Bob Dylan sued for racism

Dylan has always been one of my favorite artists and was a great inspiration and comfort to me, especially when I was a teen.

That said, the comments for which he is being sued in France for “racism” are both instructive and disappointing.

The comments:

If you got a slave master or Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that. That stuff lingers to this day. Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood. (Source)

These comments are disappointing because they do more harm than good, they aren’t true, and they actually encourage ignorant “gut” reactions that are a major part of the problem.

They are instructive because they reveal how an accomplished artist who should know better can so easily buy into the semiotics of victimhood and preaching from that point of view in a way that makes the problem, such as it is, only worse. (I do realize that given the number of interviews Dylan gives and the looser nature of art than history, mistakes of this type are inevitable.)

His comments are further instructive in that they work a very shallow surface of historical and cultural semiotics when shallow semiotics are the bane of historical understanding and groups getting along.  Dylan assertions are based on “skin color” and the absurd claim that some groups can “sense” what others have “in their blood.”

Here is a very short article that may help him rethink his comment that “…Jews can sense Nazi blood”—Stalin’s Jews: We mustn’t forget that some of greatest murderers of modern times were Jewish.

As mentioned, Dylan was and still is one of my favorite artists. His comments matter only because they come from him and seem to me exceptionally wrong and counterproductive. The Croatian lawsuit is asking only for an apology. I hope he gives it and says something much more profound and valuable than what he said in the interview in question.

A signal-based model of psychology: part one

Signals are fundamental to everything that exists. There can be no physical realm without signals and certainly no life.

What is a signal? Anything that transmits any effect to anything else is a signal. In this sense, all signals “mean” something, including the smallest signal anyone can think of.

The advantage of basing a model of psychology (not just human psychology) on signals is our fundamental unit of analysis is universal, including everything we can know and think about.

Our bodies do an enormous amount of signalling—both internal and external—without our being conscious of most of it. Many living and non-living systems maintain homeostasis through signalling that is non-conscious (or so we now believe). The laws of physics describe signals that explain, for example, how our solar system came to be the way it is and why it remains in homeostasis.

Signals also explain how non-conscious life-forms—viruses, bacteria, plants, your blood, etc.—have arisen and how they maintain their dynamic homeostasis vis–à–vis the ever changing environment that surrounds them and signals to them constantly.

Consciousness itself almost certainly emerges out of a network of signals. Conscious beings read signals in the environment while frequently signaling each other. Cats and birds use conscious signals extensively. Even life-forms that we believe to be non-conscious, such as worms and plants, send and receive signals constantly to each other, while also signalling internally and with their environment.

Draw the line between conscious and non-conscious signalling wherever you like. Then let’s jump to human psychology.

Humans are different from cats and other animals in that we specialize in signals. Birds are specialists of the air, fish of the water, and humans of signals.

Humans signal each other constantly with signs that can employ any of our senses—sight, hearing, touch, taste, and so on. Our preeminent signalling system is, of course, language. With language humans are capable of remembering complex groupings of signals. We are also capable of thinking about these signals and transmitting our understanding of them to others.

Right now, as you read, you are receiving a complex signal from me.

Consciousness is arguably our most precious quality. Human consciousness is filled with and based upon signals. For our psychological well-being—the well-being of our consciousness—the signals we send and receive to and from other human beings are of fundamental importance.

To say it another way, humans are profoundly interactive signalling systems and the quality of the signals sent between us and other human systems are of primary importance to our sense of well-being, our psychological health, our conscious sense of who we are and how we are doing.

When our consciousness is filled with or marked by clear, truthful, and ethically sound signals, we feel good. In those moments we do not suffer confusion, neurosis, or pain. When consciousness is filled with or marked by confusion, lies, and ethically unsound signals, we feel bad. In those moments, we suffer, often greatly. (Of course, there are exceptions to these statements. Injury and truth, to name two, can cause us pain and confusion. But the basic distinction made here works well enough, I believe.)

It makes sense, thus, to focus on human signalling if we want to figure out what makes us tick.

