Tone of voice

American Buddhist Net

How do you know what your partner’s tone of voice means during an actual real-time exchange?

You can ask them and believe their answer. This would be a normal FIML query which resolves the question perfectly in almost all cases.

If you don’t do FIML, you will probably guess. This is normal non-FIML behavior which does not resolve the question very well at all. You could easily be mistaken. Moreover, even if you are right, you can’t be sure. If the tone of voice was significant, you may start a snowball of misunderstanding.

What if you do FIML but still frequently misunderstand your partner’s tone of voice in some situations? For example, my partner sometimes expresses mild alarm or dissatisfaction in a way that often makes me think the situation is more serious than it is. This happens once or twice a month, more or less.

How do I understand…

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Repost: FIML and practical semiotics (with a new intro)

Intro: We use the word semiotics quite frequently on this site. The basic meaning of semiotics is “the study of signs,” communicative signs. Semiotics deals with how signs are made, used, and understood. Signs can be anything that communicates—language, gesture, expression, writing, photos, movies, music, behaviors, gifts, tone of voice, etc. Anything that communicates.

Semiotics is also very much about what signs mean. When you use a sign to communicate (and you always use signs when you communicate) with your partner it will mean one thing to you and very possibly something else to them. FIML practice is designed to make sure that the signs you send to your partner are understood as you mean them, and vice versa.

When we emphasize the importance of the meaning of communicative signs on this site, we are using the word semiotics in a slightly unusual way. We could use the word semantics or some other word that we make up. But we like the word semiotics because it always implies at least two meanings (the sender’s and the receiver’s, or yours and your partner’s) and the sign or signs that transmits those meanings between you.

Analyzing (the Buddha was an “analyst”) the signs you use with your partner and within your own mind is an extremely worthwhile activity. Basic FIML practice is all about analyzing and becoming crystal clear about how signs/semiotics are operating between you and your partner. Done properly, FIML will show you how to vastly improve communication with your partner.

Since humans are profoundly interactive beings, clarifying communication with your partner will also clarify you to yourself. For Buddhists, I believe FIML will show you with great specificity very important aspects of what the Buddha meant by delusion and how to overcome it. For others, FIML will do much the same though you may think of it in different terms—FIML removes mistakes from communication (and from your own mind) by isolating small incidents and analyzing them.

Below is a post from some months ago that illustrates how a FIML-based semiotic analysis works.

FIML and practical semiotics

Though FIML practice may appear to deal mainly with spoken language, it actually works primarily by stopping language, or the heedless use of language, so partners can observe and consider the semiotics that underlie what they are saying to each other.

A simple way to understand what FIML does is to consider the main components of a typical act of communication between two people. In this case, the components are semiotics, language, and emotion. These terms can be expanded if need be to include other factors such as behaviors, partners’ bodies, instincts, sensations, etc. But for now let’s just consider semiotics, language, and emotion.

Semiotics are like cables or snakes or ribbons of meaning that accompany our uses of language. They underlie our words and weave in and out of them. Words and language can also be thought of as a kind of semiotic, but for now, let’s separate them. Semiotics is the meaning while language is one way of expressing that meaning.

Emotions as they arise in communicative acts can be of many types. In FIML practice, partners will find that they most often need to use FIML techniques to deal with sudden emotions that seize control of the mind and thence influence or determine what it says or does.

Basically, in all interpersonal communication, strong emotions can and will get attached to a semiotic. In normal non-FIML communication, this attachment almost always occurs without conscious control and it is usually not discussed by the people communicating, and almost never discussed rationally.

A mix-up (or contretemps, as we have sometimes called it) occurs between two people when they have significantly different semiotics in their minds and when one or both of them have attached an emotion to their semiotic.

Notice how closely that description fits with Buddhist thinking—when we become attached to or cling to a wrong view, we cause suffering.

When either partner notices a mix-up, they should initiate a FIML query or discussion. The main point of the discussion is to find out how partners’ semiotics are diverging, if they are. The internal sign that this may be happening is a sudden feeling, usually a negative feeling, based on what your partner has said (or what you think or feel they meant).

Mix-ups occur very often. I would say it is normal to experience a few mix-ups per hour of conversation even with a very close friend or partner. The reason this happens is we depend a great deal on semiotics when we speak to each other. With close friends, our semiotics become more intimate, personal, and emotional. That’s the whole fun of having close friends, but that is also where the danger lies. If friends or partners don’t do FIML, their small mix-ups will compound and lead to big mix-ups.

