Interesting point of view, well-worth reading.
Modern neuroscience does not see humans as having a discrete consciousness located in a specific part of the brain. Rather, as Michael S. Gazzaniga says:
The view in neuroscience today is that consciousness does not constitute a single, generalized process. It involves a multitude of widely distributed specialized systems and disunited processes, the products of which are integrated by the interpreter module. (Source)
Computer and Big Data-driven sociology sees something similar. According to Alex Pentland:
While it may be useful to reason about the averages, social phenomena are really made up of millions of small transactions between individuals. There are patterns in those individual transactions that are not just averages, they’re the things that are responsible for the flash crash and the Arab spring. You need to get down into these new patterns, these micro-patterns, because they don’t just average out to the classical way of understanding society. We’re entering a new era of social physics, where it’s the details of all the particles—the you and me—that actually determine the outcome. (Source)
Buddhists may recognize in these insights close similarities to core teachings of the Buddha—that we do not have a self; that all things arise out of complex conditions that are impermanent and changeable; that the lion’s share of “reality” for any individual lies in being attentive to the moment.
Notice how similar Pentland’s insights are to Gazzaniga’s—the whole, or the common generalities (of society), can be far better understood if we can account for the details that comprise them. Is an individual mind a fractal of society? Do these complex systems—societies and minds—both use similar organizational processes?
I am not completely sure how to answer those questions, but I am certain that most people are using similar sorts of “average” or general semiotics to communicate and think about both minds and societies. If we stick with general averages, we won’t see very much. Class, self, markets, personalities don’t give us information as sophisticated as the detailed analyses proposed by Gazzaniga and Pentland.
Well then, how can individuals cognize Gazzaniga’s “multitude of widely distributed specialized systems and disunited processes” in their minds? And how can they understand how “the products” of those processes are actually “integrated” into a functional “interpreter module”?
And if individuals can cognize the “disunited processes” that “integrate” into a conscious “interpreter,” how will they understand traditional psychological analyses of the self, personality, identity, biography, behavior?
I would maintain that our understanding of what it is to be a human will change deeply if we can learn to observe with reliable clarity the “disunited processes” that “integrate” into a conscious “interpreter.” That is, we will arrive at a completely new understanding of being that will replace the “self” that truly does not exist in the ways most societies (and people) understand it.
FIML practice shows partners how to observe with great clarity the “disunited processes” that “integrate” into a conscious “interpreter.” Once these process are observed in detail and for a long enough period of time, partners will realize that it is no longer necessary to understand themselves in the “average” terms of self, personality, identity, biography, behavior, and so on.
Partners will come to understand that these terms denote only a more detailed version of a naive, static view of what a person is. Most psychology is largely a more detailed version of a naive, static view of what a person is.
We see this in Gazzaniga and Pentland’s findings that are derived from complex analyses of what is actually happening in the brain or in the multitude of real transactions that actually comprise a society. We can also see very similar insights in the Buddha’s teachings.
It is my contention that FIML practice will show partners the same things—that their actual minds and actual interactions are much more complex (and interesting) than the general semiotic averages we normally use to understand them.
From a Buddhist point of view, when we “liberate” ourselves from “attachment” to “delusive” semiotic generalities and averages and are truly “mindful” of the “thusness” of the ways our minds actually work, we will free ourselves from “suffering,” from the “ignorance” that characterizes the First Noble Truth.
Every time I read about a Jew somewhere identifying as a white person, I cringe. As an Israeli Jew, who like most other Israeli Jews, is completely foreign to the concept of Jews being “white” I would like to address this article to my Jewish brothers and sisters in America.
This is a talk about the Swedish axe company Gränsfors Bruk.
This post is concerned with the micro, meso, and macro levels of existential semiotics and communicative thought, and how those levels affect human understanding.
- Micro levels are very small units of thought or communication. These can be words, phrases, gestures, etc. and the “psychological morphemes” that accompany them. A psychological morpheme is the smallest unit of an emotional or psychological response.
- Meso levels lie between macro and micro levels. Longer discourse, a sense that people have personalities or egos, and the basic ideas of any culture appear at this level.
- Macro levels are the larger abstract levels that sort of stand above the other two levels. Macro levels might include religious or scientific beliefs, political ideologies, long-term personal goals or strategies.