The science of human signalling is often called semiotics, which can be roughly defined as the study of signs and their meanings. Semiotics can and does also include non-human signs and signals, but for now let’s limit ourselves to human signalling. There are other sciences that describe human signalling, but semiotics, which emphasizes signs and their interpretation, will serve us well enough that we can temporarily ignore other ways of understanding human meaning—game theory, traditional psychology, anthropology, etc. Semiotics works well because semiotic analyses can be reduced to single signals; they have a distinct and clearly defined basic unit—the signal or the sign.

Why do we focus so much of our inquiry into human psychology on emotion? Emotion is inchoate, often even unfelt, until it is defined or given meaning as a signal or sign.

Emotions are real, but they are massively subject to cultural interpretation, to definitions that have arisen outside of the individual experiencing them. Culture is little more than a system of signs and symbols shared among a group of people. Human cultures have great variety because the signs and signals and the meanings of those signs and signals develop differently in different places and under different conditions. This fact alone should suffice to show that the meanings of human signs often are completely arbitrary.

As long as a bunch of people believe that the sun is a chariot driven by a god, that meaning of the sun will work as a cultural standard, or cultural element with varying interpretations. If most people in a community think the sun is the center of the universe, that will also work until a better idea comes along. If enough people believe that human hearts have to be sacrificed to keep the sun moving across the sky, that will also work well-enough to hold that society together. Wherever you look, you will find great cultural variety, much of it based on arbitrary decisions that have long been forgotten by the people adhering to that system of meaning, that system of signs that are signaled between members of any human society you care to consider.

Thus, in this context, isn’t it clear that focusing our inquiry into human psychology on emotion is going to provide us with many tautological results?

Similar statements can be made about many other elements of our traditional understanding of human psychology, including such elements as personality, neurosis, mental health, what being normal means, what our goals and desires are, and so on. The emotions and/or “psychological states” that these areas of inquiry deal with are vague and almost entirely changeable over time and place.

What is not vague are signals. When we ask what signals are and what their quality is we can get much better answers based on much better data compared to the answers we get when we ask only how someone feels and where those feelings came from.

How do we do that? More precisely, in the context of what we call human psychology, how do we analyze our signalling?

Is it valuable to compare my assessment of my internal signalling with “data” taken from “surveys” of other people who speak my language and live in a society which is sort of maybe the “same” or similar to my own? Yes, you can get something from that data but you will also make many mistakes because it is very crude, or general, data and will never fully apply to any individual or even come close to actually describing anything of significant value to most people. Such data will contain so many mistakes, it should be handled with great caution, if it is used at all. (You most certainly can fool people with that data. But that happens because many people will believe the data is scientific and provides an accurate metric that describes who they are. And that is an example of how a cultural semiotic can and does impose “meaning” on individuals; not hugely different from believing you have to sacrifice human hearts to make the sun go round.)

You can’t really get at the important signalling people do by using general surveys because your data is is coming from a tautological loop based on surveys that are generally put together on the basis of other surveys involving stuff like common words or feelings.

For psychology, for human mental health, the most important signalling people do is interpersonal signalling with significant other people.

When we try to figure ourselves out by remembering (a dubious exercise in so many cases) what our parents did or said or made us feel, we can get some useful information, but it is not that reliable and suffers from the same sort of misinterpretation as personality studies or studies of human emotion do. You can read whatever you want into it and/or be subject to the vagaries of chance interpretations.

The only significant interpersonal signalling data we can really know with significant certainty are data noticed, remembered, and agreed upon by two (or more in some cases) people engaged in significant interpersonal communication (signalling).

A mere observer (much less a surveyor) to this communication will never be able to know or analyze the data with anything approaching the accuracy or validity of the two people involved if those two people have a reliable method for gathering that data. Even if an observer has a video record of the exchange, they will never be able to know or analyze it with the accuracy of the individuals directly involved if those two people have a reliable method for gathering that data.

The day may come when brain scans can provide us with real-time data of that sort, but for now all we have is FIML practice, or something very much like it.

