Thoughts hidden by subjective phrases

After years of clearing up my mind, I noticed that my inner voice sometimes uses short phrases to bring negative trains of thought to an end. It was a habit I was aware of but had never given any thought to.

The phrases are not pretty; e.g. “I hate them all,” “fuck them,” “who cares about assholes like that,” etc.

My guess is this kind of inner speech is not uncommon. I was using it to end various lines of thought that had wandered into subjective territory pertaining to something in the past, something that had affected me negatively. Something I didn’t want to think about.

Having a clearer mind today or at least believing I did, I decided that when phrases or words like that came up again, I would not let them shut off my thoughts as I had been doing. Rather I would let the thoughts continue, explore what was there.

What I found is a bunch of old memories and emotions that were fairly easy to clean up. They were not so much repressed as not having been visited for many years. The nasty phrases were like labels in a filing cabinet.

About half the material was out of date and easy to toss. Another one-quarter was pertinent but was stuff I had dealt with in other ways and was thus redundant.

Only about a quarter of the material lying behind those nasty phrases deserved more thought.

In some cases, I realized that I was letting someone off too easy by hiding their behavior within a general memory. They actually had been horrible but I had been too young to understand (narcissists, for example). Analyzing that stuff over again in a more mature mind was and is a bit of a chore, but has not been too difficult.

The process is still ongoing. It does resemble cleaning an attic or a filing cabinet. The stuff I found behind those subjective phrases was not all the stuff from my past. It was just stuff where I was blaming someone or feeling angry about something or had been harmed by someone. The bad stuff I’ve done is elsewhere in my mind.

I am struck by several things concerning those phrases and what lay behind them. One is a lot of that material dates back to childhood and early adulthood. It was not so much unconscious as not having been visited for a long time. It had and has no significant power over me; it was just stuff that had been ignored. I also notice that it was just a few words that closed off those “files.” The power of words.

I had been dismissing all that material with just a few words whenever I didn’t feel like going there, which was every time. After not going there for many years, it was surprisingly refreshing to poke around and rearrange those parts of my mind. I am quite sure I freed up some memory space and removed some snags in my thinking by dealing with that stuff.

I see our minds as having a structure sort of similar to language or a forest. Trees of ideas, memories, and feelings grow and change. It’s good to remove some of them sometimes, put the space to better use. Buddhist practice is very helpful in endeavors like this. Rather than get all worked up with Freudian passions and delusions, we can simply observe, dismiss, refile, erase, upgrade, or reimagine as needed based on our capacities and understanding of what’s best.

Our bhavanga or storehouse consciousness contains memories, pictures, ideas, words. They flow along with us, in many ways are us. When the mind is clear, a lot of that material can be rearranged for the better. There aren’t many rules for that. Just do your best.

Some basic benefits of FIML practice

  • FIML clears up communication problems in the moment (at the time they occur and just afterward) while establishing a valuable precedent for clearing up future problems, which are inevitable.
  • FIML helps partners see their own neuroses (mistaken interpretations) and understand how those neuroses operate in their lives during a real moment of their lives. Each basic FIML discussion is based on a real problem identified by one or both partners.
  • Being able to efficiently and effectively fix real problems as they occur gives partners a sense of confidence and joy.
  • If only one partner had a problem with something, both partners still benefit because the second partner will come to understand how the first hears or speaks and why. Partners will increase their understandings of each other as well as of language, semiotics, communication, emotion, psychology, etc.
  • Each FIML discussion can be extended into other fields (history, science, art, Buddhism, etc.) as much as partners want. This helps both partners increase their awareness of how the large “net” of cultural semiotics is put together and where they stand in relation to it.
  • Each FIML discussion forms a basis, or can serve as an example, for the next discussion. After a single neurosis has been identified a few times, partners will learn to recognize it immediately and deal with it very quickly.
  • Fixing one neurosis increases confidence and skill, making it easier to fix the next or to deepen discussions to include other kinds of psychological material.
  • Once partners are reasonably skilled at FIML, they will find they are able to deal with a much broader range of subjects because they have communication techniques that allow them to quickly overcome misunderstandings.
  • Once the skills are developed, FIML discussions are a lot of fun. In many ways, there is nothing more interesting.
  • FIML practice greatly supports Buddhist practice and should serve to help Buddhists gain immediate and very personal experiential comprehension of the Dharma.
  • Buddhist terms like delusion, suffering, liberation, wisdom, karma, compassion and more will take on new meaning as they become less an abstract code for behavior and more a personally understood aspect of our own behavior.
  • FIML helps us see for ourselves in real time how our own particular delusions create suffering, and how we can attain liberation from those delusions.
  • FIML works with very small instances of delusion so it is neither painful nor embarrassing. Indeed, it is a great pleasure to eliminate delusion.
First posted May 13, 2012

The existential beauty (and chemistry) of updating beliefs

A new study shows that updating beliefs about the world requires and stimulates dopamine release in the brain.

Lead author of the study, Matthew Nour, from University College London and Kings College London has this to say about the findings:

“We found that two key brain areas of the dopamine system (the midbrain and striatum) appear to be more active when a person updates their beliefs about the world, and this activity is related to measures of dopamine function in these regions.” (Source)

Healthy people update beliefs when new evidence is presented. The study may also show that abnormal dopamine functionality is implicated in schizophrenia and paranoid ideation by interfering with normal updating.

