Repost: Micro, meso, and macro levels of human understanding

This post is concerned with the micro, meso, and macro levels of existential semiotics and communicative thought, and how those levels affect human understanding.

  • Micro levels are very small units of thought or communication. These can be words, phrases, gestures, etc. and the “psychological morphemes” that accompany them. A psychological morpheme is the smallest unit of an emotional or psychological response.
  • Meso levels lie between macro and micro levels. Longer discourse, a sense that people have personalities or egos, and the basic ideas of any culture appear at this level.
  • Macro levels are the larger abstract levels that sort of stand above the other two levels. Macro levels might include religious or scientific beliefs, political ideologies, long-term personal goals or strategies.

Most people most of the time socialize on the meso level, often with support from shared macro level beliefs or aims. For most people, the broad outlines of most emotions are defined and conditioned at the meso level. This is the level where the nuts and bolts of convention are found. This is the level that tosses the beach balls of conversation back and forth across the dinner table and that defines those balls. The meso level defines our subculture and how well or badly we conform to it. The meso level is necessary for much of social life and sort of fun, though it is by definition not very detailed or profound. It is something most people can agree on and work with fairly easily for an hour or two at a time.

Many people define themselves mainly on the meso level and judge others by their understanding of this level. Many subcultures become stifling or cloying because meso definitions are crude and tend to leave out the rich subjectivity of individuals. Macro definitions are not all that different from meso ones except that they tend to define group feelings more than meso definitions. Groups band together based on macro level assumptions about ideologies, science, religion, art, style, location, ethnicity, etc.

Since most people are unable to fully access micro levels of communication the rich subjectivity of the individual mind is rarely, if ever, communicated at all and almost never communicated well.

In other fields, micro levels are all important. For example, the invention of the microscope completely changed the way humans see and understand their world. All that was added by the microscope was greater resolution and detail in the visual sphere. From that arose germ theory, material sciences, modern biology, modern medicine, and much more.

Micro levels of communication are basic to how we understand ourselves and others. Poor micro communication skills consign us to communication that occurs only at meso or macro levels. This is a problem because meso and macro levels do not have sufficient detail and also because meso and macro levels become the only tools we have to decide what is going on. When we are forced to account for micro details with the crude tools of meso thought, we will make many mistakes. Eventually we become like the long-term cigarette-smoker whose (micro) alveoli have collapsed, destroying full use of the lungs.

Without the details of the microscope, people for millennia happily drank germ infested water. Without a way to resolve micro levels of communication, people today, as in the past, happily ingest multitudes of micro error—errors that make them ill.

Micro communication errors make us sick because we make many serious mistakes on this level and also because our minds are fully capable of comprehending the sort of detail we can find at the micro level. We speak and listen on many interpersonal levels like crude beasts when we are capable of very delicate and refined understanding.

FIML or a technique similar to it provides a method for grasping micro details. Doing FIML for a long time is like spending a long time using a microscope or telescope. You will start to see everything differently. Detailed micro analyses of interpersonal communication changes our understanding of micro communication and also both the meso and macro levels of existential semiotics and communicative thought. Microscopes allowed us to see germs in water and also to understand that some of those germs can kill us.

Meaningfulness or emotional valence of semiotic cues

A new study on post traumatic stress disorder shows that PTSD sufferers actually perceive meaning or emotional valence within fractions of a second.

This study bolsters the FIML claim that “psychological morphemes” (the smallest psychological unit) arise at discrete moments and that they affect whatever is perceived or thought about afterward.

The study has profound implications for all people (and I am sure animals, too) because all of us to some degree have experienced many small and some large traumas. These traumas induce a wide variety idiosyncratic “meaning and emotional valence” that affects how we perceive events happening around us, how we react to them, and how we think about them.

The study in question—Soldiers with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder See a World Full of Threat: Magnetoencephalography Reveals Enhanced Tuning to Combat-Related Cues—is especially interesting because it compares combat veterans without PTSD to combat veterans with PTSD.

It is thus based on a clearly defined pool of people with “similar” extreme experiences and finds that:

…attentional biases in PTSD are [suggestively] linked to deficits in very rapid regulatory activation observed in healthy control subjects. Thus, sufferers with PTSD may literally see a world more populated by traumatic cues, contributing to a positive feedback loop that perpetuates the effects of trauma.

Of course all people are “traumatized” to some degree. And thus all people see “a world populated by traumatic cues, contributing to a positive feedback loop that perpetuates the effects of trauma.”

If we expand the word trauma to include “conditioned responses,” “learned responses,”  “idiosyncratic responses,” or simply “training” or “experience” and then consider the aggregate all of those responses in any particular individual, we will have a fairly good picture of what an idiosyncratic individual (all of us are that) looks like, and how an idiosyncratic individual actually functions and responds to the world.

FIML theory claims that idiosyncratic responses happen very quickly (less than a second) and that these responses can be observed, analyzed, and extirpated (if they are detrimental) by doing FIML practice. Observing and analyzing idiosyncratic responses whether they are detrimental or not serves to optimize communication between partners by greatly enhancing partners’ ranges of emotion and understanding.

