How can I be sure?

If it’s about what your partner says, thinks, feels, or intends, you can’t unless you ask and your partner is honest.

The following link contains four videos made by actors who were

asked to convey one specific intention through their speech and actions: to be sincere, or to tell ‘white lies’, or to be teasing, or to be sarcastic. (How can I tell if she’s lying?) (emphasis added)

Well-worth viewing, the videos are instructive because they show how difficult it is to grab a single intention from a short segment of speech, or to portray one.

If a single intention is difficult, how can you grab complex intentions from real conversations with real people who are really interacting with you?

You really can’t. Of course, sometimes you will be right, but much of the time you won’t. And if you are wrong just once, your mistake may lead to other mistakes, compounding into something much bigger.

Every day someone is murdered somewhere due to someone else mistaking their intentions. And, I am just as sure, every day many thousands of couples slide toward incompatibility due to accumulating mistakes in their communications.

FIML practice is designed to deal with problems of misspeaking, mishearing, miscogitating, and miscommunicating between consenting partners. FIML practice is based on the recognition that such problems are common, ubiquitous, and inevitable.

A problem with intention—sarcasm, irony, ill-will, etc.—in communication is there is no way to define it or establish any standard for it. With words, we can all agree on rough standards for pronunciation, but when you put a bunch of words together and mix in tone of voice and intention, there arises only an ambiguous standard, at best.

The videos linked above show how difficult it is to isolate even simple intentionality. The communication systems of both listeners and speakers are simply too complex to effectively standardize the majority of normal human communication. If this is understood the value of and reason for doing FIML practice should be clear.

The importance of analyzing tone of voice

Tone of voice is difficult to define clearly or control. It can also be very seriously misunderstood.

Nonetheless an algorithm designed by researchers has succeeded in predicting the outcomes of marital counseling with 79% accuracy, which is better than what human counselors predicted.

The study shows that tone of voice is measurable with decent accuracy and thus is an objective aspect of language to a point. I qualify that statement because tone of voice can also be misunderstood and misunderstandings can become habits and/or become serious hindrances to understanding if they are not properly analyzed.

One of the researchers had this to say of the study:

Psychological practitioners and researchers have long known that the way that partners talk about and discuss problems has important implications for the health of their relationships. However, the lack of efficient and reliable tools for measuring the important elements in those conversations has been a major impediment in their widespread clinical use. These findings represent a major step forward in making objective measurement of behavior practical and feasible for couple therapists. (Source)

Note the line: “…the lack of efficient and reliable tools for measuring the important elements in those conversations has been a major impediment in their widespread clinical use…”

This is good news for clinics, but what do you do at home years before you need to seek counseling for a rocky marriage?

What you can do is analyze at home using FIML techniques.

When FIML partners focus on analyzing tone of voice long before they are experiencing problems in their relationship, I am confident most of them will not develop problems, and surely most will never develop problems related to tone of voice.

Tone of voice is accessible to rational analysis and understanding if partners make FIML-type agreements to do so. Besides avoiding marital discord, FIML analyses provide many other insights into the idiosyncrasies of partners’ unique relationships and circumstances.

The study can be found here: Still Together?: The Role of Acoustic Features in Predicting Marital Outcome.

An article about the study can be found here: Words can deceive, but tone of voice cannot.

Simplicity and complexity in the public and private spheres

I will contend in this post that human communication tends to be simple unless agreements to be complex have been previously made and rules for greater complexity have been previously established.

Human communication can be understood in fractal terms. Conditions that characterize the small world of a single person can be understood as a fractal of the conditions that characterize the world of many people (communities, cultures, nations, etc.).

This can be easily seen in the ways public figures present simple stories about themselves to communicate with many people. And it also can be see in the ways individual people present simple stories about themselves to communicate with whatever social group they may be part of.

A successful public figure is almost always someone who presents a simple picture of themselves while associating themselves with simple views—liberal, conservative, party boy, sensitive babe, intellectual, etc.

For not famous individuals, the story is much the same—simple concepts are the norm. In most social settings, most people want to know others and be known themselves in simple terms, such as nice guy, good personality, reliable, good-looking, etc.

I don’t think there is much we can do with present technology to make the public communications of public figures more complex. The race for president or events in Paris will be displayed and spoken about in simple terms no matter what. Mainstream essays or talk shows that examine the candidates or the terrorists with more complexity will only add a bit of dressing to the already simple narratives, changing nothing for the vast majority of people.

