Thalience: The successor to Science

Thalience is, I believe, the brain-child of Karl Schroeder. It describes a post-science world (or very advanced science) where all science is done by science bots rather than humans. The bots not only do the science, they also ask the questions.

As Schroeder puts it “…it is an attempt to give the physical world itself a voice so that rather than us asking what reality is, reality itself can tell us.”

I think thalience is an interesting idea and may have extra value because by removing human beings and thus human failings from the activity of science, we will get less cheating and conflict of interest in addition to having robots ask really interesting questions we might never think of.

Add to Schroeder’s idea, Nick Bostrom’s Simulation Argument and you start wondering if we are already living in a thalient world, but just don’t know it.

Notes on semiotics, FIML, Buddhism, and a bit of anthropology

  • The FIML practice described in How to do FIML outlines a basic skill that leads to deeper understandings of many other aspects of human life.
  • Deeper understandings occur because FIML partners are confronting or dealing with “semiotic bundles” the moment they arise.
  • Semiotic bundles are “groupings or constellations of meaning” containing signs, symbols, words, emotions, personal narratives, and so on. (See Dynamic semiotics, interpersonal semiotics for more on semiotics and FIML.)
  • Basic FIML practice works by having partners confront and discuss semiotic bundles as soon as they arise.
  • This is different from analyzing semiotics bundles at a distance as a traditional anthropologist, historian, or psychologist might do.
  • FIML could even be called “dynamic anthropology” for couples.
  • With FIML, the anthropological “meanings” of partners “social structures” become immediately available to them as objective data; data that is even better than data obtained from a gifted informant who belongs to a different culture.
  • As anthropologists working with each other, FIML partners truly are equals. Neither has any cultural authority or credentialed authority over the other.
  • Partners who are skilled at basic FIML practice will find that they are able to gain a wide range of insights into themselves that were unavailable before.
  • FIML partners will gradually see that they are able to shift their sense of what is authoritative from outside sources (often poorly understood) to inner ones and ones shared with their partner.
  • For humans as social, psychological, interactive, interpersonal beings, there can be no better foundation for existence itself than truthful, dynamic, interaction with an honest, reliable partner.
  • Skilled partners will learn how to generate their own semiotic bundles based on truthful mutual discourse.
  • FIML itself is a dynamic semiotic, a dynamic process. It has little or no “content”. It is not a static bundle.
  • Thus, it grounds us in an interpersonal process, rather than a static “belief system” or an external authoritative semiotic bundle.
  • FIML will help partners greatly appreciate the crucial importance of being honest with each other.
  • It will also help partners appreciate the importance of being honest with non-partners.
  • FIML is different than learning an idea or theory about something because you have to do it. FIML does have a theoretical basis, but it must be actively done to be fully appreciated.
  • FIML practice should be a great help to Buddhists because it does not contradict the Dharma and because is an active practice that draws on information obtained from a reliable FIML partner.
  • This information obtained from the FIML partner will in many cases correct distortions in thinking or feeling that Buddhism practiced in isolation or not practiced among equals may engender.
  • External Dharma–Dharma received from books and teachers–is susceptible to the same problems as all other external intellectual traditions (static semiotic bundles).
  • Internal Dharma–Dharma understood only, or mostly, while alone–is susceptible to the same problems as all other internal semiotics. If they are not checked with an honest partner they will tend to become neurotic (mistaken). That is, the practitioner will tend to form many “ongoing mistaken interpretations” of the self and others. This sort of problem cannot be corrected with external slogans or formulas, but only with truthful interaction with an honest partner.
  • I am pretty sure early Buddhists did something like this when they spent months of the year traveling in pairs and/or when they did their honest fortnightly discussions of their failings in their practice (a tradition that has sadly declined in too many places).

Dynamic semiotics, interpersonal semiotics

We discussed semiotics last week in the post Semiotics and FIML. In a post few days ago we linked to the essay by Daniel Chandler Semiotics for Beginners.

What I want to do today is follow up on those posts and discuss how to use semiotics in a dynamic way. How to use it in dynamic interpersonal situations to increase our understanding of both semiotics and our interpersonal relationships. Doing this will also help us better understand ourselves because the self is constructed out of semiotic elements and it appears most strongly in dynamic interpersonal situations.

One of the problems or deficiencies I see in a good deal of literature on semiotics is concepts pertaining to it tend to be static, based on structures and the general relations between semiotic elements rather than how those elements actually function in the moment. I am pretty sure that most people who spend time thinking about semiotics well-understand that semiotics describes a realm that is very dynamic and very fluid. And yet still, much of what we read is general analysis, a stable abstract schema intended to map or describe something other than itself. Nothing particularly wrong with this because a semiotic map would be a wonderful thing to have, but this approach is limited in that it cannot readily capture the functioning of semiotic parts as they occur in a moment of real life.

