Pre-emptying

Pre-emptying means excluding something from consideration during a conversation. Anyone can use this term/technique, but it is especially useful for FIML partners who have come to realize that they are spending a lot of time trying to control how they are being understood. Whether they are indeed being misunderstood in subtle ways or not does not matter all that much because, as we know, if one partner even thinks they are being misunderstood, it is definitely best to do something about it.

Pre-emptying is used when one partner does not feel the need to do a full-on FIML query because they do not see anything serious happening. They are not very much concerned about any potential misunderstanding and do not feel a serious neurosis is involved. All they want to do is avoid some kinds of interpretations from occurring in their partner’s mind. They want to prevent the conversation from going in a wrong direction.

For example, you want to say something about a hot political topic but do not want to discuss that topic at length. You just want to point out that, say, so-and-so said exactly the same thing two years ago. To do that you say: I want to pre-empty my next topic of all political argumentation or further analysis. I just want to point something out and use that example to say something else. Your partner will understand that this is not the time to bring up other things about that subject. They will understand that you are going to say something with a special purpose.

Yesterday, we had a post about retroactive revision. Retroactive revision can be used in conjunction with pre-emptying to deeply rework a conversation so that it can conform more closely to your current understanding and not be held back by discarded ideas or the need to keep making small distinctions. An example of how to do this with a topic that has included material from your own life is this–just say: I want to retroactively revise what we have been saying about topic QRX and pre-empty that subject of all of the autobiographical examples I have used so far. I no longer think they apply and may be seriously misleading. So from now on, this topic does not contain any reference to the autobiographical statements I have made and statements that were made are now retroactively pre-emptied from it.

This may sound like a lot of verbiage, but it just takes a few sentences to say. The special terms will alert your partner that you are using a meta-control technique to reconfigure your conversation. With a little practice, you will both see that using this method saves a great deal of time and makes conversations much more interesting since neither of you has to waste time explaining and re-explaining the same things. The more meta-control you can gain over your conversations, the better.

On this site we have frequently emphasized the importance of catching small mistakes and identifying them as the first germs of a new neurosis or as a micro-instance of an ongoing neurosis. That is all still true, but experienced FIML partners will eventually come realize that some of their mix-ups are occurring simply because that is how language works. This meta-understanding arises from having successfully resolved enough FIML discussions that both partners can see the same sort of thing happening and neither partner feels any (or hardly any) emotional jangling regarding it.

For example, if I start to talk about a difficult relative and introduce the topic in a vague sort of way (which is very common/normal), my partner may mistake my intentions (which may be only vague in my own mind) and start talking about some aspect of that relative’s problems that will lead away from what I really wanted to say (which is coming into clearer focus for me only now). My partner’s misunderstanding of my vague conversational gambits are not neurotic. They might become neurotic if either of us fails to understand how they have arisen, but at this point in a new conversation, they are nothing more than normal potential associations on what I first said.

To forestall neurotic development and make everything much more pleasant and interesting, at this point, I need only say that I want to pre-empty the topic of anything that may lead away from what I was aiming at. In most cases, your partner will be quite willing to do that. If they see something else to say about it, there is no problem; just discuss it with them.

Pre-emptying, as with all FIML techniques, requires high levels of honesty and integrity from both partners. Partners who are in a stable relationship should not find it all that difficult to treat each other with honesty and integrity. To be clear, no FIML technique should be used to deceive or take advantage. Watch yourself carefully because the ego is biased and it is natural for all speakers and listeners to act from a self-centered position. Properly done, FIML can easily deal with those very normal aspects of being human.

Note: The term pre-emptying recalls the English word “preempt” and the Buddhist term “empty”. We are using a new term because we are doing something different from preempting or realizing the emptiness of something. At the same time, pre-emptying is sort of close to both of those concepts.

Retroactive Revision

Retroactive revision means changing what you said. Anyone can do it but retroactive revision is especially designed for FIML partners. Partners can use it whenever they feel a statement they have made has boxed them into a corner or is making the conversation take a turn they had wanted to avoid.

For example, you say “I like XYZ cars the best.” What you actually meant is I very much like XYZ cars. Your partner starts talking as if you really mean you like them the best. This is a very simple example, but sometimes it can be difficult to keep things on track even with a simple mix-up like this.

If you feel your partner is wasting time talking about the good points of other cars to show you that XYZ may not be the best, just say you want to retroactively revise what you first said. Say: “I want to retroactively revise what I said. I want to change my initial statement to I very much like XYZ cars. I didn’t actually mean I like them the best of all cars; I was exaggerating, I guess.” Your partner will understand that you were using words loosely and that they need not take your original statement literally. They will change their tack and your conversation will become more in keeping with what you really think and feel.

