When two wrongs make a right

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

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

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

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

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

What FIML is

FIML practice is mainly an act of the intellect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Detail and complexity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End-user cultural consumption as narcissism

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

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

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

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

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

What does that mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signals and morality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How we perceive and what to do about it

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

A recent study on visual perception came to this conclusion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In order:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evolution of the smile and the inherent ambiguity of signs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Cultural semiotics – whatever works is the rule

Cultures are made of and held together by semiotics. They are formed and exist within self-referential semiotic networks or matrices.

Semiotic cultural matrices exist solely because they work. This is why virtually all of the world’s cultures are based on falsehoods.

It doesn’t matter if something is right or wrong as long as the people within a culture keep buying the story. Once they stop buying it, the culture disintegrates or changes.

Disintegration has been the fate of almost every culture that ever existed and there is little or no chance that any culture in existence today will survive for long.

Some culture can reasonably claim contiguity with an ancestral culture dating back thousands of years, but the two are never the same. In that sense, all of us can claim contiguity with “our” cultural pasts, just as we can claim genetic contiguity with the past. It is unlikely, though, that you would recognize any of the cultures of your distant ancestors, let alone want to be part of them or even like them.

The simplicity and falsity of culture can be seen in almost anything that communicates to large numbers of people, but especially when the thing being communicated is emotional.

An example in today’s USA might be the use of the word “offense” or “offended,” as in “I am offended by what you just said.”

If the speaker said something clearly offensive, like cussing out your mother, most of us would dismiss them as drunken fools and be done with it. Some of us might want to fight, but I bet no one would say, “I am offended by what you just said!”

Being “offended” is a semiotic that carries a special meaning and a special charge. It usually comes as a surprise to the speaker, causing them to hesitate and wonder what they have done wrong. It almost always seems to require an apology and the admission that the “offended” party stands on higher ground.

But how can you “offend” without doing so knowingly? I might not like it when you stepped on my toes, but I would be a fool to feel offended if you did it accidentally.

The truth is when most people claim to be “offended” they don’t really mean it. What they mean is “you failed to show me respect in the way I demand.”

That is a very different semiotic. It often works like an ambush or a trump card that gives the listener control of what has happened and will happen next. Reason should prevail in these instances, but it rarely does because the “offended” thing works better.

Rather than “offend” anyone by illustrating this point with some recent examples from the news, please recall your own. Imagine occasions when you have heard or read about someone claiming to be “offended” by what someone else said or did. Short of direct insults, which are rare, the “offense” will almost always reduce to “failure to show respect” for some code of speech or behavior that the speaker did not know.

Being “offended” is a powerful charge that amply reveals the tackiness of cultural bonds, for it works even among people who otherwise think of themselves as reasonable.

 

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.

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.