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