Once learned, that technique will give both partners a lot of freedom. It’s relaxing to know you can easily change what you have said to be more in line with the thinking that has evolved in your mind since you made your initial statement.

As with most FIML techniques, FIML partners should do retroactive revisions the moment they feel a jangle that their partner may have misunderstood them. If it turns out your partner did not misunderstand, there is still a major benefit for both partners because the mistaken impression you had about your partner will not cause any further confusion for either of you.

Mirroring, eye problems, and ADHD

In a couple of earlier posts, I introduced the idea of mirroring and how mirroring affects us and our understanding of others. In most human interactions, mirroring is combined with linguistic behavior and semiotic assumptions. We have called these three taken together LSM (Linguistics, Semiotics, Mirroring). There is more to what happens between people than LSM, but it is useful to highlight just those three factors because they give us a way to gain quick insight into many situations. (For the earlier posts, see Mirror neurons and LSM and How greed is mirrored in social groups.)

What I want to discuss today is how certain American assumptions about what constitutes proper mirroring can lead to very serious mistaken interpretations. Most of us know that American culture requires people to look directly at each other when they speak. We associate a direct gaze with forthrightness, honesty, sincerity, respect, and more. Most parents openly teach their children to look directly at any adult who is speaking to them, to not avert their gaze or let their eyes dart around while they are listening.

This cultural prescription is so widely known and accepted, many Americans don’t even realize that it is not a universal human trait. In many cultures, a direct gaze is a sign of aggression and children are taught not to do it. In those cultures, children are taught to look down or look toward the person but not directly into their eyes. If children in those societies act in the way American children are supposed to, their teachers will think they are defiant and need to be disciplined.

Anyway, one way the requirement for a direct gaze in American culture causes a truly serious problem is a good many children are physically not able to do it.

One fairly common reason some children are not able to do it is they have problems with eye alignment (strabismus). Something like 1/20 children have strabismus and very often their condition is not even noticed, not even by their eye doctors. Strabismus causes eye-strain and difficulty in holding a steady gaze. Children with strabismus often look inattentive–they may tip their heads to the side, seem not to notice things (because they really don’t see them); they may close one eye or appear to be fidgeting, or worst of all “acting disrespectful” to their teacher or other adults. And, sadly, this all too often leads to a diagnosis of ADHD.

Far too many doctors who prescribe medication for children accused of (diagnosed with) ADHD do not know that strabismus could be the actual problem. Now, strabismus is definitely not ADHD, so when a child with strabismus is medicated for a brain problem, they are being harmed twice–once for the wrong diagnosis and failure to treat the actual problem and once for giving them dangerous meds when they don’t need them.

It gets worse. Strabismus is only one type of eye problem that can lead to a misdiagnosis of ADHD. The National Resolution of the NAACP claims: “…current research indicates that approximately 1 in 4 children has [eye] vision disorders that….mimic attention deficit disorder…” (Source)

Spend a few minutes perusing this page ADD/ADHD Attention Disorders, Eyesight, Vision, Diagnosis, Treatment and you will find many links and descriptions of this problem, which to this day is still hardly recognized in the USA.

Now that means that a good many children in American schools are being diagnosed with and treated for ADHD when all they have is a problem with their eyes. Simple eye problems may also be the cause of misdiagnoses for dyslexia, learning disability, developmental disability, ODD, and more.

Back to mirroring. The core problem with misdiagnoses of strabismus is these children have trouble doing the American direct gaze thing. Their eyes don’t work that way. Many of them just can’t do it. They are physically not able to mirror a direct gaze, which supposedly shows how honest and respectful they are.

This causes teachers, parents, and even doctors to form a mistaken impression of these children. Rather than notice their eye problems, these people (and it usually takes all of them) have relied on the erroneous cultural understanding that people can be reliably judged by how steady their gazes are.

What a tragedy of ignorance. Welcome to the human race. Ponder the above for a moment–doctors, teachers, and loving parents in concert can so completely misunderstand their own mistaken views of human nature and/or cultural demands that they actually prescribe medications to treat the brain of a kid with eye problems. This state of affairs shows really well how deeply entrenched cultural assumptions are. Our cultural requirement for a direct gaze is so deep in us most Americans are incapable of seeing an eye problem even in their own children/students/patients. All they see is a failure to mirror in the prescribed way and from that they conclude that medication for the brain is what is needed.

