Semiosis, symbiosis, and optimization

In this post, I want to avoid words like psychology, personality, instinct, normal, abnormal, etc. to describe human beings. I want to throw out all of those usual ways of thinking about people and replace them with just three terms–semiosis, symbiosis, and optimization.

In this context, semiosis means all symbols, meaning, language, philosophy, belief, value, etc. An easy way to grasp semiosis is to equate it with the way an individual’s culture, or subculture, works within their mind. Symbiosis denotes relations to other people. An easy way to grasp symbiosis is to equate it with an individual’s social group(s)–their marriage partner, family, friends, clubs, religious groups, job, etc.

All humans are a combination of some sort of semiosis and symbiosis as defined above. What we want to aim for in our lives is optimization of our semioses and symbioses. The only way I know how to do this is with FIML practice because only FIML practice gives partners the tools to grasp and manipulate–to understand and improve–their semioses.

The main area where this optimization occurs in FIML practice is in the symbiosis of partners’ semioses. Semioses are shared. Partners share in a symbiotic relationship the semioses they both carry around in their heads. FIML partners must become conscious of this level of human interaction because it happens whether you are conscious of it or not. If partners are not conscious of it and/or can’t deal with it, they will not be able to optimize their relationship (or their own lives). Rather, they will be forced to cling to public semiotics, private neuroses, or most commonly both.

If partners are optimizing the symbiosis of their shared semioses, their core behaviors will spring from dynamic principles rather than static codes, vows, or agreements. FIML is nearly contentless in that it does not tell partners what to think but rather how to observe and analyze their shared semioses.

Now, as an example, let’s say you experience a mix-up with your partner. Something didn’t go right; one of you misspoke or did something bothersome; then you had an argument or at least difficult emotions arose. So what should you do? At times like these, many people will separate for a while to cool down and then gloss over whatever it was when they get back together later on. At that point they will rely on some sort of static notion of their relationship and on that basis try to recapture good feelings. This technique works to a point, but it is not the best because it does nothing to optimize the relationship. It just covers up the problem. When you avoid a problem, you underscore your inability to deal with it while allowing it to grow.

A much better way for partners to deal with a problem like the one above is recognize that it is definitely going to affect your shared semiosis. Once you both accept this fact, you will probably find it easier to stick with the issue. Rather than separating for a while, face the issue and start a FIML discussion by analyzing what has happened and why. Even if it takes you an hour or more to reach a resolution, it will be well worth it because you will be optimizing your relationship. By doing a FIML discussion, you will avoid hiding from a problem while profoundly increasing your mutual understanding.

This is how mutual transformation often works in the real world. If you do small things like this enough, both you and your partner will become convinced that you can really live and interact on a higher level than what you probably had thought possible before.

Mutual transformation

The right goal of interpersonal relations should be mutual transformation. To be more precise, mutually beneficial mutual transformation.

Most of us would agree with this and most of us would hope that that is what we are doing in our important relationships. But are we?

I am sure many of us have joined groups or pursued friendships where we felt that this was what we were doing–often both parties have felt this way–only to discover that, eventually, something goes wrong and the mutual part or the transformational part gets lost or damaged.

This happens because one or both parties begin seeking stasis rather than transformation. Or one or both become selfish rather than mutual. And these sorts of outcomes occur because–assuming both parties were sincere in the beginning–they cannot maintain mutual understanding. They develop “artistic differences,” as the saying goes, or become “incompatible” in one way or another.

Sometimes people part ways and sometimes they soldier on, accepting the moderate warmth of stasis over the coldness of loneliness and starting over.

If we base our relations on emotions only–love, affection, friendly feelings–and fail to make them  consistently mutually transformational, they are bound to founder or become unsatisfying. One way people try to get around this is to make their relations mutually beneficial in material ways. All this does is mutually trap people in material conditions and a material outlook.

Children often form mutually transformational relationships with each other because they are growing quickly and have loads of new material to digest and understand. Isn’t that one of the main reasons we sometimes miss being kids, being able to act like kids? We miss childhood not just because we had less responsibility then but also because we grew along with our friends in ways that were mutually transformational. Of course, it was never all like that. But life for most of us surely does get flatter or more static as we become adults. Where kids are dynamically socializing, adults too often are socialized into static subcultures that do not even permit transformation. As adults, we have to play the angles, get along, be careful what we say, etc. Being a “mature” adult usually means being socialized into a static subculture that requires us to maintain the same beliefs and practices for years, if not decades.

