Mindfulness and FIML

Here is one definition of mindfulness from the Buddha himself:

And what, monks, is the faculty of mindfulness? Herein, monks, a noble disciple is mindful and is endowed with the highest prudence in mindfulness; he is one who remembers and recollects even what is done or said long ago. This, monks, is called the faculty of mindfulness.

— S V 197 (Source)

This short film illustrates another definition of mindfulness:

Mindfulness can mean many things, but central to the definition is deep and abiding awareness of what is actually going on, what is actually being thought and perceived, what is being said and what is being heard. Buddhists practice basic mindfulness in ways shown in the film, but we can also be mindful of how we communicate, how we listen and how we speak.

How can we be mindful of how we listen and speak? One way is to pay attention to ourselves. But if we only pay attention to ourselves, we will become solipsists or narcissists. We can also pay attention to others, but how do we normally do that?

Most people pay attention to others by using heuristics as Anderson Cooper does in the film linked above. He is very sophisticated, smooth, pleasant, and surely a good listener. But what that really is is an act, a professional mixture of American semiotics and American heuristics, slightly individualized in Cooper.

Cooper is not deeply aware of the people he is interviewing, though he may be moved by what they say. At best, he can only be aware of what he hears and how he interprets that. Similarly, the mindfulness master in the film, Jon Kabat-Zinn, is not a mind-reader. He cannot be any more deeply aware of others than Cooper can, or than others can of him. Yes, some people have more life experience or are smarter than others, but this only increases their deep awareness a little bit, if that. It might even lead them to worse deep awareness.

The only way to be deeply aware of another person—to be deeply mindful of what they are saying or hearing—is to ask them. And the only way to do that deeply is to do FIML.

If you just ask in the usual ways and they just answer, you will experience an exchange like the one in the film. Interesting, but there is no profound subjective data coming from either Cooper or Kabat-Zinn.

If we rely exclusively on cultural heuristics like those in the film to interact with our closest friends, we will succeed in interacting with them solely on that level*. And when we are restricted to that level, as most of us are, we cannot be deeply mindful of any other human being.

We can be mindful of what they are wearing what we think they said or meant or felt, but not them. Only FIML gives us deep access, mindful access, to others. And in the sense that how we communicate with others affects how we communicate with ourselves—how we understand ourselves—we can only become deeply aware of ourselves if we practice FIML with at least one other person. FIML might even be called “dynamic mindfulness.”

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* Adding quantity—many exchanges with another person—does not fix the problem. Your relationship will look and feel more complex, but it still is not one characterized by deep awareness.

Repost: Idiotics and mental illnes

In a previous post (here), we defined idiotics to mean a combination of “idio” and “semiotics.” A person’s idiotics are unique to them and are not the same as the idioitcs of any other person.

Idiotics is a useful term as it allows us to denote the tangled web of meaning and symbology that underlies language and is woven into everything we say or do.

When there is no organic cause for mental illness, we would be right to strongly suspect that the source of the “illness” lies in the individual’s idiotics—the unique web of meaning and sensibility that gives rise to their perceptions, communicative acts, and self-awareness.

Since idiotics underlie language, cognition, and perception and give rise to virtually all acts of communication, a person with disturbed idiotics will also show disturbances in these areas.

Why do we need a separate term—idiotics—to describe mental/emotional problems when existing terms already work well enough?

The reason is the core problem in mental illness without an organic cause is not speech, not communication, not perception, and not cognition per se. The core problem is a person’s uniquely acquired and uniquely interconnected semiotics, their idiotics when these are  filled with mistakes.

If we investigate only a person’s experience and extrapolate from that “causes” of their mental illness, we will very often be led astray because we will be attempting to cure a fairly concrete malady by addressing the ambiguities of memory and the falsity of self-assessment through the use of a subjective appraisal based on a general theory. It doesn’t matter that vague statistics can and have been compiled on what kinds of experiences lead to what sorts of mental disturbances, because there are as many exceptions and deviations from these data as there are comformances to them. At best, data of this sort describes correlations. But correlations of what? No one can really say.

If we use a concept like idiotics, we can begin to work with good data that can be called objective by many standards. The gold standard for working with data of this sort is FIML practice and the gold standard of psychological objectivity between two people is the degree to which they can agree on what has just been said or communicated. If both partners agree on what was just said, their standard of objectivity is quite high, probably as good as can be achieved without very sophisticated brain scanning equipment, which does not yet even exist.

