Repost: When is a FIML discussion finished?

A FIML discussion is initiated when one partner (or both) experiences an emotional jangle. It is finished when both partners experience a profound resolution.

A FIML discussion begins when one partner feels that something in what the other has said or done has caused them to begin to have an emotional reaction. Before that reaction becomes very strong, we want to stop ourselves and observe its cause while asking our partner what was in their mind at the moment they said or did whatever it was that caused us to react. Ideally, we will be able to quickly stop ourselves, monitor our response, and calmly query our partner, who will answer our questions clearly and neutrally. With practice this is not as difficult to do as it may sound.

So then, when is a FIML discussion finished? How do we know when to stop?

Continue reading…

Big mistake: We often own what we didn’t mean

A fascinating study from Sweden confirms something that FIML practice has shown us to be a fairly common occurrence and a potential source of serious interpersonal problems.

In FIML terms, the mistake is that we own something we didn’t mean. Or we take on an attitude, mood, or belief that we did not hold after we have been misheard or misunderstood.

In the study from Lund University in Sweden—How to confuse a moral compass—researchers found that:

People can be tricked into reversing their opinions on moral issues, even to the point of constructing good arguments to support the opposite of their original positions…

I was not surprised at all to read that because FIML practice has clearly shown my partner and me that it is really easy to fall into the trap of owning what your partner erroneously thinks you meant.

For example, you are tired, you ask your partner a question, their answer is slow in coming or unclear, you feel frustrated and that feeling enters your tone of voice or shows in your facial expression, your partner asks with some irritation “are you mad at me“—now here’s the mistake—in your fatigue and confusion you answer “yes,” then all hell beaks loose.

The problem is you were not mad at your partner; you were tired and frustrated and it showed, but when they asked you if you were mad at them, in the rush of the moment, you took it on; you said “yes” due to the sort of effect that the Swedish study has found.

Th example above is fairly crude. I chose it because something like that happened to me just yesterday and because I doubt there is anyone who has never made a mistake like that, so it’s easy to understand.

Other cases of this phenomenon can be more subtle—vague speaking or listening can lead to you taking on a position that is not what you actually think; so can convenience in the moment; being too polite; confusion, wanting to get-along or be agreeable, and so on.

This phenomenon usually happens subconsciously or semi-consciously. The big danger interpersonally is that your new not true position can become hardened into something significant to the other person. From there, it can snowball into becoming “what you believe,” “how you are,” or one of your “personality traits.”

What this phenomenon shows, especially in interpersonal contexts, is how much we are interconnected, how much our understanding of ourselves—even our own beliefs and feelings—is determined by what others attribute to us.

The Swedish study shows the phenomenon is all but automatic. In FIML terms, we could also say that this phenomenon shows the great power of what we have called “semiotic bundles.” One you get put into a semiotic category (or put yourself into one), there is a strong tendency to want to stay in that category, even to defend it, even if it had never been your original position at all. Anger often fuels it, but you don’t have to be angry to have it happen.

Watch for it when you interact with your partner. You both will be delighted to discover and quickly correct this mistake as soon as it happens.

(I bet a good deal of what we call “acculturation” depends on this phenomenon, as does conformity. In other posts on this site, we have discussed the power of “public semiotics” and our deep need for them to communicate. But powerful things can also be dangerous. With the help of your FIML partner, watch yourself closely and see if you can catch yourself doing a “mini-acculturation” to a mood or belief you did not hold and do not believe.)

Three kinds of knowing and how they have changed (us)

The three kinds of knowing I am going to discuss are:

  • Google
  • FIML
  • Social

Google: Most people with access to the Internet appreciate that there is no longer much to be proud about for displaying many kinds of factual knowledge. Not so long ago knowing the right way to sharpen a knife or the etymology of a strange word counted for something. People usually were impressed and this influenced how we thought of ourselves and others. Google, of course, has changed that.

FIML: Most people today still believe that they can with decent certitude know what other people mean when they speak, what their intentions are, and even what their real intentions are. A mature adult is generally expected to have a sophisticated “theory of mind.” Much else follows from this, for our understanding of who we think we are is based significantly on how we understand others. FIML partners will surely appreciate that we very often do not know what others’ intentions are or even what they mean, even at very basic levels.

Social: The third kind of knowledge that really matters in human life is social—who you know, who they know, what they think of you, etc. Internet social media is surely changing this area by widening social networks. Much more significant than Facebook, though, is the database held by the NSA. If the rumors are true, that database holds a record of all electronic communications for everyone in th USA (and probably the world) for the last ten years. That potentially changes for all time how we are able to understand social networks; how we are able to understand society itself. It will be a long time before a database like that is made available to the public, but it is available to someone right now.