Positive neurosis

On this site, a neurosis is defined simply as a “mistaken interpretation” or an “ongoing mistaken interpretation.” Thus a “positive neurosis” is a mistaken interpretation that feels good as opposed to a “negative neurosis,” which is one that feels bad.

There can also be “neutral neuroses,” ones that have no positive or negative feelings attached to them.

The advantage of defining a neurosis in this way is we have a clear definition that removes the term from the ambiguous, and often mistaken, connotations typically associated with it. The disadvantage is being even slightly wrong about something trivial can be deemed “neurotic.”

And yet, even this disadvantage has some advantages. If you wrongly believe the capital of NY State is Buffalo, your mistake is easily correctable, though it could lead to more serious problems, depending on when and how you figure it out.

Examples of positive neuroses are as numerous as negative ones. If you believe people are happier to see you than they really are, that your unethical “oversight” is less important than it really is, or that your motives are purer than they are, you will be in the grip of a positive neurosis.

Yes, sometime positive mistakes can snowball well and lead to a beneficial recreation of reality, just as negative mistakes may inspire us to try harder. But generally, from most points of view, we are better off dealing with the truth than with illusions. Narcissists and cults frequently base their self- and world-views on positive neuroses.

The deep point in this is that most people have no way of determining what within them is neurotic—positive, negative, or neutral.

And we do not have a sure way of determining that about other people either.

How can you know for sure how happy your friends are to see you or how serious your ethical lapse was? We do provide each other with many signs and signals about these matters, but it is always going to be hard-to-impossible to determine how to interpret those signs. Maybe the person(s) sending you signals are lying to you; maybe they want your money or want to hurt you for a perceived offense.

How can you find out? Basically, you can’t. All of us (except for FIML practitioners) live in a ghostly, amorphous world that forces us to rely on publicly shared semiotics to determine who we are and what others think of us.

A case in point might be the Texas judge who as a prosecutor withheld exculpatory evidence from a murder trial, leading to an innocent man spending twenty-five years in jail (see For the First Time Ever, a Prosecutor Will Go to Jail for Wrongfully Convicting an Innocent Man). The guilty party (the judge) in this case got ten days in jail, community service, a small fine, and a loss of his license to practice law.

What is remarkable, in addition to the disparity of sentencing, is that this is the first time in US history that a prosecutor has been legally punished for withholding important evidence from the defense even though this practice is fairly common.

Doesn’t that speak volumes about culture/society in the USA? A prosecutor, a supposed upholder of the law, can live with himself for twenty-five years knowing that he sent an innocent man to jail. And surely there are many others in his social and professional circles who do or abet similar deeds.

You can see the same sorts of behavior in all other human pursuits in the USA (and the world)—academia, medicine, politics, banking, business, religion, etc. People do these things not only because they can but also, in many cases, because they “must,” or almost must if they want to stay on their career ladders.

Furthermore, I would maintain that this also happens because too many people know how to exploit the ambiguity that results from virtually none of us knowing how to tell truth/reality from neurosis.

If you were a Texan and you met that judge at your club or wherever, you would be required to smile, be polite, and mutually “affirm” each others’ moral and social worth. To do otherwise might get you kicked out of the club or dropped from that circle of “friends.”

This is a nasty world, but what can a poor boy do?

The core problem is we have no way of knowing what constitutes a neurosis or how to tell if someone is free of neuroses. In other words, we have no way of knowing who other people really are. And because of that, we also have no way of knowing who we are.

I doubt there is a single person anywhere in the world who is not skewered, indeed gored, on this dilemma—I can’t know them and I can’t know myself without knowing them, so quietly, desperately I writhe.

Only the sociopaths enjoy this.

There are two ways out of this problem—1) accurate lie-detectors and 2) FIML practice. FIML works only with small numbers of people (for now), but it does work. It provides partners with a degree of certainty about each other that cannot be achieved in any other way. Without certainty anywhere in your life/social relations, you cannot but harbor many neuroses and you cannot but spend your time dealing with other people who have the same problem.