In an article about the linked study (whose main author is Rebecca Todd), Alva Noë says:

…Todd’s work shows that soldiers with PTSD “process” cues associated with their combat experience differently even than other combat veterans. But what seems to be driving the process that Todd and team uncovered is the meaningfulness or emotional valence of the cues themselves. Whether they are presented in very rapid serial display or in some other way, what matters is that those who have been badly traumatized think and feel. And surely we can modify how we think and feel through conversation?

Indeed, what makes this work so significant is the way it shows that we can only really make sense of the neural phenomena by setting them in the context of the perceptual-cognitive situation of the animal and, vice-versa, that the full-import of what perceivers say and do depends on what is going on in their heads. (Source)

I fully agree with the general sense of Noë’s words, but want to ask what is your technique for “modifying how we think and feel through conversation?” And does your technique comport well with your claim, which I also agree with, that “we can only really make sense of the neural phenomena by setting them in the context of the perceptual-cognitive situation of the animal”?

I would contend that you cannot make very good “sense of neural phenomena” by just talking about them in general ways or analyzing them based on general formulas. Some progress can be made, but it is slow and not so reliable because general ways of talking always fail to capture the idiosyncrasy of the “neural phenomenon” as it is actually functioning in real-time during a real “perceptual-cognitive situation of the animal.”

The FIML technique can capture “neural phenomena” in real-time and it can capture them during real “perceptual-cognitive situations.” It is precisely this that allows FIML practice to quickly extirpate unwholesome responses, both small and large, if desired.

Since all of us are complex individuals with a multitude of interconnected sensibilities, perceptions, and responses, FIML practice does not seek to “just” remove a single post traumatic response but rather to extirpate all unwholesome responses.

Since our complex responses and perceptions can be observed most clearly as they manifest in semiotics, the FIML “conversational” technique focuses on the signs and symbols of communication, the semiotics that comprise psychological morphemes.

FIML practice is not suited for everyone and a good partner must be found for it to work. But I would expect that combat veterans with PTSD who are able to do FIML and who do it regularly with a good partner will experience a gradual reduction in PTSD symptoms leading to eventual extirpation.

The same can be said for the rest of us with our myriad and various traumas and experiences. FIML done with a good partner will find and extirpate what you don’t want knocking around in your head anymore.

Micro, meso, and macro FIML

Micro FIML practice is basic to all FIML practice.

(A description of micro FIML can be found here: How to do FIML.)

Basic or micro FIML provides a very sturdy foundation for many other kinds of interpersonal discussions. This is so because basic FIML makes partners confident that they can say what they think without fearing that their partner will significantly misunderstand them.

Why is that? The reason is if your partner interprets what you have said in a strong—and especially a negative—way, they will ask you about it. Once they have asked you, you can clarify what you meant, change it, expand on it, explain it, or do anything else you want with it as long as you are being honest.

Basic FIML covers all new clouds that appear on the horizon. If your partner speaks or communicates in a way that causes a small cloud to appear on your horizon and you have time, bring it up immediately using the basic FIML technique linked above. If you don’t have time to bring it up immediately, do it later when you do have time if the cloud is still there. Even if the cloud is gone, it can still be interesting to bring it up later because you can discuss the incident and learn more about yourselves from that. Very small incidents are often the most interesting because data points are clear and strong emotions are not likely to be aroused.

No FIML partner should ever carry around a shadow of misgiving or negativity about their partner without saying something about it. This is where meso and macro levels of FIML come into play.

Meso and macro FIML come into play when you discover that even though you have been doing basic FIML perfectly and dealt with every cloud that appeared on your horizon, still there is a shadow or haze developing in your mind.

You can’t remember when it started or how it started, but you know it is there.

If you have been doing basic FIML and are reasonably skilled in it, you should be able to bring up the matter of a gathering haze in your mind and clear it with your partner. Maybe you partner is spending too much time away from you or too close to you. Maybe you are starting to feel weird about something they keep saying. No single incident of their saying whatever it is has bothered you enough to mention it, but they keep saying it and that is getting to you. Once you notice anything like that, just bring it up and discuss it at a meso level while relying on basic micro FIML practice to steer you toward a good resolution that works for both of you.

Another example of a meso discussion might be something like: you are a bit tired, your partner says something and you respond in what seems a pleasant way to you and they respond to that in a way that seems sharp or restrictive to you. Since you are tired, you don’t do basic FIML at the right moment but instead respond sharply to what you had perceived as their sharpness.

If your partner questions you on that and/or if you notice it yourself, just do a meso FIML discussion that brings in all of the factors you are aware of. Your habit of doing basic FIML will make it much easier to have conversations on meso or macro levels than if you had never done basic FIML at all.

A macro level FIML discussion might entail a growing shift in your understanding of any macro subject—science, religion, philosophy, politics, etc.

As with meso discussions, macro discussions will be much easier and more enjoyable if partners know how to do basic FIML.