My guess is most people find the way that Google has changed our understanding of information refreshing. Feeling special because you know something is an easy conceit to give up. Similarly, feeling stupid because you don’t know something is a burden that is pleasant to put down. It’s also nice to have to do much less guessing about all kinds of things. If you aren’t sure, you can usually Google the answer. Many Wikipedia articles provide roughly what an expert in the field would be conversant with, or would say to a non-expert.

My reason for writing the above is to briefly raise the subject of how much our access to information has changed and how much that has changed us over the past 10-20 years. The common themes for the three areas discussed are access and reliability. We have better access to more reliable information.

For readers who have not yet tried FIML, I might encourage you by saying that FIML is sort of like a Google for the mind because it will give you better access to more reliable information about yourself and others than you ever had before.

Just as Google is not all that mysterious once you understand it, so neither is FIML. FIML is little else than a technique to access interpersonal information in a way that it has not been accessed traditionally. It takes some time to learn FIML—the full technique is not as simple as it may seem—but it is worth it. It took time to learn Google. Compare how Google has changed you to a grandparent, say, who has not bothered to learn to use a computer.

I don’t expect FIML to become a fad, but I do tend to believe that as brain science improves and accurate brain scans become more accessible, our moral and social sense of how we interact with each other will have to rely on something like FIML rules. When the day comes that anyone can purchase an accurate lie-detector/mood-detector for use at home, the new information will cause social norms to change even more quickly than Google did. We will not be able to continue to pretend that we understand (or can conceal) things about ourselves and each other that are simply not true. FIML helps greatly with this.

How people are

An interesting essay appeared online a couple days ago. The main thrust of the essay, Signaling bias in philosophical intuition by Katja Grace, is nicely stated in its first paragraph:

Intuitions are a major source of evidence in philosophy. Intuitions are also a significant source of evidence about the person having the intuitions. In most situations where onlookers are likely to read something into a person’s behavior, people adjust their behavior to look better. (Emphasis added)

The essay makes many good points about how we judge, or interpret, philosophers. For example, “…people treat philosophical intuitions as evidence about personality traits.” And “People are enthusiastic to show off their better looking intuitions. They identify with some intuitions and take pleasure in holding them.”

If this is true of professional philosophers who, we can assume, are more careful about their thoughts and their expression than most people, how much more is it true for non-philosophers?

Yesterday I wrote on this site:

Normal people live in vague worlds where they grope toward each other like ghosts in the fog. How can we understand each other or ourselves if we do not pay attention to the small signals that are, arguably, the most important units of interpersonal communication? (Source)

I felt a camaraderie with Grace for I believe that virtually all people, not just philosophers, “are enthusiastic to show off their better looking” sides. I also strongly believe that as I do that toward you and you toward me, our authentic beings are lost in the fluff.

FIML practice has been designed to allow partners to send signals to each other that are profoundly more authentic than the simplistic “better looking” ones we normally exchange. FIML does this by providing a method for partners to examine in real time the small signals that are the “psychological morphemes” of interpersonal communication.

Please take a moment to read Grace’s essay, which is far more nuanced than what I have suggested.

How to observe the semiotics that form the basis of your consciousness

A few days ago, I posted the essay, How semiotics can help us understand ourselves.

Today I want to discuss how you can grasp the semiotics that form the basis of your consciousness.

I am sure you already understand a good deal about yourself, but my guess is your understanding is probably in the form of a group of abstractions, such as—“my personality is thus-and-so”; “since I had this sort of childhood/education/etc., I am now outgoing/fearful/frugal/etc.”; “I believe in personal responsibility/behavior/etc.”; “my mom was a religious nut so I am an atheist, etc.”

In the post cited above, we used the terms signaling system and semiotics more or less interchangeably. A signaling system emphasizes what the message is and how it is sent, while semiotics emphasizes how the message is interpreted.

If we think of our minds as being signaling systems that are constantly referring to whatever semiotics we interpret as “true” or “real,” we can get a very good idea of how they function in the moment by observing what they are referring to in “the moment” (1-10 seconds, or so). By observing our minds closely, we can learn what semiotics cause us to have emotional responses or to interpret things in the ways we do. We can see how our mental/emotional signaling system builds up within us the appearance of a self with a biography, a personality, needs, fears, desires, goals, and so on.

If, for example, at some point in your life you learned and accepted as real a semiotic that you are stupid, you can spend hours, even decades, analyzing your feelings without getting any results. But if you can actually watch your mind as it signals to itself the semiotic “I am stupid,” and if you can see while that is happening that the signal is a mistake, then your mind will tend to stop sending you that signal.

