Dissociation in FIML practice

In the field of neuropsychology, the term dissociation is used to describe various ways of identifying the neural substrate of specific brain functions.

One way this is done is by studying “lesions,” or damaged areas, in people’s brains and figuring out how that damage affects such functions as perception, speech, memory, vision, and so on.

Neuroimaging is another method for observing particular brain regions and thus “dissociating” them from the larger brain system in order to understand their unique functions.

While FIML practice does not rely on lesions in the brain and has not (yet) been studied in an fMRI machine, it does employ a kind of dissociation.

When a FIML partner stops a conversation and makes a query, the partner being questioned is essentially being asked to dissociate a few moments of communication from the large welter of brain function that had been going on before the query.

By isolating, or dissociating, that small segment of communication, both partners gain insight into how they express themselves and how they interpret what they are hearing or perceiving.

Seeing many dissociated segments of communication teaches partners that their communication is frequently more random, ambiguous, misleading, and just plain wrong than they had realized prior to doing FIML practice.

Dissociation in FIML practice also teaches partners how to sharpen their overall communication by frequently adjusting and fine-tuning small segments of it through FIML queries and follow-up discussions.

I can imagine more advanced meuroimaging devices than we have today showing what part of the brain is being used to do the “macro-perception” required by a FIML query. I hope that a more advanced device will also show how small mistakes in communication can often lead to very large mistakes in mutual understanding.

Ideally, an advanced neuroimaging device would dissociate the initial error in both partners’ brains and show how that error then quickly spreads chemically and neurologically throughout their brains.

For now, all we have is shared self-reporting between FIML partners, but this is still a very large improvement over not doing FIML at all. By clearing up many micro-errors in communication, FIML practice improves macro-functionality in the brain.

Comparing FIML practice with Schema Therapy

Schema Therapy appears to be an effective treatment for people who are suffering with mental and emotion confusion.

An article published early this year claims:

A large scale randomized control trial shows Schema Therapy to be significantly more effective than two major alternative approaches to the treatment of a broad range of personality disorders. Schema Therapy resulted in a higher rate of recovery, greater declines in depression, greater increases in general and social functioning and had a lower drop out rate. The results indicated that Schema Therapy is also more cost-effective. (Source)

Psychological studies are notoriously unreliable and the source of the article linked above is the International Society of Schema Therapy, but still I think it is OK to to take their claims seriously.

Therapy is very difficult to study objectively and who else is going to promote Schema Therapy if not the people who believe in it? I am doing the same with my claims for FIML practice.

By comparing FIML and Schema, I hope to illustrate some of the values and drawbacks of both approaches to human suffering. I have chosen to do this with Schema Therapy (ST) because I just read something about it and it seems like a reasonable and workable approach.

ST seeks to correct “maladaptive schemas” that are defined as “self-defeating life patterns of perception, emotion, and physical sensation.” (Source)

Some comparisons with FIML:

