even.” People who do this with friends are universally idiots.

4) Sad way to go but probably the most common halfway-decent thing people do. This describes most friendships and marriages. They become  sort of lifeless card games that go on and on because no one knows what else to do. And the longer they go on, the less likely there will be change.

5) I think this is an unrealistic belief because false perceptions can go off at many different angles. They don’t cancel out. At best, this belief may produce an outcome similar to item four above.

There is a way to handle these problems and that way is FIML. With practice, FIML partners will find that they have no festering false perceptions about each other and that they have not been forced to compromise the integrity and complexity of their relationship by resorting to any of the above strategies.

If you read about morality in books and essays, it is all usually very philosophical. What is it? What are the foundations of it? How does fairness contribute? Is it emotional? Cognitive? Non-cognitive? Etc.

But how do you do it? Not how do you do it in the big sense of politics or global warming or philosophy, but how do you do it with just one other person? Can you do that? Have you ever done that? Can you conduct a complex and moral relationship with even one other person?

I don’t mean just sex, though that’s in there. I mean everything. Can you get very, very clear about all of the complexities of your relationship with just one other person? How can you be psychologically healthy if you cannot? I think most people are stuck, at best, on level four above. The reason is not that they want that but that they do not see another way.

You absolutely have to do something like FIML. If you don’t, false perceptions will accumulate and lead to one of the five things mentioned above.

Ethics, morality

If we consider our minds to be networks of signals, then we can say that it is better that the signals be more efficient and contain fewer errors.

This might be a good definition of a sound ethical position—to reduce signal error and increase signal efficiency.

In many ways, the two are the same. When we reduce signal error, we increase the efficiency of the entire system.

Thus, for any one system, such that there is a such a thing, the best ethical position would be to reduce signal error while increasing signal efficiency. That one system might stand for one human being.

But what if there are two or more systems that interact with each other?

In one sense we might say they are the “same” system, especially if interaction is imperative. In another sense, we can treat them as different systems.

If they are seen as the “same,” then reducing error and increasing efficiency will benefit the whole system (of two or more).

If they are seen as separate and not the same, there are two possibilities. Separate systems within the whole may decide to lie or cheat or they may decide not to lie or cheat.

If none of the separate systems within the network ever lies or cheats, efficiency will be increased and error will be reduced.

If one or more of the separate systems within the network decides to lie or cheat, efficiency will decrease and errors will multiply.

The separate systems can be understood to be people while the large network can be understood to be human groups. Lying and cheating or refraining from lying or cheating must be conscious acts.

Errors that just happen non-consciously (misspeaking, mishearing, misunderstanding, data mistakes, etc.) are not moral errors unless they could be or could have been avoided by a reliable method.

No network without lying or cheating has ever been achieved by large numbers of human beings. Even very small groups, as few as two people, rarely are able to achieve an ideal ethical state of no lying and no cheating. And even if they do get pretty good at that, it is very difficult for even just two people to remove non-conscious errors from their interactions.

FIML practice can greatly reduce non-conscious error between partners while at the same time providing a robust basis for increased moral awareness and increased understanding that both partners are benefiting greatly from the honesty (or ethical practice) of both of them.

My honesty with you greatly improves my understanding of and honesty within my own network and also gives me much better information about your network. And the same is true for you. Together we form an autocatalytic set that continually upgrades our mutual network and individual systems.

Clarity, honesty, and efficiency in interpersonal communication is satisfying in itself and also it improves efficiency between partners as it upgrades the self-awareness of each.

One partner could lie and cheat while doing FIML practice, but since FIML is fairly involved and somewhat difficult to learn, it is likely that most partners will do their best by each other ad that most individuals will come to realize that honesty benefits them much more than lying.

I think it is fair to conclude that the best ethical or moral position to take is one that increases efficiency of signalling (talking, doing, etc.) while also reducing signalling error. The problem with doing that is people can and will lie and cheat and we do not (yet) have a reliable way to tell when they are lying and cheating.

A good way to tell if someone is being honest will be an accurate lie-detector, but even that may not be efficient or work well with the dynamics of real-time human communication.

Thus some other technique is needed. FIML can be that technique and I know of no other one that works as well. Thus a sound ethical position in today’s world would be having the aim of reducing signal error while increasing signal efficiency through the practice of FIML.

Without FIML, interpersonal communications is at least an order of magnitude cruder and thus much less efficient. FIML is not perfect, but it is much better than what we ordinarily do. If you can increase resolution and detail at will within any system, it will improve that system. If you can do that with interpersonal communication, it will improve all aspects of that system.

