Repost: Microaggression and FIML

I have been seeing a lot of stuff about microaggression recently.

The term interests me because FIML is all about micro impressions.

When done with a caring partner, FIML is designed to correct mistaken impressions or interpretations that often derive from micro impressions and/or manifest as micro expressions.

Anyone who has done FIML for more than a few months surely must be aware that we create wrong impressions of even our most trusted partners frequently.

A wrong impression often snowballs, leading to a wrong interpretation that after festering can be much harder to correct than the original micro impression.

So between friends, and especially FIML partners, the perception of micro aggression can and should be noticed and dealt with immediately or as soon as possible. It is basic to FIML practice that even a single uncorrected wrong impression can lead to serious divisions between people.

In this sense, I heartily accept the idea of microaggression being a thing. In fact, I believe it is such a thing that it happens all the time, especially if you mean micro mis-impressions and not just microaggression.

But the term microaggression means something different from the above, though the central concepts are related. Wikipedia has this short definition of microaggression:

…the use of known social norms of behavior and/or expression that, while without conscious choice of the user, has the same effect as conscious, intended discrimination.

The main difference is “without conscious choice of the user.” FIML is all about being conscious. Both parties being conscious.

If I perceive something in your speech, demeanor, or behavior that makes me think that maybe you are disrespecting me or mad at me or or suspicious of me or something like that, then if you are my FIML partner I am basically required to ask you about it if there is time.

In FIML, the asking is done without prejudgement. I simply ask “what was in your mind when you made that expression or said those words or did that thing.” Your answer must be honest. If you don’t trust your partner to be honest, you can’t do FIML (though you can start trying and see if either or both of you changes).

If your partner answers honestly and you do not perceive an iota of what you thought was in their mind, that part of the event is finished. If when the person spoke or acted they had no nothing about doing what you thought they might be doing, you are done with it. You no longer have any right to further impute your thing onto them.

You can if you want, and this is encouraged, continue to discuss the matter. For example, you might say: “From your response, I can tell that you were not disrespecting me and I am delighted to find that out. That’s a huge relief for me because I have spent much of my life reacting to people who do that as if they were disrespecting me. It’s weird to hear that I am wrong in this case and it makes me wonder if I have been wrong in other cases.”

Then the two of you can discuss that. I know one person who frequently reacts to educated northeast American accents as being “imperious” or “arrogant” when they are not. (Don’t get me started on all the many phrases and attitudes in culture that wrongly limit speech and thus culture itself—“condescending,” “know-it-all,” “argumentative,” “imperious,” etc.)

So, if two friends are having problems between themselves with microaggression, they are prime candidates for FIML practice. Of course, any two friends who are having any problems with micro impressions (all friends all the time) are prime candidates for FIML. (You cannot but have these problems.)

But microaggression as the word is being used today is not something FIML can deal with directly because it is

…the use of known social norms of behavior and/or expression that, while without conscious choice of the user, has the same effect as conscious, intended discrimination.

The important words here are “known social norms,” “without conscious choice” leading to “discrimination.”

I don’t know how to unpack that. From a FIML point of view, my guess is behaviors that could potentially be identified as “microaggression” according to that definition would be in the range of dozens per day per every person in the world. Maybe more.

An example many readers will remember is Michelle Obama reacting to a customer in Target asking her to hand them something they could not reach.

I tell this story – I mean, even as the first lady – during that wonderfully publicized trip I took to Target, not highly disguised, the only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf.

If even the president’s wife can get something so ordinary so wrong, you can see the scope of the problem. In the same interview, the president himself mentioned being “mistaken for a waiter.”

Both later downplayed their comments because they had to. Microaggression is an inherently super-ambiguous term open to a multitude of interpretations every time it is used.

In FIML, we find that micro-mistakes are real and dangerous. They are not ignored but addressed immediately because they can be so serious. Relevantly, in my experience with FIML a great many micro-impressions that I form are simply dead wrong. Most of them are wrong. I can’t enter that as evidence because the world does not have enough FIML practitioners for me to do a study on it. However, I do suspect that a great many micro-impressions of or impressions of microaggression are wrong.

Many of us laughed or thought it was ridiculous for Michelle Obama to bristle at having a short person ask her for help because we all have been on one side or the other of an exchange like that and thought nothing of it. I have been mistaken for a store employee or construction worker more than once and never thought anything of it, except maybe to feel slightly flattered that someone thought I looked like I knew what I was doing.

Another problem with the notion of politicizing microaggression (because that is what the term is about) is whose microaggression against whom?

I have strabismus, lazy eye. Even though the condition has been surgically corrected, I still cannot maintain a direct friendly gaze for long periods of time. This means that many people are led to misinterpreting my micro expressions (I start to look down) as me being bored, tired, or not friendly when all that is happening is my eye is so tired it starts to blur and needs to look away.

I know this from years of experience and because some people tell me what they are thinking. One in twenty or twenty-five people have strabismus. Add in other eye conditions with similar problems and you will get much higher percentages. Add hearing problems, attention-deficit problems, autism problems, and so on and you can include most people in the world having difficulties with micro-expressions and how they are being interpreted by others.