Basic FIML solves most communication problems by helping partners be honest with each other in ways that are helpful and productive without being phony. Basic FIML also helps partners sail past the many minor snags that can occur in conversations, such as quibbling over word choices, minor details, tone of voice, gestures, and so on.

This happens because basic FIML will already have provided many examples of small snags and how to overcome them. It does take some practice to get to this point, but it is not much harder than learning to sew or make pizza. Requires some work and there are better and worse results, but once you get going the benefits should be clear enough to keep you going.

In my view, FIML will not work for partners only if a misinterpretation is not addressed, not honestly addressed, or not substantially addressed from the micro level on up. If you always jump in at meso and macro levels, you will almost certainly cause more problems than you will solve.

___________________

See also: Micro, meso, and macro levels of human understanding.

Metacognition and real-time communication

Metacognition means “awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes,” or “cognition about cognition,” or “being able to think about how you think.”

To me, metacognition is a premier human ability. How can it not be a good thing to be aware of how you are aware and how you think and respond to what is around you?

In more detail:

The term “metacognition” is most often associated with John Flavell, (1979). According to Flavell (1979, 1987), metacognition consists of both metacognitive knowledge and metacognitive experiences or regulation. Metacognitive knowledge refers to acquired knowledge about cognitive processes, knowledge that can be used to control cognitive processes. Flavell further divides metacognitive knowledge into three categories: knowledge of person variables, task variables and strategy variables. (Source)

Most people do metacognition and are aware of doing it. We do it when we plan, make decisions, decide how to get from one place to another, how to relate to one person differently from another, and so on.

Where we don’t do metacognition is in real-time communication in real life, where it matters most. This is not because we are not able to do it. It is because very few of us have the right technique, Flavell’s “acquired knowledge,” that allows us to do it.

If we have the right technique, we will be able to gain a great deal of knowledge about real-time cognitive process while also learning how to control them.

FIML practice is a metacognitive practice based on, to quote the above source, “acquired knowledge about cognitive processes… that can be used to control cognitive processes.”

In the case of FIML, the “acquired knowledge” is the FIML technique which allows us to gain conscious “control over cognitive processes” of real-time interpersonal communication.

FIML is different from other analytical communication techniques in that FIML provides a method to gain control over very short or small units of communication in real-time. This is important as it is these very short real-time units that are most often ignored or not dealt with in most analyses of human communication.

If you know how to catch small mistakes, they become sources of insight and humor. If you don’t know how to catch them, they often snowball into destructive misunderstandings.

FIML is fairly easy to do if you understand the importance of correcting the minor misinterpretations that inevitably arise between people when they speak and communicate. By using the FIML metacognitive method, partners gain control over the most elusive kinds of interpersonal error which all too often lead to serious interpersonal discord.

FIML can and does do more than catch small mistakes, but first things first. If you cannot correct small errors in real-time communication, you are not doing anything even resembling thorough metacognitive communication.

Creation of meaning and human behavior

Humans create meaning because they have to.

Virtually all humans need meaning and a sense that their minds are organized or unified by meaning. The macro-meanings of religion, science, and politics are obvious examples of the sorts of “organized” or “unified” meaning people want and need.

Gangs are another type of organized meaning that unify the minds of their members.

An exceptionally cruel example of the importance of meaning can be seen in the recent story of a young man who was killed for wearing red shoes—gang colors—in the wrong neighborhood (Teen shot after refusing to give up shoes).

This story illustrates how small a bit of meaning can be and yet still elicit violent reactions.

Most people don’t do stuff like that but most people can be and often are as petty if not as violent. In so-called “polite” society a poorly expressed opinion or a deviant political stance can lead to ostracism.

People go nuts over tiny misunderstandings because practically anything can threaten their sense of meaningful unity or organization. In this vein, notice how many people are attracted to institutions that define them. Define their beliefs, values, thoughts, vocabularies, semiotics, even their hairdos and clothes.

In FIML practice, partners also often deal with small bits of meaning. But rather than fight over them or accept them as definitions of anything, partners analyze them and work to understand how those bits of meaning are functioning, what they are doing. A FIML analysis is a process that works toward shared understanding rather than a static—even a programmed—response that is often instinctual, if not violent.

If you take meaning for granted—your uniform, candidate, religion, ethnicity—you will be owned and used by it or by the people who created it, often before you were born. In contrast, if you analyze meaning you will own it and be able to use it freely and as you choose.

While riding in the car, I spoke with my partner about the ideas expressed above. She thought for a moment and said, “You know how if a parasite kills its host quickly it is a sign that it is a recently evolved parasite?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, isn’t what you’re saying similar? Those hunks of cultural meaning have been around for centuries. They are like successful parasites that condition the behaviors of millions of people at a time.”

“Nice,” I said.

“FIML is recent and it may not survive because it is hard to pass on to others. It’s not a parasite, though. It frees us from the parasitism of convention. It doesn’t allow us to get locked in.”

Stress voice

Humans are semiotic animals that respond to human signals as primary percepta.

