Meaning and existential networks

The FIML approach to human psychology considers humans as existential networks of signals, some internal and some external.

A core concept in FIML is that cognition relies on semiotic networks. Semiotics are meaningful or communicable signals.

The purpose of FIML practice is the optimization of interpersonal communication. An important part of this process involves removing what we usually call “misinterpretations.” Some synonyms, depending on context, for misinterpretation are neurosis, emotional suffering, emotional confusion, disordered thinking, wrong views, and so on. The main point is that the sufferer of a misinterpretation is making some sort of mistake in how they perceive, cognize, or react to the world around them.

Misinterpretation are fundamentally rooted in meaning. A misinterpretation is not fundamentally emotional, but meaningful. From the mistaken meaning flows emotions, perceptions, reactions, psychological confusion.

A friend sent me a fascinating Wikipedia entry on ideasthesia. Ideasthesia

is defined as a phenomenon in which activations of concepts (inducers) evoke perception-like experiences (concurrents). The name comes from the Greek idea and aisthesis, meaning “sensing concepts” or “sensing ideas” and is introduced by Danko Nikolić. The main reason for introducing the notion of ideaesthesia was the empirical evidence indicating that the related term synesthesia (i.e. union of senses) suggests incorrect explanation of a set of phenomena traditionally covered by this heading. “Syn”+”aesthesis” denoting “co-perceiving”, implies the association of two sensory elements with little connection to the cognitive level. However, most phenomena that have inadvertently been linked to synesthesia, in fact are induced by the semantic representations i.e., the meaning, of the stimulus rather than by its sensory properties, as would be implied by the term synesthesia.

Note this line from the section above—“However, most phenomena that have inadvertently been linked to synesthesia, in fact are induced by the semantic representations i.e., the meaning, of the stimulus rather than by its sensory properties, as would be implied by the term synesthesia.”

If ideasthesia happens with simple perceptions, imagine how often it happens in our existential networks of cognition, semiotic perception, semiotic response and interpretation.

By correcting the core meanings of core misinterpretations, FIML practice corrects maladapted  existential networks, thus relieving suffering while optimizing communication.

Imaginary communication

Normal socially-defined communication—business, school, professional, etc.—operates within known limits and terminologies. Skill is largely defined as understanding how to use the system without exceeding its limits, how to play the game.

Many other forms of communication must be imagined. That is, I have to imagine what you mean and you have to imagine what I mean. This is so because the rules of  communication are not well-defined.

In many cases of this type I will imagine that you are normal to the extent that I am able to imagine what normal is. And I will imagine that you imagine me to be normal. As I imagine you I will probably assume that your sense of what is normal is more or less the same as mine. This is probably what the central part of the bell curve of imagined communication looks like. People in this group are capable of imagining and cleaving to normal communication standards. If you reciprocate, we will probably get along fine.

If my imagination is better than normal, I will be able to imagine more than the normal person or given to imagining more. If this is the case, I will tend to want to find a way to communicate more than the norm to you. If you reciprocate, we might do well communicating. If you don’t, I might appear eccentric to you or distracted.

If my imagination is worse than normal, I will have trouble imagining or understanding normal communication. I won’t have a good sense of the cartoons we are required to make of each other and will probably appear awkward or scatterbrained to most people. If you reciprocate, we might do well communicating and find comfort in each other.

Normal communication, even when imagined, is based on something like cartoons. I see myself as a cartoon acting in relation to the cartoon I imagine for you. If my cartoon fits you well enough that you like it and if your cartoon of me fits well enough that I like it, we have a good chance of becoming friends.

A great deal of normal imagined communication is cartoon-like, and being normal, will take the bulk of its cartoons from mass media—movies, TV, radio, and, to a lesser extent today, books and other art forms.

People still read and learn from books and art, but normal communication has come to rely heavily on the powerful cartoons of mass media.

The big problem with our systems of imagined communication is they are highly idiosyncratic, messy, and ambiguous. We have to spend a lot of time fixing problems and explaining what we really mean.