If someone from a different culture or race or neighborhood interprets my strabismus as microaggression (boredom with them or condescension toward them rather than simple fatigue), they will get it all wrong. And there is little or nothing I can do about it.

I even tell people about strabismus sometimes. I explain what it does. They say they understand, but very few of them really do. Only very close friends or people who have similar eye problems understand well enough that it stops being an issue with them.

Moreover, strabismus and other eye problems can lead to problems with facial recognition. So the person in the store that asked Michelle Obama for help may have also had facial recognition problems. I have that problem, too, and I seriously doubt that I would recognize Michelle Obama if I saw her in Target.

So, sorry, I don’t have any really good answer to how to understand microaggression or deal with it. On a personal level with friends or FIML partners, micro-impressions are what we want to work with as much as we can. On a societal level, you can hardly do anything about it. A super-smart person might be able to become aware of a good many of the difficulties faced by people in the world, but even that person will miss many of them or misinterpret what they perceive even if they “know” the right thing to do.

At the abstract heart of the problem there is probably a measurement or resolution problem. Simply stated, no person can ever possibly do perfect microanalyses all the time in all situations with all people. Far from it. Thus, it is a sort of “reverse microaggression” to demand or expect that they can or will or should.

I suppose we can and should become more aware of how complex people are and how difficult it is to know even one other person well, or even to know yourself well. But nothing that I can think of will ever relieve us of the difficulty of dealing with the immense number of micro-impressions we all give and receive every minute of every day.

Repost: Semiotic proprioception in dreams and waking

Proprioception means “one’s own” or “ones’ individual” (Latin proprius) “perception.”

We normally use this word to refer to our physical position in the world—whether we are standing or sitting, how we are moving, and how much energy we are using.

When we dream, our capacity for physical movement, with rare exceptions, is paralyzed. But we still do a sort of proprioception in dreams—a semiotic proprioception, or proprioception within the semiology of the dream.

In dreams, we grope through semiotic associations and respond, gropingly, to them. People and things often look smaller in dreams, or distorted, because we do not have either the need or the capacity to calibrate our physical proprioception as we do in waking life.

Dreams move from one semiotic proprioception to another via our individual four-dimensional (3D plus time) groping/associative function. In one short segment of a dream we are at home, then we go through a door only to find ourselves on a boat in the ocean. Our 4D semiotic proprioception within dreams readily accepts groping, associative shifts like this.

Much of what we perceive when we are awake is memory. We glance at a room we know well and call up our memory of it rather than actually look closely at the room.

I am fairly sure that the memories we call up to aid perception while we are awake are much the same as the groping proprioception we experience in dreams. A major difference is when we are awake we can and do check our waking proprioception with the people and objects around us, while in dreams the associative function has a much freer range.

Notice how dreams move from scene to scene rather slowly. Things can go quickly, but normally dreams grope somewhat slowly along the 4D path of semiotic proprioception.

In waking life, our dreamy use of memory and association to aid perception of the world happens constantly.

When we speak with another person, we use this function to make groping associations concerning what we think they are saying. We grope and respond to them as in a dream while at the same time searching for clues that indicate we are both on the same page.

These clues that two people may sort of “agree on” while speaking are normally standard public semiotics that belong to whatever culture(s) they share. By “agreeing” on them, we form a sort of agreeable camaraderie with whomever we are speaking, and this can be satisfying, but if we only get this, it can also become deeply unsatisfying.

The four dimensional groping/dreamy function of our mind is far richer than any standard collection of public semiotics. In our public lives—professional, commercial, based on organizations, etc.—we have, at present, little recourse but to accept normal public semiotics, to agree with them and manifest agreement.

We can express some deviation from them and sometimes makes jokes about them, but we are generally fairly bound to the semiotics of the culture or organization that generates the context of our speaking. Consider how people in the same church or school are bound by the semiotics of those institutions.

In our intimate relations, however, we do have recourse to investigate and understand how our groping, 4D semiotic proprioception works. This is what FIML does. It allows partners to observe, analyze, and understand the semiotic proprioceptions of their minds as they are actually functioning during interpersonal communication.

If you constantly avoid FIML types of investigations, you will be stuck with a mix of dimly shared public/private semiotics that will tend to become highly ambiguous, even volatile, or very shallow.

Repost: Errors in listening, cogitating, and speaking

Interpersonal communication errors can occur for many reasons during the acts of listening, cogitating, and/or speaking.

For example, in a conversation involving two people (A & B), person A may mishear (listening error) what B said; and/or person A may misunderstand or miscogitate what they heard; and/or person A may misspeak.

Errors in any part of that communication process will cause some sort of confusion between A and B. Errors can be of many types. The speaker may mispronounce, misenunciate, use the wrong word, be inadvertently misleading, hit a wrong tone of voice, etc. In turn, the listener may mishear, be inattentive, be overly attentive to one aspect of what the speaker is saying, not know a word or a reference, etc. Next, even if the listener heard correctly, they may misunderstand or miscogitate by making wrong associations, drawing wrong conclusions, etc. Any unconscious error in hearing or cogitating will probably lead the listener to misspeak when it is their turn.