I wonder if Asian cultures (which do not require direct gazes from children) are doing better in school stats simply because they are not causing harm to students who have strabismus or other eye problems. I lived in East Asia for a long time and was often struck by how much more variety of facial and ocular expression is allowed in those societies than in America.

In Asia, the inevitable social hierarchy requires obedience, loyalty, and showing up. Clean clothes and a washed face also help, but the main requirements are obedience, loyalty, and showing up most of the time.

In contrast, in America our hierarchies also require direct gazes. The problem with this begins in school–bright kids with eye problems are treated for behavior problems. But it continues in adult life–those same kids grow up and enter the world of work. For the moment, ignore all of the problems caused by misdiagnosis and resulting poor education and other misunderstandings. Let’s just focus on the eyes of those adults–most of them still have the same problems. It’s a strain for them to mirror the American direct gaze. They couldn’t do it when they were kids and they still can’t do it as adults. So, just as they were misdiagnosed as kids, they will be misjudged as adults. They will appear shifty, uncommitted, inattentive, dishonest, disrespectful, etc. Something is not going to look right to far too many Americans. This means we have a culture that has evolved a social hierarchy where people without eye problems have a stronger hold on our hierarchies than they deserve. And this means we are wasting talent and putting people in high places just because they can do the direct gaze thing. Pretty fucking stupid, if you want my opinion. But it’s a great example of how deeply we can be affected by cultural mirroring.

The mother of all neuroses

I suppose you could make a sort of syllogism out of this post:

Humans tend to speak and listen from a self-centered point of view.

This tendency causes them to misinterpret the people around them.

These misinterpretations cause more of the same and suffering.

Therefore it is best to correct them.

FIML practice (or something just like it) corrects them.

The mother of all neuroses is our tendency to speak and listen from a self-centered point of view. I don’t mean selfish, but just self-centered in the sense that our bodies and selves are often, inescapably, of primary interest to us.

This tendency causes us to interpret more of what we hear as pertaining to us than it does. This is a mistake. Neuroses are built upon mistaken interpretations.

When we listen we all have a tendency to listen to how much what we are hearing applies to us. If someone says something judgmental, for example, we will probably wonder if it applies to us, even if they are speaking to a third person. In other cases, we may wonder if something being mentioned is our fault, is a concern to us, is there something we can do about it, and so on. A primary concern we all have, and often must have, is how does what we are hearing concern us?

A similar dynamic is at work when we speak. If we are speaking with someone and see that they may be thinking of something else while we are speaking, most of us will tend to infer that they are thinking of something else (often correct) and are not interested in what we are saying (often incorrect). The second part of that is the self-centered part. By making that inference, we have taken a bit of sort of reasonable data (maybe their eyes are looking away) and made more out of it than was true (they are not interested in what we are saying).

When speaking, we also tend to believe that we are being understood in the way we intended, that our listener understands our references, that our reasoning is as clear to our listener as it is to us, and so on.

In all of these cases, we are doing something very natural, indeed all but unavoidable–we are working from a point of view centered around our self, our body, our experiences, our understanding, our feelings, our ears, our eyes, etc.

This makes all of us little neurosis factories because this tendency causes us to make more self-referential (self-centered) interpretations than are true.

There is an almost mathematical beauty to that because this condition arises simply from the way we are.

Since self-referential interpretations naturally will accumulate and compound, it follows that we would do well to clear them out of our minds.The only way to really catch a mistaken interpretation (self-centered or otherwise) is to catch it as it happens.

This is what FIML practice does by allowing us to query and be queried during the dynamic “moment” (a few seconds) of speech as it is happening. Only FIML practice (or something just like it) allows us to stop a conversation and with real data points analyze it for a much richer understanding of its deep context, semiotic associations, emotional states, and so on. FIML works so well because it depends on the objective data point of what was actually said and heard as agreed upon by both partners.

(Note: advanced FIML partners will be able to access and discuss incidents that happened further back in time than a few seconds. It is important, though, for partners to remember that discussions like this must be based on sound FIML practice in the moment. Practice during the moment, based on clear data points, is the building-block of all other FIML practices. This is the only place where partners can establish a reliable vocabulary, mutual understanding, and mutual trust. Please see How to do FIML for more.)

How greed is mirrored in social groups

In my last post, I introduced the idea of mirroring to FIML terminology. Language, semiotics, and mirroring (LSM) can be thought of as a fairly simple set of factors that can help us understand social situations.

Several studies done at UC Berkeley (Unethical Behavior More Prevalent In The Upper Classes According To New Study) have shown that upper-class individuals tend to behave less ethically than others. Of course, any good historian knows this is the history of the world–privileged classes always become locked in a self-referential world that gradually moves far from the reality of the societies that support them.