Fractals in the humanities

“A fractal is a natural phenomenon or a mathematical set that exhibits a repeating pattern that displays at every scale.” (Wikipedia)

Most of us know what math fractals look like and understand that shorelines and trees exhibit fractal patterns that display at different scales.

I think we can also see fractal patterns or sets in the humanities.

For example, the five skandha explanation in Buddhism to be fully understood must be conceived of as a fractal pattern that repeats at different scales. The normal explanation of the five skandhas is as follows:

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

This explanation describes the most basic fractal pattern or the smallest one. “…the five skandhas occur one after the other, very rapidly.”

A simple example of this rapid movement of the five skandhas might be the experience of having something suddenly touch your neck. Your first awareness of this is the form. Your next awareness is the sensation; at this point you react with aversion, attraction, or neutrality. If you are outside, you might react with aversion as you perceive (third skandha) the touch to probably be an insect. Following that, there is often rapid physical activity (fourth skandha) as you involuntarily reach to brush it away. After that has been done, you will determine what actually happened, you will become conscious (fifth skandha) of what happened.

If it was an insect you might shudder or feel relieved. If it was a leaf on a tree branch you might feel a bit foolish. Your consciousness of the event comes after the first four skandhas have arisen or occurred.

A larger fractal version of the above might be the feeling (form, or first skandha) that you are ignorant about something. This form gives rise to an aversive sensation (second skandha), which leads you to perceive (third skandha) that you ignorance is probably something you should correct. This leads to mental activity (fourth skandha) which may require months of your time. At last, when you are satisfied that you are no longer ignorant on that subject, you will experience a new state of consciousness (fifth skandha).

In the above example, your ongoing feeling of ignorance as you study the subject might also be described as the fifth skandha, consciousness. Understanding that the five skandha explanation is a fractal pattern to be used to help you understand yourself will allow you to apply it where it can do the most good. As with so many things in the humanities, you will do better if you see the pattern and use it to aid understanding without letting yourself get trapped in a quasi-logical net that hinders understanding.

FIML practice can be seen as a fractal pattern as well. The smallest, or most basic level, is the basic FIML query which interrupts normal communicative processing to insert rational thought and more accurate information. The FIML query interrupts the mind as soon as the second skandha, sensation, arises. Whenever partners question a sensation, they will immediately change all of the five skandhas associated with it. Rather than follow a semi-conscious sensation down the same associative path as usual, partners gain an entry point to their deep psychology and an awareness of how their communications are affected by it.

A larger fractal pattern of FIML, might be hearing about it (form); feeling interested in it (sensation); perceiving what it is; learning the system (activity); and lastly gaining a new consciousness about how language can be made to work much better than without FIML.

FIML is a tool that helps partners leverage communicative details to gain great insight into how their minds work. Since FIML is not (yet) the rule for how people speak to each other, a non-FIML fractal pattern can be seen in society at large: since most people do not have a way to access the highly important details that FIML can access, they do not expect anyone else to access them. Thus, by default they accept horribly sloppy reasoning and lies from politicians and others who make important statements in public.

The fractal pattern of non-FIML communication in society at large is all but defined by lies, secrets, and hidden motives. At a smaller fractal level, so are the personal lives of most people. The world goes on. It is my guess that brain scans and better computers and computer programs will one day make it easier for people to see that having the ability to perceive and manipulate communicative details greatly enhances communication. And that communication so enhanced greatly enhances our understanding of ourselves and others. And that this sort of understanding will help us see that we do not have to live in a society that is all but characterized by lies, sloppy reasoning, and partisan nonsense.

In the humanities, fractal patterns can be seen at many levels. By changing the details of very significant communicative patterns between ourselves and our partners, we will change both ourselves and our perceptions of others, and this will gradually lead to better concepts of what society is and how it can function.

Repost: FIML and cerebral efficiency

This article argues that the human brain saves energy by predicting or imagining “reality” more than actually perceiving it: Do Thrifty Brains Make Better Minds? The article argues that this way of using our brains allows us to work more efficiently with complex data or in complex situations.

I think this general premise is pretty well known and agreed on, but the linked article puts it in a new way. The following sentence caught my eye: This… underlines the surprising extent to which the structure of our expectations (both conscious and non-conscious) may quite literally be determining much of what we see, hear and feel.

The article uses visual perception as an example, but the idea applies just as well, and maybe more so, to what we hear in the speech of others. FIML practice works by inserting a new mental skill between the first arising of a (stored) interpretation and its full-blown acceptance as “reality”.

Evolution of the smile and the inherent ambiguity of signs

Michael Graziano proposes a interesting, and quite convincing, hypothesis on the evolution of a good many human signals, including smiling, crying, laughing, and subtle versions of these.

