Repost: Dynamic semiotics, interpersonal semiotics

We discussed semiotics last week in the post Semiotics and FIML. In a post few days ago we linked to the essay by Daniel Chandler Semiotics for Beginners.

What I want to do today is follow up on those posts and discuss how to use semiotics in a dynamic way. How to use it in dynamic interpersonal situations to increase our understanding of both semiotics and our interpersonal relationships. Doing this will also help us better understand ourselves because the self is constructed out of semiotic elements and it appears most strongly in dynamic interpersonal situations.

One of the problems or deficiencies I see in a good deal of literature on semiotics is concepts pertaining to it tend to be static, based on structures and the general relations between semiotic elements rather than how those elements actually function in the moment. I am pretty sure that most people who spend time thinking about semiotics well-understand that semiotics describes a realm that is very dynamic and very fluid. And yet still, much of what we read is general analysis, a stable abstract schema intended to map or describe something other than itself. Nothing particularly wrong with this because a semiotic map would be a wonderful thing to have, but this approach is limited in that it cannot readily capture the functioning of semiotic parts as they occur in a moment of real life.

In like manner, a good deal of Buddhist literature treats the Dharma as a static map of “reality.” Buddhists try to learn this map and apply it in different circumstances. Again, not a huge problem, but lacking in a method for tackling real moments, as they arise, with something more than general rules or static formulas. Most psychology has the same problem. The DSM maps static traits, while there are few, if any, ways of dealing with dynamic moments as they arise in real life.

The only way I can see to tackle real semiotics or really do Buddhism or psychology is to find a way to deal with semiotics as it is happening. That is to say, to grasp semiotic elements in the moments during which they actually are arising in real life.

(A normal, static way of approaching semiotics might be to apply a semiotic map to the transcript of a recorded conversation. In Buddhism, it might to use a Buddhist slogan or formula to negotiate an emotionally difficult moment. In psychology it might be to use a diagnostic survey to “understand” what “problem” a patient is having and then applying a formulaic method for treating that “problem.” All of these approaches surely have some utility but they are also a bit like trying to catch a fish with a broken hook.)

How then can you or anyone actually “grasp semiotic elements in the moments during which they actually are arising in real life”?

  • You can’t do it alone because when you are alone you have no way of checking the validity of those elements.
  • You have to do it with someone who cares about you, who will help you, and who wants to do the same thing.
  • You both have to have the same plan to quickly grasp those semiotic elements as they arise because if you wait too long, you will be relying too much on your faulty memories, which tend strongly to forget semiotic elements after a few moments or to turn them into static bits of a “reality” that never was.

Analyze your own mind. For how long can you reliably recall everything that was/is in your conscious mind? In a dynamic situation, it’s not going to be very long. Our working memory can’t handle that much data. You probably can hold a decent memory of what is in your mind for no more than a few seconds.

Since we are going to be working with a partner on dynamic semiotics, we won’t need to remember absolutely everything. We will just need to remember things like why we said something, why we used a certain tone of voice, why we made a gesture, why we chose a certain word, etc.

That makes it easier. We could make it even easier if we just sat around with our partner and discussed the semiotics of static things; for example, the semiotics of flags, or national groups, or bicycle fashions. Well, nothing is perfectly static, but you probably get the idea. It is interesting to do stuff like that, but after a point it’s pretty boring.

What is much more interesting and vital is to find a way to discuss semiotics that arise during dynamic interactions with your partner. This will really help you understand what semiotics are and how they function. It will also help you understand Buddhism and human psychology much better.

This is what FIML does. FIML is a method for partners to grasp and understand the dynamics of semiotics as they arise (or very quickly thereafter).

Doing FIML enhances Buddhist practice because it helps partners understand more precisely how something in real life is empty, how it arose, why it arose, how it might create delusion, why it is impermanent, why it is a klesha, and so on.

For people who want to optimize their psychology and their relationship with their partner, FIML greatly improves communication. It helps partners identify and understand transient destabilizing emotions while strengthening deep bonds between them. If partners believe they have psychological problems, FIML will help them understand how those problems actually arise and how they actually impact the moments of their lives. By frequently replacing transient, mistaken emotions and interpretations with better data, FIML partners will gradually relieve themselves of the suffering that comes from poor speech habits, mistaken interpretations, and a static view of the self and others.

