Autocatalytic sets

Autocatalytic sets are fundamental to the chemical and social evolution of life.

More background on this subject can be found here: The Single Theory That Could Explain Emergence, Organisation And The Origin of Life. The title of that article is overblown, but the idea of autocatalytic sets is important.

Consider that the evolution of life is not subject to the laws of physics. Or, stated another way, it cannot be reduced to the laws of physics. One reason this is so is advantageous adaptations cannot be predicted based on physical laws. The laws of physics, for example, have nothing of fundamental importance to say about how and why one group of humans can secure an evolutionary advantage over another group by learning to lie more effectively.

Semiotics, communicative signalling, and the autocatalytic evolution of social rules can say interesting things about lying and how it can and often does confer an advantage to one group over another.

FIML removes lying from communications between participating partners. FIML is also an autocatalytic system—it grows on itself by feeding better and better information back into itself. FIML starts with very small data points but quickly grows them into large sets that allow partners to say very interesting things about themselves, and others. A FIML basis for social and psychological understanding can and will replace static extrinsic bases if partners work at it.

I have a feeling that FIML, or something very much like it, will become a basis for social organization in the future when AI surpasses human intelligence. For now, FIML can be a basis for partners to create a more honest world for themselves. Notice that FIML does not use leaders to send you a static message and it does not tell you what to think or how to behave. This is because FIML is an autocatalytic system that you will grow with your partner.

Repost: FIML and Bernard Lonergan’s GEM

One aspect of FIML that continues to delight me, even after years of practice, is how so little can give us so much. In a nutshell “all” FIML does is stabilize and clarify our communication with one other person.

FIML does this by removing error and resolving ambiguities between two people. FIML cannot do this perfectly, but it does it well-enough that partners will experience a level of mental and emotional clarity that had not been available to them before.

Continue reading…

Repost: FIML over time

Long-term practice of FIML generates deep change in the human psyche. Social relations, habitual traits and attitudes, as well as ingrained emotional responses may all be subject to profound transformation.

The reason this happens is the basic FIML technique provides consistently good counter-evidence to habitual mental and emotional reactions. In addition, the technique itself teaches the practitioner’s mind–or shows it by example–to apply similar kinds of reasoning to many other situations that are not open to FIML dialog.

Continue reading…

Reasons To Reject

Link to original

Good post by Robin Hanson, well-worth reading.

An excerpt:

…we are in the habit of collecting reasons why things might be bad ideas… With a library of reasons to reject in hand, we can do simple pattern matching to find reasons to reject most anything. We can thus continue to pretend to be big fans of innovation, saying that unfortunately in this case there are serious problems.

The semiotics of rejection neatly explained: The “sign” (the new idea) “calls up” (indexes) a “library” of (preformed) “reasons” to reject it.

FIML practice, of course, greatly alters the status quo of how partners communicate with each other. And that changes how partners understand each other and themselves. And that is a huge benefit, but why believe me?

The temporal, semiotic matrix we all live in

The temporal, semiotic matrix we all live in is a work of imagination.

We project the future, imagine the past, and are restricted in the present. Another way to say that is we imagine all three, quite poorly.

The present is restricted, especially, primarily, because we rarely can speak freely. We can’t speak freely because we fear that what we say might be misunderstood, misremembered, remembered for too long, or told to the wrong people.

What we say today in a spirit of creative exploration may harm us in the future when it is taken out of context or given a different weight than we had intended; also, times may change and our words won’t sound right any longer.

This is a terrible situation for humans to be in. We do it to ourselves in many different ways. Speech should expand our degrees of freedom but it generally only limits them in most situations.

Interpersonal speech should be creative, exploratory, very often non-conclusive, wondering. Then why do we fear being misunderstood, misremembered, remembered correctly but out of context? Even by those closest to us? The reason is we do not know how to fine-tune our speech, how to adjust the erroneous minutiae of speech that lead to huge misunderstandings. A single word, a single expression can get you killed in the wrong place at the wrong time. In “polite society” it can ruin your reputation, cause you to lose your job. How can any of us be creative speakers, vibrant human beings, if we are afraid of making even a single misstep?

