The five skandhas and modern science

A recent study on emotional response—Amygdala Responsivity to High-Level Social Information from Unseen Faces—indicates that the Buddha’s five skandha explanation of consciousness has it right.

From the study’s abstract:

The findings demonstrate that the amygdala can be influenced by even high-level facial information before that information is consciously perceived, suggesting that the amygdala’s processing of social cues in the absence of awareness may be more extensive than previously described.

Note that all important phrase “…before that information is consciously perceived.”

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

Advanced training in meditation and mindfulness is probably necessary for most people to be able to observe the five skandhas individually, as they are actually “firing,” but it can be done. A good deal of Buddhist practice is based on being able to do that.

Though all brain imaging studies must be taken as provisional since the technology is not completely reliable, they still are providing us with some very interesting information worth considering.

The amygdala study cited above seems to confirm that people form significant emotional reactions to faces without being conscious of their reactions at all. In Buddhist terms, their reactions are (or take place at) the second skandha—sensation.

The skandha of sensation is defined as a reaction to a form that is either positive, negative, or neutral. That is, we either like, dislike, or don’t care about the form. In the amygdala study the form is the face that is flashed very briefly on a screen. The face appears so briefly, for just a few milliseconds, that it is not possible to actually “see” or be aware of having “seen” it.

I think it is fair to extrapolate from this study that we humans are forming sensations all the time without being aware of what we are doing. As the authors of the study say, the study “[suggests] that the amygdala’s processing of social cues in the absence of awareness may be more extensive than previously described.”

“…processing of social cues in the absence of awareness” is pretty good description of what the Buddha called delusion, especially if we realize that the delusions we “process” from forms arising outside of us are entwined with and not very different from delusions we process from forms arising within us.

The Buddha’s five skandha explanation, thus, provides a way to observe and analyze our minds to prevent our becoming deluded by the tug of sensations that happen in the “absence of awareness.”

A few days ago, I reposted an essay that touches on this subject from a different angle and a different study: we do not sample our world continuously but in discrete snapshots.

Here is a pretty good article on the study cited above: Friend Or Foe? Even When Faces Are Not Clearly Visible, Your Brain Unconsciously Makes Judgments.

A lesson in semiotic manipulation

A secret report on “how to influence the media and public opinion in America and Europe” is allegedly guiding Israeli spokespeople’s words and emotions when they describe the Gaza conflict on the news or in public.

Every one of the 112 pages in the booklet is marked “not for distribution or publication” and it is easy to see why. The Luntz report, officially entitled “The Israel project’s 2009 Global Language Dictionary, was leaked almost immediately to Newsweek Online, but its true importance has seldom been appreciated. It should be required reading for everybody, especially journalists, interested in any aspect of Israeli policy because of its “dos and don’ts” for Israeli spokesmen.

These are highly illuminating about the gap between what Israeli officials and politicians really believe, and what they say, the latter shaped in minute detail by polling to determine what Americans want to hear. (The secret report that helps Israel hide facts)

Readers of this site should be well-aware of the importance of semiotics and of how they are used to construct and conceal “reality.” Humans are primitive semiotic animals who fight with words and ideas as much or more than with physical weapons.

Public statements on the conflict in Gaza amply reveal this, while the report linked above shows us some of the ways the deception works.

Of course, all public figures do stuff like this. Indeed, all individuals do it sometimes, if not all the time. Call it “framing,” “massaging the message,” “getting your point across,” “dissembling,” “explaining yourself,” “giving your side of the story,” or just “lying through your teeth,” it is something we are exposed to in public and private every day.

I don’t know how to stop this in the public sphere, but individuals can put an end to this sort of biased and harmful “messaging” by practicing FIML. FIML practice shows partners how societal and idiosyncratic semiotics affect both their listening and speaking, and, by extension, how they fundamentally make up what we normally call our “selves” or “psychologies.”

Remove as much bullshit as you can from your mind with the help of your FIML partner, and you will discover that your “self” is a very different entity than you had thought. It is much more dynamic, rational, and adaptive than the stolid bozo now trapped inside your head by a network of poorly learned semiotics.

Repost: we do not sample our world continuously but in discrete snapshots

This report–Brain oscillations reveal that our senses do not experience the world continuously–supports the core activity of FIML practice, which entails noticing the first instant(s) of the arising of an emotional jangle (that is typically tied to a much more involved “mistaken interpretation” within the brain). By interfering with the first instant(s) of arising, FIML practice forestalls the habitual wave of neurotic interpretation that normally follows. Instead, new information–better data obtained from the FIML partner–is used to replace the cue that led to the initial jangle, thus redefining that cue.