Errors of these sorts if not corrected will compound and cause the conversation to become unsatisfying or confusing.

It is the goal of FIML practice to catch these errors as soon after they arise as possible. FIML partners should strive to be perfect with each other in all three of these communication areas–listening, cogitating, and speaking. The best way to do this is to pay close attention to yourself. If you feel an emotional jangle, be sure to confirm with your partner (by doing a FIML query) that your jangle is justified. If it is not, you have discovered an error. Correct the error and continue.

One very simple and common jangle involves feeling irritated (even very, very slightly) at your partner because they did not understand what you said (probably not so clearly). Take it as a given that our uses of language are frequently less than perfect. You must expect that a good many of the things you say will not be stated as clearly as they could be; many more of them, though clear enough, will contain ambiguities or misleading word choices. If as a speaker you become irritated at your partner for something that is inevitable in your own speech, you are making a huge mistake.

Another common jangle involving cogitation is feeling stupid or inattentive when your partner makes an association that you did not get even though you heard all of their words correctly. This jangle could also involve thinking your partner is stupid or not making sense because you did not get what they said. Either way, it is crucial that both FIML partners know that these kinds of mistakes in cogitation are quite common. Identify them when they occur–as soon as you can–and correct them.

A third common jangle, this time involving hearing, is attributing a wrong emotion or intention to the speaker’s tone of voice. The human  speech apparatus is not that highly developed. To speak, we have had to re-purpose our teeth, lips, and tongues, which other animals use for eating, to make noises that convey sometimes sophisticated meaning to other people. How could things not go wrong with that? We also breathe, vomit, kiss, and do other stuff with that same oral cavity. FIML partners must recognize that we are working with a primitive “wind instrument” when we talk and that this instrument may blow too hard, get clogged with phlegm, or experience many other kinds of mishaps that can distort the sounds of our voices. A person with a high, soft voice can easily be misunderstood as being a light-weight, while a person with a deep voice and large lungs can easily be misheard as being aggressive when they are not. Each one of us should be aware of how our voices might be misunderstood and then apply this level of detail to understanding, at least, our partner’s voice.

Another common listening jangle/error that can occur, even if you clearly understand all of the above, is a speaker’s tone of voice can be seriously misunderstood if we think it refers to us when it is referring to the subject at hand. For example, you say something about the car needs fixing and your partner responds in an irritated tone of voice. If you hear that irritation as referring to you when your partner is just sick of the damn car, you will be making a serious mistake. If you say nothing, you may simmer with wrong bad feelings for some time, which often leads to yet more bad feelings. If you do say something, you may start an argument and/or otherwise greatly compound the original problem. All that actually had happened was your partner expressed a fairly primitive emotion (irritation at the damn car) which you misunderstood to mean irritation at you. Your partner used our crude speech apparatus to grunt irritation at a very common problem and you used your crude ears and listening abilities and crude tendency to think everything applies to you to make a big mistake, one that will only add to the original problem.

As you and your partner continue doing FIML practice, you will get better and better at finding and correcting these kinds of errors the moment they arise. It’s not always easy, but it is always very satisfying if you discuss the matter long enough for both of you to achieve a real resolution.

Rapid extirpation of complex contretemps

The process described below is a common event that happens often between humans. FIML practitioners will benefit from identifying and understanding this process as understanding it leads to harmonious resolutions while not understanding it often leads to fighting and bad feelings.

In this context, a contretemps is defined as a misunderstanding between two or more parties during an act of communication.

Contretemps are resolved or extirpated through FIML practice or something similar.

Complex contretemps are contretemps that have more than one or two terms and that require several exchanges of information to be resolved

Complex contretemps often proceed rapidly as clarifying information and explanations quickly go back and forth between participants.

This kind of resolution or extirpation of complex contretemps is a process that should be recognized or identified by FIML practitioners (and others). Recognizing it as it happens greatly facilitates a harmonious resolution.

This process might also be called a “ricocheting extirpation process” in the sense that meaning and information ricochet rapidly between partners.

The rapidity happens because partners are both trying to make their points and may fear losing hold of what they mean or meant. This process causes stress, sometimes considerable stress, and generally induces stress tones in speakers.

If it is identified and understood while it is happening, it will resolve more quickly. If it is not identified and understood, the stress voices, stress hormones, and confusion of meaning typically will cause fighting or bad feelings.

I usually give examples of what I mean, but in this case see if you can identify some complex contretemps on your own. They are characterized by the rapid exchange of information and explanations, by stress tones, and stress hormones. They usually are not pleasant. However, if they are identified and resolved quickly, partners should experience feelings of clarity and elevated thinking.

I see them as being like physical exercise. They make you work, but the result is good for you. These kinds of contretemps are common and completely unavoidable. They should be understood as a feature of language and as an inevitable part of interpersonal communication.

After a complex contretemps has been resolved or extirpated to the complete satisfaction of both partners, it is all but inevitable that stress feelings will remain for some time. I believe this is due to emotions having a significant chemical basis that requires time to dissipate. The mind may be clear, but the stress hormones are still in the system.