His essay can be found here: The First Smile. I highly recommend it.

Evolutionary psychology is without question a real field capable of explaining a great deal about human beings. At the same time, it is often very difficult to separate what actually happened during thousands of years of evolution from what we think happened.

Graziano proposes that the human signals of smiling, crying, and laughing all evolved from a single more basic cringe reaction employed as defense against an object or person striking us or otherwise threatening us.

The evolutionary transformation from primitive reactions to subtle social cues is fascinating to contemplate. I am particularly struck by how ambiguous our present-day understanding of these social cues can be. As Graziano, the evolutionist, says, “So long as both sides of the exchange keep deriving benefits, the behaviour floats free of its violent origins.”

The violent origins of smiling and acting nice only sometimes play a direct role in why people do these behaviors today. Added to them is a plethora of cultural and idiosyncratic interpretations. And so, Graziano the social scientist also says, “We have stumbled on the defining ambiguity of human emotional life: we are always caught between authenticity and fakery, always floating in the grey area between involuntary outburst and expedient pretence.”

I would contend that this aspect of human emotional life is maddening, that it is literally driving people crazy. Because how can you really tell if an expression, a statement, a gesture is authentic or fake? And how can you be sure you know how to interpret it?

In most cases, you can’t be sure. Yes, we can make vows, proclaim fealty or allegiance, swear till death do us part, or repeat familiar, comforting routines for years, but none of these methods is certain either. Indeed, our need for them only shows what thin ice we are on. All of them can be faked and all of them often are.

I do believe that many, if not most, of us do not want to be either fakers or the one faked to. Yet we seem all but trapped “between authenticity and fakery, always floating in the grey area between involuntary outburst and expedient pretence.” Don’t we?

This is why we all need FIML practice or something very much like it.With FIML, much greater communicative detail can be made available to both partners. Rather than wonder what words, smiles, tears, or a tone of voice means, FIML partners have the means to find out.

Evolutionarily, you might say that FIML allows the human neocortex to understand and control the human limbic system. FIML allows higher thought, reason, and reflection to control base reactions and base signs that inevitably cause serious misunderstandings even between people who are very well-disposed toward each other and who share a strong desire to interact honestly.

Humans are characterized by a delicate and intricate web of thought, language, and culture that has been grafted onto a base of animal behavior. I do not see how it is even remotely possible to fully realize the potential of that delicate and intricate web of thought, language, and culture without frequently analyzing how animal signs and signals interfere with it during even the most ordinary of interactions.

Graziano mentions the Duchenne smile, a supposedly authentic smile that includes the muscles around the eyes. But Duchenne smiles can easily be faked. They are a required social expression in most of East Asia and can be seen faked by actors on American TV all the time.

The distinction between a Duchenne smile and a super-fake one is valid and valuable to a point. But it is also a woefully simple distinction. We cannot as thinking beings expect to find satisfaction in noticing minor, and easily faked, distinctions like that. The same thing goes for tones of voice, gestures, word choices, behaviors, and everything else we use to communicate.

In public, in the world at large, we have to use best guesses about what is going on, but in private guessing about what your partner really means is a recipe for mutual disaster, if not complete destruction.

Humans as networks

The advantage of seeing humans as networks is we can say interesting things about them parsimoniously.

A network is an organization of parts that are all connected.

Humans are networks of language. It is quite easy to see that language is a kind of network. Words connect in many ways and any word can be added to an existing network without difficulty. One word is defined by other words and we understand how it is used by how it functions among other words.

Humans are networks of semiotics. Semiotics function and are networked much like words, though a single semiotic may require many words to describe.

Meaning or what things mean is another network that is a fundamental part of being human. Meaning can be expressed in words, it can be apprehended through semiotic analyses, and it very often has a strong emotional component.

Emotions are another network that is fundamental to humanness. Emotions are often not as easily analyzed as the other networks since they can be vague, changeable, and based on complexities that are difficult to see while the emotion is happening. I am pretty sure that most, if not all, complex emotions are socially determined. Since semiotics are by definition communicative, the emotional aspect of all semiotics is a major aspect of both the semiotic and emotional networks. For this reason, emotions are often best analyzed through their accompanying semiotics.

Humans also have biological networks, perceptual networks, chemical and electrical networks.

All of these networks are hooked up with each other and all of them send signals internally and to the other networks.

If we conceive of a single human being as being a vast network that includes all of the above mentioned networks and others that have not been mentioned (aesthetic, gustatory, sexual, etc.), we can see that that vast network that is all of the other networks must have a basic need to be unified.