The place to look for fixing this problem is in the moment-by-moment exchange of ideas/memories/feelings that happen during communication with the person or people who are most important to us. And the way to do that is practice FIML. If you cannot bring the present under conscious control—that is, if you are forced to imagine what someone means rather than ask—you cannot be free. Your imagination will be filled with mistakes and self-deception. The same will be true for your partner. There is no way out of that trap except FIML or something very much like it. When the present is filled with illusions, so must be the past and future, everything.

FIML is practical semiotics applied to the psychology of intimate human communication

A “psychological morpheme” can be identified with or stimulated by a “sign” that “indexes” a “library” of “meaning.”

FIML practices interrupts the indexing of the sign before it calls up meaning from the library. This is a technical way to say what FIML practice does.

The terms used above, indicated by quotation marks, can be defined as follows:

A psychological morpheme is the smallest unit of psychological meaning. It is analogous to a morpheme in linguistics, which is the smallest unit of meaning in a language, or the smallest semantic unit in a language.

Signs are the basis of semiotics, which means “the study of signs.” Signs are generally understood to have three aspects to them: 1) the sign itself; 2) what the sign refers to; and 3) how it is interpreted.

An index is a sign or a part of a sign that indicates something else. An index in a library may refer to “Greek history” or a similar broad subject. When a sign is a psychological index it refers to a library of thoughts and feelings held in an individual’s mind. Your psychological indexes will be different from mine.

The meaning of an indexical psychological sign is the library of thoughts and feelings that it refers to.

Thus, using technical language, we can say as we did above that: A “psychological morpheme” can be identified with or stimulated by a “sign” that “indexes” a “library” of “meaning.”

That is a very dry statement. The value of that statement lies in this—during interpersonal communication, people very often misidentify signs or index them incorrectly. Therefore they call up libraries of meaning that do not apply to what was actually said (or signed) by the other person.

It is very common that a listener in an interpersonal communication will perceive a psychological sign as indexing a library of meaning that the speaker did not intend.

FIML stops this mistake as it starts to happen. When one partner believes they have perceived a sign that is identified with, or stimulates, a psychological morpheme in them, rather than call up the library that seems to have been indexed by that sign, they instead stop the conversation and ask their partner what they meant by the sign.

It is rare that the speaker meant to stimulate the psychological morpheme the listener thought they had. By doing FIML, the listener stops the complex indexing of that morpheme. By stopping indexing mistakes as they happen, partners will discover a level of freedom and mutual enjoyment that is unlike any other. When enough indexing mistakes are stopped, partners will discover that their “interpersonality” has changed for the better, as have their individual “personalities.” This happens because our senses of who we are are deeply dependent on our relations with other people. When the quality of your relationship with your partner is greatly upgraded, both of you will experience upgrades in many other areas of your lives.

In the context outlined above, we can say that FIML is practical semiotics applied to the psychology of intimate human communication.

How we process big ideas and the semiotics behind this

I want to discuss a few big ideas with the intention of showing how our internal or culturally underlying semiotics determine how easy or hard they are to accept.

Most thinking people can accept the possibility of atheism. And most atheists can accept the possibility of there being a God or gods or other realms. Atheists who are staunch physicalists may find it harder to do this, but most of them can.

Most thinking people can accept the theory of evolution.

Most thinking people can and do accept the scientific method. Fewer, but many, people understand the limitations of the scientific method.

The theory of evolution and the scientific method can both be stated briefly and in simple language. They are not hard to understand. The limitations of the scientific method require a bit more thought as do the nuances of evolution, but a crude understanding of either is not hard to achieve. Similarly, physicalism is not hard to state or understand.

The simulation argument (that we are living in a computer simulation) can also be stated briefly and is not hard to understand. Many people now accept this argument and admit that it is possible that we are living in a sim. In fact, some physics departments are actually studying the idea. Here is one example: Scientists plan test to see if the entire universe is a simulation created by futuristic supercomputers.

