FIML and macro explanations

In FIML practice, partners learn that even very small misinterpretations that arise within a few seconds of communication can seize the mind and grow into big mistakes. Mistakes about the other person(s), mistakes about the “self,” and mistakes about how the world is. FIML practice is designed to catch these mistakes and eliminate them as soon as they appear, within seconds of their appearance if possible. FIML is designed to prevent false micro-interpretations from becoming huge mistakes that distort human experience.

In a somewhat similar fashion, FIML practice can also show us how macro-interpretations, or macro-explanations or stories, can be deeply mistaken and what to do about that.

Our macro-explanations tell us who we are, what we are doing, and why. Some of our macro-explanations were established long ago and seem to be part of the very fabric of our being and some of them are acute. That is, they arise in moments of crisis when we are suddenly thrown into turmoil by events beyond our control—financial hardship, divorce, serious misunderstanding with a friend, etc. At such times, we often flail around like a swimmer drowning in a whirlpool as we grasp for some explanation or story that will give us secure feelings and a secure sense that we understand what has happened and what to do next.

Sometimes we do arrive at a good understanding and a reasonable sense of what has happened and what to do next, but often we do not. In our emotional turmoil we may be strongly tempted to choose mistaken macro-explanations or stories that answer our (also mistaken) emotional needs at the expense of a more reasonable and more profound understanding of our situation.

This same basic scenario also describes how groups of people tend to react in times of crisis. Groups, cultures, nations, religions, clubs, and societies tend to react emotionally to crises and seize on mistaken macro-explanations in much the same ways as individuals. Like individuals groups tend to favor explanations of difficult events that make members feel good about themselves and that provide a cohesive sense of how to move forward, what to do next. If we are born into or brought into an existing group, some of its macro-explanations will be quite old, even ancient. It is difficult for groups to eliminate false macro-explanations and stories without disturbing group bonds.

For example, in some parts of the world, even today, people are burned to death due to superstitions, which are fundamentally very bad macro-explanations. Once a superstition is invoked by a group, it is all but impossible for an individual to go against it lest they also be caught up in the madness.

If your community decides that someone is a witch who must be burned, you may be burned along with them if you try to defend the accused.

When Tony Blair claimed that Saddam Hussein had WMD that could strike London within forty minutes, many of us howled with dismay at his obvious lie, but many of us were caught up in a war-fever that was as superstitious as belief in witches, and far more destructive. Other “evidence” that promoted the war in Iraq were the yellow cake forgeries (which have never been seriously investigated), Iraq’s fictitious connection to 9/11,  and mobile weapons units that were falsely presented as missile launchers. If you doubted a single part of these dangerous explanations, you would not face much criticism, but if you doubted the whole story—the macro-explanation that constituted an excuse for war—you risked condemnation from many in the American community.

Once Bush’s basic macro-explanation of the world after 9/11 became an all but required belief, Americans were forced to accept a slew of further consequences that stemmed from it. New laws, new security departments, and new ways to search our private lives followed upon the basic macro-explanation that “you are either with us or you are with the terrorists.”

FIML practitioners will recognize how it happens that huge consequences can and will flow from a single misinterpretation, a single failure to ask the right questions at the right time.

Some other examples of bad macro-explanations that hinge on narrow emotional “evidence” are:

  • Any explanation based on the need to be right as opposed to the desire to search for what is right (which is often very complex and not as emotionally satisfying initially).
  • Explanations that involve “value reversals” that accuse others of what we are doing or preparing to do. These are very effective rhetorical devices that confuse the emotions of listeners. Some examples are:
  1. “They are terrorists so we must shock and awe them!”
  2. “You are a kook if you want more evidence!”
  3. “Anyone who opposes our idea of what is best for us clearly must hate us!”
  • Attributing a complex problem to a single cause often indicates a false macro-explanation.
  • A simplified story about the history of a group commonly emphasizes only one side of complex events.

It is sad but true that a great deal of human history is filled with and flows from false macro-explanations, which are hardly distinguishable from superstitions.

The deep problem is humans are emotional animals. We bond with each other emotionally and are strongly motivated to work together based on emotional bonds that flow from false stories. The simpler the stories, the better. “You are either with us or you are with the terrorists!” “Whatever is best for us!” “My country right or wrong!” “Shoot first and ask questions later!” “God will sort it out!” And so on. There are so many of these, you have to marvel that humans can ever behave rationally.

Basic FIML practice, and the cognitive experience it brings, can be a great help in removing erroneous macro-explanations.