It’s good to have idiosyncratic communication, but we have to find ways to understand each other on those terms.

Networks of words, semiotics, and psychological morphemes

On this site we have claimed many times that words and semiotics are held together in networks. We have further hypothesized that “psychological morphemes” are also held together in networks.

A “psychological morpheme” is the smallest meaningful unit of a psychological response. It is the smallest unit of communication that can give rise to an emotional, psychological, or cognitive reaction.

Of course word networks, semiotic networks, and emotional, psychological, and cognitive networks all intertwine with each other.

FIML practice is designed to help partners untangle unwanted emotions from these intertwined networks. FIML practice focuses on psychological morphemes because they are small and thus rather easily understood and rather easily extirpated from real-time contexts (when partners are interacting in real life in real-time).

The hard part about FIML practice is it is done in real life in real-time. But the easy or very effective part about FIML is that once partners learn to do it, results come quickly because the practice is happening in real life in real-time. It is not just a theory when you do it in that way. It is an experience that changes how you communicate and how you understand yourself and others.

In FIML practice partners are mindful of their emotional reactions and learn that when one occurs, it is important to query their partner about it. They are mindful of psychological morphemes and as soon as one appears, but before the morpheme calls up a large network leading to a strong reaction, they query their partner about it.

This practice leads, we have claimed, to a fairly smooth and effortless extirpation of unwanted psychological responses. This happens, we believe, because the data provided by the partner that “caused” the reaction shows the partner who made the FIML query that the psychological morpheme in question arose due to a misinterpretation. Seeing this repeatedly for the same sort of neurotic reaction causes that reaction and the psychological network that comprises it to become extinguished.

A fascinating study from the University of Kansas by Michael Vitevitch shows that removing a key word from a linguistic network will cause that network to fracture and even be destroyed. An article about the study and a link to the study (pay wall) can be found here: Keywords hold vocabulary together in memory.

Vitevitch’s study involves only words and his analysis was done only with computers because, as he says, ““Fracturing the network [in real people] could actually disrupt language processing. Even though we could remove keywords from research participants’ memories through psycholinguistic tasks, we dared not because of concern that there would be long-term or even widespread effects.”

FIML is not about removing key words from linguistic networks. But it is about dismantling or removing psychological or semiotic networks that cause suffering.

Psychological or semiotic networks are networks rich in emotional meaning. When those networks harbor unwanted, inappropriate, or mistaken interpretations (and thus mistaken or unwanted emotions), they can cause serious neurotic reactions, or what we usually call simply “mistaken interpretations.”

We believe that these mistaken interpretations and the emotions associated with them can be efficiently extirpated by revealing to their holder the “key” psychological morphemes that set them off.

My guess is the psychology of a semiotic network hinges on repeated reactions to key psychological morphemes and that this process is analogous to the key words described in Vitevitch’s study.

Vitevitch did not remove key words from actual people because it would be unethical to do so. But it is not unethical for consenting adults to help each other find and remove key psychological morphemes that are harmfully associated with the linguistic, semiotic, cognitive, and psychological networks that make up the individual.

 

Do we have an inner child or an inner dog?

Inner child is a widely recognized term that implies the presence in adults of unresolved problems or underdeveloped traits rooted in childhood.

Inner child further implies that full development of the adult requires “reparenting” or “retraining” the inner child as a way of resolving juvenile problems and advancing to full adulthood.

My FIML partner has been studying dog training and last night told me how much she thought effective dog training resembled FIML practice.

In a nutshell, FIML practice trains your inner dog, not your inner child.

For example, to stop bad behavior in a dog—say, barking at cars going by—its human trainer has to know how to intervene as quickly and as calmly as possible the moment that behavior arises. Quick intervention ensures that the dog knows what the trainer wants them to do. If you wait too long (as little as a few seconds), the dog won’t know what you want them to do. They will have forgotten the precise source of their behavior and thus any corrections they try to make will not address the root problem, which is they have interpreted a signal in the world (cars going by) as something they must react to.