FIML is designed to catch mix-ups right as they happen. The reason for this is if you wait even a few seconds too long, you won’t be able to remember accurately where the mix-up started, what provoked it. And your partner won’t be able to remember accurately what they were thinking when you first felt the emotional jangle that signaled the appearance of a mix-up. If either partner can’t accurately remember what was in their mind at the onset of the mix-up, you can’t fix it at that time. You have to agree to be quicker or more observant next time and move on for now.

If you keep trying to get to the root of a mix-up whose origin has been forgotten, you will get lost in generalities (general semiotics) and not only not fix the problem but probably make it worse. Just remember that something happened and that it will probably happen again. See if you can catch it next time. It will almost certainly happen again because a mix-up almost always is based on one or both partners having a strong emotional attachment to a semiotic and then associating that semiotic with triggers or cues.

For example, I have a habitual strong emotional attachment to the semiotic that other people do not care about me or what I am saying. If I get that wrong in a conversation—that is, if that semiotic wrongly lights up inside of me—I am going to make mistakes about what the other person is saying or not saying and why. True, sometimes people really don’t care. But if I have that reaction with my partner while she is caring, I have made a huge mistake. I will feel bad about myself and her and I will be completely wrong. I will have taken something good (her caring) and turned it into it’s opposite. That mistake will then cause me to make others. I might speak sharply or start sulking or go do something else, leaving my partner feeling abandoned. How sad that is, but how very, very common.

FIML is designed to prevent that kind of bullshit. From this small example, I hope you can see how serious even a little mistake can be.

FIML allows partners to engage in an entirely different way of speaking to each other. It teaches us how to think differently. Not all mix-ups are serious. Many of them are neutral, some are funny, and virtually all of them are interesting. As you get better at identifying when you and your partner are starting to veer off into mixed-up semiotics, you will find that the range of subjects you can comfortably talk about increase greatly. How you talk to each other will become a normal subject and, with time, you will really feel that you and your partner can depend on each other for good clear speech that arises out of your own unique individualities.

True crime

I just read a couple of true crime books.

The thing that struck me about both of them is how the idiotics (idiosyncratic semiotics) of both main characters (who were found guilty) were profoundly depraved.

Each of these characters (and I will assume their guilty verdicts were correct, though of course it is always possible they were not) had built up a huge story in their mind about who they were and who the person they eventually killed was and why it was right to kill them and how to do it.

Their stories were composed of semiotic units, semiotic bundles, bundles of meaning and belief that they clung to with such passion, one of them at least seems to continue to believe her story even today, many years later.

One way you can tell their stories were entirely depraved is they planned their crimes very badly. Their backup stories were often self-contradictory and filled with easily discoverable lies.

The stories in their heads about who they were, not surprisingly, were similarly filled with error and delusion. Also unsurprisingly, these stories were largely believed by loyal friends and family members.

Their stories of anger or concealed greed and why their emotions were justified were also mostly believed by these same sets of people. Friends like each other because they either are alike or strive to be.

In one of the books, some of the people surrounding the killer believed he was innocent even in the face of strong evidence against him.

In the other book, many loyal friends continued to believe the killer’s stories about why she had been right to do it even after it was obvious she had been lying about many important matters.

This is, sadly or happily, pretty normal. We stick by people and praise ourselves for being loyal. A basic thing people do all the time is generate, transmit, and receive meaning. Complex meanings (including the stories of murderers) can get woven into friends’ brains/minds in ways that make them hard to untangle.

True crime stories when seen as examples of extremely deluded human behavior can show us much about how we all function. We all make stories and present ourselves in different contexts; nothing wrong with that. Until it becomes depraved. With people like the ones I just read about, the stories are horrible, cruel, selfish, deluded, insane

It is good to be aware of what our stories are and what our intentions for telling them are. It is also good to review our feelings towards our friends and those who are close to us. Are we right about what we think and feel about them? Are our stories about them right? Have we ever asked them about that?

The primacy of internal speech

FIML practice will show partners again and again how poorly they speak and listen.

Rather than see this as bad news, why not see it as good news? It is a very important truth about how people are, how we communicate, and how intransigent our inner states can be.

A good example of what I mean can be found in how difficult it can be to transmit the idea of FIML, and the skills necessary for its successful practice, to other people.

Just the idea that we often listen and speak ambiguously and that this leads to huge problems can be hard to get across even to close friends. When you add the need to teach them a few new skills to accomplish FIML breakthroughs/resolutions, it’s a wonder anyone has gotten the idea at all.