FIML is fundamentally a technique for correcting inevitable interpersonal communication mistakes. FIML can be better understood if partners also have a basic understanding of semiotics.

Please see How to do FIML for more.

Biblical Entheogens: a Speculative Hypothesis

A speculative hypothesis is presented according to which the ancient Israelite religion was associated with the use of entheogens (mind-altering plants used in sacramental contexts). The hypothesis is based on a new look at texts of the Old Testament pertaining to the life of Moses. The ideas entertained here were primarily based on the fact that in the arid areas of the Sinai peninsula and Southern Israel there grow two plants containing the same psychoactive molecules found in the plants from which the powerful Amazonian hallucinogenic brew Ayahuasca is prepared. The two plants are species of Acacia tree and the bush Peganum harmala. The hypothesis is corroborated by comparative experiential-phenomenological observations, linguistic considerations, exegesis of old Jewish texts and other ancient Mideastern traditions, anthropological lore, and ethnobotanical data.


Repost: How to view FIML

This article provides a good way of understanding what FIML can do for you: Anyone can learn to be more inventive, cognitive researcher says.

The researcher, Anthony McCaffrey, says of his theory: “I detected a pattern suggesting that something everyone else had overlooked often became the basis of an inventive solution.”

This is exactly what FIML does. Normally, we all overlook the indisputable fact that we simply do not understand one another a good deal of the time. We get impressions, we get the general idea, we trust, we love. But we don’t have good, clear understanding of the small units of communication, out of which our impressions of others are built. With most people in professional or formal settings, this does not matter greatly (or maybe it does but it is hard to fix in those contexts), but with close friends, and especially loved ones, not having a clear idea of what they are saying can and often does have very serious consequences.

What FIML practice does is show us how to notice what we are overlooking in our communications with our partners. Since both partners are equal participants and both are active in the practice, it doesn’t take very long to get good results.

Repost: Lies and self-deception

Most Buddhist practitioners will immediately understand and agree with the results of a recent study that shows that people feel better when they tell fewer lies. The study (Telling fewer lies linked to better health and relationships.*) is modest but worth considering.

Notice that the improvements found in the study come from refraining from lying.

“We found that the participants could purposefully and dramatically reduce their everyday lies, and that in turn was associated with significantly improved health,” says lead author Anita Kelly. (Same link as above.)

A good deal of Buddhist practice involves refraining from unwholesome thoughts and behaviors and ultimately eliminating them. Refraining from lying, or “false speech,” is the fourth of the Five Precepts, which are the basis of Buddhist morality. Lies cloud the mind and hinder clear thinking.

Continue reading…

Bob Dylan sued for racism

Dylan has always been one of my favorite artists and was a great inspiration and comfort to me, especially when I was a teen.

That said, the comments for which he is being sued in France for “racism” are both instructive and disappointing.

The comments:

If you got a slave master or Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that. That stuff lingers to this day. Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood. (Source)

These comments are disappointing because they do more harm than good, they aren’t true, and they actually encourage ignorant “gut” reactions that are a major part of the problem.

They are instructive because they reveal how an accomplished artist who should know better can so easily buy into the semiotics of victimhood and preaching from that point of view in a way that makes the problem, such as it is, only worse. (I do realize that given the number of interviews Dylan gives and the looser nature of art than history, mistakes of this type are inevitable.)

His comments are further instructive in that they work a very shallow surface of historical and cultural semiotics when shallow semiotics are the bane of historical understanding and groups getting along.  Dylan assertions are based on “skin color” and the absurd claim that some groups can “sense” what others have “in their blood.”

Here is a very short article that may help him rethink his comment that “…Jews can sense Nazi blood”—Stalin’s Jews: We mustn’t forget that some of greatest murderers of modern times were Jewish.

As mentioned, Dylan was and still is one of my favorite artists. His comments matter only because they come from him and seem to me exceptionally wrong and counterproductive. The Croatian lawsuit is asking only for an apology. I hope he gives it and says something much more profound and valuable than what he said in the interview in question.