You cannot expect mutual transformation in most jobs or in most clubs or in most religious groups or in most groups of friends. Why? Because groups usually are held together by static semiotics–they have rules, codes, beliefs, attitudes, required behaviors. And those things foreclose transformation away from those things.

Mutual transformation is a good standard for assessing what is happening in your life. It can help us gain insight into a wide range of human relationships. Mutual transformation depends on equality and lateral communication. Equality and lateral communication is fundamental to finding your way out of the overweening semiotics of whatever culture or subculture you belong to. Cultural semiotics are mental events. They happen within our minds. How can you transform them or transform yourself out of them if you cannot grasp them and discuss them with your most intimate friend?

Mutual transformation requires that both parties be able to change. Rather than be unwilling to admit we are wrong, we should be delighted to discover that we have been wrong because now our lives have one less error in them. Politics is generally boring largely because politicians almost always have to be consistent and never admit fault. That is the opposite of mutual transformation, personal growth, or real Buddhist practice.

The purpose of FIML practice is to help partners mutually transform themselves. FIML gives partners the tools to use language in ways that transform both of them for the better. In a way, FIML lets us be kids again–kids with adult brains that have at last come to understand how to use our minds and tongues to speak honestly, creatively, wonderfully to each other.

Study supports FIML practice

This study—Neural Correlates of People’s Hypercorrection of Their False Beliefs—supports the contention that FIML practice can produce deep, wide-ranging, and enduring changes within the brain/mind of practitioners.

The basic finding of the study is:

Despite the intuition that strongly held beliefs are particularly difficult to change, the data on error correction indicate that general information errors that people commit with a high degree of belief are especially easy to correct. (Emphasis added.)

According to the study, this happens due to:

…enhanced attention and encoding that results from a metacognitive mismatch between the person’s confidence in their responses and the true answer.

This is exactly what happens when a FIML query shows the questioner that his/her assumptions about what their partner’s thoughts or intentions were were wrong.

Initially, FIML partners may experience some embarrassment or disbelief at being wrong. But since FIML queries are generally based on negative impressions, after some practice being shown to be wrong will typically produce feelings of relief and even delight.

A FIML query will generally arise out of a state of “enhanced attention” and usually further increase it by being spoken about. Incidentally, this is probably the most difficult aspect of FIML practice—controlling the emotions that accompany enhanced attention, especially when that attention concerns our own emotional reactions.

With continued practice of FIML, however, even strongly held erroneous interpersonal beliefs will be fairly easily corrected whenever they are discovered during a FIML discussion. Correcting core false beliefs (mistaken interpretations) has a wide-ranging, beneficial effect on all aspects of a person’s life.

Since the hypercorrection effect discussed in the linked study only occurs during moments of enhanced attention, the FIML technique of focusing quickly on good data agreed upon by both partners can be seen as a way of inducing states of enhanced attention that will lead to deep changes in both partners. This technique (using good data) also turns the discussion from one about feelings to one about “information,” which the study finds makes errors “especially easy to correct.”

Furthermore, since FIML practice tends to deal with very small incidents, the enhanced attention FIML induces works like a laser that quickly and painlessly excises erroneous thoughts and feelings while they are still small and have not been allowed to grow into full-blown emotional reactions.

Semiotics and stress

A common explanation of human stress includes physical stress (heat, cold, etc.), hierarchical stress (low status, competition, etc.), and lack of social support (horizontal communication, belonging).

Supposedly, humans and other primates tend to stress themselves because we are smart enough to have a lot of free time (time not spent gathering food). As the neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky puts it:

“If you live in a baboon troop in the Serengeti, you only have to work three hours a day for your calories, and predators don’t mess with you much. What that means is you’ve got nine hours of free time every day to devote to generating psychological stress toward other animals in your troop. So the baboon is a wonderful model for living well enough and long enough to pay the price for all the social-stressor nonsense that they create for each other. They’re just like us: They’re not getting done in by predators and famines, they’re getting done in by each other.” (Source)

Sapolsky makes good points but I want to add something to what he says.