Repost: A theory of FIML

Note: I don’t care for the term “personality” if it is taken too seriously. Used as a rough indicator of how people see themselves, it works well-enough in this essay, I hope. ABN


FIML is both a practice and a theory. The practice  is roughly described here and in other posts on this website.

The theory states (also roughly) that successful practice of FIML will:

  • Greatly improve communication between participating partners
  • Greatly reduce or eliminate mistaken interpretations (neuroses) between partners
  • Give partners insights into the dynamic structures of their personalities
  • Lead to much greater appreciation of the dynamic linguistic/communicative nature of the personality

These results are achieved because:

  • FIML practice is based on real data agreed upon by both partners
  • FIML practice stops neurotic responses before they get out of control
  • FIML practice allows both partners to understand each other’s neuroses while eliminating them
  • FIML practice establishes a shared objective standard between partners
  • This standard can be checked, confirmed, changed, or upgraded as often as is needed

FIML practice will also:

  • Show partners how their personalities function while alone and together
  • Lead to a much greater appreciation of how mistaken interpretations that occur at discreet times can and often do lead to (or reveal) ongoing mistaken interpretations (neuroses)

FIML practice eliminates neuroses because it shows individuals, through real data, that their (neurotic) interpretation(s) of their partner are mistaken. This reduction of neurosis between partners probably will be generalizable to other situations and people, thus resulting a less neurotic individual overall.

Neurosis is defined here to mean a mistaken interpretation or an ongoing mistaken interpretation.

The theory of FIML can be falsified or shown to be wrong by having a reasonably large number of suitable people learn FIML practice, do it and fail to gain the aforementioned results.

FIML practice will not be suitable for everyone. It requires that partners have a strong interest in each other; a strong sense of caring for each other; an interest in language and communication; the ability to see themselves objectively; the ability to view their use of language objectively; fairly good self-control; enough time to do the practice regularly.

True crime

I just read a couple of true crime books.

The thing that struck me about both of them is how the idiotics (idiosyncratic semiotics) of both main characters (who were found guilty) were profoundly depraved.

Each of these characters (and I will assume their guilty verdicts were correct, though of course it is always possible they were not) had built up a huge story in their mind about who they were and who the person they eventually killed was and why it was right to kill them and how to do it.

Their stories were composed of semiotic units, semiotic bundles, bundles of meaning and belief that they clung to with such passion, one of them at least seems to continue to believe her story even today, many years later.

One way you can tell their stories were entirely depraved is they planned their crimes very badly. Their backup stories were often self-contradictory and filled with easily discoverable lies.

The stories in their heads about who they were, not surprisingly, were similarly filled with error and delusion. Also unsurprisingly, these stories were largely believed by loyal friends and family members.

Their stories of anger or concealed greed and why their emotions were justified were also mostly believed by these same sets of people. Friends like each other because they either are alike or strive to be.

In one of the books, some of the people surrounding the killer believed he was innocent even in the face of strong evidence against him.

In the other book, many loyal friends continued to believe the killer’s stories about why she had been right to do it even after it was obvious she had been lying about many important matters.

This is, sadly or happily, pretty normal. We stick by people and praise ourselves for being loyal. A basic thing people do all the time is generate, transmit, and receive meaning. Complex meanings (including the stories of murderers) can get woven into friends’ brains/minds in ways that make them hard to untangle.

True crime stories when seen as examples of extremely deluded human behavior can show us much about how we all function. We all make stories and present ourselves in different contexts; nothing wrong with that. Until it becomes depraved. With people like the ones I just read about, the stories are horrible, cruel, selfish, deluded, insane

It is good to be aware of what our stories are and what our intentions for telling them are. It is also good to review our feelings towards our friends and those who are close to us. Are we right about what we think and feel about them? Are our stories about them right? Have we ever asked them about that?

The primacy of internal speech

FIML practice will show partners again and again how poorly they speak and listen.

