In the first three parts of A signal based model of psychology, we discussed micro, meso, and macro levels of human understanding and how paying attention to these levels can make human signaling easier to comprehend.
In this post I want to discuss how human signaling is normally managed and, knowing this, how we can better understand how it affects us.
In truth, there are countless possible interpretations for every moment of every day if we choose to notice them. In the material world of doing familiar things in familiar surroundings, we handle the abundance of possible interpretations by simply ignoring most of them. We put our minds on autopilot and do our tasks by accessing rote procedures and memories.
In social situations, though the stakes may be higher psychologically, we do much the same. Rather than wonder about the vast majority of communicative exchanges with others, we generally put our minds in social autopilot mode and interpret what we are hearing and perceiving according to fairly simple rules we have already established.
These rules, or principles of behavior, in my view, are roughly what people mean when they speak of “personality,” their own or someone else’s. For example, an “optimistic personality” could with considerable explanatory power be described as being an “optimistic principle that governs the semiotic network of perception and interpretation.”
This simple rule—to always reduce the multitude of possible social interpretations to an optimistic few—saves time, reduces ambiguity, and presents a nice face to the world. With just this one rule, you can establish yourself as having an optimistic “personality.” Much the same can be said for other types of “personalities.”
I put personality in quotes because I think it is a dangerous word since it tends to lead people into believing that they actually possess some inner actor or agency that defines or “expresses” who they are. Once that mistake is made, people want to develop this agency of personality by adorning it with emotions, behaviors, and expressions. Before long, it becomes a limiting act. It is limiting because in essence all personality is is a few rules or principles that govern social interpretations; a few simple rules that reduces the plethora of possible interpretations to just a few.
Since our culture does this all the time, people having “personalities” seems ordinary and even satisfying. If they are simple enough, we are able to predict how others will behave as they will be able to predict our behavior. This situation is even sort of desirable in formal or professional situations. Large groups must function by following lowest-common-denominator rules, so having more or less standard or uniform “personalities” is in the interest of most if not all large groups.
The ways that large groups build group bonding shows a great deal about basic human signaling. We have to understand each other and, thus, in large groups we have to make it easy to do that by, for example, singing songs, meeting in the same places, wearing uniforms, listening to speeches, and confining ourselves to a few main ideas.
What having a steady “personality” too often does is bring large-group rules into intimate relationships. With friends, we get to wear more kinds of clothes, say more things, and generally relax more than we can in large groups, but the underlying issue of how we interpret each others’ speech and behavior cannot be satisfyingly resolved by resorting to the “personality” rules that govern our semiotic networks in large groups.
When we reduce each other to a set of “personality” rules or behaviors, we destroy our ability to analyze and interpret the rich micro, meso, and macro semiotic networks that are a major component of the human mind. When we do that to others, we often do it to ourselves. When you reduce the richness of your own mind’s networks into a few “personality” rules or principles, you are going to have problems. And when you do it to someone else, you both are going to have problems.
You cannot communicate deeply or richly by using just a few rules. You must have ways to access and analyze your own and your partner’s semiotic networks. Micro, meso, and macro levels of understanding, of course, lie on a continuum and it is not always easy to say whether something is meso or macro. But this slight vagueness doesn’t matter very much as long as you can manipulate individual semiotics, semiotic bundles, and semiotic networks.
Most people have OK abilities for analyzing meso and macro levels, but completely lack the capacity to even perceive, let alone analyze, communicative micro semiotics, micro signals. The reason this is so is communicative micro semiotics happen quickly. They appear quickly and disappear quickly. They last just a few seconds or less. When we fail to understand the importance of these micro units of communication, we reduce our capacity for meaningful analysis so greatly it is as if we had no analysis. Without a capacity for micro analysis, we become confined to meso and macro levels—to having simple “personalities” that follow simple rules based on simple principles.
I do admit that some people like it that way, and God bless them, but I also believe that a great many people are essentially crazy due to their inability to access and analyze micro semiotics with any other person in the world. People like that will often feel lonely when with others, frightened, paranoid, scattered, unfocused, confused, angry, deeply unsatisfied. They will feel these ways because micro semiotics will frequently affect them deeply and cause them to reach for explanations that cannot be confirmed (due to no communication in this realm).
In this respect, people with more positive or assertive social strategies, will tend to be vain, arrogant, histrionic, narcissistic, committed to ideologies, causes, careers, or religions, and so on. They will accomplish their social goals and meet their psychological needs by adopting strong personas or roles that signal a confident or well-packaged “personality” to others.
The above behaviors are a result of living in a world that ignores or discounts a massive part of life that is going on all around all of us all of the time. With no way to access micro signaling, to analyze it, understand it, or share it with anyone else, many of us become neurotic, anxious, confused, arrogant, conceited, or vain.
FIML practice can begin fixing that problem in a matter of days or weeks.
A signal-based model of psychology: part one
A signal-based model of psychology: part two
A signal-based model of psychology: part three
first posted DECEMBER 30, 2014
UPDATE: Consider the many new identity groups that have arisen since this piece was first posted in 2014. New gender, sexuality, and grievance identities especially are functioning as “personality” rules that govern the semiotic networks of large groups. This is very good evidence that human psychology can be profitably analyzed in terms of signaling. Based on what is said above, these groups are not at all surprising and can even be expected to arise.
Many individuals today are able to completely change their “personalities” based on group allegiances that are novel and very dynamic. Both sexuality and grievance are deep instincts fundamental to interpersonal communication and self-conceptualization. Sexuality is especially interesting as a basic signaling system because, for most people, it is both our most privately held instinct and our most publicly displayed. Thus an individual can decide to change their gender and also how they display it, and this can be done as often as desired.
I would maintain that attempting to shift deep psychology at meso and macro levels of signaling and instinct without having a profound grasp of their micro levels is a dangerous enterprise, especially if surgical and biochemical changes are made on this basis and doubly-especially if these changes are imposed on children. Micro levels can only be accessed through analysis of real-time, real-world micro signaling behaviors and this requires a depth of self-reflection children cannot be expected to be capable of. ABN