For most educated people in industrialized regions of the world, it is not difficult to accept or seriously consider any of the above theories or ideas.

All of the above ideas can be very revolutionary if you go from not accepting them to accepting them. They revolutionize our metaphysics, our sense of existential reality, our sense of what kind of a world or universe we are living in.

In contrast, ideas that are socially revolutionary are harder for many people to accept, or even consider.

It can be hard to have a calm discussion about inherent problems in the American capitalist system, for example. Or to have a reasonable discussion about the anomalies of 9/11. These subjects, though fascinating, are difficult for many people because they fundamentally threaten the power-and-money hierarchy upon which their social and psychological beings rest.

FIML is an idea that, like the ideas above, can be stated briefly in simple language. This does not mean it is not revolutionary. And this does not mean that FIML will not be difficult for many people to accept. It can be difficult because FIML practice revolutionizes interpersonal relations. I know that if it is done correctly it will bring about a revolutionary improvement. But viewed from a distance or as a mere idea, I also know that it will appear threatening or trivial to many people.

The sim idea was dismissed as trivial by many people just a few years ago. It has gained much wider acceptance since then. It is a delightful idea and not threatening or dangerous at all. It can renew your sense of who you are and where you are.

FIML practice is much like that. It is delightful and not threatening or trivial at all. It will renew your sense of who you are and how you relate to other people in wonderful ways. Just because an idea looks simple does not mean it does not have deep implications. If a new idea challenges our sense of who we are socially or psychologically, it will be more difficult to accept than if it challenges “only” our metaphysical or existential sense of who and where we are.

Difficult problems

This article, How Corruption Is Strangling U.S. Innovation, describes something we all know is happening—political campaign donations and lobbying deeply skewing American politics and social structure.

There is no simple way to fix this problem. There is no big fix that will make everything better. And each small fix usually causes other problems that need fixing. Here is a paper on how difficult it can be just to get reasonable disclosure regulations for corporations: Information Disclosure and Corporate Governance. Disclosure can harm long-term goals by giving away valuable information to competitors and it can cause CEOs to focus on short-term goals to raise their pay. Is there any way Congress would be able to figure out how to write good disclosure laws and then to implement them? The answer is no.

Congress may be able to do something in other areas, but “legalized bribery” will continue to come into play even when lawmakers know what is right.

It looks to me that the kind of government we have now is trapped in the past and will never be able to innovate or provide for the best interests of the population. My semi-realistic, semi-utopian hope is that we replace our “representative” Congress with a very large body of citizens—roughly 30 million—who will be better able to crowd source legislation that works. To be a member of this large “citizens congress,” all you will need to do is pass qualifying tests. There would be no age limit. There are many procedural systems that could be used to guide and funnel information to the right people, and many ways that we could figure out who the right people are. Here is a website, DAGGRE, that shows one way of using crowd sourcing to make better forecasts. Forecasts are fundamental to sound policy decisions. We have a long way to go, but I think the direction is more or less thataway.

Edit: Here is some more good reading on this topic: Why Do People Defend Unjust, Inept, and Corrupt Systems? The study behind this article can be found here: On Social Stability and Social Change: Understanding When System Justification Does and Does Not Occur.

The paper claims that people resist change in the systems they live and work within due to: 1) low personal control, 2) being unable to escape the system, 3) being dependent on the system, and 4) being in a system that is being threatened. This seems about right to me. From a FIML point of view, we might say that non-FIML interpersonal systems are profoundly dependent on static semiotics—system norms—because non-FIML interpersonal communication contains far too much ambiguity for people to effectively challenge those norms, or even to speak about them in many cases.

Very good photo essay on Chinese workers

This photo essay is very good. It gives a much better picture of China than the ones we often conjure in our imaginations.

Chinese Factory Workers & the Toys They Make

Having lived in China for a number of years, I see the country more as this photo essay portrays it—more ordinary, more human, more realistically wonderful, and maybe a little sadder than the many Americans see it. Just my two cents. Take from it what you want. They are good pictures and it’s a good collection.