Some obvious examples are sex in advertising, pictures of hamburgers, people enjoying a natural view from a balcony in a hotel brochure. Each of these relies on an “instinct”—sex, hunger, an animal’s response to nature—while at the same time signaling a complex human contribution to the basic signal.

Another type of human signal that arouses instinct is tone of voice. A good example of this is the “stress” or “alarm” voice that is used by most if not all mammals and birds.

The basic instinctive stress or alarm voice is a shriek. If words are used, the shrieking tone will be accompanied by rapidly spoken words—“stop! stop! stop!” or “Watch out! it’s falling” or “get down! get down!” etc.

In basic situations involving real danger, the alarm voice is very important. We definitely want to have both the voice and the sudden energized response it draws from us.

In many situations, though, the stress voice can cause problems when it arises due to simple miscommunication. For example, I say or do something different from what you asked or implied and it causes you—virtually involuntarily—to use an alarmed tone that involves a bit of a shriek and rapid words.

For example, you asked me to cut some mushrooms for a broth we are making. What you meant is you want the mushrooms to go into the clear broth after it has been made but I toss them into the pot with the chicken bones and vegetable scraps that will be strained and thrown away.

When you first see what I have done, you experience slight confusion, even cognitive dissonance, and say in an alarmed voice, “What are you doing with the mushrooms?”

In turn, I respond directly to your stress voice and to the now evident miscommunication with my own confusion and stress voice, “I thought you wanted them in the broth!”

If we are friends, this minor contretemps will probably be easily overcome and we may even laugh about it. If we have had many unresolved contretemps of this type, however, one or both of us may escalate the problem by being accusatory or even abusive.

Even though the mushroom contretemps is very simple and insignificant, it can still be dangerous even between good friends because this type of contretemps can quickly get blown out of proportion due to the primal, instinctive quality of the stress voice.

Similar problem situations might be miscommunicated directions while driving or working, messed up meeting times, or getting the wrong thing from the store.

These problems are generally easy to resolve, though they may still generate discord or stress both because a confusing miscommunication happened and also because the stress or alarm voice just is that way; it causes stress or alarm in and of itself.

If you can see and deal with concrete situations such as the ones described above, imagine how similar situations may arise in less concrete forms and how they can be even more dangerous and lead to even more serious problems.

Miscommunicated emotional, sexual, psychological, or intellectual signals can also give rise to primal stress or alarm tones and, in turn, generate further stress and alarm. Contretemps like these can be much harder to pinpoint, analyze, and understand than simpler ones involving concrete communication about mushrooms or directions.

In FIML practice, if partners can mutually understand a few concrete contretemps and how and why they generate stress and confusion and use these forms as basic paradigms for more complex contretemps, they will go a long way toward removing stress and confusion that is entirely blameless, unconscious, unmotivated, and unintended by either of them.

The ambiguous commons and human culture

In a post some months ago, I introduced the idea of an “ambiguous commons,” a region of shared public meaning that is both central to any and all cultures and inherently vague.

I think it is fair to say that virtually all human communication takes place in and around an “ambiguous commons,” a common area of meaning that can be variously interpreted and is liable to always be ambiguous. (Source same as above)

All cultural meaning arises through the communicative interactions of the members of that culture.

The ambiguous commons is defined  by (and provides definition to) a dynamic push-and-push-back of the members of the community. This is a never-ending dynamic, even a struggle, that members of the community engage in as long as they live.

There is rarely, if ever, any clear resolution of meaning because common meaning is constantly changing due to the dynamic forces of many communicants.

I am speaking less about big ideas (though it is much the same for them) as the smaller ideas of individuals who interact with other individuals. Your sense of my responsibilities may be different from mine, thus causing a push-and-push-back to occur between us should we require a definition of responsibility in any given situation.

The same can be said for any other cultural value, sign, or concept. My notion of justice will be different from yours in some situations, as will your sense of fairness be different from mine.

Since it is frequently difficult for people to resolve differing interpretations of the ambiguous commons, emotions or status claims often come into play. The emotions that arise in commons disputes can be remarkably childish or primitive, and the same can be said of status jockeying.

Strongly asserted primitive emotions, not clarity of thought or reason, frequently will win the game of defining whatever the issue is. (This also shows that for people, human communicative semiotics are primary percepta and that humans tend to react to them through the “natural” “instincts” of fear, violence, warmth, aggression, congregation, etc.)

For example, if person A says that person B is arrogant, person B is somewhat obligated to respond. B might accept the accusation and apologize or B might push back, either defensively or aggressively. If B declines to do anything, it is a sign that B has left the commons and no longer shares or wants to share that aspect of the commons with person A.

In the abstract, both A and B may use the word “responsibility” in similar ways and appear to mean the same thing. When the rubber meets the road, however, and A disapproves of B’s sense of responsibility in a particular situation, a squabble over their shared common meaning often will ensue.

Either party may attempt to enlist others to their side and so on.

When people do FIML practice, since their capacity for apprehending shared meaning is much better than those who do not, disputes in and around the ambiguous commons will be much less common. Differences will still arise, but they will be much easier to settle since emotional pushing-and-pushing-back is no longer needed to arrive at shared definitions and interpretations.

