Buddhism and ethical signalling

Buddhism is very much a system of ethics. Buddhist practice is founded on the Five Precepts of refraining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and the irresponsible use of alcohol.

In most Buddhist traditions, these precepts are often taught as if they were fundamental to the workings of the universe. But how can morality be fundamental to the workings of the universe? Why does morality even matter to human beings?

If we think of a human being as a signalling system, we may be able to show that ethical thoughts and behavior are of fundamental importance to the system itself.

Human signalling systems signal internally, within themselves, and externally, toward other people. Our most important signalling system is the one we share with that person who is most important to us, our mate or best friend. Let’s confine our discussion to this sort of primary signalling system.

If I lie to my partner or cheat her, I may gain something outside of our shared signaling system, but that signalling system will suffer. And when that shared system suffers, my own internal signalling system will also suffer because it will contain errors. It will no longer be in its optimal state. Similarly, if she lies to me or cheats me, our mutual signalling system will become less than optimal as will both of our individual, or internal, signalling systems.

My own signalling system cannot grow or become optimal without my partner treating me with the best ethical behavior she can muster. And the same is true for her with respect to me. And we both know this.

We would be good to each other anyway, but it is helpful to see that our being good to each other has a very practical foundation—it assures us optimal performance of our mutual and internal signalling systems.

FIML practice is designed to provide partners with a clear and reasonably objective means to communicate honestly with each other. FIML practice will gradually optimize communication between partners by making it much clearer and more honest. In doing this, it will also optimize the operations of their mutual and individual signalling systems.

To my knowledge, there is nothing like FIML in any Buddhist tradition. But if I try to read FIML into the tradition, I may be able to find something similar in the way monks traveled together in pairs for much of the year. I don’t know what instructions the Buddha may have given them or how they spoke to each other, but it may be that they did a practice with each other similar to FIML practice.

In any case, if we view human being as a signalling system, we may be able to claim that clear signalling—that is, ethical signalling—is fundamental to the optimization of that system.


First posted 02/03/13, revised 09/25/17

Conscious of what?

A primary question about consciousness is “conscious of what?”

What if your consciousness is based on an error?

If you become conscious of the error, you will most likely correct it and thus change your consciousness.

Metacognition is a word that is sometimes used in place of “consciousness.”

Metacognition implies awareness of how our consciousness is functioning.

Buddhist mindfulness can be defined as “active metacognition.” This implies awareness of what is in our consciousness, what the elements of its functioning are in the moment.

Buddhist practice assume that if while being mindful we perceive error in our consciousness, we will correct the error.

Metacognition requires “self-awareness” or “awareness of the functioning of consciousness.” It seems that most people do this better than most animals in most situations.

Metacognition or mindfulness requires training or practice. But training and practice can also be wrong, based on wrong views.

Many forms of selfhood are based on wrong views.

Right mindfulness is used to perceive these mistakes and correct them.

For example, a person can be trained to have an identity. They can practice having this identity and learn the emotions that go along with it.

With wrong training and practice an identity can become explosive, violent, crazy.

This is a major part of what is meant by delusion in Buddhism, having a wrong view about your identity.

Notice, that a person can have a very wrong identity and be fully conscious of it and the world around them without realizing their identity is wrong.


Related subjects:

Re-representing consciousness: dissociations between experience and meta-consciousness

Consciousness Goes Deeper Than You Think

There Is an ‘Unconscious,’ but It May Well Be Conscious

Transcendental experiences during meditation practice

Foundations of psychology: what they should be

Human psychology should be separated into two basic categories:

  • biological
  • experiential

Biological psychology can be either good or bad. It includes the psychological effects of genes, brain health, health of perceptual and other organs, trauma or its absence, disease, extreme experiences that profoundly affect how the brain and body function at biological levels, etc.

Experiential psychology can also be either good or bad. It includes acculturation, training, childhood development, education, parenting, interpersonal experience, language use, and so on.

These two categories are often mixed together. This affects how we understand psychology and how we treat it or deal with it.

In this post, I am going to ignore biological psychology.

The foundation of experiential psychology should completely recognize and be based on the fact that virtually all human psychological interactions are fraught with error.

After years of studying and doing FIML, I am 100% convinced that human psychological communication is so fraught with error that the very foundation of human experiential psychology as it is recognized in the DSM, in academia, and in culture generally is rotten.

Another way to say that is we don’t even know what human psychology is because virtually all experiential psychology is a dysfunctional mess due to the presence of massive amounts of experiential error in all people, including psychologists.

Our brains are working overtime with deeply erroneous psychological data, producing terrible results.

We cannot correctly understand the human body if all of our specimens are riddled with parasites and disease. Similarly, how can we study human psychology if the data being processed by the brain (and body) are riddled with error?

Even if you have never studied FIML, you should be able to see that humans in the privacy of their own minds are like little zoos filled with shadowy monsters that have arisen due to the plethora of error each and every individual has experienced.

Human responses to these shadowy monsters are varied—some act on them, some fear them, some hide them, some expose them.

But few escape them because you cannot escape them by yourself. Those monsters arise out of decades of communication error and they will not go away until the communication errors have been removed.

You cannot remove those errors in normal psychotherapy. A therapist can only show a client what they are and how they arise, if that.

The client must remove them through a practice like FIML.


First published April 7, 2016. Revised today.

Child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church: an interpretive review of the literature and public inquiry reports

13 Sep 2017

Centre for Global Research (RMIT)
Desmond Cahill, Peter J. Wilkinson

This research was designed to review the literature concerning child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Australia and elsewhere, and included 26 key international and Australian inquiry reports.

Download available here.

I have not even looked at the report yet but news articles say celibacy and a culture of secrecy are major causes of the problem. ABN


How to evaluate something you don’t know

A fascinating post by Robin Hanson—We Add Near, Average Far—describes some of the difficulty of presenting an idea like FIML to an Internet audience.

The problem is lots of detail and many bits of evidence make it difficult for people to evaluate the overall worth of a complex idea because people tend to evaluate information of that type by averaging the data rather than adding it up.

Should we just say that FIML will make you and your partner smarter and happier? Maybe we should when discussing it online, though of course, we won’t do that.

In person, we have found people quite receptive, but that is probably due to the same effect—in person we focus on one or two results of FIML practice and we only do that if people show interest.

I think Buddhism probably has a similar problem getting it’s message across through books or film. You really have to go to a temple or spend time with people who understand the Dharma to want to take on Buddhism as a way of thinking or living.

Up close and personal, most of us realize that we live in a very complex world and that our capacities for understanding our conditions cannot be taken for granted. But when it comes to learning how to hone or augment our skills for dealing with speech and symbolic communication, we tend to look for simple answers, or abstract ones, that do not include the kinds of detail we must pay attention to. Broad extrinsic theories that provide a general picture without essential detail—and these are everywhere in psychology, religion, sociology, the humanities—simply cannot do for you what a technique like FIML can because FIML is entirely based on the actual data of your actual life, and there is a great deal of that.

I do understand why it is hard to see this. At the same time, I wonder why it is so obvious in the physical sciences and engineering that we can’t do anything properly if we don’t make sure of our data.

Why should the humanities be different? We simply cannot communicate well or understand ourselves well without good data. FIML provides damn good data.


First posted 10/2/2012

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.


First potsed on July 9, 2015