The biology must cohere and be healthy and the mind and feelings that exist together with that biology must be unconfused enough to guide the biology toward what it needs to maintain itself.

The cognitive networks (language, semiotics, feeling, reason, etc.) must have a strong tendency to forming basic conclusions about the world around them.

For example, all humans live in fundamentally uncertain circumstances. We don’t know when we will die, what happens after we die, how stable our social lives are, our economics, our biology, and so forth. To function, our cognitive network(s) must have a basic answer to the question of uncertainty. Here are some ways that people answer or respond to the fundamentally uncertain nature of human existence:

  • Many just declare that this is how it is. People like this might say, “Life is tough and you gotta do what you gotta do ’cause that’s how it is.” Or, “I growed up poor so I gots to be rich now and that just how it is.”Answers of this sort, while not complex, can be very motivating. I am sure that many conventionally “successful” people deal with uncertainty on terms like these.
  • For many, religion, science, or philosophy answers this question. “God said so.” “Science has shown that.” “Do as thou wilt.”
  • Another common response is “No one has ever been able to answer that question, so I am going to ignore it and get all I can because you only live once.”
  • In my limited experience (wish it were more limited), a good many alcoholics love the feeling of being sure or of knowing how things are. Booze activates an easy confidence of this sort and can even be charming in an occasional drunk. By the time booze is an addiction, though, this form of confidence becomes a bad habit, declining in charm as the cognitive functions are eroded by the alcohol.
  • In cultures that have a belief in rebirth, the question of uncertainty is often answered by what happened in the past or resolved by what might happen in the next life.
  • Some people deal with this question by focusing entirely on one thing—their career, their children, their nation, their business, etc.
  • Some deal with it by facing it and finding that nearly everything produces a sense of wonder because hardly anything is known for sure. Others feel anxiety by facing it. Others anger or frustration.

I am sure that readers can add many more examples of how humans deal with fundamental existential uncertainty. What I find most interesting in thinking in this way is you don’t need t imagine a person’s ego or wonder too much about how or why their emotions developed as they did. You really just need to ask them how they deal with uncertainty and they will tell you.

The vast cognitive and biological networks of individual humans often can be understood as being based on a simple answer to a simple question like that.

Since psychological explanations are the coin of the realm today, many people will confuse themselves and others by further adding long stories about the development of their personality or how their parents treated them. These factors can be interesting and are real, to a point, but it is much simpler and more profitable to focus directly at the answer/response to the basic question of life’s uncertainty. A major bias or unifying principle of the human network can be found in a straightforward answer to that question.

Beyond this basic question discussed above, there are many other questions we can ask about a particular human network. Is the network closed or is it open? Is it complex or simple? Is it independent of social definitions/constraints or dependent on them? How well does it see itself, understand itself? Does it perceive other networks or does it see other people as two-dimensional aspects of its own network? Is it willing to interface with other human networks in complex ways or only in simple conventional or established ways? Is it secretive? Does it see the vastness of the networks outside and beyond itself? Does it see how it is connected to them?

The advantage of analyzing humans as networks is it avoids many of the ambiguities of psychological analysis. Rather than focus on such dubious concepts as personality, ego, the subconscious, or self, a network analysis simply asks how is the network functioning. From a network point of view, a personality or self is little more than a focal point, a unifying principle that provides an illusion of certainty where there need not be one and cannot really be one. A human can function perfectly well without an ego, self, or well-defined personality. Indeed, there is greater stability in seeing yourself as a complex network that is always open to analysis and always willing to add or remove parts as they show themselves to be either good or bad.

 After basic network questions have been asked and answered, I think the best starting point for a more detailed analysis is  an examination of semiotics and how they are functioning in the individual’s life, and especially in their communications with others. This is best done through FIML practice.

In this context, as in so many, it is important to remember that humans are entry-level conscious semiotic animals. As such, we are prone to processing semiotics with the abrupt and often violent instincts of animals. A network approach provides specificity (what semiotic are we talking about), malleability (oh, I didn’t mean that), an appreciation for the functionality of network nodes, what they are doing and how or why. Since FIML partners have a prior agreement to do analyses of this sort, it is fairly easy for them to segue from ordinary conversation to analysis of that conversation and then back to the ordinary conversation.

Repost: Metaphors, words associations, and paralinguistics

If we consider spoken language as a complex linear system, we will be able to use it as a pretty good standard for understanding individual psychology as well as interpersonal communication.

All words have words associated with them. Though we all share many of the same word-associations (coffee/beverage; booze/drunk; etc.), we also all have an abundance of word associations that belong only to us. I suppose this is fairly obvious, though I am not so sure it is well enough appreciated.