When the trainer is calm and friendly as well as quick to intervene, they will prevent the dog from reacting to their (the trainer’s) excessive emotion, be it anger, panic, or an unskilled flustered state of mind.

The same sort of thing happens in FIML practice. When one FIML partner queries the other, the first thing they are doing is stopping their (own) inner dog before it starts behaving badly. They are intervening as soon as they feel their inner dog stir and start to rise from the floor (but before it starts barking).

The second thing they are doing is calmly asking their FIML partner a question about a very specific and precisely identified moment. They are gathering good data on that moment from their partner and will compare it to what their inner dog thought it saw or heard.

A FIML partner is in essence asking, should I be reacting right now as my inner dog is telling me or has my inner dog misinterpreted a signal coming from you?

The dog for much of its life has barked at cars going by, while the person for much of their life has reacted with sadness or anger to their interpretation of certain signs or signals (semiotics) coming from other people.

When you query your FIML partner about a sign that you have been reacting to for much of your life and discover that the sign you received was not the sign they sent, you will be like the dog who comes to understand that there is no reason to bark at cars going by, no reason to rise from the floor at all.

People are semiotic animals more than dogs, so we react very strongly to social semiotics. But we are just like dogs in that most of our reactions to semiotics can be changed without much effort as long as we arrest those reactions quickly and replace them with a more reasonable response.

My partner remarked last night especially on how easily a great deal of bad dog behavior can be corrected if the intervention of the trainer is quick and the dog is shown a more appropriate response. Oftentimes, just a few good interventions will correct the bad behavior.

What are some classic mistakes bad dog trainers make? They try to comfort or calm the barking dog by holding it and telling it everything is OK. That is, they treat it like a child. But all that actually does is reward the dog for the behavior they want to stop.

So if you reward yourself (your inner child) by indulging in childish feelings of abandonment when you misinterpret or over-interpret a sign of rejection, you are actually rewarding yourself for being wrong, for having an erroneous (or neurotic) interpretation of communicative signs.

It is better to treat your rapid and unthinking “limbic” responsivity like a dog than like a child. And rather than reparent your inner child, it is better to use good dog training techniques to retrain the actual semiotic responses that are the real roots of unwanted behaviors.

Why FIML queries need to be asked quickly

A fascinating Swedish study claims to show that:

…the sense of agency for speech has a strong inferential component, and that auditory feedback of one’s own voice acts as a pathway for semantic monitoring, potentially overriding other feedback loops.

The source of that quote can be found here: Speakers’ Acceptance of Real-Time Speech Exchange Indicates That We Use Auditory Feedback to Specify the Meaning of What We Say.

In an article about the study above—People Rely on What They Hear to Know What They’re Saying—lead author Andreas Lind says that he is aware that the conditions of their research did not allow for anything resembling real conversational dynamics and that he hopes to study “…situations that are more social and spontaneous — investigating, for example, how exchanged words might influence the way a… conversation develops.”

FIML partners will surely recognize that without the monitoring of their FIML practice many conversations would veer off into mutually discordant interpretations and that many of these veerings-off are due to nothing more than sloppy or ambiguous speech or listening.

If speakers have to listen to themselves to monitor what they are saying and still misspeak with surprising frequency, then instances of listeners mishearing must be even more frequent since listeners (normally) do not have any way to check what they are hearing or how they are interpreting it in real-time.

That is, listeners who do not do FIML. FIML practice is designed to correct mistakes of both speaking and listening in real-time. FIML queries must be asked quickly because speakers can only accurately remember what was in their mind when they spoke for a short period of time, usually just a few seconds.

The Swedish study showed that in a great many cases words that speakers had not spoken “were experienced as self-produced.” That is speakers can be fooled into thinking they said something they had not said. How much more does our intention for speaking get lost in the rickety dynamics of real conversation?