FIML is not fundamentally about speaking in (fake) nice tones and having (limited) good manners or manifesting (stock) respect. FIML is about removing ambiguity from the meanings shared by partners. FIML partners have still been raised in cultures that function through ambiguous commons, but between themselves there is much less ambiguity and much less need to assert a position by emotional force.

The limits of general semiotic analyses as applied to human psychology

Much of the work done in human semiotics involves analyses of semiotic codes.

Semiotics and semiotic codes are often treated like language or languages for which a grammar can be found.

One obvious problem with this sort of approach is semiotics indicates a set that is much broader than language. Stated another way, language is a subset of semiotics.

Human semiotics also include music, imagery, gesture, facial expression, emotion, and anything else that can communicate either within one mind or between two or more minds.

It is very helpful to analyze semiotic codes and it is very helpful to try to figure out how cultures, groups, and individuals use them. We can compare the semiotics of heroism in Chinese culture to that of French culture. Or the semiotics of gift-giving in American culture to that of Mexican culture. We can analyze movies, literature, science, and even engineering based on semiotic codes we have abstracted out of them.

We can do something similar for human psychology.

Analyses of this type are, in my view, general in that they involve schema or paradigms or grammars that say general things about how semiotic systems work or how individuals (or semiotic signs themselves) fit into those systems.

This is all good and general analyses of this sort can be indispensable aids to understanding.

General semiotic analyses are limited, however, in their application to human psychology because such analyses cannot effectively grasp the semiotic codes of the individual. Indeed general analyses are liable to conceal individual codes and interpretations more than usefully reveal them.

This is so because all individuals are always complex repositories of many general semiotic codes as well as many individual ones. And these codes are always changing, responding, being conditioned by new circumstances and many kinds of feedback.

Individuals as repositories of many codes, both external and internal, are complex and always changing and there is no general analysis that will ever fully capture that complexity.

For somewhat similar reasons, no individual acting alone can possibly perform a self-analysis that captures the full complexity of the many and always-changing semiotic codes that exist within them.

Self-analysis is far too subject to selection bias, memory, and even delusion to be considered accurate or objective. The individual is also far too complex for the individual to grasp alone. How can an individual possibly stand outside itself and see itself as it is? Where would the extra brain-space come from?

How can a system of complex semiotic codes use yet another code to successfully analyze itself?

Clearly, no individual human semiotic system can ever fully know itself.

To recap, 1) there is no general semiotic analysis that will ever capture the complexity of individual psychology, and 2) no individual acting alone can ever capture the complexity of the semiotic codes that exist within them.

Concerning point two, we could just as well say that no individual acting alone can ever capture the complexity of their own psychology.

We are thus prevented from finding a complex analysis of human psychology through a general analysis of semiotics and also through an individual’s self-analysis when acting alone.

This suggests, however, that two individuals acting together might be able to glimpse, if not grasp, how their complex semiotic codes are actually functioning when they interact with each other. If two individuals working together can honestly observe and discuss moments of dynamic real-time semiotic interaction between them, they should be able to begin to understand how their immensely complex and always-changing psycho-semiotic codes are actually functioning.

An approach of this type ought to work better for psychological understanding of the individuals involved than any mix of general semiotic analyses applied to them. Indeed, prefabricated, general semiotic analyses will tend to conceal the actual functioning of the idiosyncratic semiotics and semiotic codes used by those individuals.

The FIML method does not apply a general semiotic analysis to human psychology. Rather it uses a method or technique to allow two individuals working together to see and understand how their semiotics and semiotic codes are actually functioning.

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.

Mindfulness and FIML

Here is one definition of mindfulness from the Buddha himself:

And what, monks, is the faculty of mindfulness? Herein, monks, a noble disciple is mindful and is endowed with the highest prudence in mindfulness; he is one who remembers and recollects even what is done or said long ago. This, monks, is called the faculty of mindfulness.

— S V 197 (Source)

This short film illustrates another definition of mindfulness:

Mindfulness can mean many things, but central to the definition is deep and abiding awareness of what is actually going on, what is actually being thought and perceived, what is being said and what is being heard. Buddhists practice basic mindfulness in ways shown in the film, but we can also be mindful of how we communicate, how we listen and how we speak.

How can we be mindful of how we listen and speak? One way is to pay attention to ourselves. But if we only pay attention to ourselves, we will become solipsists or narcissists. We can also pay attention to others, but how do we normally do that?

Most people pay attention to others by using heuristics as Anderson Cooper does in the film linked above. He is very sophisticated, smooth, pleasant, and surely a good listener. But what that really is is an act, a professional mixture of American semiotics and American heuristics, slightly individualized in Cooper.

Cooper is not deeply aware of the people he is interviewing, though he may be moved by what they say. At best, he can only be aware of what he hears and how he interprets that. Similarly, the mindfulness master in the film, Jon Kabat-Zinn, is not a mind-reader. He cannot be any more deeply aware of others than Cooper can, or than others can of him. Yes, some people have more life experience or are smarter than others, but this only increases their deep awareness a little bit, if that. It might even lead them to worse deep awareness.