Most people most of the time socialize on the meso level, often with support from shared macro level beliefs or aims. For most people, the broad outlines of most emotions are defined and conditioned at the meso level. This is the level where the nuts and bolts of convention are found. This is the level that tosses the beach balls of conversation back and forth across the dinner table and that defines those balls. The meso level defines our subculture and how well or badly we conform to it. The meso level is necessary for much of social life and sort of fun, though it is by definition not very detailed or profound. It is something most people can agree on and work with fairly easily for an hour or two at a time.
Many people define themselves mainly on the meso level and judge others by their understanding of this level. Many subcultures become stifling or cloying because meso definitions are crude and tend to leave out the rich subjectivity of individuals. Macro definitions are not all that different from meso ones except that they tend to define group feelings more than meso definitions. Groups band together based on macro level assumptions about ideologies, science, religion, art, style, location, ethnicity, etc.
Since most people are unable to fully access micro levels of communication the rich subjectivity of the individual mind is rarely, if ever, communicated at all and almost never communicated well.
In other fields, micro levels are all important. For example, the invention of the microscope completely changed the way humans see and understand their world. All that was added by the microscope was greater resolution and detail in the visual sphere. From that arose germ theory, material sciences, modern biology, modern medicine, and much more.
Micro levels of communication are basic to how we understand ourselves and others. Poor micro communication skills consign us to communication that occurs only at meso or macro levels. This is a problem because meso and macro levels do not have sufficient detail and also because meso and macro levels become the only tools we have to decide what is going on. When we are forced to account for micro details with the crude tools of meso thought, we will make many mistakes. Eventually we become like the long-term cigarette-smoker whose (micro) alveoli have collapsed, destroying full use of the lungs.
Without the details of the microscope, people for millennia happily drank germ infested water. Without a way to resolve micro levels of communication, people today, as in the past, happily ingest multitudes of micro error—errors that make them ill.
Micro communication errors make us sick because we make many serious mistakes on this level and also because our minds are fully capable of comprehending the sort of detail we can find at the micro level. We speak and listen on many interpersonal levels like crude beasts when we are capable of very delicate and refined understanding.
FIML or a technique similar to it provides a method for grasping micro details. Doing FIML for a long time is like spending a long time using a microscope or telescope. You will start to see everything differently. Detailed micro analyses of interpersonal communication changes our understanding of micro communication and also both the meso and macro levels of existential semiotics and communicative thought. Microscopes allowed us to see germs in water and also to understand that some of those germs can kill us.
Edit 12/04/14: After watching the part above, I started at the beginning of this film. It contains a great deal of rare and very interesting footage. The producer is named Terrence Raymond. An interview with him can be found here. Here is an article on Raymond and the film: The Mystery Man Behind Evidence Of Revision.
With the… recently-published white paper as our focus, “Areas of Specific Concern in the NIST WTC Reports” which lists 25 Points seriously challenging NIST’s work in this area, we discuss striking new evidence demonstrating that NIST intentionally omitted significant structural components from its analysis of Building 7, and explore the almost inescapable conclusion that this was done in order to avoid the explanation of controlled demolition. We also discuss the potential these findings might have for legal action. (Source)
The above is from the intro to a radio interview with Szamboti. It is well-worth a listen. Szamboti is articulate and provides clear examples of why the NIST report is questionable. The paper that led to the discussion can be found here: Areas of Specific Concern in the NIST WTC Reports.
Edit 12/04/14: Though I think Szamboti does an excellent job in this interview I am not a huge fan of his short political analysis at the end, so here’s another angle readers might want to consider: Defending Dollar Imperialism.
The only thing that can be expected from the next US president is more war, more murder, and more oppression of the gullible American people. People as uninformed and as gullible as Americans have no future. Americans are a dead people that history is about to run over. (Source: Interview with Paul Craig Roberts)
Modern war, as is being fought inside the so-called “free world” (US, EU, etc.) is almost entirely semiotic. Internationalism, post-nationalism, boundless multiculturalism are semiotics that take power away from geographically-defined peoples and bestow it on the transnational, oligarchical groups Roberts discusses in more detail at the link above.
Modern war, as it is being fought outside the so-called “free world” by the “free world” is matched in scale and violence only by the impotence of people anywhere to understand and control “their” governments. Highly recommend the interview.
Simply stated, semiotic codes are the conventions used to communicate meaning.