Related: Enslaved Children Freed After Being Forced to Make Christmas decorations

FIML changes the personality and sense of group allegiance

FIML practice changes your personality, your sense of self, because the basis of who you tell yourself you are changes. It changes from a static notion/story/semiology of a solid, if elusive, “me” to an active function. The active function, a process of understanding, happens because when you do FIML you interact with your partner on a truly active basis. This basis is mutually agreed upon and admits far more “objective”/external data into your core self-assessment than is possible without FIML. FIML teaches both partners the value of micromanaging their communication and being completely honest about every moment of communication, every “psychological morpheme” that transits between them.

FIML practice changes your sense of group allegiance by gradually allowing partners to shift their sense of allegiance away from the static ideals of an external group to the dynamic, functional processes of their mutual FIML practice, their honest and very accessible “interpersonality.”

For example, if both partners are “Buddhists,” they will gradually be able to shift their understanding of the Dharma from static, imitative notions of how to be to much richer conclusions based on honest interactive experience. They will grow away from their reliance on two-dimensional ideals toward a mutually understood experience of Buddhist truths. Nothing wrong with ideals in the right place and time, but individual Buddhists must advance beyond merely acting them out, pretending they feel ways they don’t. The core of the mind is accessed in FIML practice because FIML accesses core communication processes. An individual all alone can gain many insights, but without the help of a FIML partner how can they check their insights?

Buddhists who practice FIML will find their practice informed by Buddhism at almost every turn, but this is different from modelling a static personality on static Buddhist ideals. It is so radically different, I suspect it is much closer to what the Buddha actually meant and probably a major reason monks traveled in pairs for most of the year. How can you know yourself, your being, your reality, if you aren’t sure of what people are saying to you or how they are hearing you? Not only not sure, but wrong most of the time? The answer is you cannot. It’s not possible. FIML will wake you and your partner from that major aspect of the dream. As the Diamond Sutra says:

All conditioned dharmas
are like dreams, like illusions,
like bubbles, like shadows,
like dew, like lightning,
and all of them should be contemplated in this way.

Psychology recapitulates sociology, and the other way around is true, as well—sociology recapitulates psychology. Groups of people when they are bound by static ideals/beliefs are worse than individuals. Groups like that—and that is how almost all groups are—are sociopathic; that is, the group acts like a psychopath. Individuals within the group may be “nice” to other group members, but the group itself rarely will eschew all “callous disregard for” other groups, the very definition of a psychopath. Even Buddhist groups do this. The only ones that don’t are so small and weak, they dare not.

The same is true as much or more so for all other groups—religious, national, ethnic, gender-based, racial, psychological, whatever. This is because all groups are based on static ideals, which when internalized, reduce the functionality of the individual and corrupt their morality.

Science in many ways is an exception because as a group “science” is objective, rational, parsimonious, evidence-based. In practice of course, the sociology of how science is actually done can be fraught with delusion. Science works very well at a high level of abstraction, but many individual scientists will feel low-grade sociological pressures and many of them will belong to groups that are based on ideals that are very different from science and that are sociopathic.

Yes, I believe all large groups are dangerous and will lead individuals to make serious ethical mistakes. And yet, we have to belong somewhere. It is torture to be all alone. This is where FIML can help greatly. You can fulfill many of your group needs by identifying your core group as you and your partner. FIML partners must continue to be deeply informed by other groups—science, Buddhism, good politics, your friends and neighbors, etc.—but they need not take in the sociopathic ideals of those groups. Go to your temples, enjoy them, do the meditations, participate, but don’t be a damn fool about it. With the help of your partner, you will be able to separate out the dreams, illusions, shadows, and lightning of the Dharma from the profound reality of your actual lives as you are actually living them. You will discover, with the help of the Dharma, the suchness of your actual being, not someone else’s.

Roger Williams notebooks decoded

The two links below are to news stories about Williams’ notebooks.