The only way to be deeply aware of another person—to be deeply mindful of what they are saying or hearing—is to ask them. And the only way to do that deeply is to do FIML.

If you just ask in the usual ways and they just answer, you will experience an exchange like the one in the film. Interesting, but there is no profound subjective data coming from either Cooper or Kabat-Zinn.

If we rely exclusively on cultural heuristics like those in the film to interact with our closest friends, we will succeed in interacting with them solely on that level*. And when we are restricted to that level, as most of us are, we cannot be deeply mindful of any other human being.

We can be mindful of what they are wearing what we think they said or meant or felt, but not them. Only FIML gives us deep access, mindful access, to others. And in the sense that how we communicate with others affects how we communicate with ourselves—how we understand ourselves—we can only become deeply aware of ourselves if we practice FIML with at least one other person. FIML might even be called “dynamic mindfulness.”

______________________

* Adding quantity—many exchanges with another person—does not fix the problem. Your relationship will look and feel more complex, but it still is not one characterized by deep awareness.

Repost: Idiotics and mental illnes

In a previous post (here), we defined idiotics to mean a combination of “idio” and “semiotics.” A person’s idiotics are unique to them and are not the same as the idioitcs of any other person.

Idiotics is a useful term as it allows us to denote the tangled web of meaning and symbology that underlies language and is woven into everything we say or do.

When there is no organic cause for mental illness, we would be right to strongly suspect that the source of the “illness” lies in the individual’s idiotics—the unique web of meaning and sensibility that gives rise to their perceptions, communicative acts, and self-awareness.

Since idiotics underlie language, cognition, and perception and give rise to virtually all acts of communication, a person with disturbed idiotics will also show disturbances in these areas.

Why do we need a separate term—idiotics—to describe mental/emotional problems when existing terms already work well enough?

The reason is the core problem in mental illness without an organic cause is not speech, not communication, not perception, and not cognition. The core problem is a person’s uniquely acquired and uniquely interconnected semiotics, their idiotics when these are  filled with mistakes.

If we investigate only a person’s experience and extrapolate from that “causes” of their mental illness, we will very often be led astray because we will be attempting to cure a fairly concrete malady by addressing the ambiguities of memory and the falsity of self-assessment through the use of a subjective appraisal based on a general theory. It doesn’t matter that vague statistics can and have been compiled on what kinds of experiences lead to what sorts of mental disturbances, because there are as many exceptions and deviations from these data as there are comformances to them. At best, data of this sort describes correlations. But correlations of what? No one can really say.

If we use a concept like idiotics, we can begin to work with good data that can be called objective by many standards. The gold standard for working with data of this sort is FIML practice and the gold standard of psychological objectivity between two people is the degree to which they can agree on what has just been said or communicated. If both partners agree on what was just said, their standard of objectivity is quite high, probably as good as can be achieved without very sophisticated brain scanning equipment, which does not yet even exist.

When a patient works with a professional analyst, this high degree of objectivity cannot be attained. This is so because the analyst, at best, can only rely on an extrinsic standard of objectivity and this standard is fully subject to the faulty idiotics of the analyst herself. If an analyst tries to avoid this problem by sticking strictly to “objective” extrinsic standards, she will fail to address the subjective, intrinsic idiotics of the patient she is trying to help. She can only communicate with her patient on a useful level by engaging the patient’s idiotics with her own. But there rarely is enough time for this and it is unlikely that patient and analyst will be compatible for this sort of practice.

So what’s an analyst to do? If the patient has a friend they can do FIML with or if such a friend can be found for them, teach them how to do FIML. Check on them often enough to be sure they are doing it correctly. In some cases, advanced instruction can be given in areas of particular interest to the FIML partners if the analyst feels competent to do so.

What about patients who have no friends and for whom no friends can be found? Or patients who are not capable of doing FIML? Patients of this type can and should be treated by the other best practices of the day.

Linguistics and psychology meet in FIML

FIML is a practical technique that optimizes communication between partners by removing as much micro ambiguity as possible during real-time interpersonal communication.

FIML will also greatly improve meso and macro understanding between partners and discussions of these levels are of significant importance and cannot be ignored, but the basic FIML technique rests on micro analysis of real-time communication. Please see this post for more on this topic: Micro, meso, and macro levels of human understanding.

Real-time micro communication means communication within just a few seconds. If we are reading we can focus on a word or phrase and think about it as long as we like. If we are listening to someone speak, however, we normally cannot stop them to analyze deeply a particular word choice, a particular expression, a particular tone of voice, or anything else that happens rapidly.

This missing piece in the puzzle of interpersonal communication is of great—I would argue massive—importance because huge mistakes can be and often are made in a single moment.

FIML practice corrects this problem. In other posts we have referred to psychological morphemes, which we have defined as:

The smallest meaningful unit of a psychological response. It is the smallest unit of communication that can give rise to an emotional, psychological, or cognitive reaction.