Codes can be compared to puppet masters that control the words and semiotic bundles that people use when speaking and listening. For many people, semiotic codes are largely unconscious, functioning mainly as limits to communication or as givens.
Some examples of codes might be the ready-made formulas of politics or the ordinary assumptions of any culture anywhere.
Codes work well in most cases when we do ordinary or formal things, but they inhibit thought and communication when we want to go beyond ordinary or formal interactions and behaviors.
Unconscious, unexamined, or strongly-held codes can be a disaster in interpersonal relations if one or both (or all) parties are rigid in their definitions and understanding of the codes being used. These are the sorts of conditions that lead to absurd exchanges at the dinner table and are one of the main reason most of us learn never to talk about politics or religion at most gatherings.
Gathering for dinner itself is a code. On Thanksgiving we are expected to break bread without breaking the code of silence on politics or whatever else your family can’t or won’t talk about. There is not much the individual can do to change this because the harder you try—no matter how good your intentions—the more it will seem that you are breaking the code, being aggressive, or threatening the (probably fairly weak) bonds that hold your dining unit together.
Many years ago, Charles Berger and Richard Calabrese proposed a theory about communication known as the Uncertainty Reduction Theory. This theory deals with how people initially get to know each other. It proposes:
…that, when interacting, people need information about the other party in order to reduce their uncertainty. In gaining this information people are able to predict the other’s behavior and resulting actions, all of which according to the theory is crucial in the development of any relationship. (Source)
The basic idea is that we humans need to reduce uncertainty in order to understand each other well-enough to get along. If we succeed at reducing uncertainty sufficiently, it then becomes possible to continue to develop relations.
The theory works pretty well in my view, but the problem I see with it is reducing initial uncertainty is much the same as feeling out semiotic codes, discovering which ones both (or all) parties subscribe to. As mentioned, this works well-enough for ordinary and formal relations, but what happens next? For the most part, most people then become trapped in the codes they seem to share.
What happens next can even be seen as sort of comical as people over the weeks or months continue to reduce uncertainty while confining themselves even more. Very often, if you try to go a bit deeper, you will be seen as breaking the code, disrupting convention, even threatening the group.
This is the region in which intimate relationships can be destroyed. Destruction happens because the parties involved are trapped in their codes and do not have the means to stand outside them and analyze them. Obviously, this leads to either reduced or turbulent speech.
I think the Uncertainty Reduction Theory might be extended and amended to include a stage two theory of uncertainty reduction. FIML practice would constitute a very reasonable stage two as FIML is designed to remove uncertainty and ambiguity between close partners.
Notice that FIML itself is not a semiotic code. It is a tool, a method, a procedure that allows partners to communicate without using any code at all save ones they consciously choose or create for themselves.
It seems clear to me that all established interpersonal codes are ultimately limiting and that people must find a way to analyze whatever codes they hold or have been inculcated with if they want to have truthful or authentic communication with their closest partners.
Most codes are public in the sense that they are roughly known by many people. But all of us have idiosyncratic ways of understanding these public codes and all of us also have private codes, idiosyncratic codes that are known only to us.
Sometimes our understanding of our idiosyncratic codes and/or idiosyncratic interpretations of public codes is not all that clear to us. One reason is we do not have good ways to access them. Another reason is a good many idiosyncrasies are sort of born in the dark. We muddle into them privately, inside our own minds with little or no opportunity to share them with others. Indeed, as seen above, to try to share them all too often leads to disruption of the shallow “certainty” that adherence to the shared code has provided.
What a mess. We need codes to learn, grow, and communicate with strangers. But we have to go beyond them if we want to learn, grow, and communicate with the people who are most important to us.
FIML is a sort of stage two Uncertainty Reduction Practice that allows partners to observe and analyze all of their codes—both public and private—in real-time.
Why is real-time analysis important? It is important because codes can only be richly and accurately analyzed when we see clearly how they are functioning in the moment. The “psychological morphemes” that appear only during brief moments of communication must be seen and analyzed if deep understanding is to be accomplished.
Race again loomed large in the 2014 elections. The CNN exit polls showed that Whites of all age groups, both sexes, and all social classes voted Republican. White males: 64%-33%: White women: 56%-42%; Whites 18-29: 54-43%. Whites without a college education voted 61-31 for Republican House candidates.
I admire Fleischmann, as I do anyone who tries to do the right thing.