How can I be sure?

If it’s about what your partner says, thinks, feels, or intends, you can’t unless you ask and your partner is honest.

The following link contains four videos made by actors who were

asked to convey one specific intention through their speech and actions: to be sincere, or to tell ‘white lies’, or to be teasing, or to be sarcastic. (How can I tell if she’s lying?) (emphasis added)

Well-worth viewing, the videos are instructive because they show how difficult it is to grab a single intention from a short segment of speech, or to portray one.

If a single intention is difficult, how can you grab complex intentions from real conversations with real people who are really interacting with you?

You really can’t. Of course, sometimes you will be right, but much of the time you won’t. And if you are wrong just once, your mistake may lead to other mistakes, compounding into something much bigger.

Every day someone is murdered somewhere due to someone else mistaking their intentions. And, I am just as sure, every day many thousands of couples slide toward incompatibility due to accumulating mistakes in their communications.

FIML practice is designed to deal with problems of misspeaking, mishearing, miscogitating, and miscommunicating between consenting partners. FIML practice is based on the recognition that such problems are common, ubiquitous, and inevitable.

A problem with intention—sarcasm, irony, ill-will, etc.—in communication is there is no way to define it or establish any standard for it. With words, we can all agree on rough standards for pronunciation, but when you put a bunch of words together and mix in tone of voice and intention, there arises only an ambiguous standard, at best.

The videos linked above show how difficult it is to isolate even simple intentionality. The communication systems of both listeners and speakers are simply too complex to effectively standardize the majority of normal human communication. If this is understood the value of and reason for doing FIML practice should be clear.

Study supports FIML practice

This study—Neural Correlates of People’s Hypercorrection of Their False Beliefs—supports the contention that FIML practice can produce deep, wide-ranging, and enduring changes within the brain/mind of practitioners.

The basic finding of the study is:

Despite the intuition that strongly held beliefs are particularly difficult to change, the data on error correction indicate that general information errors that people commit with a high degree of belief are especially easy to correct. (Emphasis added.)

According to the study, this happens due to:

…enhanced attention and encoding that results from a metacognitive mismatch between the person’s confidence in their responses and the true answer.

This is exactly what happens when a FIML query shows the questioner that his/her assumptions about what their partner’s thoughts or intentions were were wrong.

Initially, FIML partners may experience some embarrassment or disbelief at being wrong. But since FIML queries are generally based on negative impressions, after some practice being shown to be wrong will typically produce feelings of relief and even delight.

A FIML query will generally arise out of a state of “enhanced attention” and usually further increase it by being spoken about. Incidentally, this is probably the most difficult aspect of FIML practice—controlling the emotions that accompany enhanced attention, especially when that attention concerns our own emotional reactions.

With continued practice of FIML, however, even strongly held erroneous interpersonal beliefs will be fairly easily corrected whenever they are discovered during a FIML discussion. Correcting core false beliefs (mistaken interpretations) has a wide-ranging, beneficial effect on all aspects of a person’s life.

Since the hypercorrection effect discussed in the linked study only occurs during moments of enhanced attention, the FIML technique of focusing quickly on good data agreed upon by both partners can be seen as a way of inducing states of enhanced attention that will lead to deep changes in both partners. This technique (using good data) also turns the discussion from one about feelings to one about “information,” which the study finds makes errors “especially easy to correct.”

Furthermore, since FIML practice tends to deal with very small incidents, the enhanced attention FIML induces works like a laser that quickly and painlessly excises erroneous thoughts and feelings while they are still small and have not been allowed to grow into full-blown emotional reactions.

Disruption of neurotic response in FIML practice

By analyzing minute emotional reactions in real-time during normal conversation, FIML practice disrupts the consolidation, or more often the reconsolidation, of “neurotic” responses.

In FIML, a neurotic response is defined as “an emotional response based on a misinterpretation.” The misinterpretation in question can be incipient (just starting) to long-seated (been a habit for years).

The response is disrupted by FIML practice and, thus, tends not to consolidate or reconsolidate, especially after several instances of learning that it is not valid.

A neurotic response is a response based on memory. The following study on fear memories supports the above explanation of FIML practice.

Memories become labile when recalled. In humans and rodents alike, reactivated fear memories can be attenuated by disrupting reconsolidation with extinction training. Using functional brain imaging, we found that, after a conditioned fear memory was formed, reactivation and reconsolidation left a memory trace in the basolateral amygdala that predicted subsequent fear expression and was tightly coupled to activity in the fear circuit of the brain. In contrast, reactivation followed by disrupted reconsolidation suppressed fear, abolished the memory trace, and attenuated fear-circuit connectivity. Thus, as previously demonstrated in rodents, fear memory suppression resulting from behavioral disruption of reconsolidation is amygdala-dependent also in humans, which supports an evolutionarily conserved memory-update mechanism. (Source: Disruption of Reconsolidation Erases a Fear Memory Trace in the Human Amygdala)

FIML practice works by partners consciously and cooperatively disrupting reconsolidation (and initial consolidation) of neurotic memory (and associated behaviors). FIML both extirpates habitual neurotic responses and also prevents the formation of new neurotic responses through conscious disruption of memory consolidation.