Rather than see this as bad news, why not see it as good news? It is a very important truth about how people are, how we communicate, and how intransigent our inner states can be.

A good example of what I mean can be found in how difficult it can be to transmit the idea of FIML, and the skills necessary for its successful practice, to other people.

Just the idea that we often listen and speak ambiguously and that this leads to huge problems can be hard to get across even to close friends. When you add the need to teach them a few new skills to accomplish FIML breakthroughs/resolutions, it’s a wonder anyone has gotten the idea at all.

One exception is a friend who was very quick to understand what we were telling her. She took up the practice immediately with her boyfriend and has done well with it ever since, or so she tells me. I suspect the reason she learned so quickly is she had already seen a good deal of the problem and may have even guessed some of the ways we have developed to fix it. She is the exception that proves the rule.

Others have had far more difficulty. One friend declared, “I totally get it, dude. But no way I can get [my SO] to do it with me. She would never do something like that.” I very much doubt that he got it at all, though I am pretty sure he was right about his SO—she is well set in her ways and very unlikely to listen to the likes of me about something so intimate and revolutionary.

Other friends say things like, “We already communicate so well.” No, you don’t. Or, “We trust each other completely, so there is no need for FIML.” Trust is an important part of FIML, but it won’t fix bad communication all by itself. Not a chance.

Some theories of language say that language is fundamentally an internal thing, a way firstly to think and only secondly to communicate. Judging by the friends I have discussed FIML with, this seems to be true. Language for all but one of them is fundamentally an internal process that can be touched by communication but rarely changed much unless there is extensive training.

The study of language and communication often involves children because they are learning how to do these things. I think it might be a good idea for someone to study language use in alcoholics rather than children.

Severe alcoholics experience declines in reasoning, communication, and self-understanding that are fairly consistently similar across the entire group. Thinking tends to become simpler, more self-centered and reasoning tends to be reduced in its aims and means. Advanced alcoholics, even recovered ones, tend to exhibit reductions in the quantity, quality, and useability of their core semiotics.

That is, their concepts of themselves and others are reduced from what they were before they became addicted to alcohol. They employ simpler semiotics to achieve a reduced understanding of people, events, dramas, and so on.

This simplicity can resemble the simplicty of small children who are first learning language. The difference is the alcoholic is going the other way—they are forgetting language, semiotics, and nuanced communication rather than learning.

Studies of the elderly or demented might also help us better understand how complex and richly communicative language develops out of or along with the primacy of internal speech.

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.

Denial and self-deception

Robin Hanson has an interesting post—Dark Pain, Dark Joy—about pains and joys “…we don’t let others know, and are often are in denial to ourselves.”

“Why do we hide and deny pain?” he asks. “Some pain makes us look bad. We’d look weak to complain of pains that many folks put up with without complaining.”

Hanson also describes “dark joys”—secret pleasures that would embarrass us if others knew about them.

I am glad to see Hanson expanding our sense of what the “unconscious” may hold and/or what we feel we must repress within our conscious minds. It is important to do this for, as he says, “consciousness…is a matter of degree, and repressed pain [or secret pleasures] can infect our mood and feelings in many indirect ways.”

In FIML practice, partners will discover a great many subconscious and semi-conscious misinterpretations of themselves and others that “deeply infect [their] moods and feelings in many indirect ways.” I would add that they also infect and affect us in many direct ways that can, and often do, have massive consequences.

Most of us are in denial about our misinterpretations of ourselves and others. Our denial is a complex form of self-deception that may be conscious or unconscious. Entire cultures are built upon a foundation of interpersonal misinterpretations. The central misinterpretation is that we understand each other better than we do.

We use very crude and ambiguous signs and symbols (language, gesture, tone, etc.) to communicate meanings that are frequently fraught with ambiguity. Then we pretend that we have been understood and that we understand how we are being responded to.

In a science lab when speaking about an experiment, the technical parts of exchanged messages may get sent and received without too many problems, but once at home, those same scientists will not be capable of communicating with their spouses with anything near the same clarity.

