Semiotics and psychology

A semiotic analysis of a person’s “internal and external signalling” often can be more conducive to understanding than a “psychological” analysis.

From a semiotic point of view, it is not at all necessary that even a very significant adult behavior will have started with a significant trauma or any other sort of strong influence.

The smallest thing can constitute the start of a “semiotic slope” that, once begun, will tend to persist.

For example, your mom may not have understood that as a three-year-old it was normal for you to prefer the company of your father. Her misunderstanding may then have led to her withdrawing from you very slightly, and this snowballed between the two of you. When, years later, you wanted a closer relation with your mom and were not able to get it, it may have seemed to you that the cause was some trauma in her relation with her mother. But the actual start of the whole thing began with nothing more than your mom never having learned the simple fact that toddlers often prefer one parent over the other for a period of time.

What happened was she misunderstood the semiotics of toddler behavior and many things followed from that. There was no trauma, no ideal state not attained due to some seriously bad thing having happened to her.

Another way to put this is most people do not remember very much before the age of five or so. But didn’t a lot of formative things happen back then? Some probably were traumatic, and we do tend to remember those experiences more clearly than others, but much of what started our paths of development also began with very simple, often accidental, interpretations or misinterpretations of what was said or done to us or around us.

In a semiotic analysis, we recognize that a good deal of what we think/feel/believe began with a small thing, a random or accidental interpretation than got us going in some direction that we likely today see as a major component of our “personality.”

Semiotics can be defined as “the science of communicable meaning (including internal communication).”

Once your mom began to interpret, even very slightly, your toddler behavior as “meaning” that you did not love her as much as your father, many things followed for all of you. But there was no trauma, no glaring formative event, no Freudian ghost from her past coming to haunt your life. Rather, she simply made a mistake due to her ignorance of toddler behavior.

Ironically, the fact that many of us still today tend to understand much of human “psychology” as being determined by unconscious Freudianesque forces is a good example of how a “semiotic slope” once begun tends to continue. Freud started us down a “semiotic slope” that still shapes much of our world today.

The persistence of what is simply a wrong interpretation in an individual can be compared to what happens in cultures. Something begins, then it snowballs, then it becomes a tradition or an established idea. The semiotic network that is culture is hard to change once it is established. Something very similar is also true for individuals.

I am not claiming that emotional traumas do not happen and that they do not affect people. I am claiming that what we are is often due to small accidents as much as large traumas. And that people who are “resilient” after having suffered significant traumas may be so because their semiotic development led them to view the “meaning” of their trauma in a more “resilient,” or useful, way.

The reason we use the term semiotics on this site

Semiotics can be defined as “what we take to have meaning and how we perceive it through signs and symbols.” It can also be defined as “the science of communicable meaning.” Or “the science of communicable signs.”

The reason we use the term semiotics on this site is when FIML partners do a FIML query, the data in their minds at the moment(s) in question are best described as raw semiotics. That is, it is the raw material that makes up the composite of consciousness at the moment(s) in question. This material, or data, can be sharply focused, vague, irrelevant to the subject at hand, emotional, associative, organized, disorganized, and so on. When partners get good at observing this data accurately and describing it to each other, they will find that much of it, if not all of it, is connected to a psycho-semiotic network that underlies awareness and gives rise to it. Understanding this network is extremely valuable and will provide partners with great insights into how and why they feel, think, and behave as they do. It is very difficult (and I think impossible) to understand this network through solitary pursuits only. The reason for this is a solitary mind will fool itself. In contrast, two minds working together will be able to observe this network with much greater accuracy. Language, semiotics, and emotion are fundamentally interpersonal operations, so it is reasonable to expect that deep comprehension of these operations will be best achieved through interpersonal activity.

Signalling as a basis for understanding introversion and extroversion

Basing our understanding of human “psychology” on signalling and signalling systems—essentially seeing people as complex signalling systems—can make many aspects of being human clearer.

For example, rather than analyze “introversion” versus “extroversion,” we can use terms that work better with the signalling model—introspection versus extrospection.

Extrospection is a made up word. In this context it means someone who looks (spec, specere) outwardly for the establishment, maintenance, and validation of their identity.

In the signalling model, identity can be defined as “the (somewhat) complex nexuses of meaning/signaling that ’embodies’ our comprehension of the semiotics of our cultures and experiences.”

An extrovert is normally seen as someone who likes people and wants to spend time with them, as opposed to an introvert who prefers spending time alone.

There is probably some value in this distinction. But all introverts know that we also like people and want to spend time with them; the problem is spending time with strongly “extroverted” types is not fully satisfying.

Similarly, extroverts are generally not as satisfied with the company of introverts as they are with other extroverts.