FIML probably works as well as it does because humans have “an evolutionarily conserved memory-update mechanism” that favors more truth. Obvious examples of this update mechanism can be seen in many simple mistakes. For instance, if you think the capital of New York State is New York City and someone shows that it is Albany, you will likely correct your mistake immediately with little or no fuss.

Since FIML focuses on small mistakes made between partners, corrections are rarely more difficult than the above example though they may be accompanied by a greater sense of relief. For example, if you thought that maybe your partner was mad at you but then find (through a FIML query) that they are not, your sense of relief may be considerable.

The quintessence of interpersonal cooperation

FIML is the quintessence of interpersonal social behavior. FIML is the quintessence of interpersonal cooperation. As such, it transforms what we call “personality” by altering the basis of experience.

If social behavior is understood quantitatively, then “more social” means more social contacts.

If social behavior is understood qualitatively, then “more social” becomes “better social”; i.e. more honest, true, profound, fulfilling.

It is not possible to have high-quality interpersonal interactions without a precise way to manage and correct errors in communication as they occur. What we loosely think of as “personality” is based on interpersonal experiences. Change the experiences and you change the personality.

Not all contretemps are the same

Edit 10/07/15: The post below describes a fairly simple problem that is nonetheless difficult to describe. This difficulty illustrates how fundamental linguistic imprecision is to human “psychology,” emotion, communication, and thought.

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Not all contretemps are the same. Some are easier to fix than others.

In FIML practice, a contretemps is defined as a misunderstanding within a conversation that arises from misspeaking, mishearing, or miscogitating.

Most contretemps arise due to the speaker or listener attributing a mental state to the other person. I hear a tone in your voice and thus attribute a mental state to you. It may be the case that I heard correctly. More often it is the case that I heard incorrectly.

Either way, a FIML query and discussion will usually put the matter to rest fairly quickly. The discussion that follows the resolution of the contretemps may use a lot of time but it is almost always pleasant and well-worth the effort because discussions of that sort tend to illuminate much more than just the contretemps in question.

It is a basic assumption of FIML practice that many/most contretemps are features of language and language use itself and not due fundamentally to human “psychology” or “personality.” Of course contretemps run all through what we call “psychology” and influence it a great deal, but many/most verbal (conversational) contretemps are just normal clunky things that are features of language.

They arise due to the ambiguities of words and phrases, the crudeness of our speech apparatuses, the dimness of our brains, poor hearing, and contextual misunderstandings, to name just a few of the reasons.

Once a simple mistake—a misunderstood tone of voice, reference, or context, for example—has been identified, it is usually a fairly simple matter to dismiss the emotions it may have aroused and move ahead with the conversation. These kinds of mistakes are characterized by some sort of mistaken attribution of a mental or emotional state by one of the participants in a conversation aimed at the other participant.

There is another sort of contretemps, however, that is more difficult to identify and fix. This sort of contretemps does not involve attributing a mental or emotional state to the other person. Rather, it is characterized by trying to prevent an emotional state from arising or from trying to prevent the conversation from going in one direction or another for whatever reason.

An example of this sort of contretemps might be something like this. You buy some bread and explain that it is different from the kind you usually buy because they did not have that kind. I look at the bread, and seeing that it is lighter than what we normally get, say this bread is too light, while fully knowing what you have said about why you bought it. No problem so far. You say, “Well…” as you begin to formulate a more complete response. Still no problem.

But then I add, “But I am not complaining!” My “intention” (if you can call such a swift response intentional) is merely to prevent you from thinking I am complaining about your having bought the bread. But my tone may not have come out right. This may be the start of a problem if you think that my tone implies that I think you are being defensive due to how you said “well….”

Was my tone wrong or did you hear it wrongly? Only the partners themselves can determine this, assuming both are well-meaning and reasonably intelligent (and sober).

The deeper FIML problem here is that tone of voice is very hard to catch and it is very hard for you to query me because things are moving very quickly. If you did query me I would honestly say that I did not think you were being defensive. I would honestly say that I just wanted to prevent your feeling defensive and/or to simply clarify that I am not complaining, this being a fairly normal thing for people to say though it can often be ambiguous and lead to a complex contretemps such as the one we are discussing.

When I say that I am not complaining, you hear it as me assuming that you have taken my complaint about the bread (a genuine problem we both recognize, though we are not all that clear on that either) as being a complaint about you or your shopping.

This kind of contretemps can be very hard to get to the bottom of because it involves several layers of miscuing based on a reasonable misattribution of my statement I am not complaining.

The basic problem is one speaker (me) is trying to guide the conversation or prevent it from going in some direction while the listener understands that effort to be an implied accusation of their planning to do just that, of their intending to do that.

If you pay attention to how you and your partner speak to each other, I can all but guarantee you will have contretemps of this sort. A well-meaning general intention to guide or prevent or indicate something is mistaken as an attribution of a mental or emotional state by the listener.