Maybe the day will come when accurate lie-detectors will put honest people like her in power while removing the sociopaths who now occupy so many of the high-chairs.
The following clip is part of a longer interview that can be accessed by a link that will appear on the screen near the end. No one who reads this site or many others should be surprised to learn that criminal fraud was at the heart of the crisis of ’08. William Black, in particular, has made this point many times over the years.
People like Fleischmann are the real heroes of our world and we should look to them far more than the celebrities and talking-heads that so crowd our imaginations.
Delusions must start somewhere.
A recent study (Emoticons in mind: An event-related potential study) convincingly demonstrates that our responses to emoticons as simple as a colon next to a parenthesis :) are similar to our responses to real human faces.
Clearly, this response has been learned. No infant is born with that response and no one anywhere had it just a few decades ago.
Our tendency to respond to :) as a face arose with its use in email and texting. This response is now a well-established “public” response to a “public” semiotic. In this context, public means “understood and shared by many people.”
A public semiotic is a sign with wide currency. It is a unit of culture and often of language itself. We can see in the case of the emoticon :) that a new sign can arise due to unique circumstances and that that sign can come to have a deep meaning for many people.
The sign :) seems quite beautiful to me because it is very simple, very easily produced, and very telling about how our minds work. If the elements of the sign are reversed (: people no longer respond to it as a face, though of course we could learn to do that if the reversed sign were used that way more frequently.
I remember the first time I saw a derivative sign ;) and wondered briefly what it meant. If you had a similar experience, you may be able to remember how such a simple sign can bloom in your mind and go from something that is unknown to something of considerable significance in just a few seconds.
That is an example of the birth of a sign, the birth of a semiotic in your mind.
When the semiotic is public, we strive to learn what other people mean by it. When it is private—that is, with a meaning known only to us—there will be other, often very significant, implications.
What would a “private sign” be like? A straightforward example might be a code we use in a diary. Such a code would have at least one visual sign whose meaning is known only to us.
Another kind of private visual sign might be a facial expression that we have come to interpret differently from other people. My guess is everyone has a good many of these. That is to say, the “idiolect” of facial expressions we each use to understand other people is at least as various as different idiolects within a spoken language.
Now add tone of voice, posture, accent, word choice, topic choice, and so on to this mix. Each of those areas of communication uses signs that can and always will be interpreted in a wide variety of ways, including private ones.
Now, consider how an individual may get lost in all this. If someone ever smiled at you as they hurt you, you may have learned to be suspicious in your interpretation of human smiles. Or you may employ your own smile in ambiguous ways.
Now consider all the signs of communication and how many possible interpretations there are. Then consider the study linked above which shows how deep our responses can be to something as trivial as the sign :).
One way we form delusions occurs when our interpretations of communicative signs become too private and/or do not correspond well with the interpretations employed by other people. The other way we form delusions occurs when our interpretations of signs does correspond well with the interpretations employed by other people, but those other people are wrong.
In “public” situations—professional, commercial, business, school, etc.—it is fairly easy to communicate well enough based on established norms. But in interpersonal communication, you can only take “established norms” so far. At some point, you will have to understand your partner and be understood by them in much greater detail than “established norms,” or public semiotics.
Here is a newspaper article on the study linked above: Happy days: Human brain now registers smiley face emoticon as real facial expression.
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 hear 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.
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.
The names are different, but the game is essentially the same in all cultures. Culture is a lowest-common-denominator set of controlling concepts. And every culture in the world discourages serious thought about itself in many important ways. Ethnic and religious myths are built on this, as are anti-ethnic and anti-religious myths. As is all politics. There is no escaping the herd mentality of whatever culture you happen to be stuck in. In this sense, culture is sort of “democratic” in that loosely-defined groups of low-minded idiots will always seek to and often succeed in pulling down anyone who is perceived as smarter, different, or better in some sense of the word.
Culture is a simplified fractal set of the language(s) it uses. Individual humans are fractal sets derived from the culture(s) they live within. If you step out of this matrix, even with the best of intentions, you are going to have a bad time. It doesn’t matter which culture it is. It’s essentially the same wherever you are.
Barkley is speaking about the American black community, but anyone anywhere in the world can, and many should, say roughly the same thing about their culture. The human mind is potentially wonderful and language is awesome in its capacity to express, and even culture has some good stuff as it gets us started in life. But wherever you go, culture is like a cage of light or darkness in the adult mind.