It may be hard to see why this is until we use the terms “introspection” and “extrospection.”

A person whose identity depends heavily on the opinions of others—one who favors extrospection—will tend to spend more time with other people than alone. They will be good at getting along with other people of their type because “extrospectors” value the mutual validation they offer each other.

To a person whose identity depends heavily on introspection, the “extrospector” may be fun to be around for a while, but will probably become tiring because the “introspector” does not want the same sort of validation required by the “extrospector.”

In terms of signalling, the introspector relies on internal signalling while the extrospector relies on external signalling. The introspector can and does enjoy other people, but they are far more likely to be satisfied with other people who share their tendency for internal signalling.

The signalling systems of introspectors with introspectors and extrospectors with extrospectors mirror each other much better than when the two types are mixed.

Extrospectors tend to form groups and have a much easier time finding each other than introspectors do. This is why extrospectors control so much of what happens in the world.

Moreover, extrospectors also tend to base their opinions of themselves and each other on external, measurable things—property, money, status symbols. To the introspector, these things are not as valuable to their identity as depth of analysis, depth of internal signals, depth of communication.

Extrospectors are great and we need them. But if you are not one, it might be good to realize that it is not people per se that you want to avoid, but rather the tedium of extrospectional values, aims, and beliefs.

Find another introspector with compatible interests and you will both become highly “extroverted” toward each other.

Meaning and identity

[Edit: I have changed the first six bullets several times.]

  • Meaning can be defined as two or more signalling systems connecting. Connecting means “sending and receiving, receiving and sending.”
  • To visualize this, think of Newton’s every action produces an opposite and equal reaction; thus sending (action) produces receiving (reaction), which in turn sends a message back. For example, a photon hits a hydrogen atom; the photon “sends” while the atom “receives”; by receiving, it also sends a message back and out; it affects the photon and more.
  • Space is the foundation of the plethora of signalling systems. Time is the foundation of their activity and extent.
  • Meaning is the most basic word in language.
  • When you look at it “psychologically,” it’s not what the sign is but what the meaning is. Thus, meaning is a deep basis of semiotics.
  • In this context, it makes sense to say that time and space are the sine qua non of signalling systems. This “defines” time and space in terms of signalling systems.
  • Identity depends on meaning as defined above.
  • Our identities are (somewhat) complex nexuses of meaning/signaling that “embody” our comprehension of the semiotics of our cultures and experiences. They lie at the center of how we understand ourselves. Identity signalling occurs internally as well as externally.
  • In non-FIML social intercourse it is normal for people to assert/display the props/symbols of their identities, as they understand them.
  • People who do FIML also need identities, but they do not need the social props that help non-FIML people define each other.
  • You really do not want to be defined by props and symbols. It’s a static role that leads away from authentic being.
  • People do not truly belong to a culture. Rather they maintain the illusion that they belong to a culture. This is clear when we think and analyze identity in terms semiotics, which here means “the science of communicable meaning.”
  • Having a weak or confused identity can be a very good thing as this may prompt you to learn how identities are made and maintained.
  • No Buddhist should want an identity defined by props and symbols.
  • Buddhism is about authentic being, the “thusness” of being, the experiential existential being that you really are, the one that occurs before there are definitions, props, and symbols.
  • This being can be hard to see because humans are semiotic entities; that is, we are entities that seek, create, and communicate meaning. This causes us to look within semiotics for the definition of our authentic being, a place where it can never be found. You have to look outside of semiotics.
  • But you can’t look outside semiotics unless you know how to look inside. You have to fully understand how the “language” of your semiotics works to be able to step outside of it.
  • Your semiotics is your unique take on the semiotics of your culture(s) and experiences.
  • You cannot fully explore your semiotics, your identity, your nexus of individual meaning alone because there is no way you can check your work. You cannot see yourself.
  • Each of us is a social, interactive, communicative being. You can only fully explore your unique semiotics/identity with a partner who wants to do the same.
  • Two people working together are able to stop the flow of conversation to analyze the semiotics of how they are hearing and speaking. One person working alone is only guessing.
  • Find a partner and do FIML. You will learn a lot from it.
  • Do not expect FIML to give you new symbols or props or tell you how to be. FIML is only a procedure. It is empty, almost devoid of its own content. It is a process that will help you see and recreate your identity.
  • Do not expect your FIML teacher to be an example for you. Do not expect your teacher to be impressive or to project signs and symbols at you. Do not expect to follow your teacher.
  • Just learn how to do FIML from them.

Semiotics are social

Near the end of a very long drive the other day, my partner and I got stuck in a traffic jam. The day was hot and the jam went on and on and we felt frustrated.

It didn’t happen, but as we sat and waited in the car I did get close to becoming irritated at my partner though our delay was not in any way her fault.