If we consider the UC studies in terms of LSM, we can say that those people are ensconced (or trapped) in a subculture that upholds a “greed is good” semiotic, that they will speak to each other (language) in terms based on that semiotic, and that they will mirror each others’ expressions and bodily movements. Of course there will be a lot of variety in how they do these things, but generally we can expect to them to act in roughly those ways.

It is not surprising that in a capitalist society attitudes toward greed would be a central marker of upper-class groups. In ancient China, the operative upper-class words might have been obedience (of others) or loyalty. In traditional India, it would be sticking to your caste.

Traditional Buddhism makes a distinction similar to LSM. As Buddhists, we speak of the karma of body, speech, and mind. In this context, body = mirroring; speech = language; and mind = semiotics. Not exactly the same, but pretty close.

We can also see in Buddhist terms how it is that people get locked into their groups and why we call that “karma”. It can be very difficult to go against any group (and especially the upper-class) in any of those areas of body, speech, or mind. You can’t speak against them or speak all that differently from them; you can’t hold ideas that don’t fit (greed is bad!); and you can’t stop mirroring their expressions and body language when around them. If you deviate too much from any group, you will find yourself becoming separated, even ostracized, from it very quickly.

FIML partners have an excellent way to observe these general truths in the microcosm of their daily interactions with each other. Almost all FIML queries/discussions will contain small bits of body, speech, and mind, or language, semiotics, and mirroring. After a FIML query has been basically answered and understood, it is a good idea to review these three aspects by asking specifically about them.

What sort of mirroring was happening? Was one partner using the mirroring (body language) of a subculture the other partner did not understand?

What sort of speech/language was happening? Did one partner use a word or term that sounded off to the other? Did someone’s tone of voice sound wrong? Why?

What sort of mind/semiotics was happening? Was one partner assuming something (greed is good) that the other partner does not believe? Does the first partner really believe that or are they just mirroring the beliefs of others?

Buddhist teachings can help us a great deal during discussions of this type. Ask yourself, am I being wise or stupid right now? Am I trying to understand more deeply or just trying to bs my partner? Is my state of mind conducive to learning and wisdom or not?

In the studies described above, we can see that some of those people have allowed themselves to act unethically based on unsound thinking. They have a mistaken view of themselves and the world. In FIML, we call this sort of view a neurosis. If a person who held views of that type were to do FIML practice, they would eventually see their views intruding on their speech or on how they listened to other people. In FIML practice, they will get immediate feedback, so it will become difficult to maintain those mistaken views. In real life, too many of those upper-class people never get the feedback from anyone, so their delusion drifts further and further from what is right and wise. Ergo, the current state of the USA, but that’s another story.

Being able to do FIML

  • Being able to do FIML means that you have developed a skill or trait that did not exist in you before. The ability to do FIML is a functional “state of mind” that emerges from other states of mind–from consciousness, awareness, self-reflection, self-criticism, communication, language use, emotion, etc.
  • Doing FIML will change the way you communicate, especially with your FIML partner. It will change the way you view language and its uses.
  • Since FIML depends on real data agreed upon by both partners and since FIML can convincingly change how we perceive ourselves and our partners, it can give us new perspectives on psychology and/or any activity that depends on language/communication.
  • The use of a linguistic/semiotic vocabulary in FIML allows us to classify a great deal of human cognition, psychology, and behavior as lying on a spectrum of public—private semiotics.
  • This perspective allows us to broadly define many human behaviors, thoughts, and feelings as mistakes. For example, a private semiotic may be a “neurosis” and can be defined simply as a “mistaken interpretation” or an “ongoing mistaken interpretation.” Similarly, any public semiotic that can be shown to be wrong can be clearly identified as a mistake or an “ongoing public neurosis.”
  • What is “normal” in FIML is, thus, that which is not mistaken. Partners have great leeway to decide much of this for themselves.
  • Very often, the least mistaken view is one of doubt or traditional skepticism, the view that we may not be able to be certain about whatever is in question.
  • FIML practice accepts the basic scientific view that a scientific theory must be testable or falsifiable, based on experiments that can be repeated, based on verifiable evidence, internally consistent, consistent with what is external to itself, useful or practical, open to change, and parsimonious in its explanations.
  • New scientific theories should also say something new and interesting, something that explains data in a new way or that provides a new way of understanding old data.
  • FIML differs from a good deal of science in that it relies heavily on the experiences of two (or more) partners. For the most part, partners alone decide what is true for them, though they cannot honestly do this without reference to other fields of science and thought.
  • FIML, thus, allows for great personal autonomy. But autonomy mixed with the dialectic of another person. Partners doing FIML cannot claim to be “scientific” in most senses of the word, but they can claim to be “being true to themselves” to the best of their abilities while including a scientific view of the world.
  • In this sense, FIML resembles Buddhist practice, art, or the work of early scientists in that the existential/experiential data acquired by individuals is of great importance to those individuals and is central to what they are doing.
  • FIML can be scientifically falsified if many people do it and fail to gain any benefit from it.
  • Done properly, at a minimum, FIML practice should clear up most communication mistakes/problems between partners. FIML also provides the means for partners to continue clearing up new mistakes as they appear.
  • By clearing up mistakes in communication between partners FIML practice alleviates a great deal of emotional suffering.
  • It is my guess, my hypothesis, that by clearing up mistakes in communication between partners, FIML practice will also relieve partners of other mistaken ideas and feelings, thus relieving a good deal of more generalized emotional suffering.