Professor Gregor Thut of the University of Glasgow, where the study was conducted, says of its results: “For perception, this means that despite experiencing the world as a continuum, we do not sample our world continuously but in discrete snapshots determined by the cycles of brain rhythms.”

I would further hypothesize that the same holds true for our “perceptions” of inner emotional states. In this context, recall the five skandhas of Buddhism–form, sensation, perception, activity, consciousness. A form can arise in the mind or outside of the mind. This form gives rise to a sensation (a FIML jangle is a type of sensation), which gives rise to perception, followed by activity (mental or physical), and lastly consciousness.

In Buddhist teachings, the five skandhas occur one after the other, very rapidly. They are not a continuous stream but rather a series of “discrete snapshots”, to use Thut’s words. In FIML practice, partners want to interfere with what has become a habitual “firing” of their five skandhas based on (neurotic) learned cues. FIML practice strives to prevent full-blown neurotic consciousness (the fifth skandha) from taking control of the mind by replacing the source of that consciousness with a more realistic interpretation of the neurotic cue. The cue corresponds to form in the five skandhas explanation. The more realistic interpretation of that cue is based on the true words of the partner.

The five skandhas can also help us understand how FIML is different from more or less normal psychological analysis. In normal, or traditional, analysis we use theories and schema to understand ourselves. In FIML we use a specific technique to interfere with habitual neurotic “firings” of the five skandhas. FIML partners are encouraged to theorize and speak about themselves in any way they like, and it is very helpful to do this, but the core FIML activity cannot be replaced by just theorizing or telling stories.

Here is a link to the study itself: Sounds Reset Rhythms of Visual Cortex and Corresponding Human Visual Perception.

Truth versus getting something done

Truth is the first casualty of war. It is also very commonly the pre-casualty of getting something done.

Feel bad? Throw a tantrum. Makes no difference if your reasons are right. Just go nuts and often you will get something done and may even feel better for it.

Confident assertion carries the day, especially among those who have power or are wannabe power types.

You can see this principle at work in politics, war, business, interpersonal relations, schools, science, religion—pretty much anywhere you look.

Truth, when out, is strong, but in most situations it is weak and quickly trampled by those who are getting something done or who promise to.

Communists in Russia and China said some true things before they got power. Once they got power, they still paid lip-service to truth, but became preoccupied with getting something done, especially getting more power.

Truth in Russia went from a semi-reasonable (semi-reasonable if you ignore the principle being described here) to unbelievable, wanton, astonishing violence and mass murder on a scale not seen in Europe since the Mongolian invasion of the 13th century.

Somewhat similar events unfolded in China a few decades later. Some partial truths were trampled by violent fanatics who killed scores of millions. Then Mao got Alzheimer’s and the country was ruled from behind his doddering throne by the Gang of Four, one of whom was his wife. After they were deposed, the country slowly opened up. Today it is ruled by a small oligarchy made up of the children and grandchildren of the original Chinese communists who brought about the revolution, which had been based on partial truths and a massive ability to get something done.

I am half-way through The Phoenix Program: America’s Use of Terror in Vietnam by Douglas Valentine. So far, the book shows that the same sort of thing happened there. A misconceived program got started and kept going because untruthful reports looked good to LBJ who wanted to get something done. He used people who also wanted to get something done. So something became anything became terror, blowing up villages, while using American “advisers” who had next to no knowledge of Vietnam.

I doubt it was much different in Iraq. Untruthful “intelligence” was sold as truth and mayhem got done. That there probably were more sinister goals than “birthing democracy” is a sort of refutation of my point that proves the point. The people that claimed to want to get something done were the ones who carried the day.

When we emphasize truth over getting something done, many things change. In interpersonal relations, we will find that something like FIML practice is essential for without it we will tend, at least sometimes, to ignore the small voice of truth as we rush forward to get something done.

From what I have read, CEOs do not deserve their rock star reputations anymore than hedge fund people do. They get high pay and respect based on statistical fluctuations. In any year, there will be a number of CEOs or hedge funds that have outperformed the average. Given more years, there will be regression to the mean and their track records will look no better than chance.