In basic FIML practice, partners learn to notice jangles—the emotional signs that a micro-misinterpretation may have occurred—the moment they arise. Not all micro-misinterpretations carry an emotional charge, but most of the serious ones do. Emotion is an important clue that a misinterpretation or a bad explanation is forming in your mind.

Similarly, erroneous macro-explanations can be analyzed and successfully replaced with more truthful ones by looking for emotional clues.

To use the first example mentioned above, if you feel a strong need to be right and/or an unwillingness to consider that you might be wrong, you may have trapped yourself in an erroneous macro-explanation and are guarding yourself from the need to reevaluate your feelings.

If you find yourself attacking people who disagree with your position by using “value reversal” arguments, you may be using strong language and simplistic arguments to dominate or drive away people who disagree with your position.

If you find that you are emotionally attached to a simple and/or deeply emotional history of your people, your religion, your nation, your gender,  and so on, you may very well be using emotion to bolster your explanation of who you are and your justification for what you are doing.

If you claim, after reading this, that everyone does that, you may be using an erroneous single-cause explanation to protect a position that deep down you know is wrong.

In basic FIML practice, partners learn that even very simple misunderstandings can be extremely complex and that they often lead to long analyses, which completely change our understanding once they have been completed.

The way to fix false macro-explanations is similar: start by looking for the emotional attachment and then analyze the factors that have produced it and that maintain it. What you will very often find at bottom is a profound need to make emotional sense of whatever the issue is.

For example, if you strongly identify with an ethnic group or a religion, you will probably be very reluctant to give up the false stories they use to explain their understanding of who they are and what they are doing.

Another kind of macro-problem occurs when we are in the midst of a difficult and complex life situation. We may lie awake at night wondering what to do, what to think, and most of all what to feel. More often than not it is the need to feel right about the situation that drives our explanations. Since none of us are all that smart, we frequently make mistakes in this area by taking on feelings before we have a good explanation.

If you find this happening, take the time to speak at length with your partner about how confused you are, how you don’t know what to think. Describe the various aspects of the problem as honestly as you can. Don’t be afraid to admit you feel like a jerk, a worm, an idiot. It is very hard to admit that we are feeling like a worm or a jerk, so look for those feelings. They can often be found at the core of erroneous macro-explanations.

With the help of your partner, you will almost surely gain a much deeper appreciation for the complexity of the problem, its multifaceted nature. Analyze it from as many angles as you can. Consider the perspectives of others and how some of the conditions that brought the problem about cannot be changed and that they may not originally have been anyone’s fault.

Eventually, you will feel better about the problem. The resolution you arrive at with your partner will contain a wholesome emotion that follows reason and sober analysis, not an unwholesome one that precedes it.

The key to eliminating both micro and macro false interpretations can often be found in the underlying emotions from which these interpretations have stemmed. Basic FIML practice makes it fairly easy to deal with mistaken micro-interpretations because basic FIML is designed to work with very small incidents. It is easier for partners to analyze small mistakes, understand their origins, and admit them openly than it is for them to deal with large mistakes.

Nonetheless, basic FIML practice also provides a reliable guide for how to prevent, correct, or eliminate erroneous macro-explanations, which may arise suddenly during times of crisis or which may be part of a traditional culture to which we belong. Needless to say, false macro-explanations are often a driving force behind false micro-interpretations.


Note: In semiotics, a macro-explanation can be understood as a “library” that is called up by a micro-interpretation, which is itself an “index.” An index is a sign that references something else, usually something much larger (a library). Of course, libraries can also influence or determine indexes.

    Notice how easy it is to change an explanation—macro or micro—if there is no emotional charge attached to it. If you have always believed a wrong explanation about how electricity works, for example, and someone tells you the right explanation, you will probably feel grateful to that person and find it easy to change your understanding. In fact, you may also experience a sense of wonder as you contemplate the new explanation. Contrast this to the emotions that may be generated by being supplied with solid facts that disprove your position on the gun debate or some other burning issue of the day.

    Macro-explanations in politics and public life often acquire cult-like features, if they do not actually originate in cults. Mass media generally treats hot issues as being little more than debates between diametrically opposed cults. I doubt there are many of us who do not enjoy hearing someone who supports our position let loose with a scathing attack against the other side. This is an example of how emotion can become a central part of an otherwise rational position. We do this in the sphere of public semiotics and we do this with our private semiotics—our idiotics. From the point of view of semiotics, there is much that is similar in the public and private realm with regard to how we engage emotion and get it mixed up with reason. Psychologically, it is probably more true most of the time that emotional suffering is best dealt with by examining semiotics and idiotics, rather than spending long hours generating and/or revising macro-explanations based on hypotheses about what may or may not have happened to you as a child.

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