  1. ST is based on the notion of people having “personalities” and thus “personality disorders.” FIML largely rejects the notion of personality or finds it trivial. FIML claims that all adults without exception have “disordered” minds, habits, emotions, responses, and so on. There is no need for a concept of personality or to classify types of “disorder” based on an ideal “personality.”
  2. ST claims that adults experiencing less than optimum psychological health use schemas to interact with the world around them. FIML largely agrees with this claim. We usually call schemas misinterpretations. We claim that adults frequently misinterpret what is being said and done around them. Some of these misinterpretations may have begun in childhood, but not all of them. Misinterpretations occur almost every time we interact with anyone. It is common for misinterpretations to occur several times per hour when two people interact. Some misinterpretations will go away on their own and some will cause serious disturbances in the relations between the two (or more) people interacting. Some misinterpretations will have serious ramifications beyond those two people. And some will have begun in childhood, but many childhood misinterpretations, though they may have become habitual, can be fairly easily corrected through FIML practice. They do not constitute a “personality disorder,” but rather a persistent or habitual way of mistakenly interpreting the world. In this sense, I agree that long-standing misinterpretations do look and act somewhat like “schemas,” though as described, I do not think they deserve reification as a classifiable entity called a “personality disorder.”
  3. ST asserts the existence of “schema modes,” which seem to me to be definitions or indications of personality modalities. Some of ST’s schema modes are the angry child, the impulsive child, the abandoned child, and so on. FIML does not use the concept of personality, let alone identify anything like a personality mode or a schema mode of that type. FIML recognizes that misinterpretations are common and that they arise throughout life. FIML claims that misinterpretations arise at discrete moments. These moments may have occurred in childhood and they may have occurred at any other time since childhood. By classifying “personality types” or “schema modes” (as I understand them), FIML asserts that the unique tangle of an individual’s complex suffering will be distorted. FIML may use concepts like abandonment as a point of discussion and FIML may recognize that feelings of abandonment began in childhood, but FIML also claims that making “abandonment” into a classifiable “disorder” is misleading and that fixing the relevant misinterpretation will be hindered by classifying it in that way. FIML claims that reifying largely false “modalities” like “abandonment” only makes them worse while obscuring their true origins and much more importantly how they actually function in real-time.
  4. ST uses a technique called “limited reparenting” which aims to correct unmet core needs that originated in childhood and that led to maladaptive schema. FIML does not require or use a therapist and FIML does not believe that maladaptive schema require “reparenting,” as ST claims.
  5. ST claims that it is cost effective in that it can achieve good results in 50 sessions with a trained ST therapist. A drawback of FIML practice is it requires a suitable partner, and a suitable partner can be hard to find for many people. If a person is suffering and cannot find a suitable partner, ST would be a better choice than FIML. If a suitable partner exists and if both partners understand how to do FIML, I believe FIML will be a better choice in most cases. FIML claims that all human beings are mentally and emotionally disordered and that our disorders arise daily at discrete moments as misinterpretations. There is no end to the constant arising of misinterpretations and thus there can be no beneficial end to stopping FIML practice. FIML can begin to correct mental and emotional disorders within days or weeks, but the process of doing FIML should be ongoing throughout life. FIML is like cleaning your home, washing your dishes, brushing your teeth, bathing. It must be done frequently and cannot be ignored for long without maladaptive consequences.
  6. ST claims to be able to create a “healthy adult” who is thoughtful, rational, happy and more. FIML also claims to be able to create a “healthy adult” with ST qualities, but FIML recognizes that the “interpersonality” of all adults requires constant monitoring. Once the major disorders of the pre-FIML person have been corrected, FIML recognizes that new disorders may arise at any time and that they must be addressed as they arise. Basically, I do not believe that there is such a thing as an ongoing “healthy adult” that can be created in 50 sessions with a therapist. Health requires constant attention with a caring partner, not brief training with a paid stranger.

I would recommend ST for anyone who cannot figure out how to do FIML or who cannot find a suitable FIML partner. For those that do understand FIML and do have a suitable partner, we claim that FIML practice will help you become far less disordered mentally and emotionally but that you must remain vigilant for the rest of your days. You cannot remain healthy for long if you allow misinterpretations to accumulate.

Fetishized semiotics

On this site we have often employed the idea that human instincts function within a “semiotic realm,” rather than a realm of “nature” that is external to us.

In line with this idea, we have used such concepts as “public semiotics,” “social semiotics,” “private semiotics,” “semiotic wells,” and “semiotic networks.”

A semiotic network is a connected web of semiotics that exists privately (or idiosyncratically) within a single mind or publicly within a culture or society made up of many minds.

A semiotic well is a “gravitational well” within a semiotic network; a gravitational well is like a solar system of semiotics that revolves around a semiotic-sun that defines it and holds it together.

Individuals can create their own semiotic wells within their own idiosyncratic semiotic networks, but most people most of the time import their semiotic wells from the public semiotic network(s) they find around them.

A good example for all of the above might be the American cultural value (now shared by much of the world) of owning your own home.

Most Americans gradually assimilate to (or import) this value, or semiotic well, as they grow up. As they become young adults, many Americans start planning to buy their own home. And many of them imagine all sorts of other things—children, community, picket fences, coffee in the morning, etc.—that go with the semiotic well of home-ownership.

Depending on how strong or weak the gravitational force of this semiotic well is, an individual who entertains it may be more or less “healthy.” If the desire for a home is “excessive,” consuming more time and resources than are “appropriate,” this semiotic well will be “unhealthy.” If the desire is reasonable and doable, it may be considered “healthy.”

Readers can define the words in quotation marks in the paragraph above however they like. It is really up to you, and your partner/family if they exist, to decide what is “excessive” and what is not.

In this context, an “excessive” fixation on owning a home can become a fetish. A semiotic fetish.

If someone believes that they simply cannot be happy until they have a home of their own, they have probably fetishized home-ownership. When such a person gets their home, they may find it is not making them happy or that they cannot share their happiness or that their happiness is based far more on what they have than what they have.

It is my contention that all of us do stuff like this all the time in many areas of our lives. In fact, I do not believe anyone who does not do FIML or something very much like can escape fetishizing many parts of their life in this manner.

A fetish is a “displacement,” “replacement,” or “misplacement” of something richer and better with a symbol. When we replace emotional contentment with the fetish of owning a home, we have misplaced our contentment.