Kind of involved and messy isn’t it? It happens because languages are difficult to use well and we make many mistakes.

It must be emphasized that FIML partners are not seeking to adhere to some external social standard (which doesn’t really exist, especially in precise matters or with respect to complex interpersonal subjects and extensive discussions) but rather to hone their own standards to the point where there are fewer contretemps and the ones that do occur (as they absolutely will) can be resolved as efficiently as possible.

The sort of contretemps described above can be very difficult to identify and correct because it moves very quickly and is based on underlying assumptions that are not easy to identify on the fly. FIML practice, generally, is difficult not because people are stupid, have bad personalities, or screwed up psychologies, but because it is completely and utterly impossible not to make many mistakes in listening, speaking, and thinking whenever we use language.

If you try to gloss over too many mistake (now and then it’s OK to gloss over some of them) by pretending there is some “standard” you know about and that your partner is just an ass, you will only compound the problem. It is very difficult to be a fully functioning human being for many reasons and one of the biggest lies in language itself and how we normally (mis)use it.

Repost: FIML and illusions, visual and verbal

It’s well known that memory, context, and expectation are fundamental to our perceptions of “reality.” For more info on this see: FIML and memory distortion.

In this post I want to give a few examples of how this happens and then discuss how these examples are relevant to FIML practice.

Yesterday I took a walk with my partner. It was a sunny day and at one point the reflection of a leafless tree in the windshield of a car parked about thirty yards ahead of us caught my eye. Most of the car was in shade, so the reflection stood out prominently though I could not quite figure out what I was seeing at first. As I stared at the windshield, I saw the crude image of a human face. It flickered in my mind and changed several times as we advanced toward the car. Was I seeing a person sitting in the passenger seat, I wondered. Or was it something else? What I saw in the reflection was more of a proto-face than a real human face. My brain made several attempts to interpret the reflection as we drew closer to the car. At last, I saw that what I was looking at was a bright reflection of tree branches high above the car. The scene fooled me because the car was in the shade and the tree branches were in the sun quite high above the street.

This incident illustrates how our minds try to make sense out of what we are seeing even before we have sufficient information to do so reliably. Why did I see a person and not a cat or something else? The answer is probably that a person would be the most significant to me of the likely interpretations of what was there. In a kind of self-centered all-too-human way, I interpreted the reflection as an image that would have the most bearing on my life. In the case of that reflection, I was able to ascertain what the image really was. I remember being quite curious about it. It was kind of a delightful optical illusion which was fun to ponder once I understood it.

Another incident that happened yesterday also occured while I was walking with my partner. This time it was dark. On the street ahead of us she saw what she told me looked like a pillar that had fallen in the road. That would have been a real anomaly, so she kept looking at the object. Eventually she realized that it was a car parked in shadows in such a way that its outline had not been clear. Why she saw it as a collapsed pillar, I don’t know, but as I had done earlier in the day, she was quite curious about what she was seeing as we approached the scene. When she figured it out, she described what had happened and we discussed how it relates to FIML.

What she noticed is that since the anomaly was visual, it was fairly easy to figure out. She also noticed that her curiosity would have made her walk toward the pillar/car to see what it was even if it had meant going out of our way. Most of us, I think, would do the same. Visual illusions like that are not threatening and usually are fun to figure out.

If an illusion arises in what we think we have heard someone say, however, most of us will normally not pursue the matter. What kinds of illusions arise when we speak with others? Any interpretation that is wrong is an illusion. Any interpretation on the personal-public spectrum of possible interpretations that is not what our interlocutor meant is an illusion. Any interpretation founded on our own private neuroses or on public misconceptions instead of what the other person really meant is an illusion.

An example might be someone seems too familiar when they greet you, so you interpret their behavior as being disrespectful, flirtatious, or nutty when the person is just feeling good because of something that had recently happened. In real life, you usually can’t figure those sorts of illusions out unless they occur with your FIML partner. In real life, that sort of thing occurs many times per day and is compounded by as many people as we deal with. Just being “positive” and “a friend to all” doesn’t solve the problem either because maybe that person actually was being disrespectful or flirtatious or nutty or all of them at once. You will be deluded, to some extent, no matter what you conclude because you have no way of knowing what really happened, what was really in their mind. That is the vague and irresolute reality in which we all live. We deal with that poor level of mutual understanding by emphasizing professional standards, good manners, shared beliefs, and so on. This works well enough in the public sphere but will lead to sorrow in your private life.

A third incident occurred later that evening. As we were getting ready for bed, my partner noticed a car outside stopped near our driveway with its motor running. It was getting late, so she wondered about it. Was someone coming over? Were they turning around? The car was pretty rundown and noisy so it looked maybe a little suspicious. My partner kept watching. After a few minutes, our neighbor’s daughter got out of the car and waved goodbye to the driver. All questions answered. This is another example of how we can usually have our curiosity about visual events satisfied while it is much more difficult to do the same with verbal events.

If you can understand this and notice stuff like this in your own life, you will probably be able to see what the value of FIML is and how and why it works so well.