One exception is a friend who was very quick to understand what we were telling her. She took up the practice immediately with her boyfriend and has done well with it ever since, or so she tells me. I suspect the reason she learned so quickly is she had already seen a good deal of the problem and may have even guessed some of the ways we have developed to fix it. She is the exception that proves the rule.

Others have had far more difficulty. One friend declared, “I totally get it, dude. But no way I can get [my SO] to do it with me. She would never do something like that.” I very much doubt that he got it at all, though I am pretty sure he was right about his SO—she is well set in her ways and very unlikely to listen to the likes of me about something so intimate and revolutionary.

Other friends say things like, “We already communicate so well.” No, you don’t. Or, “We trust each other completely, so there is no need for FIML.” Trust is an important part of FIML, but it won’t fix bad communication all by itself. Not a chance.

Some theories of language say that language is fundamentally an internal thing, a way firstly to think and only secondly to communicate. Judging by the friends I have discussed FIML with, this seems to be true. Language for all but one of them is fundamentally an internal process that can be touched by communication but rarely changed much unless there is extensive training.

The study of language and communication often involves children because they are learning how to do these things. I think it might be a good idea for someone to study language use in alcoholics rather than children.

Severe alcoholics experience declines in reasoning, communication, and self-understanding that are fairly consistently similar across the entire group. Thinking tends to become simpler, more self-centered and reasoning tends to be reduced in its aims and means. Advanced alcoholics, even recovered ones, tend to exhibit reductions in the quantity, quality, and useability of their core semiotics.

That is, their concepts of themselves and others are reduced from what they were before they became addicted to alcohol. They employ simpler semiotics to achieve a reduced understanding of people, events, dramas, and so on.

This simplicity can resemble the simplicty of small children who are first learning language. The difference is the alcoholic is going the other way—they are forgetting language, semiotics, and nuanced communication rather than learning.

Studies of the elderly or demented might also help us better understand how complex and richly communicative language develops out of or along with the primacy of internal speech.

FIML as a “loose” method of control for chaos in interpersonal communication systems

Interpersonal communication systems can become chaotic when there are misunderstandings. And they can become wildly chaotic when the misunderstandings are serious and/or involve emotional responses.

Normally, in virtually all cultures, out-of-control interpersonal communications are settled by authoritarian decree, by reverting to pre-established roles, by fighting until one side tires, or by ending communication all together.

It is nothing short of tragic when this happens in close relationships during significant or profound communication acts.

FIML is designed to fix communication problems that occur during communications between two (or more) people who care deeply about each other.

FIML is a “loose” method of control in that FIML largely does not have any content. It is a technique that allows partners to discover their own content and their own ways to fix their contretemps.

As with so many potentially chaotic systems, interpersonal misunderstandings can become wildly unstable for even very small reasons. A single misheard word or a single misinterpreted expression can lead to destructive chaos within the system, no matter how dedicated the communicants may be to each other.

Evidence that supports the use of a “loose” method of control like FIML can be found in this paper: Stalling chaos control accelerates convergence.

To paraphrase from the abstract of that paper and apply their conclusions to FIML, we can say that FIML works “…by stalling the control, thereby taking advantage of the stable directions of the uncontrolled chaotic” system.

By not having a set outcome in mind, by not allowing static interpersonal roles to control the outcome, FIML can succeed in fixing even very serious contretemps between caring partners. FIML accomplishes this by providing partners with a means of achieving a meta-view of their contretemps and from that point of view gently nudging their analysis toward mutual agreement, mutual transformation for both parties based on a complete and completely shared understanding of the unique conditions that generated the problem.

In this, FIML takes “advantage of the stable directions of the uncontrolled chaotic” system. The stable direction is the complete and mutually agreed upon resolution of all aspects of the contretemps. It is a “return” to the stable state of caring that preceded the problem, but a “return” with a significant upgrade because the new stable state will now include the experience of repairing the chaotic state that just passed.

The pleasure in a full FIML resolution can be very great because the semiotic systms of both partners minds will also achieve an upgraded level of stability and awareness. This kind of resolution, clearly, strengthens and resonates with the core of conscious beings who live in the midst of and use (often not so well) semiotics to understand themselves and others.

An article on the study linked above describes the “loose” control method as an “approach that cleverly exploits the natural behaviour of the system.” (See: Control is good, freedom is better)

FIML exploits the natural behavior of two people who seek mutual caring and mutual positive transformation by providing a method that allows them to intelligently deal with the chaos that is 100% bound to arise during some of their acts of communication. Rather than flee from communication due to the fear of chaos, FIML partners have a reliable method of controlling it and reestablishing harmony on a higher, better level.