When we replace constructive, honest communication with the prideful fetish of social “status,” we have misplaced communication.

When we misplace our sense of who we are with an excessive fixation on physical vanity, we have fetishized the natural sense of being-a-body-in-this-world with a semiotic well that can take on a life of its own.

Why do I say that FIML practice or something very much like it is essential to breaking this pattern?

The reason is semiotics tend to become static. We need semiotics to think and communicate, so semiotic stasis is necessary in many ways and often a good thing.

But we do it too much and we misplace how we do it. Thus, we get emotions, instincts, values, and beliefs all mixed into a few simple semiotics, a few signs and symbols.

One may be able to see this intellectually and even be able to capably analyze this process, but that can never be a substitute for seeing how our fetishized semiotics—our unique semiotic wells—actually function in the world.

Once you do see that, your whole view of what constitutes human psychology will change. And with that will change how you view culture and what you want out of life.

Consider how many common concepts that we take for granted can be or can become fetishized semiotics. Our understanding of what it means to have a “personality,” a “personality trait,” a “soul,” “no-soul,” a “need,” an “instinct,” a “hobby,” an “addiction,” a “psychology,”and so on can and often are fetishized semiotics that distort how we perceive our “selves,” the world, and the people that we know in it.

Consider also how easily our fetishes and semiotic wells can be manipulated by news and communication media.

Are we living in a world where other people communicate authentically with us or are we living in a world where other people communicate with us through fetishized semiotics?

Without FIML, how can you know?

If we can have illusions about our bodies, how much more can we about our interpretations of other people?

An interesting recent study, The Marble Hand Illusion, demonstrates that by simple manipulation of perceptual input, people can be induced to change their perceptions of their own bodies.

The authors state that, “This novel bodily illusion, the ‘Marble-Hand Illusion’, demonstrates that the perceived material of our body, surely the most stable attribute of our bodily self, can be quickly updated through multisensory integration.”

The full abstract says:

Our body is made of flesh and bones. We know it, and in our daily lives all the senses constantly provide converging information about this simple, factual truth. But is this always the case? Here we report a surprising bodily illusion demonstrating that humans rapidly update their assumptions about the material qualities of their body, based on their recent multisensory perceptual experience. To induce a misperception of the material properties of the hand, we repeatedly gently hit participants’ hand with a small hammer, while progressively replacing the natural sound of the hammer against the skin with the sound of a hammer hitting a piece of marble. After five minutes, the hand started feeling stiffer, heavier, harder, less sensitive, unnatural, and showed enhanced Galvanic skin response (GSR) to threatening stimuli. Notably, such a change in skin conductivity positively correlated with changes in perceived hand stiffness. Conversely, when hammer hits and impact sounds were temporally uncorrelated, participants did not spontaneously report any changes in the perceived properties of the hand, nor did they show any modulation in GSR. In two further experiments, we ruled out that mere audio-tactile synchrony is the causal factor triggering the illusion, further demonstrating the key role of material information conveyed by impact sounds in modulating the perceived material properties of the hand. This novel bodily illusion, the ‘Marble-Hand Illusion’, demonstrates that the perceived material of our body, surely the most stable attribute of our bodily self, can be quickly updated through multisensory integration.

Note that: “After five minutes, the hand started feeling stiffer, heavier, harder, less sensitive, unnatural, and showed enhanced Galvanic skin response (GSR) to threatening stimuli.”

If people can change physical perceptions of their hands in five minutes, wouldn’t our notions of the world around us be just as susceptible to change? And wouldn’t it be good if we could change those notions to something better? Something more accurate?

FIML practice is designed to do just that by helping us regularly upgrade our understanding of what people who are important to us are actually saying, actually thinking, actually feeling. Rather than turn us into marble, FIML practice prevents us from being blockheads by acting on mistaken beliefs and interpretations about others.

FIML helps us change how we interact with people by bringing our perceptions of them closer to their impressions of what they actually have been saying or doing. This is not a trivial exercise because as we change how we understand others—and realize how often we can be mistaken—we also change ourselves, our sense of who we are and what we are doing.

Ingrained mistaken impressions of others and the behaviors that stem from them can be corrected fairly quickly through FIML practice. Just as we can be tricked into thinking our hand is made of marble as in the study above, so we can be “un-tricked” through FIML practice into realizing that even very deeply held interpretations of self and other can be seriously wrong.

Our senses of our bodies in the world depend on constant feedback with the world around us. In like manner, our senses of our hearts and minds in the world depend on constant feedback from the people around us. If our core interpretations of self and other are wrong, we will make frequent mistakes, and thus bring undue suffering to ourselves and others. If we can improve the accuracy of our core interpretations, we will improve the quality of our awareness and our capacity to interact with others.