Repost: Why we use the term semiotics

The reason we use the term semiotics on this site is when FIML partners do a FIML query, the data in their minds at the moment(s) in question is best described as raw semiotics. That is, it is the raw material that makes up the composite of consciousness at the moment(s) in question. This material, or data, can be sharply focused, vague, irrelevant to the subject at hand, emotional, associative, organized, disorganized, and so on. When partners get good at observing this data accurately and describing it to each other, they will find that much of it, if not all of it, is connected to a psycho-semiotic network that underlies awareness and gives rise to it. Understanding this network is extremely valuable and will provide partners with great insights into how and why they feel, think, and behave as they do. It is very difficult (and I think impossible) to understand this network through solitary pursuits only. The reason for this is a solitary mind will fool itself. In contrast, two minds working together will be able to observe this network with much greater accuracy. Language, semiotics, and emotion are fundamentally interpersonal operations, so it is reasonable to expect that deep comprehension of these operations will be best achieved through interpersonal activity.

Is nihilism the only escape from the death grip of culture?

If you read modern philosophy, it sometimes seems that culture is an iron cage and nothing can fix it or help us escape.

I do agree that cultures basically all suck after a certain point.

We need them to learn language, ideas, and many kinds of training. But beyond that they typically only stifle individual development while forcing irrational conformity to norms that are self-policed by the members of the culture itself. That’s one of the worst things about it.

But should that make us nihilists?

I don’t think so because culture only looks depressing when viewed on its own terms, as a big thing (many people) that holds together many smaller things (individual people).

Individuals can escape through FIML practice or something very similar. And this is so because FIML allows individuals to communicate with much greater accuracy than that allowed by culture itself.

That is all it takes for two people to get out or get beyond the nihilistic death grip of culture. You really have to do something to make FIML work, but it is not that hard and it is much better than the usual alternatives.

Explanations made to the self versus explanations made to others

We can make a basic division between how we explain ourselves to ourselves and how we explain ourselves to others.

Explanations we give to ourselves are typically secret and known only to us. They can be quite crude and selfish at times.

In contrast, explanations of ourselves that we give to other people are generally “nicer.” We plead our case for being a “good person” by explaining at length whatever led up to whatever thing we did that needs explaining.

Of course, we have different explanations for different other people and even different classes of other people, but for now let’s just consider the two kinds of explanations—ones given to the self and ones given to others.

These two types are a good way to explain what is meant by honesty in a FIML discussion.

Simply stated, in a FIML discussion the explanation that I give to my partner of my words or deeds should be exactly the same as the explanation I give to myself. There should be zero difference between these two types of explanation.

A refinement of the above is that if there is a difference for some reason that I do not want to go into, I must tell my partner that the difference exists though I need not say exactly what it is.

For example, I may appear upset in a way that affects my tone of voice. My partner notices and asks about it. I know (my explanation to myself) that I am mildly upset because I just remembered a disturbing event from the distant past. If I do not want to talk about that event, I can excuse myself by truthfully telling my partner that, yes, I am slightly upset but it is due to an event from a long time ago and I do not want to talk about that now.

My partner will probably understand and drop the subject. By saying what I did I was completely honest with my partner, importantly confirming her sense that I was upset. At the same time I preserved my privacy in an area where I wanted it preserved.

Exceptions to the honesty rule like the one just described should be rare for most partners. If one or both partners have large exceptions that come up often, it would be best for them to gradually begin chipping away at these topics to reduce their size and influence.

For most FIML discussions for most people, perfect honesty—perfect accord between the explanation for the self and the partner—should be doable most of the time. Remember that the basic FIML discussion deals mainly with very small things that are generally not hard to be honest about.

When FIML partners keep their private and public explanations in perfect accord, they develop a sense of trust and contentment that cannot be achieved in any other way. They will not need to spend so much time “reading” each other (and thereby making frequent serious mistakes). Instead, they will know how to communicate on much more refined levels.

Note: I wonder if some aspect of a definition of morality might be that the two explanations described above are always in perfect accord and that when they are not, we have transgressed an important moral line.

As with almost everything individual or social, the two explanations scale up and down between individuals, small groups, and large ones. Some cultures have explicit rules for explanations given within the culture and explanations given to outsiders. In the case of gangs or criminal societies, these difference can be very large and very harmful to others.

A very simple example of what FIML does

This is a simple, concrete example that is best understood as a material analogy for what happens in a FIML discussion or query.

I wanted some fresh local yogurt and we also needed some cheese. The place that sells the yogurt I like has only a few kinds of very expensive cheese.

My partner and I discussed the merits of going to the yogurt store and paying extra for cheese versus driving to a different store that has a better cheese selection but does not have the fresh yogurt.

Since the yogurt store was on the way to the cheese store, we stopped in but found that they were out of yogurt and also had no cheese.

Oh well. We went to the cheese store and got the cheese and a couple of other items we needed.

In the car we noticed that our having stopped to look for the yogurt in the yogurt store made it possible for us to dismiss that option completely from out minds. Had we not stopped, we might have wondered if we had missed a chance to get the fresh yogurt and probably would have wondered about it.