Ironically, had I been driving alone, my frustration at the traffic jam would have been even worse because the delay would have been preventing me from seeing her sooner.

This brief incident shows how closely connected our emotions are to our social circumstances. Since my partner was in the car with me, I came close to becoming irritated with her. Had she not been in the car, I would have missed her tremendously and wished she was with me. I bet many can relate to this sort of experience.

Consider that something similar often happens with speech. Our inevitably sloppy ways of speaking and listening produce an ineluctable muddle and rather than know this and compensate for it, we can and do get irritated when meanings get crossed.

There is no way that your meaning will always be understood or that you will always understand the meanings of others. To form a judgement or make an interpretation of what someone is saying without checking with them is a fool’s errand. You will be wrong again and again. And just because you can get someone else to agree with you, won’t make you right.

Our emotions are closely connected to our semiotic proprioception. It is very important to realize how often serious mistakes arise from this fact.


  • Semiotics is “the science of communicable meaning.” It is this much more than “the science of communicable signs.”
  • My position on human cultures is they all suck. They’re terrible because each of them is fundamentally based on lies and bad communication. That’s why virtually all of them are hierarchical and violent.
  • Only FIML, or something very much like it, can correct mistakes in interpersonal communication. Thus only a FIML subculture can avoid the problems of all other cultures.
  • Be a “semioclast”; don’t stop at being a mere iconoclast. Deconstructing a handful of public symbols is nothing compared to fully analyzing the semiotics that underlie everything you think and feel, everything your personal version of your culture is based on.
  • Why don’t more people realize how ambiguous our communications are and how often we misunderstand and that those misunderstandings can be very serious? The reason is probably that most people are still living in cultures rooted in the past—hierarchical, role-based cultures that do not permit the sort of communication used in FIML.
  • Humans are semiotic beings and thus we have a basic urge to seek and create meaning and to communicate that meaning.
  • In most cultures, the assertion of fundamentally empty meaning (social formalities, cliches, polite conversation, etc.) is all that people do.
  • Many psychological problems arise due to the misuse of the semiotic urge, the urge to seek or create meaning.
  • People understand meaning “loco-centrically”; that is, they understand it based on their own semiotic proprioception. This is a technical way of saying we understand meaning in a self-centered way, a self-centric way. This natural and unavoidable self-centeredness of all people explains a great deal of communication error. You speak from your point of view while I hear from mine; they two will rarely even be close.
  • Yet we pretend we understand or have been understood.
  • All communication is constantly establishing and reestablishing itself. Communication, just like the meaning(s) contained within it, asserts itself.
  • Non-FIML communication asserts many static kinds of meaning—roles, beliefs, values, fake history, fake agreement, etc.
  • FIML communication, in contrast, asserts a procedure, a way of making sure that real, unambiguous communication is happening and has happened.
  • North Korea is an example of an extremely bad static, hierarchical non-FIML society. Notice that within this society the individual is robbed not only of any semblance of a decent culture but also of the possibility of deep introspection, individual introspection. When the culture is absurd and violent, the individual cannot even see inside himself.
  • But all cultures are like that to a greater extent than we normally realize.

Why FIML is better than psychotherapy

FIML is not better than psychotherapy if you are in the midst of a crisis or you do not have a suitable FIML partner.

In most other cases, FIML practice will work better than psychotherapy because FIML is done in real-time with a partner to whom you are genuinely connected.

FIML partners form an “interpersonality” that allows both of them to find their “authentic” beings; that is, their beings shorn of mistaken fixations within their “identities.”

Identity can be reasonably defined as “a semiotic nexus that is central to and defines much or most of the matrix of interpersonal semiotics known and used by an individual.”

Our identity, as defined above, is the “deluded” “self” of Buddhism. It is a delusion that causes suffering and it can be fixed by freeing ourselves from it, from its demands.

Buddhist practice can free us from this identity and so can FIML. Taken together, the two practices, I believe, work quicker and better than either of them taken alone.

Psychotherapy does not work as well as FIML in most cases because there is no way that a paid professional can provide the time or insight that a worthy FIML partner can.

In Buddhist terms, without extensive Buddhist practice, we are all deluded. In FIML terms, without extensive FIML practice, we are all crazy.

I do not believe there is anyone with a healthy “identity” who has not done extensive Buddhist and/or FIML practice. This is so because without sufficient analysis (the Buddha was an analyst) of the causes and conditions that produce and maintain our “identities,” they will function on their own; in a deep sense they will function unconsciously “without us.”

This causes suffering because the mind being led around by an unconscious (and harmful) “identity” will know at some level that it is not the authentic mind, not the mind that is capable of much more, not the “Buddha mind.”