The study can be found here: Dopaminergic basis for signaling belief updates, but not surprise, and the link to paranoia.

I like this study because participants were measured while changing minor, short-term beliefs.

Small changes in beliefs manifested in short-term memory lies at the heart of FIML practice.

FIML relies heavily on changing inaccuracies in the short-term memory bank because this data can be isolated and objectively agreed upon by both partners and because this data is by definition fairly small and thus easily changed.

A year of FIML practice may entail a thousand or more small updates in perception, belief, and self-knowledge. Each individual update is typically small, but the aggregate of many updates over longer periods of time creates the basis for very large psychological transformations.

And since these transformations are based on more accurate data, they lead to a more realistic view of the world and the self.

Moreover, by regularly making many small updates in their perceptions of each other and themselves, FIML partners are constantly exercising their dopamine “updating system,” thus strengthening their abilities to function well in any environment.

FIML changes can come quickly, but it is long-term practice that brings the best results.

The above study shows that something very real happens when we update our perceptions. I would maintain that making this happen often with meaningful psychological information through FIML practice leads to very significant and beneficial changes in psychological functioning across many domains.

Imaginary communication

Normal socially-defined communication—business, school, professional, etc.—operates within known limits and terminologies. Skill is largely defined as understanding how to use the system without exceeding its limits, how to play the game.

Many other forms of communication must be imagined. That is, I have to imagine what you mean and you have to imagine what I mean. This is so because the rules of  communication are not well-defined.

In many cases of this type I will imagine that you are normal to the extent that I am able to imagine what normal is. And I will imagine that you imagine me to be normal. As I imagine you I will probably assume that your sense of what is normal is more or less the same as mine. This is probably what the central part of the bell curve of imagined communication looks like. People in this group are capable of imagining and cleaving to normal communication standards. If you reciprocate, we will probably get along fine.

If my imagination is better than normal, I will be able to imagine more than the normal person or given to imagining more. If this is the case, I will tend to want to find a way to communicate more than the norm to you. If you reciprocate, we might do well communicating. If you don’t, I might appear eccentric to you or distracted.

If my imagination is worse than normal, I will have trouble imagining or understanding normal communication. I won’t have a good sense of the cartoons we are required to make of each other and will probably appear awkward or scatterbrained to most people. If you reciprocate, we might do well communicating and find comfort in each other.

Normal communication, even when imagined, is based on something like cartoons. I see myself as a cartoon acting in relation to the cartoon I imagine for you. If my cartoon fits you well enough that you like it and if your cartoon of me fits well enough that I like it, we have a good chance of becoming friends.

A great deal of normal imagined communication is cartoon-like, and being normal, will take the bulk of its cartoons from mass media—movies, TV, radio, and, to a lesser extent today, books and other art forms.

People still read and learn from books and art, but normal communication has come to rely heavily on the powerful cartoons of mass media.

The big problem with our systems of imagined communication is they are highly idiosyncratic, messy, and ambiguous. We have to spend a lot of time fixing problems and explaining what we really mean.

It’s good to have idiosyncratic communication, but we have to find ways to understand each other on those terms.


First posted May 25, 2014

American Pravda: The ADL in American Society

In our modern era, there are surely few organizations that so terrify powerful Americans as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of B’nai B’rith, a central organ of the organized Jewish community.

Mel Gibson had long been one of the most popular stars in Hollywood and his 2004 film The Passion of the Christ became among the most profitable in world history, yet the ADL and its allies destroyed his career, and he eventually donated millions of dollars to Jewish groups in desperate hopes of regaining some of his public standing. When the ADL criticized a cartoon that had appeared in one of his newspapers, media titan Rupert Murdoch provided his personal apology to that organization, and the editors of The Economist quickly retracted a different cartoon once it came under ADL fire. Billionaire Tom Perkins, a famed Silicon Valley venture capitalist, was forced to issue a heartfelt apology after coming under ADL criticism for his choice of words in a Wall Street Journal column. These were all proud, powerful individuals, and they must have deeply resented being forced to seek such abject public forgiveness, but they did so nonetheless. The total list of ADL supplicants over the years is a very long one. (Source)

Ron Unz’s American Pravda series is essential reading. His choice of subjects is fascinating, his tone measured and personable, and his arguments devastating. Buddhist readers in particular will benefit from Ron’s work because he clearly shows that public “reality” has many faces and that the most prominent one is often false.

Study identifies effective ketamine doses for treatment-resistant depression

A study led by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators identifies two subanesthetic dosage levels of the anesthetic drug ketamine that appear to provide significant symptom relief to patients with treatment-resistant depression. In the October 2018 issue of Molecular Psychiatry they describe finding that single intravenous doses of 0.5 mg/kg and 1.0 mg/kg were more effective than an active placebo in reducing depression symptoms over a three-day period. Two lower dosage levels that were tested did not provide significant symptom relief, although some improvement was noted with the lowest 0.1 mg/kg dose. (Source)