Our ability to dismiss the yogurt option and not have it be a small shadow in our minds was gained only because we had actually stopped at the yogurt store. If we had not stopped and gone only to the cheese store, we would not have known that the yogurt store didn’t even have any yogurt.

Like I said this is a very simple example.

Now, consider that instead of yogurt or cheese we are working with emotions and human perceptions. A FIML query works in a way that is analogous to stopping at the yogurt store.

Yes, it cost us some energy to stop at the store, but it saved us the energy of thinking that the yogurt was a possibility.

If instead of yogurt, I am wondering if my partner disapproves of something I said, I can ask her (stopping at the yogurt store) or refrain from asking her (not stopping).

If I ask her, it costs us both some energy, but saves me some worry and possible defensive behavior which will likely snowball and cost us even more energy.

Please put in your own emotions or concerns into this example. Isn’t it better to ask about them than not ask?

When we have many small things in our minds that we never ask anyone (including our partner), we begin living in a fantasy world or a world that is simplified to conform to simple standards made up by other people.

FIML clears up problems by catching them when they start. The FIML technique is designed to facilitate quick interventions so snowballing never gets started.

It’s not hard to do FIML if you understand what its purpose is. The hard part about doing FIML is it goes against a great deal of normal human training. Rather than ask, most of us will skip going to the yogurt store.

When we do that hundreds of times with someone, small divisions get larger and larger. When they get really big it is very hard to analyze them and we become their victims.

Repost: What is FIML and what does it do?

FIML is fundamentally a communication technique with wide-ranging implications for many other aspects of being human.

FIML removes mistakes from communications between partners. FIML reduces or eliminates neurotic feelings. FIML encourages honesty, integrity, responsibility, and many other virtues. It greatly improves communication. It transforms beliefs in a static self, a personality, an ego, or a set autobiography to a more realistic understanding of the dynamic nature of being, speaking, listening, remembering, functioning. FIML skills are useful when dealing with people other than the FIML partner. FIML greatly reduces the need to rely on external standards (public semiotics) for self-definition and/or communication. FIML elevates consciousness in the sense that FIML practice is done consciously and improvements are made in partners’ consciousnesses. FIML works directly with partners’ experiences and thus is a deeply experiential practice that generates experiential understanding.

FIML greatly supports Buddhist practice and though FIML is not specifically a traditional Buddhist teaching, it does not contradict any core Buddhist teaching. For many people, FIML may be a very good tool to use with the Dharma. This is so because FIML allows each partner to identify kleshas (mistaken interpretations) the moment they arise and to correct them with input from their partner. FIML also helps partners experience the reality of no-self, impermanence, emptiness, and dependent origination. When these truths are experienced together with a partner, both partners are able to deeply confirm the validity of their insights as both share in this confirmation. Both partners will notice kleshas being eliminated and both will be able to confirm this to each other, through explicit statements to each other and also through observations of each other.

FIML practice also helps partners understand and experience how the First and Second Noble Truths actually operate in their lives. When one partner discovers a klesha through a FIML query, they will see very clearly how their mistaken interpretation, if not corrected, could be the source of suffering. When they correct their mistake, they will see how eliminating a klesha is liberating and how it produces a bit of “enlightenment” (Third and Fourth Noble Truths).

FIML practice encourages honesty between partners and many other virtues. FIML partners will directly experience the importance of being honest with their partner and treating them with the utmost respect and integrity. This strengthens partners’ understanding of the Buddha’s teachings on morality (sila).

FIML’s emphasis on fully understanding the roles of language and semiotics supports the Buddha’s teachings on Right Speech (for language) and wisdom (for semiotics). In the Prajna Sutras, “dharmas of the mind” (laksana) very closely correspond to the modern English word semiotics as that word is used in FIML practice. By focusing on this word and concept and experiencing with a partner how semiotics affect everything we think and do, partners will gain great insight into the kind of consciousness described in the Diamond Sutra–a consciousness without the “marks” or “characteristics” (laksana, semiotics) of a self, a human being, a sentient being, or a being that takes rebirth.

FIML accomplishes most of what it does by being a technique that is called up quickly, the moment it is needed. FIML queries almost always lead to long and interesting discussions, but the basic technique must be done quickly. The moment either partner feels a klesha arising, they should stop and query their partner about what is/was in their mind. After hearing your partner’s honest answer, compare it to what you had thought. The better data from your partner should eliminate that particular klesha after a small number of its appearances. Remember, your partner’s data is better because you asked them quickly enough for them to be able to recall with great accuracy what really was in their mind during the moments you were asking them about. If you wait too long or get into long stories or theories, or become emotional, you will miss the chance to catch that klesha. When you do catch a klesha, feel good about it. That means there is one less hindrance in your mind.

Non-Buddhists will experience the same results from FIML practice as Buddhists, though their understanding of these results will be framed differently. We have discussed FIML from a non-Buddhist point of view in many other posts. Interested readers are encouraged to browse some of those posts for more on that angle.