For example, we all know that coffee is a beverage and that booze can make people drunk, but beyond that each one of us has many other associations connected with these words, unique associations that have been gathered through years of experience. You may have pleasant associations with coffee and unpleasant ones with booze, or it could be the other way around. You may visualize the Caribbean when you think of either of these words, or Alaska. As the associations become richer and get further from the word that generated them, the psycholinguistic network they create will become increasingly complex.

If we could put diagrams of these associative networks on paper–including all of the images and feelings that go with them–I am sure that each person would be uniquely identifiable from just a few of them, in much the same way that we can be identified from our fingerprints. No two of us are alike in how we use and understand language.

The ways in which words, phrases, word-associations, gestures, tones of voice, expressions, dramatic poses, and so on strike each one of us are unique. This point is more than touched upon by an Emory University study, Metaphorically feeling: Comprehending textural metaphors activates somatosensory cortex, that demonstrates that “texture-selective somatosensory cortex in the parietal operculum is activated when processing sentences containing textural metaphors.”

What this means is that when people hear a tactile metaphor (soft as silk), the brain responds, at least in part, as if the person is feeling silk. I would contend that this and similar sorts of extended responses within the brain (and body) are a huge part of virtually all interpersonal communication. In this context, what FIML does is allow partners to access these deep associations and sort them out rationally without becoming lost in different associative versions of the “same” linguistic event.

FIML does not have to always depend on language, but it helps to bring it back to the actual words spoken as much as possible because the other sorts of associations and emotions that are generated during speech events are simply too complex to sort out without a stable reference point most of the time. Actual short bits of speech provide partners with the best data that both can readily agree upon. The many associations that are connected to that short segment of speech are often a big part of the material of a FIML discussion.

Alpha male falsehoods

I have a sort of close friend/relative who deeply believes in the alpha male thing. He believes it so much he frequently behaves horribly, and probably due to his alpha beliefs, at least in part, has become an alcoholic. He suffers from wild delusions of grandeur coupled with abject self-abasement and shame, a not uncommon formula. He is also as abusive to others as he is to himself.

So I have a personal stake in this issue. And also the alpha male thing is very good example of how far cultural beliefs can stray from reality and thus cause great harm to society as well as individuals caught up in falsehoods of that sort.

Alpha status, even based as it is on bad science, became a semiotic—something that can be communicated with signs to other humans—and in that capacity became a fetishized semiotic that took on a life of its own.

Anyone who has given thought to culture must surely be aware that all of the world’s cultures are filled with mistaken semiotics like the alpha male thing. In US culture, pretty much anything that become “a thing” is a fetishized semiotic, or a fetishized semiotic bundle.

If our entire culture can see through the alpha male thing, and by extension, the alpha female thing, we will save a great deal of time and avoid a great deal of suffering. In Buddhist terms, “empty” semiotics are impermanent things (dharmas) that have no “own being,” no “inherent nature.” They are reified concepts that become part of a transitory culture and are doomed to oblivion, especially if they are demonstrably false like the alpha male thing.

As individuals, I don’t think we can do all that much about which way our culture flows, but we can do a great deal about how our own minds flow. FIML practice would help my friend, but he is too drunk to do it and too lost in his delusions to even glimpse an exit from them. He is a sad example of someone trapped in a prison of his “own device.”

The alpha thing came from narrow wolf studies extended to dog training and then to human males, then females. It began in the 1940s and has held sway over parts of US culture to this day.

Here is a quick refutation:

The debate has its roots in 1940s studies of captive wolves gathered from various places that, when forced to live together, naturally competed for status. Acclaimed animal behaviorist Rudolph Schenkel dubbed the male and female who won out the alpha pair. As it turns out, this research was based on a faulty premise: wolves in the wild, says L. David Mech, founder of the Minnesota-based International Wolf Center, actually live in nuclear families, not randomly assembled units, in which the mother and father are the pack leaders and their offspring’s status is based on birth order. Mech, who used to ascribe to alpha-wolf theory but has reversed course in recent years, says the pack’s hierarchy does not involve anyone fighting to the top of the group, because just like in a human family, the youngsters naturally follow their parents’ lead.(Dog Training and the Myth of Alpha-Male Dominance)

As for my friend, I hate the sin but not the sinner. I know he doesn’t read this site (doesn’t know about it), but maybe by getting these ideas out there they will by “a commodius vicus of recirculation” “bring him back” if not to Howth Castle or Adam and Eve’s place, at least to a better place.

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Edit 8/20/04: Here is a counter-argument on dog obedience versus wolf cooperation:Wolves cooperate but dogs submit, study suggests.