The “repressed pain” that stems from ambiguity and misinterpretation experienced during communications with significant friends and spouses is the herd of elephants in the room of human civilization from ancient times to today.

To compensate for our terribly poor understanding of each other (much of it deriving from inevitable and completely unavoidable ambiguities in communication), we are forced to adopt stock roles, to have unfounded beliefs about our “selves” and others, to make unsatisfying vows, to adhere to public semiotic standards that cannot possibly reflect or embody our authentic beings.

To correct this problem, we have to learn how to communicate with far more detail and far more accuracy than is normally possible in any culture in existence today. If you could communicate with minimal ambiguity (orders of magnitude better than now) and with great clarity with the people you love, would you not want to do that?

The “dark pains and pleasures” described by Hanson are a significant part of being human. But the corrosive and very harmful dark pain that comes from the bad communication of semiotic babies (us) is even worse.

Most people misunderstand everything


Because language is necessarily often ambiguous.


The ambiguities are rarely fixed.


Unfixed ambiguities lead to errors in interpretation. The errors accumulate and snowball. All people have been raised in environments like that and continue to live in them.

This causes pain because our minds are capable of communicating unambiguously, but we don’t know how.

We are semiotic animals, beings that live in semiotic jungles.

Our pain and error-ridden communication makes us mean, simple, greedy, stupid, violent, selfish, crazy.

Communication errors, misinterpretations, cause ghosts to form in the mind. We need to imagine a role for ourselves and others, but since we experience so many errors, our imaginings are fundamentally wrong. They are like ghosts in our minds.

We are as ghosts speaking and listening to each other.

Were Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments wrong?

See this article, Electric Schlock: Did Stanley Milgram’s Famous Obedience Experiments Prove Anything?, for more.

Since so much of our understanding of human behavior is based on Milgram’s experiment, it behooves us to question the experiment.

If Milgram’s experiment was fudged and if its results were exaggerated, as Perry claims, it provides an excellent example of how a false “scientific” semiotic can gain public attention and become a mainstay of our understanding of human psychology.

Identity versus ego

In this post, I will describe some of the main differences between “identity” and “ego” as we use these terms on this site. One of these days, I will make a glossary of all the terms we use.

  • Identity is the internal signaling system.
  • Ego is fiction that overlays identity.
  • Identity is clear, practical, ethically sound.
  • Ego is theatrical, defensive and offensive, designed to communicate with other egos and to further ulterior motives.
  • We need an ego in social situations only because that is how everyone is.
  • People communicate through the fictions of their social groups because that is all they know.
  • You won’t get far with nothing but an identity in a world full of egos.
  • But you will get closer to the truth about yourself and others.
  • Two identities can create their own group without ego fictions.
  • The fictions of the ego are tautological or self-referential.
  • It is very hard for most people to see the difference between ego and identity as defined above.
  • The reason is ego is the major way they have learned to communicate with others.
  • You show me your ego and I’ll show you mine.
  • Ego is a story, a fiction.
  • Groups of egos will always have self-referential stories or fictions that identify them.
  • Groups of motorcyclists, groups of Christians or Buddhists—all ego groups have stories, signs, and symbols that identify them.
  • These stories, signs, and symbols are always false, never completely true, always serve the purpose of upholding the group and the egos in it.
  • People without egos or ego groups can communicate just fine, though it will always be hard for people with egos to understand them.

The ego is the “deluded self” or the “small self” of Buddhism. I suppose the “identity,” if it is very pure, is the enlightened mind, the Buddha mind, the Tathagata.

FIML practice greatly helps the identity see the difference between identity and ego. It does this by showing the identity how the ego interprets what it hears and frames what it says.

The ego is like a ghost in the mind, or a collection of ghosts, that distorts reality for its own purposes. It is hard to see by yourself where it starts and where it ends. With the help of a caring partner, the line between ego and identity will become much clearer.

We “need” an ego only because it is the main way that people communicate. We do not need or want an ego when we communicate with our FIML partners. If more people did FIML, there would be less need for egos.