In like manner, a good deal of Buddhist literature treats the Dharma as a static map of “reality.” Buddhists try to learn this map and apply it in different circumstances. Again, not a huge problem, but lacking in a method for tackling real moments, as they arise, with something more than general rules or static formulas. Most psychology has the same problem. The DSM maps static traits, while there are few, if any, ways of dealing with dynamic moments as they arise in real life.

The only way I can see to tackle real semiotics or really do Buddhism or psychology is to find a way to deal with semiotics as it is happening. That is to say, to grasp semiotic elements in the moments during which they actually are arising in real life.

(A normal, static way of approaching semiotics might be to apply a semiotic map to the transcript of a recorded conversation. In Buddhism, it might to use a Buddhist slogan or formula to negotiate an emotionally difficult moment. In psychology it might be to use a diagnostic survey to “understand” what “problem” a patient is having and then applying a formulaic method for treating that “problem.” All of these approaches surely have some utility but they are also a bit like trying to catch a fish with a broken hook.)

How then can you or anyone actually “grasp semiotic elements in the moments during which they actually are arising in real life”?

  • You can’t do it alone because when you are alone you have no way of checking the validity of those elements.
  • You have to do it with someone who cares about you, who will help you, and who wants to do the same thing.
  • You both have to have the same plan to quickly grasp those semiotic elements as they arise because if you wait too long, you will be relying too much on your faulty memories, which tend strongly to forget semiotic elements after a few moments or to turn them into static bits of a “reality” that never was.

Analyze your own mind. For how long can you reliably recall everything that was/is in your conscious mind? In a dynamic situation, it’s not going to be very long. Our working memory can’t handle that much data. You probably can hold a decent memory of what is in your mind for no more than a few seconds.

Since we are going to be working with a partner on dynamic semiotics, we won’t need to remember absolutely everything. We will just need to remember things like why we said something, why we used a certain tone of voice, why we made a gesture, why we chose a certain word, etc.

That makes it easier. We could make it even easier if we just sat around with our partner and discussed the semiotics of static things; for example, the semiotics of flags, or national groups, or bicycle fashions. Well, nothing is perfectly static, but you probably get the idea. It is interesting to do stuff like that, but after a point it’s pretty boring.

What is much more interesting and vital is to find a way to discuss semiotics that arise during dynamic interactions with your partner. This will really help you understand what semiotics are and how they function. It will also help you understand Buddhism and human psychology much better.

This is what FIML does. FIML is a method for partners to grasp and understand the dynamics of semiotics as they arise (or very quickly thereafter).

Doing FIML enhances Buddhist practice because it helps partners understand more precisely how something in real life is empty, how it arose, why it arose, how it might create delusion, why it is impermanent, why it is a klesha, and so on.

For people who want to optimize their psychology and their relationship with their partner, FIML greatly improves communication. It helps partners identify and understand transient destabilizing emotions while strengthening deep bonds between them. If partners believe they have psychological problems, FIML will help them understand how those problems actually arise and how they actually impact the moments of their lives. By frequently replacing transient, mistaken emotions and interpretations with better data, FIML partners will gradually relieve themselves of the suffering that comes from poor speech habits, mistaken interpretations, and a static view of the self and others.

FIML is fundamentally a technique for correcting inevitable interpersonal communication mistakes. FIML can be better understood if partners also have a basic understanding of semiotics.

Please see How to do FIML for more.

Semiotics for Beginners

This essay by Daniel Chandler is good introduction to semiotics and a good way to help readers better understand how we are using the term on this site. I highly recommend the essay for anyone interested in thought, culture, language, or psychology. But it will be especially useful for Buddhists because having some idea of what semiotics is all about can be a great help in understanding many of the teachings of the Buddha. The deep significance of fundamental Buddhist concepts like emptiness and dependent origination may become clearer and more useful when viewed from a semiotic point of view.

Buddhists might also take note that semiotics is difficult to define and/or get a grasp of and in this resembles some of the more abstract or philosophical teachings of the Buddhist tradition, particularly the work of Nagarjuna. Semiotics is the study of meaning, how we communicate it and what it is. Buddhism, one might say, is the study of how meaning pertains to the self, or the illusion of the self, and how our perceptions of the world around us are built out of a welter of ever-changing codependent meanings–semiotics.

We use the term semiotics on this site because it greatly facilitates our discussions of FIML practice. Terms like semiotics, emptiness, dependent origination, and so on were not created to make subjects obscure but rather to clarify them.

Chekhov’s “The Party” as a Study in Non-FIML

“He was probably thinking, as he looked at her, of his farm, of solitude, and — who knows? — perhaps he was even thinking how snug and cosy life would be at the farm if his wife had been this girl – young, pure, fresh, not corrupted by higher education, not with child. . . .”

