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 any of the about 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.

_______________

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.

The prevalence of mistakes about people and mice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bundy ranch: a good example of battling over semiotics

The Bundy ranch issue in Nevada is characterized by a battle over semiotics.

The other day, the New York Times used an edited video of Bundy that makes him look and sound like a racist.

This link compares the NYT video with a fuller version of Bundy’s remarks.

And here is another link where former U.N. Ambassador Alan Keyes, identified as a “black leader,“ defends Bundy, saying:

He wasn’t talking so much about black folks, but about the harm and damage that the leftist socialism has done to blacks.

What I see and hear in the longer version of the video is an unsophisticated man using ordinary language to express a legitimate idea. The way he puts his ideas and his use of the word “negro,” especially in the shorter version of the video, creates a bad impression which Harry Reid has been quick to exploit.

Reid has called Bundy a “hateful racist” and urged Republicans and other to “condemn Bundy” for his “hateful, dangerous extremism.”

Notice how your own feelings can go back and forth on this issue and how Bundy’s comments are probably going to destroy most of his support. In the realm of political semiotics, he was like an untrained boxer stepping into the ring with a pro. All Reid had to do was wait for Bundy to make a bad move and pounce, as he has done.

Whatever you may think about Bundy or this issue it is illustrative of how unsophisticated language can create a semiotic that is devastating to a political position.

Bundy rose to prominence on the semiotics of freedom, cowboys, and anti-federal government. He may well fall on the semiotics of unintended “racism.”

As with so many other complex issues, the Budy ranch standoff is being judged on small aspects of the whole, as the main weight of American political and media forces line up against him.

When that same political/media weight lines up in favor of “nice” semiotics—such as the Patriot Act or the Clean Air Act or the War on Terrorism—it wins the day time and again. The combination of sophisticated semiotics and media control almost always decides the course of American politics.

A co-author of a recent scholarly study on the American “oligarchy” has this to say about American politics:

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

We are now living in a “Semiotic Age” or an “Age of Signals.” The Modern era is gone. In this current age, we have to be ever mindful of how semiotics are manipulated and used to further the interests of powerful groups that have control of media, government, and the US economy. I do not believe there is a humble person anywhere in the USA that can stand up to those forces and win.

___________________

Edit: Readers may also want to notice that the short video version of Bundy’s comments was edited by Media Matters for America, a well-funded group that claims it is “dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.” This group, and others, will very likely continue to use Bundy’s “racism” to slur what they will call Bundy’s “ultra right-wing” supporters, many of whom will make semiotic mistakes as bad or worse than Bundy’s. An individual going up against Media Matters, Harry Reid, the New York Times, or the Democratic Party is like a Baltic peasant going up against the Teutonic knights in the Middle Ages. They don’t have a prayer.

As a nation, I believe there is no hope for rational dialog on anything, but as individuals, we can understand our predicament.

_____________________

Update 4/26: Black Soldiers: Cliven Bundy Is Not Racist.

Personality as persona

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dissociation in FIML practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My personality problem

I may be guilty of rhetorical excess in my mini-battle against the term personality, but overall I believe I have a significant point worth discussing.

A good deal of my professional training is in translation. This makes me sensitive to how word-choice can be misleading.

In non-specialist situations, the word personality can be useful and doesn’t bother me at all.

Joe and Suzy have such different personalities, but they get along so well. My twins look alike but have very different personalities. Sammy’s personality hasn’t changed in thirty years.

These sorts of casual uses are often informative, economical, and well-suited to context. I might make similar statements myself.

The term personality bothers when it is reified, when it becomes a thing far more than it deserves. A basic example of this problem might be the term personality disorder.

Here is a link to a chart that shows how the definition of personality disorder has changed through the years in the USA: Personality disorder diagnoses in each edition of American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic Manual. Notice how often it changes.

Personality disorder is defined as “enduring maladaptive patterns of behavior, cognition and inner experience, exhibited across many contexts and deviating markedly from those accepted by the individual’s culture.”

And yet there is nothing “enduring” about what the term defines or the professional culture of psychologists defining it.

And the definition itself is hugely slippery, especially when it comes to the notion of the “individual’s culture.” In the USA, does that mean “American culture,” one’s “subculture(s),” the “individual’s perception of their ‘culture’,” “others’ perceptions of the individual’s perceptions,” or what?

The term personality itself is actually very nicely defined in one place on Wikipedia as, “…personality theorists present their own definitions of the word based on their theoretical positions.”

In another Wikipedia article we find that personality “defined psychologically, is the set of enduring behavioral and mental traits that distinguish human beings.”

The term is vague in itself and based on “cultural” standards that are highly ambiguous and that change all the time. What can possibly be “enduring” about that except opaqueness?

In 1952, the DSM categorized homosexuality as a “sociopathic personality disorder.” Today most in the USA think you are a bigot if you oppose gay marriage.

Not only are “authoritative” uses of the term personality and personality disorder ambiguous and protean, they are also profoundly misleading.

Unless an individual has a strong and realistic sense of how their mind works and how complex feelings and behaviors interact with mental processes, they will be susceptible to reifying their “personality,” to believing in it as if it were a real thing or their “role” in life.

Worse, they may cultivate this thing, this role, and turn it into a fetishized semiotic.

The famous Myers-Briggs personality test was originally created to “help women entering the workforce for the first time during WWII choose jobs they were most comfortable and
effective doing.” (Source)

There has been little progress or change in the field of personality testing since. They are most often used by employers to find ideal employees, most of whom (I would hope) are smart enough to figure out what the employer wants and answer accordingly.

Personality tests and metrics—as well as the simple cultural belief that an “enduring” personality exists in any of us—serve mainly to reify an impoverished way of understanding human life.

I can accept some traits as being more “enduring” than not within individuals, but even these will be highly dependent on context and what we mean by “culture.”

Shyness is generally prized in Japan and considered a mark of honesty, while in the USA it may be classified as a “personality disorder” and medicated. Strength means different things to nus and generals. Ruthlessness was considered a fundamental virtue among Bolshevik “secret police,” who also praised terrorism. Terrorism is a crime in Russia today.

I am good with casual uses of the word personality, but often cringe when it is used as a serious analytical term. It is much better to see yourself as a complex matrix of cognition, perception, feeling, semiotics, language, and imperfect memory in a changing world than as a role-playing personality in a stable culture.

In an employment setting or a small subculture it can help to project a consistent “self,” but my advice is don’t take that too seriously. It will hinder more than help you.

If you are having mental or emotional problems, it is true that they may be roughly describable or classifiable in general terms, but I can all but guarantee you that you will only fix them when you see they are specific and very particular distortions or mistakes within the unique complexity of your own idiosyncratic life. Comparing yourself to generalities like personality will most likely only obscure the real problem and often make it worse.