Humans are “semiotic primates.” That is, we live as much or more in a semiotic environment as a natural one.

This means that we stress ourselves not just by our place in a natural hierarchy, but also by how we understand where we are, what we are hearing and saying, and what others are hearing and saying when around us.

Since most humans have no way of fully adjusting their interpersonal communication, the semiotic environments they live in are ambiguous, frequently mistaken, sometimes dangerous. Our intimate semiotic environments are typically unsatisfying or stressful because the communication upon which they are based and which defines them is rarely, if ever, optimal.

When interpersonal stress is relieved through one of the three ways mentioned in the first paragraph above, people may exercise more, work harder to climb the hierarchy, or seek out more horizontal support from a club or temple.

Exercise is good, climbing the hierarchy is OK if that’s what you want, and adding social support never hurts. None of these methods will optimize interpersonal communication, however. They are substitute semiotics of a different kind.

The reason this is so is the core stress-inducing problem most people have is poor intimate interpersonal communication with their primary interlocutor.

It’s not bad to think of yourself as having a psychology and a psychological history, but this line of thought rarely, if ever, leads to optimal communication with your primary interlocutor. When we psychologize ourselves, we tend to generalize ourselves and others. We see ourselves as defined by theories (extrinsic semiotics) rather than by the the dynamic reality of our moment-by-moment interactions with the person(s) we care about most.

FIML optimizes communication between primary interlocutors and in so doing relieves some of the most deleterious human stressors by removing them as they arise. If your intimate interpersonal communication is good, you won’t care very much about where you are on the hierarchy.

Disruption of neurotic response in FIML practice

By analyzing minute emotional reactions in real-time during normal conversation, FIML practice disrupts the consolidation, or more often the reconsolidation, of “neurotic” responses.

In FIML, a neurotic response is defined as “an emotional response based on a misinterpretation.” The misinterpretation in question can be incipient (just starting) to long-seated (been a habit for years).

The response is disrupted by FIML practice and, thus, tends not to consolidate or reconsolidate, especially after several instances of learning that it is not valid.

A neurotic response is a response based on memory. The following study on fear memories supports the above explanation of FIML practice.

Memories become labile when recalled. In humans and rodents alike, reactivated fear memories can be attenuated by disrupting reconsolidation with extinction training. Using functional brain imaging, we found that, after a conditioned fear memory was formed, reactivation and reconsolidation left a memory trace in the basolateral amygdala that predicted subsequent fear expression and was tightly coupled to activity in the fear circuit of the brain. In contrast, reactivation followed by disrupted reconsolidation suppressed fear, abolished the memory trace, and attenuated fear-circuit connectivity. Thus, as previously demonstrated in rodents, fear memory suppression resulting from behavioral disruption of reconsolidation is amygdala-dependent also in humans, which supports an evolutionarily conserved memory-update mechanism. (Source: Disruption of Reconsolidation Erases a Fear Memory Trace in the Human Amygdala)

FIML practice works by partners consciously and cooperatively disrupting reconsolidation (and initial consolidation) of neurotic memory (and associated behaviors). FIML both extirpates habitual neurotic responses and also prevents the formation of new neurotic responses through conscious disruption of memory consolidation.

FIML probably works as well as it does because humans have “an evolutionarily conserved memory-update mechanism” that favors more truth. Obvious examples of this update mechanism can be seen in many simple mistakes. For instance, if you think the capital of New York State is New York City and someone shows that it is Albany, you will likely correct your mistake immediately with little or no fuss.

Since FIML focuses on small mistakes made between partners, corrections are rarely more difficult than the above example though they may be accompanied by a greater sense of relief. For example, if you thought that maybe your partner was mad at you but then find (through a FIML query) that they are not, your sense of relief may be considerable.

The quintessence of interpersonal cooperation

FIML is the quintessence of interpersonal social behavior. FIML is the quintessence of interpersonal cooperation. As such, it transforms what we call “personality” by altering the basis of experience.

If social behavior is understood quantitatively, then “more social” means more social contacts.

If social behavior is understood qualitatively, then “more social” becomes “better social”; i.e. more honest, true, profound, fulfilling.