This study is small but I believe it is showing what happens when we speak (and listen). Most of the time, and even when we are being careful, we make a good many mistakes and base our interpretations of ourselves and others on those mistakes. I do not see another way to correct this very common problem except by doing FIML or something very much like it.

In future, I hope there will be brain scan technology that will be accurate enough to let us see how poorly our perceptions of what we are saying or hearing match reality and/or what others think we are saying or hearing.

It is amazing to me that human history has gone on for so many centuries with no one having offered a way to fix this problem which leads to so many disasters.

The prevalence of mistakes about people and mice

A statistical analysis on death-row prisoners indicates that roughly 4% were/are not guilty of their crimes or would be “exonerated” if there were more time to investigate their cases.

The study can be found here: Rate of false conviction of criminal defendants who are sentenced to death.

An article about the study can be found here: Death-penalty analysis reveals extent of wrongful convictions.

Besides contemplating the horror of being executed for a crime you did not commit, consider also how flawed we humans are about our judgements.

I do think that we can assume that in most cases, people engaged in the court system—prosecutors, judges, juries—are being as reasonable and fair as they know how. But even still, and even with all those people looking at the evidence, wrongful convictions happen with alarming frequency.

Here is another study that shows how prone to error we humans are: Lab mice fear men but not women, and that’s a big problem for science.

That headline may not sound like much, but it has been a huge mistake to do studies on mice without taking into account that they react very differently to male and female researchers.

Now that is many decades of expensive scientific research that has been compromised. My understanding of the problem is that the gender-difference issue is only one of many very serious problems with mice studies. Some of the others involve the lighting of the mouse environments, failing to account for their diurnal cycles, failure to account for how they are treated, what they can smell, and so on.

How much good research has been lost because it could not be replicated due to one or more of those mistakes?

So, if courts of law can err significantly in their most serious criminal cases and if bio-medical research can include numerous serious errors (many of which have been know about for many years), how can we possibly claim to know what other people are thinking or even what they really mean when they speak even very simple sentences?

The answer is in most cases we cannot be sure at all about what anyone really means in almost all cases. If you do FIML, you will be able to know with vastly greater accuracy what your FIML partner is saying, but if you don’t do FIML you cannot even be sure of the person(s) closest to you.

Yes, the world functions, sort of, and things get done, somewhat. But we function and get things done by basing our thoughts and behaviors on standard intuitions and stereotypes (of situations as well as people).

That makes for a very muddled psychology where inaccuracy contributes to suffering and semiotic “instincts” rule. When the Buddha spoke about everyone being deluded, I think he meant mainly something like this. We are sloppy, stupid, ignorant, emotional, foolish creatures and most of us are so far gone we cannot even recognize that.

So we condemn innocents to death and waste important resources doing shitty science when pretty much everyone in that business knows the results will stink as much as the mice cages.

Please, learn FIML and do it with your SO. You will remain a foolish human, but your evidence will be better and your cognition and emotions will be closer to whatever “truth” is.

Public semiotics: how they are used and controlled

Public semiotics are semiotics known to many people, semiotics that many people within a society or culture will respond to in similar ways.

Some examples of public semiotics are conventions in literature, film, news, customs, clothing, language use, courtship styles, and so on.

In film and literature, most viewers recognize the semiotic difference between first- and third-person narratives as well as typical plot-lines such as “the individual against the group,” “the individual who overcomes a tragedy,” or simply “good versus bad.”

Viewers responses are controlled by these narratives through expectation, emotion, and habit. Due to their short lengths, most popular films rely very heavily on a single strong emotion for narrative effect, while serious literature generally deals with more complex themes.

A recent scholarly study of US politics came to some conclusions about public semiotics and our perceptions of them that are not likely to surprise readers of this site.

The study and an interview with one of its authors can be found here: Scholar Behind Viral ‘Oligarchy’ Study Tells You What It Means.

In the interview co-author Gilens has this to say about the study:

I’d say that contrary to what decades of political science research might lead you to believe, ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States. And economic elites and interest groups, especially those representing business, have a substantial degree of influence. Government policy-making over the last few decades reflects the preferences of those groups — of economic elites and of organized interests. (Source: same as above. This source has the study as well as the interview.)