Repost: Brain-to-brain coupling: a mechanism for creating and sharing a social world

Cognition materializes in an interpersonal space. The emergence of complex behaviors requires the coordination of actions among individuals according to a shared set of rules. Despite the central role of other individuals in shaping one’s mind, most cognitive studies focus on processes that occur within a single individual. We call for a shift from a single-brain to a multi-brain frame of reference. We argue that in many cases the neural processes in one brain are coupled to the neural processes in another brain via the transmission of a signal through the environment. Brain-to-brain coupling constrains and shapes the actions of each individual in a social network, leading to complex joint behaviors that could not have emerged in isolation. (Source)

Very much agree with this statement, which is the intro to a short scholarly opinion piece on interpersonal cognition.

The very basis of FIML practice is the interaction of two people. The FIML technique is designed to allow two people to become deeply aware of the (normally) elusive, idiosyncratic, and highly complex signalling mechanisms that are always functioning whenever they interact.

As partners become richly aware of this dynamic system, they will find they are able to change it for the better by removing mistakes and ambiguity. Mistakes and ambiguity are prominent—indeed, characterize—virtually all normal interpersonal communication. By largely removing these factors from their interpersonal communication, partners will experience significant improvements in communication, general awareness, and feelings of well-being.

The linked essay asks the following question: How to further develop principled methods to explore information transfer across two (or more) brains?

One answer is do FIML practice. Rather than study themselves from outside, FIML partners will study themselves as they are in all of their own unique complexity as uniquely “coupled brains.” In the terms of the linked paper, FIML practice is “brain-to-brain coupling” that leads to “complex joint behaviors” that cannot possibly “emerge in isolation.”

FIML practice provides a general “shared set of rules” that allows “complex behaviors” to “emerge” between two (or more) people. These “complex behaviors”, in turn, give partners the opportunity to control and transform how they “shape” their minds.

Psychiatry still has big problems and so does our model of the human mind

This interview with Robert Whitaker— Psychiatry Now Admits It’s Been Wrong in Big Ways – But Can It Change?—is well worth reading. Whitaker has been an influential critic of psychiatry’s misuse of antipsychotic drugs as well as its models for diagnosis and treatment.

In addition to all of the problems Whitaker describes in the linked article—failed diagnostics, failed theories, failed “disease models,” failed treatments, making matters worse for the mentally ill, and drugging children and minors without their consent—I would further submit that our generally accepted model of the human mind itself is as deeply flawed.

Rather than starting with the idea that humans have or develop personalities that do or don’t adapt well to some ambiguous social standard, we would do better to start with the idea that humans are fundamentally interactive beings, beings that communicate.

If our interactions are good, we will be well enough. If our communications with even one other person are deeply satisfying and as truthful as we are able, we will be even better than well enough.

People go crazy because their relations to no one are satisfying. In a very real sense, poor communication and shallow interaction condemn most humans to a sort of solitary confinement, where the inner network of semiotic reality cannot interface satisfactorily with the network of any other person’s semiotic reality.

For individuals who are fortunate enough to have a suitable partner, FIML practice will likely fix this problem while also fixing most emotional dissatisfaction. It accomplishes this by providing a means for people to fully engage their inner semiotic networks with each other.

The dead end of the traditional mental health model of a “personality-being-well-adapted-to-a-group-or-culture” is, sadly, best illustrated by the profession of psychiatry itself. I believe Whitaker is right in saying that

… it is going to be so hard for psychiatry to reform. Diagnosis and the prescribing of drugs constitute the main function of psychiatrists today in our society. From a guild perspective, the profession needs to maintain the public’s belief in the value of that function. So I don’t believe it will be possible for psychiatry to change unless it identifies a new function that would be marketable, so to speak. Psychiatry needs to identify a change that would be consistent with its interests as a guild.

If even psychiatry as a group needs to “identify a change… consistent with its interests as a guild,” it is clear that groups cannot be taken as a standard for wellness.

If even a group of doctors of the mind cannot get it right, how can any other group be expected to?

And if groups cannot, neither can cultures. And if none of that is right, neither is the notion of a “personality” that “adapts” to those vague standards.

This is an important point: groups can be and are just as crazy as individuals. In fact, many groups are crazier than individuals. The idea that people have “personalities” that must “adapt” in a way that is “satisfying” to an extremely dubious group standard is bankrupt and cannot be fixed. Of course individuals can adapt to laws and clearly stated mores and taboos, but adaptations based on such emotionally unsatisfying generalities will never produce wellness.

The individual can only be well when the individual can communicate their authentic semiotic reality with another, and in turn, receive similar communication from that other.