If you can repeat that experience a few times—that is, catch that same mistake a few times—your mind will almost certainly stop wasting its resources thinking you are stupid. It will do this almost effortlessly because the mind is efficient and won’t waste time doing something it knows is a mistake.

So how do you do that, how do you catch the mistakes? You probably have already tried to catch them through introspection, reading, or discussing them with friends with less than satisfying results.

And what’s even harder to do is catch mistakes that you are not even aware of. How do you catch them?

I don’t think you can do it all by yourself. And I don’t think you can make satisfying progress by discussing these matters even with very wise friends. You can’t do it yourself because you can’t see yourself, and you can’t do it through long discussions because the signalling system works too quickly for that.

If you don’t cut in quickly and observe what it is doing, you won’t be able to change it easily.

Here is a way to look at that. Have you ever had a clock or mirror on the wall that was removed; maybe the mirror fell or the clock broke. At some point, the object that you had been used to seeing for years was gone. For some time after that, you probably turned unconsciously more than a few times to look at the now absent mirror or clock. That gives a strange feeling because at moments like that we see how deeply unconscious signs (the clock or mirror) affect our sense of who we are.

After a while we get used to the bare wall, but the lesson in how deeply signs operate within us should be clear. The other lesson of how we can indeed change our reference or expectation from a wall with a clock or mirror to a wall without either should also be clear.

At first, the mind is surprised, but after a while, it accepts that there is no clock on the wall with little fuss.

When two people do FIML practice, they help each other remove broken clocks and mirrors from the walls of their minds. FIML strongly emphasizes catching the signal and the semiotic it is referring to as quickly as you can. If partners can isolate their signals quickly, they will find that they are dealing with very small and discrete signs that very, very often are not true.

Normal people live in vague worlds where they grope toward each other like ghosts in the fog. How can we understand each other or ourselves if we do not pay attention to the small signals that are, arguably, the most important units of interpersonal communication?

And how can you pay attention to them if you don’t catch them quickly in the moment? If you try to understand yourself through long explanations and stories, you will only be understanding the underlying semiotic library that your moment-by-moment signals are referring to. If you catch those small signals as they happen in the moment, though, you will come to understand how and why that library is being accessed and how that affects you.

When your partner shows you that one of your signals was wrong and that it was referring to a part of the library that had no proper bearing on that moment, and when they show you that again, and again, that particular signal will stop firing. And there is a very good chance your library will change as well. It will change you deeply to see that.

How semiotics can help us understand ourselves

Why are people greedy?

Besides the usual answers, a succinct and very useful answer to this question is that greed is part of a semiotic system, a signalling system. Having a lot of money lets people buy good things—houses, cars, clothes, memberships, etc.—and these things send a basic signal to other people that is easy to understand. If you have a nice house, car, and good clothes people will tend to see you as being reliable, “normal,” familiar, worth knowing.

Why do people hate?

People hate those who do not accept their semiotic system. If someone is sending most of the same signals as you are, there is no way you will hate them unless they make you jealous, in which case they are probably just signalling better than you. If someone harms you, thus earning your ire, if not hate, it is often due to their jealousy.

Why do people have egos?

We need to signal to others. To communicate we must send a coherent semiotic package to the people we know. This need to send a neat package forms the basis of our ego, our biographical-actorial “self.” Depending on conditions, we internalize those standards that we think exemplify what we want others to think of us. Of course, the ego always gets mixed up with greed, hate and/or pride to make the picture more complex. But if you look at the signalling systems—the semiotics—much of it can be teased apart.

Why do people have personalities?

Or do we? “Personality traits” can be described in much the same way as we described the ego above. Sometimes people’s personalities seem to me to be something they have imagined, a standard they have adopted like an astrological sign or a pumped-up allegiance to a fantasized ethnic or religious “identity.”

What is “identity”?

It’s a semiotic system, often a system we have consciously chosen for ourselves. Identity compliments ego and personality, allowing the individual to take on ready-made feelings, a history, customs, and behaviors that send powerful signals to other people. When many people identify with the same symbols, they often gain political power; this is “identity politics.” Identity signals to others and to ourselves that we belong to something, are part of something. Identities are powerful group signals and they often can become violent or aggressive.

What is suspicion?

Suspicion is fundamentally not being sure what someone means. Since we all know how hard it is to know what others mean, it is no wonder that there is so much suspicion in the world.

You can go one and on like this. Many human behaviors and ways of “understanding” ourselves and others can be neatly analyzed as semiotic systems, signalling systems, that have recognizable signs and symbols that are often surprisingly simple.

Look around you—everything is signalling. Insects in the trees, hormones in your blood, road signs, clothing, and on and on. The sun signals the earth with gravity.

Human beings are complex signalling systems. To communicate with each other, we streamline and make static most of our signals. This is good and necessary in many situations, but it is not you.