When a patient works with a professional analyst, this high degree of objectivity cannot be attained. This is so because the analyst, at best, can only rely on an extrinsic standard of objectivity and this standard is fully subject to the faulty idiotics of the analyst herself. If an analyst tries to avoid this problem by sticking strictly to “objective” extrinsic standards, she will fail to address the subjective, intrinsic idiotics of the patient she is trying to help. She can only communicate with her patient on a useful level by engaging the patient’s idiotics with her own. But there rarely is enough time for this and it is unlikely that patient and analyst will be compatible for this sort of practice.

So what’s an analyst to do? If the patient has a friend they can do FIML with or if such a friend can be found for them, teach them how to do FIML. Check on them often enough to be sure they are doing it correctly. In some cases, advanced instruction can be given in areas of particular interest to the FIML partners if the analyst feels competent to do so.

What about patients who have no friends and for whom no friends can be found? Or patients who are not capable of doing FIML? Patients of this type can and should be treated by the other best practices of the day.

Linguistics and psychology meet in FIML

FIML is a practical technique that optimizes communication between partners by removing as much micro ambiguity as possible during real-time interpersonal communication.

FIML will also greatly improve meso and macro understanding between partners and discussions of these levels are of significant importance and cannot be ignored, but the basic FIML technique rests on micro analysis of real-time communication. Please see this post for more on this topic: Micro, meso, and macro levels of human understanding.

Real-time micro communication means communication within just a few seconds. If we are reading we can focus on a word or phrase and think about it as long as we like. If we are listening to someone speak, however, we normally cannot stop them to analyze deeply a particular word choice, a particular expression, a particular tone of voice, or anything else that happens rapidly.

This missing piece in the puzzle of interpersonal communication is of great—I would argue massive—importance because huge mistakes can be and often are made in a single moment.

FIML practice corrects this problem. In other posts we have referred to psychological morphemes, which we have defined as:

The smallest meaningful unit of a psychological response. It is the smallest unit of communication that can give rise to an emotional, psychological, or cognitive reaction.

The theory of FIML claims that psychological morphemes arise quickly and if they are not checked or analyzed can have massive influence on how people hear and think from that point on. This is why the practice of FIML focuses greatly on the initial arising or manifestation of a psychological morpheme. The morpheme may be habitual, having origins in the distant past, or it may have first arisen in the moment just before the FIML query that seeks to understand it.

The important point is that the person in whom the psychological morpheme has arisen, or has just begun to arise, realizes than it has arisen due to something that seems to have originated in the other person, their FIML partner.

This is the reason a basic FIML query is begun—because one partner notices a psychological morpheme arising within and wants to be sure it is correctly based on objective data shared with the partner. If the partner honestly denies the interpretation of the inquirer (who need not say why they are inquiring), then the inquirer will know that the morpheme that has arisen in their mind is baseless, a mistake. By stopping that mistake, they further stop a much larger mistaken psychological or emotional response from taking hold in their mind.

The stopping of a much larger mistaken psychological or emotional response from taking hold in the mind is the point at which FIML practice greatly influences psychological well-being. If we can see from the honest answers of a trusted partner that some of our most basic emotional responses are not justified—are mistakes—we will in most cases experience a rapid extinction of those responses.

In some cases of deep-seated mistaken interpretations, we may need to hear many times that we are mistaken, but extinction will follow just as surely even though it takes longer. FIML can’t cure everything but a great many people who are now dissatisfied or suffering with their emotional or psychological conditions will benefit from FIML practice. With the help of a trusted FIML partner it is easier to extinguish mistaken interpretations than it may seem upon fist hearing of this technique.

In addition to the above, FIML practice itself is interesting and will lead to many enjoyable discussions. Furthermore, FIML practice can also find and extinguish dangerous positive mistaken interpretations. A positive mistaken interpretation is one that feels good but that can lead to dangerous or harmful actions due to overconfidence, false assumptions, and so on.