Semiotics is the right word to use here because its definition includes communicative signs and the meanings of those signs as they are variously interpreted by the individuals using them. Furthermore, the term semiotics implies, or necessarily extends to, networks of communicative signs and their inevitably differing individual interpretations.

Can semiotics, language, and education trap us?

Education frees us from whatever ignorant state came before it. But it can also trap us in a different sort of ignorance.

For example, someone who feels lost and alone may join a street gang and learn many new things while forming new alliances. But that same person may well trap themselves in a criminal life-style. Once learned, the education a gang provides can prevent gang members from learning even better things.

I believe all education can be like that if we are not careful. To be clear, education in this context refers to learning anything.

Another way to say the above is once we learn or take on a new semiotic matrix or code, we may become trapped by it. Many people who fell for the semiotics of the Obama campaign retained their “belief” in him long after he had shown himself to be a disappointment. Because many of his supporters are good people, they were trapped in his attractive, but false, semiotic matrix of hope and change.

Similarly, another person may learn that his religion is wrong and take on the semiotics of “science” without realizing for many years that science has limits and that it can operate in ways that resemble fundamentalist religion.

I think we can say with few reservations that it is axiomatic that semiotics, language, and education can trap us even as they free us from whatever state came before them. They do not always trap us, but they almost always can trap us if we are not careful.

A microcosmic example of how language can trap us might be this: you say something sort of muddled, get called on it as if your statement were much more specific, and before you know it you find yourself trapped in defending a point of view you never held.

A teenager might want to learn about psychology and in doing so learn what the word personality means. Then they might decide that their personality is of some type. Then they may get trapped in molding themselves according to their understanding of that personality type. The same thing can happen with astrological signs—you read yours when you are young and retain for many years, if not a lifetime, some sense that you belong to the semiotic matrix indicated by that sign.

In good science, real skeptical science, bold science that demands explanations of facts, traps are usually discovered and overcome quickly. But science has a limited range and it cannot do very much for the emotions, subjectivity, or authentic uniqueness of each individual.

Individuals can overcome some individual or subjective traps through science and general learning, but they can never overcome them all in those ways. Our deepest and most significant subjective states can never be well understood through generalities.

And if those subjective states contain errors or traps (as they surely do), they can only be cleared up by observing those errors or traps as they function in real-world situations.

An especially alert and intelligent gang member might gain insight into what his gang membership is doing to him and how it is trapping him. But he will surely retain many of the gang’s subjective interpretations of the world around him even after he has left the gang. His comprehension of cultural semiotics—the semiotic matrix that he perceives around him—will remain deeply imbued with the gang’s interpretations long after he has left.

For example, the former gang member may retain a  sense of pride that makes him quick to anger. He may retain feelings of fear or non-belonging after leaving the gang. Psychotherapy may help in these areas, but a practice like FIML will do even more because FIML will allow the person to see how their former interpretations of the world are still actively functioning even though they may have repudiated the general semiotics of those interpretations.

Joining the gang liberated him from his former state, and then leaving the gang liberated him from the strictures of gang life. But in both cases, his new education has imposed a new semiotic code that can easily trap him in new mistakes and miseries.

The same can be said about all of us concerning almost anything we learn, which means practically anything we do. If we do not come to fully understand how our subjective states—our interpretations–actually function within the semiotic codes we have taken on, we will be trapped in the new state even as we have been liberated, partially, from the former state.

_________________________

Edit: Just found this: Negative effects of joining a gang last long after gang membership ends.

How to think about the mind?

It is not linear, though a spoken sentence has conspicuous linear features and can often be profitably analyzed linearly.

It is a network where many parts connect robustly with other parts and where some parts connect only weakly. Unconnected parts can arise but usually they are rapidly incorporated into the network, even if only weakly, even if only to be rejected from it.

The mind in many ways resembles the system of language. Add semiotic codes and the resemblance grows stronger. Add random and not-so-random associations between semiotic and linguistic elements and the resemblance seems even better.

Emotions, except in their most primal form, have to be defined by language, semiotics, or associations to have impact or “meaning.”

Charles Peirce doubted the value of linear logical notation, preferring notation employing two or three dimensions. His existential graphs became the basis of model theory. (Interestingly, his work in this area was ignored until 1964, long after his death.)

While the human mind may be more than just a network, much about it can be explained by thinking of it as an associative network. While many mental associations are not logical, or even rational, in a formal sense, virtually all of them make subjective sense to the mind experiencing them. My associations with snow will be different from yours, but if we cared to we could compare them and come to a better understanding of each other.