Catching small mistakes leads to big payoffs

A good way to think about FIML practice is to think of yourself as looking for the smallest communication errors you can find. These tiny errors might be called morphemes of error. A morpheme is the smallest semantic unit (meaningful unit) of a language. Thinking in terms of very small mistakes can help partners because these tiny morphemes of error are where larger errors originate. If we are able to observe a tiny error the moment it happens and fully discuss it with our partner, we will prevent a larger error from coming into being. If we fail to catch the small error as it arises, it will be much harder to correct the larger error later on because by then we will never remember when and where it started.

In the early days of doing FIML, I used to call the practice of looking for small errors “catching mice”. I took great delight in finding the next little mouse/error because I knew that the benefit of catching it would be quite large compared to the little thing I had caught. (Note: I was and am involved mostly in catching mistakes in my own mind. It is my partner’s responsibility to catch the mistakes made in her mind. It is usually the person who initiates a FIML query who is the one concerned that a mistake may have arisen in their own mind. And this is why it is so important to ask as much as you are asked.)

Thinking of yourself as catching small errors and discussing them with your partner may add a level of interest to your FIML practice. This approach also allows us to be very detail-oriented without feeling petty. I guarantee that after you have caught a few of these little mice and fully discussed them with your partner, you will see the benefits for yourself. Small communication errors are the basic units of FIML practice. FIML partners can work with larger units (generalities, psychologies, philosophies, etc.), but it is best to spend most of your time just catching the small errors that inevitably arise in all communications.

An interesting example of this happened this morning. The mouse I caught was not involved directly in my communication with my partner, though I told her about it right afterward and we discussed it extensively. What happened is this:

I have been trying to follow a low-carbohydrate diet, but somehow gradually always start eating more of them till I am back to where I began. Well, I started being more strict a week or so ago. Today I went into the refrigerator to get something to eat and saw some boiled potatoes in one bowl and some vegetables in another. In my head a small tug-o-war ensued. I chose the vegetables, but as I turned away from the refrigerator and put them on the counter, I noticed that I felt slightly guilty. What was interesting is I was feeling guilty for doing the right thing. But some part of my mind was telling me, almost subconsciously, that I was actually being selfish because the potatoes should be eaten, they are cheaper, and maybe my partner would want the vegetables.

I could go on about this but to keep it short, let me just say that none of it was true. I had nothing to feel guilty about. Just to be sure, I asked my partner if she wanted the vegetables and she said no, she had already eaten. So that little piece of false-guilt was a mouse. It was a mistake, an error that was occurring in my own mind, probably to satisfy that part of me that still craves carbohydrates. In catching it, I had caught the smallest unit of eating-too-many-carbohydrates that I had ever seen. This first success will likely lead to my catching this same mistake (or something similar to it) again fairly soon. (These small mistakes almost always occur more than once or twice.) After a few more successes at catching my own mind while it is making a small mistake about my diet, I may succeed in fully defeating that part of myself that reaches for carbohydrates when I know I should not.

I bet stuff like that happens frequently with people who are addicted to anything or who keep making bad or immoral choices when, for the most part, they know they should not. We can feel guilty without having good reason to do so. Some other examples of this might be soldiers who do what others are doing even though they know it is wrong; police who do the same; employees who do the same; Buddhists, psychologists, scientists, mechanics, carpenters, etc.–we are all susceptible to making moral mistakes because we will feel guilty if we don’t.

Hence the Buddha saying:

One is one’s own protector,
one is one’s own refuge.
Therefore, one should control oneself,
even as a trader controls a noble steed.

Dhammapada 25.380