“Listening to her husband, Olga Mihalovna, for some reason, thought of her dowry. ‘And the time will come, I suppose,’ she thought, ‘when he will not forgive me for being richer than he.'”

“Saying this, Pyotr Dmitritch picked up his pillow and walked out of the bedroom. Olga Mihalovna had not foreseen this. For some minutes she remained silent with her mouth open, trembling all over and looking at the door by which her husband had gone out, and trying to understand what it meant. Was this one of the devices to which deceitful people have recourse when they are in the wrong, or was it a deliberate insult aimed at her pride? How was she to take it?”

This short story by Anton Chekhov (linked below) seems almost tailor-made for a FIML analysis. We can watch Olga’s neurotic interpretations as they arise, and it is tantalizing to imagine what kind of stew is brewing in Pyotr’s mind. Readers with any grasp on the basics of FIML practice will likely feel a sense of frustration as they watch these two characters flail through the evening with no effective way to check their interpretations.

The Party

What is FIML and what does it do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

we do not sample our world continuously but in discrete snapshots

This report–Brain oscillations reveal that our senses do not experience the world continuously–supports the core activity of FIML practice, which entails noticing the first instant(s) of the arising of an emotional jangle (that is typically tied to a much more involved “mistaken interpretation” within the brain). By interfering with the first instant(s) of arising, FIML practice forestalls the habitual wave of neurotic interpretation that normally follows. Instead, new information–better data obtained from the FIML partner–is used to replace the cue that led to the initial jangle, thus redefining that cue.

Professor Gregor Thut of the University of Glasgow, where the study was conducted, says of its results: “For perception, this means that despite experiencing the world as a continuum, we do not sample our world continuously but in discrete snapshots determined by the cycles of brain rhythms.”

I would further hypothesize that the same holds true for our “perceptions” of inner emotional states. In this context, recall the five skandhas of Buddhism–form, sensation, perception, activity, consciousness. A form can arise in the mind or outside of the mind. This form gives rise to a sensation (a FIML jangle is a type of sensation), which gives rise to perception, followed by activity (mental or physical), and lastly consciousness.

In Buddhist teachings, the five skandhas occur one after the other, very rapidly. They are not a continuous stream but rather a series of “discrete snapshots”, to use Thut’s words. In FIML practice, partners want to interfere with what has become a habitual “firing” of their five skandhas based on (neurotic) learned cues. FIML practice strives to prevent full-blown neurotic consciousness (the fifth skandha) from taking control of the mind by replacing the source of that consciousness with a more realistic interpretation of the neurotic cue. The cue corresponds to form in the five skandhas explanation. The more realistic interpretation of that cue is based on the true words of the partner.

The five skandhas can also help us understand how FIML is different from more or less normal psychological analysis. In normal, or traditional, analysis we use theories and schema to understand ourselves. In FIML we use a specific technique to interfere with habitual neurotic “firings” of the five skandhas. FIML partners are encouraged to theorize and speak about themselves in any way they like, and it is very helpful to do this, but the core FIML activity cannot be replaced by just theorizing or telling stories.

Here is a link to the study itself: Sounds Reset Rhythms of Visual Cortex and Corresponding Human Visual Perception.

Allen J. Frances on the overdiagnosis of mental illness


“It’s always better to under-diagnose than over-diagnose.”—Allen J. Frances

This talk is worth watching.

As a side note, I hope that readers of this site, especially Buddhists and/or those practicing FIML, will understand at least some of what Frances is saying as being about how societies organize their semiotics. We still use priest-like figures with esoteric knowledge and identifiable clothing and mannerisms to write large tomes (the DSM) that define what is real or healthy or normal.

FIML practice is designed to put much more of the process of defining who you are in the hands of partners themselves. My comments are not directed at Frances, who does a good job with his talk. I just want to point out that the ways our common semioses are organized or structured are very much subject to political and economic forces as well as to the power of the media and society’s hierarchical institutions. FIML gives partners an opportunity to rationally discover and redefine the terms and semiotics that contribute to how they see themselves as individuals and how they see the world(s) they live in. I think Buddhism is supposed to do much the same thing, but Buddhism itself has been subject to the same kinds of forces as the DSM, resulting in much of the teachings becoming little more than a static semiotic–or culture-bound standard–that, though good and helpful, is less than optimal.

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.

Why Most Published Research Findings Are False

Link. Anyone remotely interested in science or rational thought should read this study. Ioannidis has shown with great clarity how distorted the scientific process can become, has become in many cases.

This opinion piece on DSM-5, Diagnosing the D.S.M, shows a similar problem with the “science” of mental illness, as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. From the article: “The association has been largely deaf to the widespread criticism of D.S.M.-5, stubbornly refusing to subject the proposals to independent scientific review.”