Our next presidential candidate will fill the media with small truths and many lies while ardently promising to get something done. It won’t happen. It never does. They fool us because it feels good to listen to someone promising to get something done, even if we know it’s not true.

Speech pathology

An insidious and common kind of speech pathology is having more in your imagination than you are allowed to say.

What prevents you from speaking may be cultural. Or it may be a lack of skill, which in this case is almost certainly due to being in a culture that does not train its members to do this.

I would hypothesize that a person’s degree of emotional/psychological suffering scales very closely to the degree that they are not able to speak about what is in their imagination.

Some people kill their imaginations to save themselves the trouble of feeling bad. This is what alcohol addiction, and some other drugs, can accomplish. This is also what is accomplished by becoming subservient to the conventions of a culture that proscribes or inhibits speech that might free its members from the suffering described above.

As far as I can tell, there is no large or major culture anywhere in the world that allows its members speech to match their imaginations.

Imaginative speech in art is mostly OK in most cultures. But interpersonal imaginings are not.

If you imagine anyone in any way, especially in a way that is painful to you, but you cannot speak about it to them, you have this speech pathology, or your culture does. If the person you are imagining is just an acquaintance or conventional friend, this does not matter too much, though it is not an ideal situation.

If the person you are imagining is your primary interlocutor, you have a serious speech pathology.

“Creative intimacy” – the importance of pairs

Read an interesting piece this morning that focuses on the importance of pairs, or partners in creative work. An excerpt:

…given that our psyches take shape through one-on-one exchanges, we’re likely set up to interact with a single person more openly and deeply than with any group. The pair is also inherently fluid and flexible. Two people can make their own society. When even one more person is added, roles and power positions harden. This may be good for stability but problematic for creativity. Three legs make a table stand in place. Two legs are made for moving.

Pairs also naturally engage each of the two people involved. In a larger group, an individual may lie low, phone it in. But nobody can hide in a pair. (Source)

Please read the whole piece and not just that short section.

I agree with the above and would add that groups all but force us to employ lowest-common-denominator semiotics in communication.

Moreover, it is very important to understand that the meso-level of communication (words and semiotics) between two people is not now and probably never will be describable in terms of neurons or the physical matter of the brain. The more we know about the brain, the better. But even if we have perfect knowledge, we may never be able to use it to predict the trees of associationa that will form in your mind after being prompted by virtually any semiotic, word, or concept. It is very unlikely that thought will ever be entirely reducible to neurons or chemistry.

What do you imagine or associate with the simple composite of a sheep plus an apple? Then what do you imagine or associate with whatever that is?

It is very unlikely that any micro-science of neurons will provide us with an answer to that, though you could easily just tell me what your associations are.

Thus, at the macro-level of society or more than a few people, it is difficult or impossible to arouse the depths of your mind, your being, your creativity, your unique existential reality.

At the micro-level of physics, it is unlikely we will ever be able to describe those processes or phenomena, let alone improve on simply speaking honestly to each other.

At the meso-level of communication with a trusted partner we can achieve detailed and fulfilling psychological traction. We can discover aspects of thought and feeling that we cannot find in any other way. An individual alone cannot check their work. A group cannot handle significant detail. Only partners (maybe more than two) can find robust clarity and depth in the meso-reality of interpersonal semiotics, that level at which we most deeply recognize ourselves.

FIML practice is designed to be done by two people. It works by providing partners with a means to unlock the profundity and complexity of the meso-level of semiotic exchange between them. In the linked essay, Shenk puts it well why we need partners. FIML gives ordinary people the means to become extraordinary by showing them how to investigate the meso-level of semiotic exchange between them.

Tone of voice during a FIML query

In basic FIML, tone of voice during a FIML query ideally will be neutral.

In practice and as time goes along, partners will find that it is not as important to maintain a neutral tone of voice during a query as it was in the beginning.

What is important at this point is for both partners to understand that when one of them queries the other, if there is a discernible tone of voice when the speaker makes the query then the listener should assume that the speaker is wondering if the listener is thinking whatever. The listener should not assume that the speaker is thinking that.

This opens the mind of the listener to a kaleidoscope of potential interpretations while relaxing the speaker, who knows that the listener is not judging or interpreting prematurely.

A listener to a query should understand that the speaker of the query may be wondering if the listener is thinking something that statistically is less common than something else. Let’s say that the speaker is wondering if the listener (their partner) is thinking something that only 5% of listeners might be thinking in that situation.