A key to grasping how our minds work is to approach the very rich subjective network of mental associations—both logical and not—through the linearity of language, especially short bursts of language spoken in real-world situations.

Grasping our minds in this way probably cannot be done in a laboratory and outcomes will rarely, if ever, repeat themselves even outside of the lab.

Most science is based on repeatability and controls, such as a laboratory setting. Yet, clearly, not all investigations—even very rational, logical ones—can be pursued in those ways.

FIML practice uses the linear “logic” of short bits of real-world conversation to access the large associative network of the mind as it is actually functioning in a real-world situation.

In this sense, FIML practice does something that cannot be done in any other way. No theory can embrace everything you say and no theory can capture the complex interplay of feeling, speech, meaning, biology, and circumstances that actually comprise the most significant moments of our lives.

FIML, thus, is a sort of science of the moment, a shared science that allows two people to analyze their minds as they actually are functioning in the real world.

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 elephant in the room of human communication

 …if a manager at work is grimacing because they are sitting in an uncomfortable chair, a person with increased oxytocin levels may think the manager is negatively reacting to what they are saying instead, which may potentially cause issues in the workplace.

Recent research at Concordia University in Canada has concluded that giving oxytocin to “healthy young adults” may not work. See High oxytocin levels ‘trigger oversensitivity to emotions of others’ for more as well as for the source of the quote above.

I don’t particularly doubt these research findings, but do believe that a much deeper problem—the elephant in the room—is lying right next to them.

And that problem is everyone is frequently faced with puzzles like the one cited above and no one has sufficient “emotional intelligence” or “social reasoning skills” to figure many of them out. All people frequently make mistakes in situations like these.

True, some do better than others and we probably can abstract a specious bell curve for this via some sort of test. But all we will find is that the “norm” is “normal” and “normal” must be the rule, even though this is a tautology.

How do we define “oversensitivity?” Why would emotional sensitivity be a bad thing?

In the example above, it is true that most employees will never have an opportunity to ask their bosses why they are looking one way or another. But if they don’t even notice the possibility that their boss is reacting negatively, they are limiting their understanding of the world around them.

Language, facial expressions, and tone of voice in real-world communications are crude tools. There is no way around this fact. There is no “right sensitivity” or “right understanding” of any of these communicative signs that is out there somewhere. There is no stable standard for communication except in highly defined settings and contexts.

I tend to be against taking drugs for emotional “problems,” so I am not advocating supplementing your diet with oxytocin. My concern is how do you deal with communicative ambiguity? I guarantee that ambiguity is common is virtually all communicative acts.

If the ambiguity, such as the one cited above, occurs in an employment situation, should you be judged “emotionally sensitive” and in-touch with your “innate social reasoning skills” if you don’t notice it? Are you supposed to comprehend on the fly that your manager is sitting in an uncomfortable chair? How would you know that?

How could you possibly know for sure what your manager is thinking or feeling? It’s less likely but not inconceivable that your manager  is a nut who intends to attack you after work or fire you next week. There is no standard by which you can judge and be certain of what they feel or are thinking.

In intimate personal relations you can achieve certainty, or close to it, by practicing FIML with your partner.

If you and your partner do not do FIML or something like it, you will be more or less forced to cleave to some sort of “normal standard” for communication. But a “normal standard” for all communicative acts is not just elusive, it doesn’t exist.

This is the even bigger elephant in the room of psychological studies; indeed of all cultures everywhere. No standard for intimate communication exists outside of the one(s) you make for yourselves. If you leave too much to vague notions like “emotional sensitivity” or “emotional intelligence” without having the tools to actually comprehend communicative acts, you will consign yourself to many pointless misunderstandings, any one of which has the potential to snowball and disrupt your relationship.

Competence versus performance

An important distinction is made in academic linguistics between competence and performance. This short entry in Wikipedia gives some idea of why—Competence versus performance.

FIML practice, unlike most academic linguistics, is centered on performance, not competence.

Through practice FIML partners will come to understand how their communicative performances affect them both. By extension, they will also learn how their performances in both speaking and listening affect other people.

FIML deals primarily with communication mistakes and their emotional impacts on both speakers and listeners.

FIML partners will quickly discover that they make many mistakes in speaking and listening and that when these mistakes are not corrected, many of them can have serious consequences affecting the well-being of both of them.

In a nutshell, FIML removes performance errors made between partners in real-time. By having a reliable method for removing misunderstandings as they occur, FIML partners will also find that they are able to pursue many more subjects with greater depth and intensity than they had been able to do before.

Many of the errors removed by FIML practice will more be of a “psychological” or emotional nature than a linguistic one. That said, it is important for partners to focus a good deal of their energy on specific linguistic mistakes because when both partners agree on exactly what was said, they will have excellent data that can be profitably analyzed.