Researchers unlock religious writings of Rhode Island founder after centuries

Brown University students crack centuries-old code used by Roger Williams

Williams was an important American religious and political thinker. He was an early proponent of religious freedom, separation of church and state, and right behavior toward native Americans.

The code was broken by undergraduate students using statistical analysis.

Ask your partner, ask yourself

Ask your partner: “How often do you deliberately send me ambiguous messages?”

If you have a good relationship, their answer will be “rarely if ever.” Some people may interpret humor or banter as a type of ambiguous message and answer differently.

To control for that ask your partner: “How often do you deliberately send me ambiguous messages that could reasonably be interpreted in a negative or unpleasant way?”

I hope that your partner will answer “very rarely, if ever.” If they don’t, maybe you two should pay more attention to the messages you are sending each other.

Let’s say that your partner answered “very rarely, if ever” to both questions, and especially the second one.

Now ask yourself: “How often do you receive messages from your partner that are ambiguous and could reasonably be interpreted in a negative or unpleasant way?” Or, more to the point: “How often do you receive ambiguous messages from your partner and interpret them in a negative or unpleasant way?”

You have to be honest with yourself and a good observer of your own quiet mind to answer that question accurately, truthfully. I bet most people are burdened with a fairly large group of ambiguous messages from their partner that they have interpreted in a negative or unpleasant way. You may not recall the actual message, but you will recall the interpretation.

Compare your feelings about those interpretations with your partner’s answers to the first two questions above. They told you that they “rarely, if ever” send you ambiguous messages that could reasonably be interpreted in a negative or unpleasant way.

And yet your mind holds many such interpretations. Either your partner is lying or you are doing too much misinterpreting.

Now turn the tables and take them through the same line of thought. I am quite sure that if they are honest, they will confess that they, too, are burdened with a fairly large group of ambiguous messages from you that they have interpreted in a negative or unpleasant way.

If you two have a good relationship, you should be able to get to this point, but even if you can’t get there with your partner, you as an individual, may be able to get there alone.

Now what do you do? If both partners see the problem, it’s easier to fix. If only one partner sees the problem, the fix is more difficult but still eminently doable.

What is the fix? Why do we have a problem like this?

The reason we have this problem is we do not pay enough attention to the minute bits of information that make-up all communicative acts. The fix for this problem is to pay attention to those minute bits of information.

How do you do that?

To answer, first let’s determine what we mean by a minute bit. Definition: A minute bit of communicative information in this context means the smallest discernible unit of psychological communication. Let’s call these units “psychological morphemes.” (In linguistics, a “morpheme” is the smallest semantic unit of language.)

A psychological morpheme is the smallest unit of communication between two or more people that carries an emotional charge, or that leads to an emotional or psychological interpretation. It is the smallest unit that can be interpreted by the hearer as either “positive,” “negative,” or “neutral.”

These units move between people very quickly. Within just a few seconds a psychological morpheme can move out from one partner, generate a new morpheme in the other partner, and get shot right back for a third interpretation. This is the primary origin of the vague and unreliable underbelly of so many interpersonal relations. If this underbelly is not addressed, it will grow and cause partners to suffer. The underbelly is the result of misinterpreted psychological morphemes, probably a great many of them. They tend to grow quickly and compound if they are not addressed.

How do you address them? How do you fix the problem?

The way you fix the problem is both partners must agree to pay close attention to all psychological morphemes. Both must agree to pay close attention to very small units of communication, units that are measured in seconds. If you hear something your partner said and notice that your mind is interpreting it as unpleasant, negative, or ambiguous, you must ask them immediately for clarification. If you wait, the psychological morpheme will lodge in your brain and you may not be able to remove it later. Sometimes you can, but don’t count on it. Ask immediately.

It is of great importance that both partners understand this and make a prior agreement to allow each other to ask as often as they like. Both partners must also make a prior agreement to be honest about what they meant. Once you get used to it, you will find this practice to be very beneficial and a much better way to talk as it allows you to take up a great many new subjects that will touch both of you deeply. More information on this technique can be found on our How to do FIML page and elsewhere on this site. This practice greatly supports Buddhist practice.