In many ways, we can say that delusion, as defined by the Buddha, means to believe that a signalling system is completely “real,” that it is all that there is. Liberation from delusion begins with understanding how semiotics—signs, symbols, signals, and their meanings—actually work in our minds.

How FIML affects memory

Basic FIML practice works mainly with short-term memory, or working memory, by being “always available” to purge mistaken interpretations as soon as they arise within it.

This is why basic FIML practice must start quickly. And this is why partners must make a prior agreement about doing FIML.

Partners must both completely understand that FIML is “always available” to either of them and that the initiation of a FIML discussion must happen quickly enough to deal with the contents of the short-term memory.

Of course there will be times when conditions will not permit a FIML discussion (dinner at mom’s), and there will be other times when one or both partners decide to not pursue a discussion due to fatigue.

In either of those cases, a good discussion may be still taken up later on or on the next day, though the loss of good data from the working memory of the moment in question often makes these discussions less enlightening. Beginners would do well to avoid kicking the can down the road as much as possible. Advanced FIML partners may find that they are able to do it well enough on more occasions than when they were beginners.

Once partners have made an agreement to make FIML practice “always available,” they will rapidly cease planting new seeds of mistaken interpretations in their short-term memories.

Their success at doing this depends on how well they do basic FIML practice. If one or both of them is not mindful or honest enough to do it well, it may take longer for them to trust the practice and each other. In most cases, I believe, FIML practice itself—merely trying reasonably well to do it—will correct lingering trust and mindfulness problems, both of which strongly characterize virtually all non-FIML communication.

Once partners are fairly successful at basic FIML practice, the new seeds that they are no longer planting in their short-term memories obviously will never be “consolidated” and thus never enter their long-term memories.

Consolidation is a technical term for the process of turning a short-term memory into a long-term memory. Long-term memories are, of course, much more stable than short term ones.

After just a few weeks, reasonably good FIML partners will begin to notice that nothing, or nothing much, is happening between them to cause new problems. They will notice that they are mostly no longer creating, consolidating, and storing new mistaken interpretations of each other.

This is a nice feeling. But partners will not be finished just yet because for all of their lives prior to doing FIML they have been creating, consolidating, and storing mistaken impressions of everyone they know, including their partner.

As partners continue doing FIML, they will see that FIML practice is also gradually purging their long-term memory of mistaken interpretations. It does this through the short-term memory.

In FIML practice, you can think of your short-term memory as being like a funnel or drain through which the mistaken contents of your long-term memory will flow out of you.

The reason this happens is all mistaken interpretations in your long-term memory will eventually impact your short-term memory.

The moment this happens when you are with your partner, you will catch it. Eventually you will start to actually see how your long-term memory is influencing what you take into your short-term memory. As you purge those sorts of mistakes from your short-term memory with the basic FIML technique, you will notice that those long-term memory mistakes will start to weaken and disappear.

How long they take to disappear will depend on their strength and your practice. If you are mindful and honest, they may go away fairly quickly.

An example is in order. Let’s say that you had an experience when you were young that caused you to feel stupid. The experience may even have been pretty minor. All that matters is you consolidated that experience and stuck it into your long-term memory where, from then on, it influenced a great deal of what goes into your short-term memory.

All of us have stuff like that. If you are like the person described above, you will tend to have a hair-trigger about feeling stupid in many situations. And because of that, you will make mistakes like this: you may see someone smile at you and judge that they are patronizing you because you think they think you are stupid.

Examples vary, but you get the idea. Change the example to insecure, abandoned, low self-esteem, whatever, and change the incident from a smile to a tone of voice, the basic problem is the same—you have a long-term memory interpretation that frequently, even constantly, influences how you interpret the present.

If you think the capitol of New York State is New York City and someone shows you that it is Albany, you may go “huh,” but you will probably drop the NYC idea right away with little or no fuss. The evidence is right there before your eyes. Pretty easy to change.

It’s not so different for emotional material. If you do FIML right—that is, by focusing on small incidents in the moment with a caring parnter—you will affect your long-term memory in much the same way as upgrading any other wrongly learned fact.

Strong emotional memories, naturally, will require more examples for the new information to unseat them, but the process is not all that different.

As stated in other posts, I don’t think that FIML practice is right for everyone. FIML partners need to care deeply about each other and they must be willing at least to learn to trust each other completely. That is already a pretty high bar, especially in this fucked-up world. Beyond that, partners have to be mindful and be willing to do FIML discussions frequently.

For couples that meet the basic requirements, in most cases, I believe, FIML practice will show positive results in a few weeks, good results in a few months, and excellent results in a few years. Once you get the idea, I doubt you will want to stop.