The theory of FIML claims that psychological morphemes arise quickly and if they are not checked or analyzed can have massive influence on how people hear and think from that point on. This is why the practice of FIML focuses greatly on the initial arising or manifestation of a psychological morpheme. The morpheme may be habitual, having origins in the distant past, or it may have first arisen in the moment just before the FIML query that seeks to understand it.

The important point is that the person in whom the psychological morpheme has arisen, or has just begun to arise, realizes than it has arisen due to something that seems to have originated in the other person, their FIML partner.

This is the reason a basic FIML query is begun—because one partner notices a psychological morpheme arising within and wants to be sure it is correctly based on objective data shared with the partner. If the partner honestly denies the interpretation of the inquirer (who need not say why they are inquiring), then the inquirer will know that the morpheme that has arisen in their mind is baseless, a mistake. By stopping that mistake, they further stop a much larger mistaken psychological or emotional response from taking hold in their mind.

The stopping of a much larger mistaken psychological or emotional response from taking hold in the mind is the point at which FIML practice greatly influences psychological well-being. If we can see from the honest answers of a trusted partner that some of our most basic emotional responses are not justified—are mistakes—we will in most cases experience a rapid extinction of those responses.

In some cases of deep-seated mistaken interpretations, we may need to hear many times that we are mistaken, but extinction will follow just as surely even though it takes longer. FIML can’t cure everything but a great many people who are now dissatisfied or suffering with their emotional or psychological conditions will benefit from FIML practice. With the help of a trusted FIML partner it is easier to extinguish mistaken interpretations than it may seem upon fist hearing of this technique.

In addition to the above, FIML practice itself is interesting and will lead to many enjoyable discussions. Furthermore, FIML practice can also find and extinguish dangerous positive mistaken interpretations. A positive mistaken interpretation is one that feels good but that can lead to dangerous or harmful actions due to overconfidence, false assumptions, and so on.

FIML cannot remove all ambiguity between partners. That may be possible one day with advanced brain scans, but I suspect that even then ambiguity will still be part of our emotional lives. FIML can, however, remove enough ambiguity between partners that they will feel much more satisfied with themselves and with how they communicate with each other. When micro mistakes are largely removed from interpersonal communication, meso and macro emotions and behaviors will no longer be undermined by corrosive subjective states that cannot be analyzed objectively or productively.

What we can and cannot access

  • There is external speaking/listening that we can access
  • There is external speaking/listening that we cannot access
  • There is internal speaking/listening that we can access
  • There is internal speaking/listening that we cannot access

It is generally accepted that humans can comprehend things more than they can speak about them. That is, we can work with or get more information from listening than we can actively speak about. We have much greater access to what we receive (hear, read) than what we can output (speak, write).

For example, even though I am not a professional historian, I will be able to listen to a lecture about the Civil War and understand all or most of what I am hearing, but after the lecture I will only be able to output or speak about some parts of it. Another example is second language learners who are virtually always able to comprehend more than they can say. Another example is we can watch someone do something as they explain it, say cook a complex recipe, and understand what they are doing and saying but not be able to do it or explain it ourselves.

These are examples of external speech that we can access through hearing but cannot access as well through speaking. I can understand what you are saying but am not able to explain it to someone else.

An example of external speech that we cannot access through hearing is a very difficult lecture or book on a subject we know nothing about, say higher math or chemistry. Another example might be explaining to an old person how to use a computer if they have never used one before. Even as they try to grasp it, you can see they don’t really understand it well at all.

A more interesting example of external speech that we cannot access well might be the speech of someone who is willing to speak more openly about subjective states than we are. We can hear what they are saying but may not fully comprehend it because we don’t have a model for it. What they are saying may sound weird or inappropriate or even threatening when the truth is they are simply more used to hearing about subjective states and thus more able to speak about them.

These last points are crucial. We can only listen to and deeply comprehend things we have already heard about before. We don’t need to have all the details but we do need to have some sort of general concept of what the person is saying. In this same vein, we can only speak deeply about things we have already heard about, whether through external speech or internal speech. We can listen to others, or read their work (external speech), and from that learn how to communicate their ideas to others. Or we can listen to ourselves, to our internal speech, and from that learn how to communicate our ideas to others.

If a person has no experience—neither external nor internal—with listening to speech about subjective states, they will not be able to speak about their own subjective states and may hardly realize they even have subjective states. If they hear a little external speech about subjective states and do a little internal speaking about them, they will only be able to grasp subjective states to roughly that degree.

In an earlier post (Micro, meso, and macro levels of human understanding), I discussed how most people in the world do not have access to micro levels of understanding of themselves or others. This lack of access to both listening and speaking about micro semiotics forces almost everyone everywhere to confine their speaking and listening to meso and macro levels.

We get our meso and macro levels from TV, media, religion, education, general psychology, etc. But no matter how erudite you are in those media and styles of understanding, you will almost certainly still be highly deficient in micro semiotics. That is, you will not have wide access to or understanding of your own subjectivity because you cannot access micro levels and speak about them. To say nothing of understanding the subjectivity of others.