It is not possible to have high-quality interpersonal interactions without a precise way to manage and correct errors in communication as they occur. What we loosely think of as “personality” is based on interpersonal experiences. Change the experiences and you change the personality.

Repost: Stress voice

This post provides a concrete example of what FIML practice does and why it is needed. Stress voice is an involuntary intrusion of instinct into speech. In some contexts, this is a very good thing. In many other contexts, it can be a very bad thing because it alerts us to dangers that do not exist while generating the illusion that they do. ABN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not all contretemps are the same

Edit 10/07/15: The post below describes a fairly simple problem that is nonetheless difficult to describe. This difficulty illustrates how fundamental linguistic imprecision is to human “psychology,” emotion, communication, and thought.

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Not all contretemps are the same. Some are easier to fix than others.

In FIML practice, a contretemps is defined as a misunderstanding within a conversation that arises from misspeaking, mishearing, or miscogitating.

Most contretemps arise due to the speaker or listener attributing a mental state to the other person. I hear a tone in your voice and thus attribute a mental state to you. It may be the case that I heard correctly. More often it is the case that I heard incorrectly.

Either way, a FIML query and discussion will usually put the matter to rest fairly quickly. The discussion that follows the resolution of the contretemps may use a lot of time but it is almost always pleasant and well-worth the effort because discussions of that sort tend to illuminate much more than just the contretemps in question.

It is a basic assumption of FIML practice that many/most contretemps are features of language and language use itself and not due fundamentally to human “psychology” or “personality.” Of course contretemps run all through what we call “psychology” and influence it a great deal, but many/most verbal (conversational) contretemps are just normal clunky things that are features of language.

They arise due to the ambiguities of words and phrases, the crudeness of our speech apparatuses, the dimness of our brains, poor hearing, and contextual misunderstandings, to name just a few of the reasons.

Once a simple mistake—a misunderstood tone of voice, reference, or context, for example—has been identified, it is usually a fairly simple matter to dismiss the emotions it may have aroused and move ahead with the conversation. These kinds of mistakes are characterized by some sort of mistaken attribution of a mental or emotional state by one of the participants in a conversation aimed at the other participant.

There is another sort of contretemps, however, that is more difficult to identify and fix. This sort of contretemps does not involve attributing a mental or emotional state to the other person. Rather, it is characterized by trying to prevent an emotional state from arising or from trying to prevent the conversation from going in one direction or another for whatever reason.

An example of this sort of contretemps might be something like this. You buy some bread and explain that it is different from the kind you usually buy because they did not have that kind. I look at the bread, and seeing that it is lighter than what we normally get, say this bread is too light, while fully knowing what you have said about why you bought it. No problem so far. You say, “Well…” as you begin to formulate a more complete response. Still no problem.

But then I add, “But I am not complaining!” My “intention” (if you can call such a swift response intentional) is merely to prevent you from thinking I am complaining about your having bought the bread. But my tone may not have come out right. This may be the start of a problem if you think that my tone implies that I think you are being defensive due to how you said “well….”

Was my tone wrong or did you hear it wrongly? Only the partners themselves can determine this, assuming both are well-meaning and reasonably intelligent (and sober).

The deeper FIML problem here is that tone of voice is very hard to catch and it is very hard for you to query me because things are moving very quickly. If you did query me I would honestly say that I did not think you were being defensive. I would honestly say that I just wanted to prevent your feeling defensive and/or to simply clarify that I am not complaining, this being a fairly normal thing for people to say though it can often be ambiguous and lead to a complex contretemps such as the one we are discussing.

When I say that I am not complaining, you hear it as me assuming that you have taken my complaint about the bread (a genuine problem we both recognize, though we are not all that clear on that either) as being a complaint about you or your shopping.

This kind of contretemps can be very hard to get to the bottom of because it involves several layers of miscuing based on a reasonable misattribution of my statement I am not complaining.

The basic problem is one speaker (me) is trying to guide the conversation or prevent it from going in some direction while the listener understands that effort to be an implied accusation of their planning to do just that, of their intending to do that.