Semiotics and psychology

A semiotic analysis of a person’s “internal and external signalling” often can be more conducive to understanding than a “psychological” analysis.

From a semiotic point of view, it is not at all necessary that even a very significant adult behavior will have started with a significant trauma or any other sort of strong influence.

The smallest thing can constitute the start of a “semiotic slope” that, once begun, will tend to persist.

For example, your mom may not have understood that as a three-year-old it was normal for you to prefer the company of your father. Her misunderstanding may then have led to her withdrawing from you very slightly, and this snowballed between the two of you. When, years later, you wanted a closer relation with your mom and were not able to get it, it may have seemed to you that the cause was some trauma in her relation with her mother. But the actual start of the whole thing began with nothing more than your mom never having learned the simple fact that toddlers often prefer one parent over the other for a period of time.

What happened was she misunderstood the semiotics of toddler behavior and many things followed from that. There was no trauma, no ideal state not attained due to some seriously bad thing having happened to her.

Another way to put this is most people do not remember very much before the age of five or so. But didn’t a lot of formative things happen back then? Some probably were traumatic, and we do tend to remember those experiences more clearly than others, but much of what started our paths of development also began with very simple, often accidental, interpretations or misinterpretations of what was said or done to us or around us.

In a semiotic analysis, we recognize that a good deal of what we think/feel/believe began with a small thing, a random or accidental interpretation than got us going in some direction that we likely today see as a major component of our “personality.”

Semiotics can be defined as “the science of communicable meaning (including internal communication).”

Once your mom began to interpret, even very slightly, your toddler behavior as “meaning” that you did not love her as much as your father, many things followed for all of you. But there was no trauma, no glaring formative event, no Freudian ghost from her past coming to haunt your life. Rather, she simply made a mistake due to her ignorance of toddler behavior.

Ironically, the fact that many of us still today tend to understand much of human “psychology” as being determined by unconscious Freudianesque forces is a good example of how a “semiotic slope” once begun tends to continue. Freud started us down a “semiotic slope” that still shapes much of our world today.

The persistence of what is simply a wrong interpretation in an individual can be compared to what happens in cultures. Something begins, then it snowballs, then it becomes a tradition or an established idea. The semiotic network that is culture is hard to change once it is established. Something very similar is also true for individuals.

I am not claiming that emotional traumas do not happen and that they do not affect people. I am claiming that what we are is often due to small accidents as much as large traumas. And that people who are “resilient” after having suffered significant traumas may be so because their semiotic development led them to view the “meaning” of their trauma in a more “resilient,” or useful, way.

Signalling as a basis for understanding introversion and extroversion

Basing our understanding of human “psychology” on signalling and signalling systems—essentially seeing people as complex signalling systems—can make many aspects of being human clearer.

For example, rather than analyze “introversion” versus “extroversion,” we can use terms that work better with the signalling model—introspection versus extrospection.

Extrospection is a made up word. In this context it means someone who looks (spec, specere) outwardly for the establishment, maintenance, and validation of their identity.

In the signalling model, identity can be defined as “the (somewhat) complex nexuses of meaning/signaling that ‘embodies’ our comprehension of the semiotics of our cultures and experiences.”

An extrovert is normally seen as someone who likes people and wants to spend time with them, as opposed to an introvert who prefers spending time alone.

There is probably some value in this distinction. But all introverts know that we also like people and want to spend time with them; the problem is spending time with strongly “extroverted” types is not fully satisfying.

Similarly, extroverts are generally not as satisfied with the company of introverts as they are with other extroverts.

It may be hard to see why this is until we use the terms “introspection” and “extrospection.”

A person whose identity depends heavily on the opinions of others—one who favors extrospection—will tend to spend more time with other people than alone. They will be good at getting along with other people of their type because “extrospectors” value the mutual validation they offer each other.

To a person whose identity depends heavily on introspection, the “extrospector” may be fun to be around for a while, but will probably become tiring because the “introspector” does not want the same sort of validation required by the “extrospector.”