Repost: Brain-to-brain coupling: a mechanism for creating and sharing a social world

Cognition materializes in an interpersonal space. The emergence of complex behaviors requires the coordination of actions among individuals according to a shared set of rules. Despite the central role of other individuals in shaping one’s mind, most cognitive studies focus on processes that occur within a single individual. We call for a shift from a single-brain to a multi-brain frame of reference. We argue that in many cases the neural processes in one brain are coupled to the neural processes in another brain via the transmission of a signal through the environment. Brain-to-brain coupling constrains and shapes the actions of each individual in a social network, leading to complex joint behaviors that could not have emerged in isolation. (Source)

Very much agree with this statement, which is the intro to a short scholarly opinion piece on interpersonal cognition.

The very basis of FIML practice is the interaction of two people. The FIML technique is designed to allow two people to become deeply aware of the (normally) elusive, idiosyncratic, and highly complex signalling mechanisms that are always functioning whenever they interact.

As partners become richly aware of this dynamic system, they will find they are able to change it for the better by removing mistakes and ambiguity. Mistakes and ambiguity are prominent—indeed, characterize—virtually all normal interpersonal communication. By largely removing these factors from their interpersonal communication, partners will experience significant improvements in communication, general awareness, and feelings of well-being.

The linked essay asks the following question: How to further develop principled methods to explore information transfer across two (or more) brains?

One answer is do FIML practice. Rather than study themselves from outside, FIML partners will study themselves as they are in all of their own unique complexity as uniquely “coupled brains.” In the terms of the linked paper, FIML practice is “brain-to-brain coupling” that leads to “complex joint behaviors” that cannot possibly “emerge in isolation.”

FIML practice provides a general “shared set of rules” that allows “complex behaviors” to “emerge” between two (or more) people. These “complex behaviors”, in turn, give partners the opportunity to control and transform how they “shape” their minds.

Neurosis as a semiotic phobia

Human beings are semiotic entities. We largely live in and react emotionally to semiotics. Virtually everything we think, feel, and believe is built on a foundation of signs and symbols—semiotics.

A recent German study elegantly shows that people with arachnophobia see spiders more quickly than people who do not fear spiders.

The study can be found here: You See What You Fear: Spiders Gain Preferential Access to Conscious Perception in Spider-Phobic Patients. An article about the study is here: Phobias alter perception, German researchers say.

The authors of the study say that there probably is “an evolutionary advantage to preferentially process threatening stimuli, but these effects seem to have become dysfunctional in phobic patients.”

I would argue that “these effects” have also migrated into human semiotics and are similarly dysfunctional. That is, humans perceive some signs and symbols as more threatening than they are. For some of us these signs and symbols can seem so threatening we become “phobic” or neurotic about them.

For example, insecure people may become hypersensitive to signs of rejection. People who have been abused or tortured may perceive signs that seem ordinary to others as serious threats. If the person who tortures you also smiles, you will probably see human smiles as being dangerous when to others they indicate kindness.

Once a semiotic becomes associated with strong emotions, and this can happen in many ways, we will tend to see that semiotic as an emotionally charged sign from then on.

FIML practice is designed to interrupt our emotionally-charged responses to semiotics the moment those responses occur. By doing this repeatedly with the same sign, FIML practice can extirpates the neurotic response to that sign.

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Edit: Extirpating semiotic “phobias” or neuroses should be easier to do in most cases than extirpating phobias based on visual perceptions of things, such as the spiders discussed in the linked study. This is likely due to the more direct connection between emotional or limbic responses and the visual cortex. Complex semiotics are signs and symbols built on top of other signs and symbols, and thus their “architecture” is more fragile than direct visual perception and probably simpler to change in most cases. Human facial expressions probably fall somewhere between complex signs and direct visual perception. A good deal of what we call “psychology” are networks of complex semiotics. When a network becomes “neurotic” it is probably true that it contains erroneous interpretations of some or all of its semiotics. That said, a complex neurosis than involves many semiotic networks may be more difficult to extirpate than a straightforward phobia like arachnophobia.

Fabula and semiotics

Fabula are “the raw material of a story or narrative.”

I want to borrow this term to denote the raw material of a purposive conversation. For example, if I say to my partner that I want to have a salad for dinner, the notion or idea of that salad is a fabula that we can now discuss.

Our discussion of this as yet non-existent salad, this salad fabula, will include particular items, acts, and visualizations. For example, I may want sliced tomatoes in the salad, my partner may mention some olives in the refrigerator. We may both visualize our salad bowl and kitchen while we decide who does what.