FIML cannot remove all ambiguity between partners. That may be possible one day with advanced brain scans, but I suspect that even then ambiguity will still be part of our emotional lives. FIML can, however, remove enough ambiguity between partners that they will feel much more satisfied with themselves and with how they communicate with each other. When micro mistakes are largely removed from interpersonal communication, meso and macro emotions and behaviors will no longer be undermined by corrosive subjective states that cannot be analyzed objectively or productively.

What we can and cannot access

  • There is external speaking/listening that we can access
  • There is external speaking/listening that we cannot access
  • There is internal speaking/listening that we can access
  • There is internal speaking/listening that we cannot access

It is generally accepted that humans can comprehend things more than they can speak about them. That is, we can work with or get more information from listening than we can actively speak about. We have much greater access to what we receive (hear, read) than what we can output (speak, write).

For example, even though I am not a professional historian, I will be able to listen to a lecture about the Civil War and understand all or most of what I am hearing, but after the lecture I will only be able to output or speak about some parts of it. Another example is second language learners who are virtually always able to comprehend more than they can say. Another example is we can watch someone do something as they explain it, say cook a complex recipe, and understand what they are doing and saying but not be able to do it or explain it ourselves.

These are examples of external speech that we can access through hearing but cannot access as well through speaking. I can understand what you are saying but am not able to explain it to someone else.

An example of external speech that we cannot access through hearing is a very difficult lecture or book on a subject we know nothing about, say higher math or chemistry. Another example might be explaining to an old person how to use a computer if they have never used one before. Even as they try to grasp it, you can see they don’t really understand it well at all.

A more interesting example of external speech that we cannot access well might be the speech of someone who is willing to speak more openly about subjective states than we are. We can hear what they are saying but may not fully comprehend it because we don’t have a model for it. What they are saying may sound weird or inappropriate or even threatening when the truth is they are simply more used to hearing about subjective states and thus more able to speak about them.

These last points are crucial. We can only listen to and deeply comprehend things we have already heard about before. We don’t need to have all the details but we do need to have some sort of general concept of what the person is saying. In this same vein, we can only speak deeply about things we have already heard about, whether through external speech or internal speech. We can listen to others, or read their work (external speech), and from that learn how to communicate their ideas to others. Or we can listen to ourselves, to our internal speech, and from that learn how to communicate our ideas to others.

If a person has no experience—neither external nor internal—with listening to speech about subjective states, they will not be able to speak about their own subjective states and may hardly realize they even have subjective states. If they hear a little external speech about subjective states and do a little internal speaking about them, they will only be able to grasp subjective states to roughly that degree.

In an earlier post (Micro, meso, and macro levels of human understanding), I discussed how most people in the world do not have access to micro levels of understanding of themselves or others. This lack of access to both listening and speaking about micro semiotics forces almost everyone everywhere to confine their speaking and listening to meso and macro levels.

We get our meso and macro levels from TV, media, religion, education, general psychology, etc. But no matter how erudite you are in those media and styles of understanding, you will almost certainly still be highly deficient in micro semiotics. That is, you will not have wide access to or understanding of your own subjectivity because you cannot access micro levels and speak about them. To say nothing of understanding the subjectivity of others.

Sex, desire, and the meditation on “uncleanness”

This article—The Problem With Sex According to Buddhism—provides a good overview of how traditional Buddhism has viewed sexual behavior. Generally, the modern way of looking at it is sexual behavior should not harm anyone and should not lead to unwanted entanglements.

Overcoming excessive or obsessive desire for anything, not just sex, is an important part of Buddhist practice. Most of the time most of us know what is excessive in most situations. Guidance from a “wise friend” can help when there is doubt.

Contemplating the “uncleanness” of any excessive desire has been praised through the centuries by countless Buddhist practitioners. Contemplating the “uncleanness” of something means to contemplate its negative aspects. If you cannot get over your obsession for motorcycles, for example, contemplate their expense, danger, the trouble of maintaining them, etc. This kind of contemplation will tend to decrease desire by balancing it with real-world considerations.

The “uncleanness” contemplation is intended to be used to overcome excessive desire or greed. It is not advised for anyone experiencing depression or despair as it may worsen these conditions. More on this topic can be found here.

Repost: Semiotic valence

In a previous post, I introduced the concept of semiotic wells. A semiotic well is like a space-time “gravitational well” within a semiotic network. By this, I mean that part of the semiotic network has some heavy things in it—primary semiotics that pull other nodes within the network toward them.