If you pay attention to how you and your partner speak to each other, I can all but guarantee you will have contretemps of this sort. A well-meaning general intention to guide or prevent or indicate something is mistaken as an attribution of a mental or emotional state by the listener.

Kind of involved and messy isn’t it? It happens because languages are difficult to use well and we make many mistakes.

It must be emphasized that FIML partners are not seeking to adhere to some external social standard (which doesn’t really exist, especially in precise matters or with respect to complex interpersonal subjects and extensive discussions) but rather to hone their own standards to the point where there are fewer contretemps and the ones that do occur (as they absolutely will) can be resolved as efficiently as possible.

The sort of contretemps described above can be very difficult to identify and correct because it moves very quickly and is based on underlying assumptions that are not easy to identify on the fly. FIML practice, generally, is difficult not because people are stupid, have bad personalities, or screwed up psychologies, but because it is completely and utterly impossible not to make many mistakes in listening, speaking, and thinking whenever we use language.

If you try to gloss over too many mistake (now and then it’s OK to gloss over some of them) by pretending there is some “standard” you know about and that your partner is just an ass, you will only compound the problem. It is very difficult to be a fully functioning human being for many reasons and one of the biggest lies in language itself and how we normally (mis)use it.

Repost: FIML and illusions, visual and verbal

It’s well known that memory, context, and expectation are fundamental to our perceptions of “reality.” For more info on this see: FIML and memory distortion.

In this post I want to give a few examples of how this happens and then discuss how these examples are relevant to FIML practice.

Yesterday I took a walk with my partner. It was a sunny day and at one point the reflection of a leafless tree in the windshield of a car parked about thirty yards ahead of us caught my eye. Most of the car was in shade, so the reflection stood out prominently though I could not quite figure out what I was seeing at first. As I stared at the windshield, I saw the crude image of a human face. It flickered in my mind and changed several times as we advanced toward the car. Was I seeing a person sitting in the passenger seat, I wondered. Or was it something else? What I saw in the reflection was more of a proto-face than a real human face. My brain made several attempts to interpret the reflection as we drew closer to the car. At last, I saw that what I was looking at was a bright reflection of tree branches high above the car. The scene fooled me because the car was in the shade and the tree branches were in the sun quite high above the street.

This incident illustrates how our minds try to make sense out of what we are seeing even before we have sufficient information to do so reliably. Why did I see a person and not a cat or something else? The answer is probably that a person would be the most significant to me of the likely interpretations of what was there. In a kind of self-centered all-too-human way, I interpreted the reflection as an image that would have the most bearing on my life. In the case of that reflection, I was able to ascertain what the image really was. I remember being quite curious about it. It was kind of a delightful optical illusion which was fun to ponder once I understood it.

Another incident that happened yesterday also occured while I was walking with my partner. This time it was dark. On the street ahead of us she saw what she told me looked like a pillar that had fallen in the road. That would have been a real anomaly, so she kept looking at the object. Eventually she realized that it was a car parked in shadows in such a way that its outline had not been clear. Why she saw it as a collapsed pillar, I don’t know, but as I had done earlier in the day, she was quite curious about what she was seeing as we approached the scene. When she figured it out, she described what had happened and we discussed how it relates to FIML.

What she noticed is that since the anomaly was visual, it was fairly easy to figure out. She also noticed that her curiosity would have made her walk toward the pillar/car to see what it was even if it had meant going out of our way. Most of us, I think, would do the same. Visual illusions like that are not threatening and usually are fun to figure out.

If an illusion arises in what we think we have heard someone say, however, most of us will normally not pursue the matter. What kinds of illusions arise when we speak with others? Any interpretation that is wrong is an illusion. Any interpretation on the personal-public spectrum of possible interpretations that is not what our interlocutor meant is an illusion. Any interpretation founded on our own private neuroses or on public misconceptions instead of what the other person really meant is an illusion.

An example might be someone seems too familiar when they greet you, so you interpret their behavior as being disrespectful, flirtatious, or nutty when the person is just feeling good because of something that had recently happened. In real life, you usually can’t figure those sorts of illusions out unless they occur with your FIML partner. In real life, that sort of thing occurs many times per day and is compounded by as many people as we deal with. Just being “positive” and “a friend to all” doesn’t solve the problem either because maybe that person actually was being disrespectful or flirtatious or nutty or all of them at once. You will be deluded, to some extent, no matter what you conclude because you have no way of knowing what really happened, what was really in their mind. That is the vague and irresolute reality in which we all live. We deal with that poor level of mutual understanding by emphasizing professional standards, good manners, shared beliefs, and so on. This works well enough in the public sphere but will lead to sorrow in your private life.