In terms of signalling, the introspector relies on internal signalling while the extrospector relies on external signalling. The introspector can and does enjoy other people, but they are far more likely to be satisfied with other people who share their tendency for internal signalling.

The signalling systems of introspectors with introspectors and extrospectors with extrospectors mirror each other much better than when the two types are mixed.

Extrospectors tend to form groups and have a much easier time finding each other than introspectors do. This is why extrospectors control so much of what happens in the world.

Moreover, extrospectors also tend to base their opinions of themselves and each other on external, measurable things—property, money, status symbols. To the introspector, these things are not as valuable to their identity as depth of analysis, depth of internal signals, depth of communication.

Extrospectors are great and we need them. But if you are not one, it might be good to realize that it is not people per se that you want to avoid, but rather the tedium of extrospectional values, aims, and beliefs.

Find another introspector with compatible interests and you will both become highly “extroverted” toward each other.

Meaning and identity

[Edit: I have changed the first six bullets several times.]

  • Meaning can be defined as two or more signalling systems connecting. Connecting means “sending and receiving, receiving and sending.”
  • To visualize this, think of Newton’s every action produces an opposite and equal reaction; thus sending (action) produces receiving (reaction), which in turn sends a message back. For example, a photon hits a hydrogen atom; the photon “sends” while the atom “receives”; by receiving, it also sends a message back and out; it affects the photon and more.
  • Space is the foundation of the plethora of signalling systems. Time is the foundation of their activity and extent.
  • Meaning is the most basic word in language.
  • When you look at it “psychologically,” it’s not what the sign is but what the meaning is. Thus, meaning is a deep basis of semiotics.
  • In this context, it makes sense to say that time and space are the sine qua non of signalling systems. This “defines” time and space in terms of signalling systems.
  • Identity depends on meaning as defined above.
  • Our identities are (somewhat) complex nexuses of meaning/signaling that “embody” our comprehension of the semiotics of our cultures and experiences. They lie at the center of how we understand ourselves. Identity signalling occurs internally as well as externally.
  • In non-FIML social intercourse it is normal for people to assert/display the props/symbols of their identities, as they understand them.
  • People who do FIML also need identities, but they do not need the social props that help non-FIML people define each other.
  • You really do not want to be defined by props and symbols. It’s a static role that leads away from authentic being.
  • People do not truly belong to a culture. Rather they maintain the illusion that they belong to a culture. This is clear when we think and analyze identity in terms semiotics, which here means “the science of communicable meaning.”
  • Having a weak or confused identity can be a very good thing as this may prompt you to learn how identities are made and maintained.
  • No Buddhist should want an identity defined by props and symbols.
  • Buddhism is about authentic being, the “thusness” of being, the experiential existential being that you really are, the one that occurs before there are definitions, props, and symbols.
  • This being can be hard to see because humans are semiotic entities; that is, we are entities that seek, create, and communicate meaning. This causes us to look within semiotics for the definition of our authentic being, a place where it can never be found. You have to look outside of semiotics.
  • But you can’t look outside semiotics unless you know how to look inside. You have to fully understand how the “language” of your semiotics works to be able to step outside of it.
  • Your semiotics is your unique take on the semiotics of your culture(s) and experiences.
  • You cannot fully explore your semiotics, your identity, your nexus of individual meaning alone because there is no way you can check your work. You cannot see yourself.
  • Each of us is a social, interactive, communicative being. You can only fully explore your unique semiotics/identity with a partner who wants to do the same.
  • Two people working together are able to stop the flow of conversation to analyze the semiotics of how they are hearing and speaking. One person working alone is only guessing.
  • Find a partner and do FIML. You will learn a lot from it.
  • Do not expect FIML to give you new symbols or props or tell you how to be. FIML is only a procedure. It is empty, almost devoid of its own content. It is a process that will help you see and recreate your identity.
  • Do not expect your FIML teacher to be an example for you. Do not expect your teacher to be impressive or to project signs and symbols at you. Do not expect to follow your teacher.
  • Just learn how to do FIML from them.