Their wondering about something with a statistical chance of 5% is of some interest but is not of any particular emotional or intellectual concern. It doesn’t matter all that much if they are wondering about something rare or common, something unusual or usual.

Indeed, creativity is sometimes vaguely defined as the making of rare associations. Why should either partner fear wondering about something rare, let alone common?

It is not the job of the one being queried to have a strong interpretation about what the speaker is asking or why they are asking it or what they are imagining as they are asking it. Just answer the query honestly as per FIML guidelines.

After a while, after the basic query has been completed, the one being queried may or may not explain why they were wondering what they were wondering if they had been wondering anything. At that same point and not necessarily before or after the listener, the speaker might profitably reveal what they had imagined the listener might be thinking. Or what they wanted to be sure the listener was not thinking.

Understanding the above will give both partners access to much wider and more various contexts than is normally possible. Having such access frees both partners emotionally and cognitively from conventional and idiosyncratic confinements, expectations, habits, limitations, and so on.

Ambiguity in interpersonal communication – the “ambiguous commons”

Virtually all interpersonal communication contains ambiguity, much of it very serious.

Basic FIML practice is designed to deal with ambiguity between participating partners. For the most part FIML deals with ambiguity the moment it arises.

Basic FIML works with very small units of communication and for that reason is able to completely clear up serious ambiguities if they are caught soon enough.

An advantage of FIML practice is through its use of small units, it is able to achieve almost perfect clarification of those units. Try it. Just  few successful FIML interventions will change your life.

In light of the above, an obvious disadvantage of basic FIML practice is it is not well-designed to deal with larger ambiguities. A larger ambiguity would be one that arises or perdures under circumstances that cannot be subjected to an immediate FIML query.

Situations like this will occur when FIML partners interact with other people. During time spent with others, it is generally not possible to do a FIML query. Matters worth inquiring about can be brought up later, when partners are alone, but it is usually more difficult to resolve them that long after the fact.

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

“Did I sound dumb when I said that?” you might ask your partner some hours after spending time with friends. No matter how they answer, it is hard to know if they saw or heard the same thing or if either of you are remembering the scene correctly. And even if you can get decent satisfaction with those questions, what about the other people who were there? Have they concluded you are a doof or do they like you better for what you said or did anyone even notice or do they remember or care?

You can sort of fix things up with a phone call and an open-ended apology, but what you are really doing there is just massaging the ambiguous commons, working it your way or toward common ground. You are not really going to remove the ambiguity and/or you are going to create more, because your call might confirm the gaffe in the other person’s mind, or it might remind them of what they had forgotten, or it might seem paranoid of you or considerate, et cetera ad infinitum.

That is the nature of the ambiguous commons and if you look for it you will see it everywhere. If we enter the “ambiguous commons” from one side, our behavior will look different than if we enter from another side, and it has many sides.

You can see it in public life, too. Pretty much any issue of public interest will be worked in and around the ambiguous commons by those who speak on it publicly. Gun-control statistics and emotions can be and are worked from many angles. The winners of the debate will be those who convince the most people based on how they massage the facts, how they get their message out, how much money supports their massaged positioned.

Wars are started by massaging the commons as well. We can see the power of public views of the commons by how explosive public issues can be in a private setting. Bring up gun-control today at the dinner table and compare the reactions to subjects that are becoming more settled like gay marriage or legal pot.

Basic FIML practice is not designed to deal with a large ambiguous commons, but FIML partners through their practice of basic FIML should find that they have greatly increased sensitivity to the importance of noticing the ambiguous commons and treating it honestly whenever it arises.

FIML and Symbolic Interaction Theory

Symbolic Interaction Theory, also called symbolic interactionism, provides the best large-scale framework I have found so far for explaining FIML practice.

Three basic premises of symbolic interactionism are:

  • “Humans act toward things on the basis of the meanings they ascribe to those things.”
  • “The meaning of such things is derived from, or arises out of, the social interaction that one has with others and the society.”
  • “These meanings are handled in, and modified through, an interpretative process used by the person in dealing with the things he/she encounters.”

These basic premises have been taken from the Wikipedia article linked above. I tend to agree with most of the general framework, as I understand it, of symbolic interactionism and believe that FIML practice can reasonably be understood as a method that can fit fairly comfortably within that framework.

FIML differs from symbolic interactionism in that FIML is much more a form of interpersonal psychotherapy than a sociological theory. FIML is a communication technique that focuses on meaning as it arises and is apprehended during short periods of time. FIML’s focus on very small units of interpersonal communication is what allows partners to understand how their sense of meaning intertwines with their emotional responses.