What this study says about public semiotics is the public does not control them. Rather, the public is controlled by them.

Interestingly, the study left out some of the main ways that public semiotics are controlled by elites. Public semiotics are not just controlled by interest groups and lobbies influencing legislation, they are also greatly controlled by:

  • elite control of the media
  • elite control of which topics the media covers
  • elite control of presidential debates by the Democratic and Republican parties through the Commission on Presidential Debates
  • elite control of members of congress by the parties they “represent”

In the linked interview, which is well-worth reading, Gilens mentions non-business lobbying groups, but does not say who they are.

If we do not understand that our public semiotics come from somewhere—that many of them are created and maintained by special interest groups—we will fail to understand how we are manipulated by them.

As this study shows, voting for a very limited selection of candidates who rarely, if ever, fulfill their very limited campaign promises is an exercise in public hypnosis. It is a complex semiotic that fosters the illusion of participation where there is none.

I do not think any of this will change. But I do think it is important for individuals, and especially FIML partners, to understand where the semiotics that jostle around in their heads are coming from. As individuals, we can have great control over what we believe, value, do, and understand about human life, and need not be controlled by the self-serving agendas of others.

It is important to understand that much of what is construed as “public life” is actually a complex mix of semiotics consciously controlled by people who work to create and maintain illusions of plots and themes in the world in much the same ways that plots and themes are created and maintained in film.

Personality as persona

The word persona comes from Latin, where it originally meant a “theatrical mask.” In everyday usage today, we normally mean it to indicate a “social role” that, to some extent, most of us play consciously.

Carl Jung used the concept of persona to indicate the deep sense in which a person employs conscious and subconscious methods to present a social face, or mask, to the world.

Jung said of his use of the word persona that it is “a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual.” (C. G. Jung, Two Essays on Analytical Psychology London 1953 p. 190)

My understanding of Jung’s psychology is that he took the persona to be something more substantial—more real—than it need be. In my view, when we take our persona(s) too seriously, we reify them, even fetishize them.

Once fetishized or reified, the persona in Jungian psychology takes on almost supernatural qualities, eventually requiring “disintegration” followed after some time by “restoration” as a more conscious and reasonable thing that can serve both personal and social needs without painful contradictions.

I believe this Jungian sense of the term persona has had a considerable influence on our ordinary sense of what a personality is.

In this light, I would contend that what we commonly refer to as personality is a ghostly generalization that obscures both inner-private and outer-social reality.

Belief in “personality” removes analysis of interpersonal-being-in-this-world from actual specifics to nebulous generalities.

If you have a conflict or misunderstanding with a friend and either of you believes it is due to “personality differences,” you will tend to avoid the problem rather than fix it. You will avoid it because it is all but impossible to fix anything with such a vague notion as personalty.

Assuming the two friends just mentioned are close friends, they would do much better to identify the specific moment their misunderstanding occurred and work with that.

People today do not normally do this for two reasons: 1) almost everyone believes in something like “personality” and in so believing makes it impossible to fix even small moments of discord, and 2) very few people know how to fix those sorts of problems even if they do realize that more is going on than two ghostly persona clashing in a mystical realm.

I agree that people need personas to negotiate many social and professional environments. And I agree that most people have a few traits that often remain sort of constant over time and in similar contexts.

What I do not agree with is everything else we normally attribute to personalities. In place of all that, I would substitute the idea that humans are semiotic entities and that we communicate with each other and within ourselves by using semiotics and semiotic networks.

Our interests and training lead us to emphasize some parts of these networks over others, but this does not constitute a “personality” as the word is normally used.

Suffering arises when we experience bad communication. Belief in personalities masks (ironically) the true nature of communication problems. Belief in personalities causes us to generalize when we should be looking very closely at the specific moment during communication that the semiotic networks of the two (or more) communicators began to diverge.