Repost: Micro, meso, and macro levels of human understanding

This post is concerned with the micro, meso, and macro levels of existential semiotics and communicative thought, and how those levels affect human understanding.

  • Micro levels are very small units of thought or communication. These can be words, phrases, gestures, etc. and the “psychological morphemes” that accompany them. A psychological morpheme is the smallest unit of an emotional or psychological response.
  • Meso levels lie between macro and micro levels. Longer discourse, a sense that people have personalities or egos, and the basic ideas of any culture appear at this level.
  • Macro levels are the larger abstract levels that sort of stand above the other two levels. Macro levels might include religious or scientific beliefs, political ideologies, long-term personal goals or strategies.

Most people most of the time socialize on the meso level, often with support from shared macro level beliefs or aims. For most people, the broad outlines of most emotions are defined and conditioned at the meso level. This is the level where the nuts and bolts of convention are found. This is the level that tosses the beach balls of conversation back and forth across the dinner table and that defines those balls. The meso level defines our subculture and how well or badly we conform to it. The meso level is necessary for much of social life and sort of fun, though it is by definition not very detailed or profound. It is something most people can agree on and work with fairly easily for an hour or two at a time.

Many people define themselves mainly on the meso level and judge others by their understanding of this level. Many subcultures become stifling or cloying because meso definitions are crude and tend to leave out the rich subjectivity of individuals. Macro definitions are not all that different from meso ones except that they tend to define group feelings more than meso definitions. Groups band together based on macro level assumptions about ideologies, science, religion, art, style, location, ethnicity, etc.

Since most people are unable to fully access micro levels of communication the rich subjectivity of the individual mind is rarely, if ever, communicated at all and almost never communicated well.

In other fields, micro levels are all important. For example, the invention of the microscope completely changed the way humans see and understand their world. All that was added by the microscope was greater resolution and detail in the visual sphere. From that arose germ theory, material sciences, modern biology, modern medicine, and much more.

Micro levels of communication are basic to how we understand ourselves and others. Poor micro communication skills consign us to communication that occurs only at meso or macro levels. This is a problem because meso and macro levels do not have sufficient detail and also because meso and macro levels become the only tools we have to decide what is going on. When we are forced to account for micro details with the crude tools of meso thought, we will make many mistakes. Eventually we become like the long-term cigarette-smoker whose (micro) alveoli have collapsed, destroying full use of the lungs.

Without the details of the microscope, people for millennia happily drank germ infested water. Without a way to resolve micro levels of communication, people today, as in the past, happily ingest multitudes of micro error—errors that make them ill.

Micro communication errors make us sick because we make many serious mistakes on this level and also because our minds are fully capable of comprehending the sort of detail we can find at the micro level. We speak and listen on many interpersonal levels like crude beasts when we are capable of very delicate and refined understanding.

FIML or a technique similar to it provides a method for grasping micro details. Doing FIML for a long time is like spending a long time using a microscope or telescope. You will start to see everything differently. Detailed micro analyses of interpersonal communication changes our understanding of micro communication and also both the meso and macro levels of existential semiotics and communicative thought. Microscopes allowed us to see germs in water and also to understand that some of those germs can kill us.

FIML can’t do everything

FIML handles micro-analyses of real-time communication extremely well. In doing this it also reveals to partners how long-standing misinterpretations are affecting their perceptions of self and other(s).

FIML cannot catch everything though. Some misinterpretations begin in a small haze and may never be questioned again.

A concrete example of this type of misinterpretation happened a few days ago. My partner and I were talking about her past. At one point she mentioned that she had taken a prescribed drug for a few weeks to stop the condition we had been discussing.

I casually and almost without noticing it assumed that the drug she had taken was a “psych med” of some sort. After a few days, I noticed that I had formed a vague impression of her during the time she took the drug as being more seriously bothered by her (very minor) condition than she actually was.

So I asked her about it and she replied that it had not been a psych med and that she had never had emotional problems concerning her mild condition. I explained to her how I had come to my conclusion, which was vague but still something I actually had believed.

We discussed the matter for a few minutes and decided that it is a good example of a type of mistake that FIML cannot uncover the moment it arises. FIML works best at uncovering mistakes that are emotionally charged. Her psych med reference was not emotionally charged for me (or her) so my wrong assumption went under my FIML radar.

Mistakes of this type are not always going to be so concrete. If they concern emotions and/or a sense of what something was like for someone, this sort of mistake can be nebulous and dangerously elusive.

For example, if my partner’s story had been told differently and meds had not been part of it, I might easily have mistakenly concluded that she had been unhappy, anxious, or depressed during that period of time. Then that mistake might have gone on to affect how I understand her today. It may have made me think that she is more fragile than she is or that her past is more of a burden to her than it is. None of that would have been true though.

FIML practice can help discover mistakes like this because FIML makes us understand with great clarity how dubious our impressions of others can be, even if we are very close to them. FIML also makes it easier to correct and discuss mistakes of this type as the mechanics of a FIML-type discussion provide many useful tools.

FIML can’t always catch everything though, so partners would do well to search their minds from time to time to see if they can find any false assumptions they may be holding about one other.