From a FIML point of view, society does not appear very well structured in many of its contexts, especially interpersonal contexts involving emotions, friendship, and intimate bonding. From this point of view, a great deal of social structure appears to be a substitute for authentic interaction between individual minds.

FIML seems also to show that a great deal of human suffering arises from the paucity of meaning that can be exchanged between individuals in most social contexts. Indeed, even in intimate contexts, most individuals, if not all of them, have great difficulty in attaining profound mutual understanding. This happens because our perceptions of our selves and others—due to how we use language and semiotics—are too crude and vague to allow for communicative complexity equal to the complexity of our minds/brains.

FIML corrects this problem by focusing on the details of interpersonal communication. Incidentally, FIML theory/practice can be falsified by having many couples do FIML practice and measuring the results. A criticism of symbolic interactionism is that it is not falsifiable. FIML differs from symbolic interactionism in that it is a practical technique that uses objective data (agreed upon by both partners) to optimize communication and improve psychological well-being.

I am pretty sure I will have more to say about symbolic interactionism in the days to come. A friend just sent me the article linked above, so I put down a few thoughts after one reading. FIML partners may find that symbolic interactionism helps with a general understanding of FIML practice.

Humans are fractals of their societies

The microcosm of the individual human is made of the same stuff as the macrocosm of the society to which it belongs. The two are a fractal set displaying similar patterns.

This makes sense since both individuals and their societies use the same networks of semiotics to communicate.

In many ways, societies are less complex than individuals. In the sense that a society is an assemblage of many individuals, society is more complex. But in the sense that a society is held together by a network of communicable ideas, or semiotics, society is frequently less complex than many of the individuals living within it.

For example, most societies have very simple “biographies” (their always slanted histories), while many individuals have nuanced biographies that encompass change, growth, and contradiction.

A recent study of people’s attitudes towards atrocities points to this truth by showing that “…the way people’s memories are shaped by selective discussions of atrocities depends on group-membership status.” (Source)

In-groups forget bad things they have done—or “morally disengage” from them—while clearly remembering bad things that out-groups have done. This is a major element of all group stories.

I bet you cannot name a single society that has anything even approaching a fully nuanced view of itself on almost any matter, let alone its history. Individuals often “morally disengage” from their past acts, but it is not common for them to do so to the same extent as the societies they live in.

It hardly matters, though, if the social story is about atrocities or trivia. I have actually witnessed fairly heated arguments over who first invented pasta, the Chinese or the Italians. And another one on who first invented dumplings, Poles, Jews, or Chinese. Beer is another subject that can get people going.

It makes sense that societies’ stories about themselves be as simple as they are false because they serve as lowest-common-denominator social bonds. Indeed, it probably even helps that these stories be knowingly false as the bond will then require an even deeper level of commitment.

Of course, some of the energy for falsification and simplification comes from one group’s story needing to counter another group’s story. Yes, we did that to you, but you did this to us first.

In that, societies further resemble individuals because that’s what we do as individuals, too. Only individuals who are very well disposed toward each other and who try hard ever overcome the need for false stories between them.

FIML practice provides individuals with a means to observe the smallest fractal details of their individual stories and correct them where they are wrong. FIML partners would do well to take what they have learned as individuals and apply it to the stories told by the society in which they live. You will surely find a macrocosm of yourself in the absurdities of whichever group you “identify” with.

Maybe people in the future will be better able to see how ridiculous our stories are and better able to deal with the complexities that lie beyond them. For now, maybe we can at least start getting a fuller, truer view of what is happening in and around us.

I doubt we can do this on a societal level any time soon because the LCD stories will always reassert, but as individuals with a good partner I believe we can. This is probably a main reason that monastic and reclusive traditions have been practiced all over the world. Groups are ignorant, violent, and crazy. Individuals simply have a better chance at going beyond their simple patterns by acting on their own.

The fractal of the individual is generated by society but it is prone to being trapped by it as well.

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Edit 6/13: When good people do bad things. We all know that people in groups can behave badly. This article is about a study that uses a plausible fMRI method to measure some of the basic processes underlying immoral behavior. In my view, the situation is not much different when the group is a large culture, rather than a small number of participants in a laboratory experiment. Cultures not only permit bad behavior toward out-groups, but they also numb us to what our in-group is doing.

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.