A third incident occurred later that evening. As we were getting ready for bed, my partner noticed a car outside stopped near our driveway with its motor running. It was getting late, so she wondered about it. Was someone coming over? Were they turning around? The car was pretty rundown and noisy so it looked maybe a little suspicious. My partner kept watching. After a few minutes, our neighbor’s daughter got out of the car and waved goodbye to the driver. All questions answered. This is another example of how we can usually have our curiosity about visual events satisfied while it is much more difficult to do the same with verbal events.

If you can understand this and notice stuff like this in your own life, you will probably be able to see what the value of FIML is and how and why it works so well.

Repost: Why we use the term semiotics

The reason we use the term semiotics on this site is when FIML partners do a FIML query, the data in their minds at the moment(s) in question is best described as raw semiotics. That is, it is the raw material that makes up the composite of consciousness at the moment(s) in question. This material, or data, can be sharply focused, vague, irrelevant to the subject at hand, emotional, associative, organized, disorganized, and so on. When partners get good at observing this data accurately and describing it to each other, they will find that much of it, if not all of it, is connected to a psycho-semiotic network that underlies awareness and gives rise to it. Understanding this network is extremely valuable and will provide partners with great insights into how and why they feel, think, and behave as they do. It is very difficult (and I think impossible) to understand this network through solitary pursuits only. The reason for this is a solitary mind will fool itself. In contrast, two minds working together will be able to observe this network with much greater accuracy. Language, semiotics, and emotion are fundamentally interpersonal operations, so it is reasonable to expect that deep comprehension of these operations will be best achieved through interpersonal activity.

Is nihilism the only escape from the death grip of culture?

If you read modern philosophy, it sometimes seems that culture is an iron cage and nothing can fix it or help us escape.

I do agree that cultures basically all suck after a certain point.

We need them to learn language, ideas, and many kinds of training. But beyond that they typically only stifle individual development while forcing irrational conformity to norms that are self-policed by the members of the culture itself. That’s one of the worst things about it.

But should that make us nihilists?

I don’t think so because culture only looks depressing when viewed on its own terms, as a big thing (many people) that holds together many smaller things (individual people).

Individuals can escape through FIML practice or something very similar. And this is so because FIML allows individuals to communicate with much greater accuracy than that allowed by culture itself.

That is all it takes for two people to get out or get beyond the nihilistic death grip of culture. You really have to do something to make FIML work, but it is not that hard and it is much better than the usual alternatives.

Watch Dis Honesty The Truth About Lies 2015

This is a pretty good film, worth viewing if you have time. Many of the conclusions are what most of us would expect. Lying is social, there is a fudge factor, most people do it a little bit, while some refrain entirely and others lie with abandon.

There have been other studies showing that not lying feels very good and people like it if they can get into a situation where it is possible.

The take-away from the film for me is that people lie much less, if at all, if they are reminded to be honest.

In part, FIML practice constantly reminds partners of the importance of being honest. It also forms a social bond between partners that highly values honesty. These two features of FIML plus our simple desire to be honest with each other has allowed my partner and me to have a very good space together where we are confident with great certainty that neither one of us is lying and neither one of us has any reason to do so.

Repost: The limits of general semiotic analyses as applied to human psychology

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

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

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

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

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

We can do something similar for human psychology.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Explanations made to the self versus explanations made to others

We can make a basic division between how we explain ourselves to ourselves and how we explain ourselves to others.

Explanations we give to ourselves are typically secret and known only to us. They can be quite crude and selfish at times.

In contrast, explanations of ourselves that we give to other people are generally “nicer.” We plead our case for being a “good person” by explaining at length whatever led up to whatever thing we did that needs explaining.

Of course, we have different explanations for different other people and even different classes of other people, but for now let’s just consider the two kinds of explanations—ones given to the self and ones given to others.