Before the salad is made it is a fabula. The particular elements that go into getting the salad made while they are still only in our minds are semiotic elements.

In this sense, semiotics can be defined as the units or parts of a conversational fabula. We use these semiotics to discuss how to make what kind of salad.

We do the same thing with virtually all other conversational subjects. That is, we declare or grope toward determining what our fabula is and use semiotics to further clarify our vision of it. While doing this, ideally, we will remain open to real-time alterations and misunderstandings about both the fabula and the semiotics.

In these terms, most reasonable (and many unreasonable) conversations can be understood as two (or more) people negotiating* the “meanings” of their imperfectly shared fabula and semiotics. The fabula is a sort of context that defines the semiotics used in the discussion of it.

When the conversation is about salads, much of the process of going from a salad fabula to a real salad is straightforward and unproblematical.

When a conversation is about matters that are more ambiguous, subjective, emotional, or existential, there may be more problems because the fabula often will not be as clear as a salad to both parties. Or if it is, it may lead parties to quickly cleave to cliches or obvious explanations, thus limiting fresh responses or creative insights.

FIML practice can fix these problems by getting partners to clarify their fabula while also allowing them to alter it, or even change it entirely, as their discussion progresses.

The same is true at a different level for the semiotics they employ in their discussion—with FIML practice these semiotics often can be adjusted and clarified as soon as diverging understanding is noticed in either person’s mind.

Even if diverging understandings persist for some time, experienced FIML partners will be better prepared notice them when the opportunity arises.

A more complex example of this is an ongoing discussion my partner and I have had for several years. The basic discussion involves a strong reaction I sometimes have to cosmetic surgery. I admit that my reaction can be irrational and I can’t quite explain it. My partner frequently makes the point that I do like cosmetic surgery as long as I don’t notice it and/or like the results. We have gone back and forth on this quite a few times without ever getting a really good resolution, until a few days ago. The core problem had been that I do dislike the idea of cosmetic surgery, period. And also, I do recognize that it can be necessary and that if I like the results, I may be able to accept it even when it is not necessary.

We had never been involved in a simple dichotomy—like versus don’t like—but we both had been speaking as if we were. This was mostly my fault as I sometimes expressed revulsion at some forms of cosmetic surgery, but it was also not true that I actually liked the surgery if I liked the results or didn’t notice it.

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*I mean the word negotiating not so much as making a deal but more as negotiating a narrow foot bride across a stream or negotiating a turn in an automobile. Negotiation in this sense is an effort between two or more people to make many small adjustments to arrive at a mutually satisfying result, the “meaning” of which is understood in roughly the same way by all parties.

Repost: Why Smart People Are Stupid

This short article by Jonah Lehrer shows yet another reason that FIML works so well.

From the article: “The problem with this introspective approach is that the driving forces behind biases—the root causes of our irrationality—are largely unconscious, which means they remain invisible to self-analysis and impermeable to intelligence. In fact, introspection can actually compound the error, blinding us to those primal processes responsible for many of our everyday failings. We spin eloquent stories, but these stories miss the point. The more we attempt to know ourselves, the less we actually understand.” (Emphasis added.)

Be sure to read the whole article as that is just a piece of the argument. I chose it because it is relevant to the introspective aspects of Buddhist, and other, practices.

For the record, I am very fond of introspection. But introspection, as we have said many times on this site, without a way to check our work has a strong tendency to lead us astray.

FIML practice helps us correct our very numerous mistakes in assessing the thoughts and stories of other people. At the same time, FIML practice disabuses our own minds of the many errors we hold about ourselves based on our mistaken stories about others.

We have claimed many times that FIML practitioners will be amazed at how often they are wrong about the thoughts and intentions of their partners. The linked article well supports this assertion.

The psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, as quoted in the article says: “My intuitive thinking is just as prone to overconfidence, extreme predictions, and the planning fallacy as it was before I made a study of these issues.”

I believe him. This is how our minds (don’t) work.

FIML will probably not correct your general tendencies toward bias and misplaced confidence, but it will vastly reduce the number of mistakes you make about your partner (and thus yourself). This may not seem like all that much, but it is actually a huge benefit because when you have clarity with your partner, you gain a kind of emotional and psychological security that is deeply satisfying.

Humans are social beings, interactive social beings. When you gain verifiable clarity with your FIML partner you upgrade this fundamental aspect of your being far beyond what is possible by any other means I know of. FIML practice greatly reduces our need to rely on mistaken interpretations of our own making as well as the mistaken interpretations of the cultures to which we belong.

For Buddhists, this helps us to avoid the mistakes inherent in pure introspection as well as the mistakes inherent in accepting the generalities of the Buddhist tradition as it has come down to us today.