Good science is based on previously establish rules and agreements to be complex and therefore good science does not shy away from complexity. One joins the scientific community and is expected to endure a long apprenticeship learning the rules of science before one is allowed to speak as a scientist. In the ideal, this is very good. In practice, not so much due to human failings and human tendencies to reduce complexity to simple expediency by cheating, lying, being biased, being paid for holding a view, etc. The same can be said about any field.

On an individual level, how do we introduce more complexity to our understandings of ourselves and others? If I expect you to see me in the simple terms of what my personality is or what my simple biography is and if you expect me to see you in similarly simple terms, how can we change that to add complexity and greater enjoyment?

In most cases, you can’t because it is too unsettling for most people to even contemplate doing that. In some cases, though, it can be done by making prior agreements to be more complex and by establishing rules for how to delve into and handle that complexity.

I do not believe it is possible to communicate with satisfying complexity with others unless you first establish clear rules and agreements with them.

If you want, you can make up your own rules and agreements. Or you can use the FIML rules and agreements, which can be found at the top of this page and which are discussed in the majority of posts on this site.

I strongly urge readers to do FIML or something like it. It will gradually free you from a veritable prison of delusive simplicity in both the ways you interact with others and with yourself.

Repost: Consciousness, Big Data, and FIML

Modern neuroscience does not see humans as having a discrete consciousness located in a specific part of the brain. Rather, as Michael S. Gazzaniga says:

The view in neuroscience today is that consciousness does not constitute a single, generalized process. It involves a multitude of widely distributed specialized systems and disunited processes, the products of which are integrated by the interpreter module. (Source)

Computer and Big Data-driven sociology sees something similar. According to Alex Pentland:

While it may be useful to reason about the averages, social phenomena are really made up of millions of small transactions between individuals. There are patterns in those individual transactions that are not just averages, they’re the things that are responsible for the flash crash and the Arab spring. You need to get down into these new patterns, these micro-patterns, because they don’t just average out to the classical way of understanding society. We’re entering a new era of social physics, where it’s the details of all the particles—the you and me—that actually determine the outcome.  (Source)

Buddhists may recognize in these insights close similarities to core teachings of the Buddha—that we do not have a self; that all things arise out of complex conditions that are impermanent and changeable; that the lion’s share of “reality” for any individual lies in being attentive to the moment.

Notice how similar Pentland’s insights are to Gazzaniga’s—the whole, or the common generalities (of society), can be far better understood if we can account for the details that comprise them. Is an individual mind a fractal of society? Do these complex systems—societies and minds—both use similar organizational processes?

I am not completely sure how to answer those questions, but I am certain that most people are using similar sorts of “average” or general semiotics to communicate and think about both minds and societies. If we stick with general averages, we won’t see very much. Class, self, markets, personalities don’t give us information as sophisticated as the detailed analyses proposed by Gazzaniga and Pentland.

Well then, how can individuals cognize Gazzaniga’s “multitude of widely distributed specialized systems and disunited processes” in their minds? And how can they understand how “the products” of those processes are actually “integrated” into a functional “interpreter module”?

And if individuals can cognize the “disunited processes” that “integrate” into a conscious “interpreter,” how will they understand traditional psychological analyses of the self, personality, identity, biography, behavior?

I would maintain that our understanding of what it is to be a human will change deeply if we can learn to observe with reliable clarity the “disunited processes” that “integrate” into a conscious “interpreter.” That is, we will arrive at a completely new understanding of being that will replace the “self” that truly does not exist in the ways most societies (and people) understand it.

FIML practice shows partners how to observe with great clarity the “disunited processes” that “integrate” into a conscious “interpreter.” Once these process are observed in detail and for a long enough period of time, partners will realize that it is no longer necessary to understand themselves in the “average” terms of self, personality, identity, biography, behavior, and so on.

Partners will come to understand that these terms denote only a more detailed version of a naive, static view of what a person is. Most psychology is largely a more detailed version of a naive, static view of what a person is.

We see this in Gazzaniga and Pentland’s findings that are derived from complex analyses of what is actually happening in the brain or in the multitude of real transactions that actually comprise a society. We can also see very similar insights in the Buddha’s teachings.

It is my contention that FIML practice will show partners the same things—that their actual minds and actual interactions are much more complex (and interesting) than the general semiotic averages we normally use to understand them.

From a Buddhist point of view, when we “liberate” ourselves from “attachment” to “delusive” semiotic generalities and averages and are truly “mindful” of the “thusness” of the ways our minds actually work, we will free ourselves from “suffering,” from the “ignorance” that characterizes the First Noble Truth.