These two types are a good way to explain what is meant by honesty in a FIML discussion.

Simply stated, in a FIML discussion the explanation that I give to my partner of my words or deeds should be exactly the same as the explanation I give to myself. There should be zero difference between these two types of explanation.

A refinement of the above is that if there is a difference for some reason that I do not want to go into, I must tell my partner that the difference exists though I need not say exactly what it is.

For example, I may appear upset in a way that affects my tone of voice. My partner notices and asks about it. I know (my explanation to myself) that I am mildly upset because I just remembered a disturbing event from the distant past. If I do not want to talk about that event, I can excuse myself by truthfully telling my partner that, yes, I am slightly upset but it is due to an event from a long time ago and I do not want to talk about that now.

My partner will probably understand and drop the subject. By saying what I did I was completely honest with my partner, importantly confirming her sense that I was upset. At the same time I preserved my privacy in an area where I wanted it preserved.

Exceptions to the honesty rule like the one just described should be rare for most partners. If one or both partners have large exceptions that come up often, it would be best for them to gradually begin chipping away at these topics to reduce their size and influence.

For most FIML discussions for most people, perfect honesty—perfect accord between the explanation for the self and the partner—should be doable most of the time. Remember that the basic FIML discussion deals mainly with very small things that are generally not hard to be honest about.

When FIML partners keep their private and public explanations in perfect accord, they develop a sense of trust and contentment that cannot be achieved in any other way. They will not need to spend so much time “reading” each other (and thereby making frequent serious mistakes). Instead, they will know how to communicate on much more refined levels.

Note: I wonder if some aspect of a definition of morality might be that the two explanations described above are always in perfect accord and that when they are not, we have transgressed an important moral line.

As with almost everything individual or social, the two explanations scale up and down between individuals, small groups, and large ones. Some cultures have explicit rules for explanations given within the culture and explanations given to outsiders. In the case of gangs or criminal societies, these difference can be very large and very harmful to others.

A very simple example of what FIML does

This is a simple, concrete example that is best understood as a material analogy for what happens in a FIML discussion or query.

I wanted some fresh local yogurt and we also needed some cheese. The place that sells the yogurt I like has only a few kinds of very expensive cheese.

My partner and I discussed the merits of going to the yogurt store and paying extra for cheese versus driving to a different store that has a better cheese selection but does not have the fresh yogurt.

Since the yogurt store was on the way to the cheese store, we stopped in but found that they were out of yogurt and also had no cheese.

Oh well. We went to the cheese store and got the cheese and a couple of other items we needed.

In the car we noticed that our having stopped to look for the yogurt in the yogurt store made it possible for us to dismiss that option completely from out minds. Had we not stopped, we might have wondered if we had missed a chance to get the fresh yogurt and probably would have wondered about it.

Our ability to dismiss the yogurt option and not have it be a small shadow in our minds was gained only because we had actually stopped at the yogurt store. If we had not stopped and gone only to the cheese store, we would not have known that the yogurt store didn’t even have any yogurt.

Like I said this is a very simple example.

Now, consider that instead of yogurt or cheese we are working with emotions and human perceptions. A FIML query works in a way that is analogous to stopping at the yogurt store.

Yes, it cost us some energy to stop at the store, but it saved us the energy of thinking that the yogurt was a possibility.

If instead of yogurt, I am wondering if my partner disapproves of something I said, I can ask her (stopping at the yogurt store) or refrain from asking her (not stopping).

If I ask her, it costs us both some energy, but saves me some worry and possible defensive behavior which will likely snowball and cost us even more energy.

Please put in your own emotions or concerns into this example. Isn’t it better to ask about them than not ask?

When we have many small things in our minds that we never ask anyone (including our partner), we begin living in a fantasy world or a world that is simplified to conform to simple standards made up by other people.

FIML clears up problems by catching them when they start. The FIML technique is designed to facilitate quick interventions so snowballing never gets started.

It’s not hard to do FIML if you understand what its purpose is. The hard part about doing FIML is it goes against a great deal of normal human training. Rather than ask, most of us will skip going to the yogurt store.

When we do that hundreds of times with someone, small divisions get larger and larger. When they get really big it is very hard to analyze them and we become their victims.