For example, someone with the view that they have some sort of personality will tend to associate many of their perceptions and thoughts with the features of that personality. Their belief in their personality type will tend to make them see and understand the world in those terms.

I doubt that “having” a personality is all that much different from having a hobby. And I bet most people can move from one personality type to another about as easily as they can move from one hobby to another.

Of course there are constraints and limitations in the development of hobbies just as there are in the development of personalities.

We can gain profitable understanding of the mind by conceiving of it as a network of semiotic units. It is a network because the semiotic elements of the mind are all interconnected. It does not take much imagination to connect any semiotic element in your mind to any other. Apple-red-communism. Or apple-pie-American.

By association we can connect anything in this way.

Every semiotic element in the mind has a valence. In different contexts, the valences for any element will differ, and oftentimes they are neutral, but they are there. A semiotic well organizes valences as well as meaning, intention, belief, value.

For some people, speech is used to socialize, to make friends, to gain and keep access to other people. The valence of major parts of their semiotic network is aimed at socializing with others. People of this type are pleasantly excited when others compliment or reciprocate their social valences.

In contrast, for some other people, speech is used to share ideas, to analyze, to teach and to learn. The valences of their semiotic networks are primarily aimed at sharing ideas. People of this type are pleasantly excited when others reciprocate these valences.

Many semiotic wells and semiotic valences are formed accidentally, randomly, arbitrarily. Once we take on any bit of meaning, even if only slightly, there is always a chance that it will snowball into a significant semiotic well.

The Beatles alluded to this when they sang Had it been another day/ I might have looked the other way/ And I’d have never been aware/ But as it is I dream of her tonight.

This doesn’t just happen with love but with many of our other interests. We form semiotic wells—sometimes very quickly—for what are often very trivial reasons or no reason at all.

Much of what we are comes about through accident or chance. This happens because semiotics and the ways valences become attached to them are frequently very simple. Once a semiotic well begins forming it often grows, and as it does it pulls in or rearranges elements from other parts of our semiotic network.

Once a well is formed or given to us, it can greatly determine how we perceive the world and what we value in it.

This is why propaganda succeeds so well, and is sort of easy to do if you have a lot of money and access to important public forums. All a propagandist has to do is start your mind in one direction and then add more information and more valence. Most people see the world in terms of simple dichotomies, so all the propagandist needs to do is decide what they want and contrast it favorably against what they don’t want.

Want war? Make the public perceive the enemy you want as an enemy, then add info while increasing valence. Columnists will write many thousands of words about the desired war, but the basic sociology of it for the general public is always very simple.

Of course sometimes the trick fails. With Syria the basic formula—terrorists/poison gas/war—failed, probably because the public had been fooled too many times before with similar formulas (Sadam/WMD/war).

If you can see past words and feelings to the core of the semiotic well, you will see that many things in this world are quite simple. It is no accident that people communicate largely in very simple terms.

Edit 3/4/15: This essay was first posted 3/20/14 and references to Syria date from that time. Notice how it seems we will be getting war with Syria now for other reasons. Last year it was gas. This year it is ISIS atrocities. 3/5/15: This just in today: ​‘Military pressure’ may be needed to oust Syrian President – John Kerry

A serious conservative issue

The 24-page bill begins: “The following provisions are repealed,” then lists dozens of Texas statutes related to marijuana. If the Legislature were to approve the bill, Texas would have no laws regarding pot. (Texas lawmaker files bill to legalize marijuana)

This is the best way to go. None of the state’s business. Never was and never should have been. This is real conservatism of a type I can happily support.

Here is the other side of our ongoing ridiculous “debate” about marijuana: DEA warns of stoned rabbits if Utah passes medical marijuana.

Fairbanks said that at some illegal marijuana grow sites he saw “rabbits that had cultivated a taste for the marijuana. …” He continued: “One of them refused to leave us, and we took all the marijuana around him, but his natural instincts to run were somehow gone.”

This person works for the DEA and doesn’t know that cannabis has to be heated to activate its psychoactive chemistry.

Wrong facts, wrong policies, anti-American interference by government in people’s private lives, more harm done by the laws than the plant by far. Anyway, it is good to see these long overdue changes starting to happen in more places.