That is the point at which their interpretations began to differ and nothing will explain why they began to differ except close analysis of that precise moment.

People do not analyze the precise moment their interpretations of each other began to differ because they do not know how. In place of analysis, people almost always generate strong emotions and within seconds make it impossible to analyze anything.

It is not your personality or theirs that does this. It is, rather, our lousy abilities to communicate, a problem everyone in the world has. We are like monkeys in a high-powered automobile all but doomed to crash, or go nowhere.

How to drive that car? How can we catch the specific moment interpersonal interpretations diverge? And how can we analyze that moment? Only FIML practice or something very much like it will allow us to do that.

Wasting time analyzing your personality or constructing an even better one will get you nothing more than a theatrical mask, a persona, that will be useful in some social situations but a disaster in all close interpersonal relationships.

More on personality problems

I discussed some of my problems with the word personality and how it is used in an earlier post.

This morning, I found an wonderful post by Robert Priddy that put the matter well. He says:

Against the belief in a ‘hard core’ of self it is held that we do not have – or experience – any stable, single, united self. We have no permanent identity because our entire psycho-physical personal existence is a dynamic and changing flow of bodily growth and decay, mental perceptions and memories. According to this, the belief in an ‘unchanging’ self – one always having the same identity – is a conception that has been developed and embodied in culture and languages and taken over during the socialization process. The interactive physical and social environments influence both body and mind, while the perception of oneself is also variable. People behave in different ways according to situations, not always showing the same character traits or responses. One who is truthful to most people may be deceptive or untruthful in other circumstances, so there is no unvarying self involved.

The way in which the mind construes a fixed identity (or ego) was described phenomenologically and convincingly by Jean-Paul Sartre in his 1940s essay ‘The Transcendence of the Ego’. Wittgenstein is also illumining on the subject, also pointing out that – because we have substantive words (nouns) for self, ego etc., we are bewitched into the false notion that these (an many other such) words also represent something substantial. The self is a construction of the mind, and when one looks at the concept and our experience most carefully, one finds that the idea of an eternal self is just as false as that of an earth-centered universe and all that mental baggage handed down without due critical examination from such as Aristotle, Plato and others before them. (Source)

I very much agree with Priddy’s analysis. And also, I want to say a bit more. Priddy’s words describe the general problem with terms like personality, ego, self, or identity.

What I think gets missed in general descriptions of the problem is a clear micro-analysis of how these problem concepts (and many others) actually function within human cognition.

I accept, or posit, that human cognition can be fairly well-described as a network of associated semiotics. Single semiotics are the basic units of this cognitive network. How they are associated in different individuals will differ, sometimes greatly.

When someone speaks of their “personality,” I believe they often are reifying a cluster of mutually referential semiotics. Priddy’s description says it well—they are “bewitched into the false notion that these…words…represent something substantial.”

Instead of saying words, I generally prefer semiotics because it is a more inclusive term, encompassing words and all other signs that communicate.

When someone reifies the semiotics of “personality” or “self,” they are in a very significant way making a “fetish” of those semiotics. They are turning them into a “thing” that seems to have a life of its own, that can be referenced in ways that are essentially false (or fetishized) and misleading.

I believe this process can be glimpsed in a hazy way from afar in general terms, but that it cannot be clearly seen unless we are able to observe its micro-functionality. That is, we can vaguely know that we are using terms like personality in misleading ways, but we will not fully grasp how this is happening until we have a method to observe those semiotics as they actually functions in real-time in a real “moment” (short period of time up to 10 seconds or so).

The only way I know of to do this is FIML practice because only FIML allows one mind to stop and query another mind in the “moment.” Only FIML forces us to see the network of cognitive semiotics as they actually function in real time.

FIML cannot be done alone exclusively because there is no way to check your work when you are alone. Semiotics communicate. You can and do use semiotics to communicate with yourself and you can gain insight into them while you are alone, but you will never be able to see large parts of your semiotic network as it actually functions in real-life without the help of a FIML partner.

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.