This should seem appalling in the 21st century, but we know it is not. Isn’t this partly what is meant by the First Noble Truth? That we humans–even scientists and professional doctors of the mind–tend to be delusional and make decisions based on greed, hatred, ignorance, and pride, decisions that cause needless suffering. Life is like a dream because our assessments of what is real are often so poorly formed.

Autocatalytic systems

An autocatalytic system is a system that can “catalyze its own production”. Autocatalytic systems are usually called “autocatalytic sets”, but for our purposes using the word system may make the concept clearer.

FIML is an autocatalytic system that allows partners to reestablish the terms of their relationship, their psychologies, and their comprehension of the world around them. Strictly speaking, FIML is a non-autonomous autocatalytic set because FIML uses an abundance of language and ideas that come from outside of itself.

FIML is a small set of precise behaviors that allow partners to communicate with great clarity and without interpersonal ambiguity. Interpersonal ambiguity is the cause of much suffering. As we have said many times, FIML does not tell partners what to think or what to believe. It simply provides them with a set of tools that gives them the means to develop in ways that seem best to them.

FIML is primarily a communication technique, but the discoveries it leads to will cause partners to remake their understandings of who they are and how they understand themselves. Once partners have learned the system, they will find that it autocatalyzes, causing them to remake themselves with a freedom that had not been possible before.

FIML differs greatly from mainstream psychology because mainstream psychology is not autocatalytic. It is analytical, theoretical, or medical. The individual sufferer seeks a professional who diagnoses their “problem” based on a static standard and then prescribes medication or some kind of therapy that will also be provided by an expert. In contrast, FIML teaches partners how to communicate with sufficient clarity to comprehend themselves. As it autocatalyzes, FIML quite naturally leads partners to make beneficial changes in themselves as they discover new meanings in each other and the world around them.

I had been searching for a word like autocatalytic for some time. This morning I came across the following piece, which led to this post: The Single Theory That Could Explain Emergence, Organisation And The Origin of Life. The study on which that article is based can be found here: The Structure of Autocatalytic Sets: Evolvability, Enablement, and Emergence.

I am sure I have taken a few liberties with my application of this theory, but went ahead with these ideas anyway because one of the key features of FIML practice is it “auto-generates” or autocatalyzes itself. Once you get going and see how to do it, FIML practice almost runs by itself, allowing partners near infinite freedom to pursue whatever they want with it.


  • All motivation and action is based on an assessment of “reality”.
  • Public assessments include the sciences, mainstream psychologies and religions, various traditions such as the arts, sports, work, etc. The general elements of these assessment are agreed on by many people. This makes them sort of satisfying within a limited sphere of thought. They can hold a good deal of psychological water, but not all of it.
  • Private assessments are usually neurotic (mistaken) because even if shared with others, they tend to contain many unfounded assumptions. These assumptions often appear true to the individual but don’t hold up well if exposed to other views or better evidence.
  • Not only do neither public nor private assessments of reality as described above completely satisfy, but even when combined, they fail to fully satisfy. This is because the problem of interpersonal ambiguity cannot be answered in those ways.
  • FIML practice provides a means for partners to reach a reasonable assessment of reality that includes both wholesome public and wholesome private components. The private components are made wholesome through FIML practice because partners actually have the means to achieve satisfying mutual understanding, to remove ambiguity.
  • FIML partners should feel that they can say what they want to each other. They should also feel that they can refrain from saying things they don’t want to say.
  • Most people tend to see other people as being on some sort of scale–they might be seen as “normal” or “crazy”, “responsible” or “irresponsible”, “reliable” or “unreliable”, etc.
  • These scales are always a mixture of public and private components as described above.
  • FIML partners, in contrast, need only ask how is the non-FIML person adapting to ambiguity? What standards have they chosen or forced on themselves? What standards do they use to assess “reality”?
  • Their standards will always be skewed one way or the other. To simplify, they will either be fairly strict adherents to a public code or fairly eccentric adherents to private neuroses, or most commonly, a mixture of these two.
  • Even Buddhist practice can fall victim to this problem. Insofar as Buddhist practice is nothing more than an imported public standard, it cannot satisfy for long. Buddhist practice plus FIML will satisfy because FIML allows partners to establish mutual interpersonal standards that both of them can understand and agree upon completely. These standards are not the imported standards of someone else, but self-generated, mutually generated standards created by the partners themselves.
  • If you don’t fill the void of interpersonal ambiguity, you will have to compensate by compartmentalizing your life, importing standards from the public sphere, or generating your own neuroses (mistaken interpretations). This point may seem obvious or trivial, but it is huge. Emotional suffering, delusion, the First Noble Truth all stem from this problem.