The Diamond Sutra and modern thought

Modern thought is characterized by physicalism and atheism.

The forerunner of physicalism was materialism. Basing everything on matter doesn’t make good sense so materialism became physicalism. Physicalism, very simply, means that everything obeys the laws of physics, and thus physicalism has an open-ended definition because the laws we understand today will surely be different in the future.

Criticisms of physicalism claim it is vague since, as of today, we can’t say what the ultimate laws are and we are unlikely to ever be able to for how do you know when you know all there is to know?

I have no problem with physicalism and would be happy to call myself a physicalist. I think physicalism fits well with Buddhism and if you push at it a bit it can easily include many aspects of religion and the “supernatural,” which just means that which has not yet been explained by the laws of physics. See The invented God argument for more on this angle.

Another interesting way to connect modern thought with Buddhism is to look more closely and with different eyes at the Diamond Sutra or any other major wisdom teaching within the Buddhist tradition.

The Diamond Sutra is a long answer to a single question: “…when good men and good women commit themselves to complete, unsurpassed enlightenment, on what should they base themselves, and how should they subdue their minds?”

The Buddha’s answer is that they should be generous and not base their generosity on anything. That is, no phenomenal thing, nothing material, nothing conditioned. To say it another way, they should be generous but not base their generosity on any transient thing or material calculation.

Doesn’t that sound like the Buddha is indicating a higher level of understanding not unlike the laws of physics? Consider some questions: Where are the laws of physics? What holds them together? Do the inhere in matter, do they spring from matter, or do they “reside” at some other level?

I don’t know what it would mean for them to inhere in matter or spring from matter. Are the laws “out there?” Are they  more fundamental than matter? Higher than matter? We don’t have the answers to these questions yet, but there is nothing wrong with the questions.

The Buddha’s answer to Subhuti also contains this: “This means that he should not base his generosity on form, and he should not base his generosity on sound, smell, taste, touch, or thought.”

In Buddhist thought, our senses are sight (form), sound, smell, taste, touch, and thought. These, of course, can be expanded to include proprioception, balance, and much more. The important point here is that the Buddha uses the six senses mentioned to categorically exclude all phenomenal input including thought.

It takes time if you are coming from a modern language to see thought as being a sense. But look at how materialism has transformed into physicalism and how we can’t be sure even today which of our thoughts is really good and will be viable in a hundred years and which of them will look outdated in ten years. Psychoanalysis and materialism, to name just two thoughts, have suffered complete falls from grace over very short time-spans.

Consider again the six senses of Buddhism. Sight depends on light, something outside the body system. And so does sound, smell, taste, and touch. We see and perceive via our senses because those things are “out there.” Birds fly because air supports them. Fish swim because the water allows this. The fish are adapted to water and have evolved within it.

But what about thought? Is thought material? An epiphenomenon of matter? Since materialism is a weak philosophy, we should ask instead is thought physical? Does it obey the laws of physics?

One answer is reductionism, which goes down deeply into matter to find what we may already know. But another answer is that thought is “out there.” It exists independent of our bodies and brains. Just as the laws of physics do not inhere in matter, so also does thought not inhere in the body. As a bird’s wings are supported by the air, so our thoughts are supported by a reality that is different than the material world and probably superior to it.

If that is so, our capacity for thought is shaped by the laws of physics as much as our bodies are shaped by matter. Birds crash, make mistakes and die due to their mistakes. So also, we humans make mistakes in our thoughts and crash and die due to those mistakes. To glimpse a higher source for thought and being is not to say that our thoughts cannot be horribly mistaken.

Glimpsing a level of reality, profound physicalism, that is “superior” to the reality apprehended by our senses is not to say that we are enlightened or that we have reached the end of the road. We have, rather, caught sight of a way of understanding our lives that is fuller and probably truer than anything on the current spectrum that lies between materialism and spiritualism.

Is this what the Diamond Sutra is indicating when the Buddha adds generosity to the emptiness of the self? As sentient beings, we are capable of being generous. But we also tend to want to have our actions confirmed by our lower senses, our material senses, thus reducing them in much the same way that materialism can reduce higher sensibilities by binding them to a lower calculus.

Is this why the Buddha makes his point so explicitly? He says, “This means that he should not base his generosity on form, and he should not base his generosity on sound, smell, taste, touch, or thought.”

Profound wisdom (prajna) means being generous without basing that consciousness on anything material or any understanding we have (so far) of physicalism. Now, does this mean that generosity is itself an element of the deepest laws of physics? Do we perceive unconditional generosity because it is already “out there?” Is the universe as we know it generous or is it cold, as so many materialists claim?

The Buddhist answer is that the universe is generous. We know it is vast, abundant, and creative. We k now it “obeys” the laws of physics such as we know them. We know birds fly due to there being air. Is the Buddha saying we can grok profound, unconditioned generosity because it is already “out there?” It’s part of what an enlightened being knows?

In this respect, can we say we have made some progress in analyzing whether maths are “out there” or are mere constructs of our minds? The answer would be both, with an emphasis on maths being “out there.” Surely some of them are wrong, and some are not deep enough, but like the laws of physics or the generosity of a Buddha, maths are also very importantly “out there” and that is why we can find them.

Similar things can be said about other uses of the mind that rise above materialism—music, in this respect, is far more than mere “pleasing sounds,” art more than pretty pictures, poetry more than good sounding words.

Another way to look at this is consider what you mean by your “self,” your “personality,” “ego,” “autobiography,” etc. Can your personality, such that it is, handle detailed analysis of active communication as in FIML practice? I am all but certain it can’t. So what good is it if it cannot even analyze its own listening and speaking while they are happening?

In Buddhism, the self, the personality, the ego are fictions. They obscure reality rather than reveal it. If your personality or self is a touchy little thing inside your head that loses control of its emotions every time it hears anything out of the ordinary, how can it be true? Why would you want it? Why do we organize our senses and beings around such bankrupt concepts as self or personality?

The small answer is we don’t know any better and everyone else does it so we can’t be different. The big answer is the Buddha’s answer. The self is a narrow organizing principle that relies on base sensory calculations to maintain itself and as such is subject to the selfish delusions of greed, pride, anger, and ignorance, to name just a few.

The answer the Buddha gives in the Diamond Sutra to Subhuti’s question is a supreme “physicalist” answer which indicates that just as birds can fly humans can soar.

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first posted SEPTEMBER 25, 2014

Modern psychology is almost entirely the theory and treatment of the “self of the gaps”

The “self of the gaps” is the self that fills in the many gaps of understanding that occur during interpersonal communication.

These gaps can be small or large, but they are always there and there are many of them. Almost all people everywhere build their personalities on their need to fill these gaps.

They have been with you since you became conscious, You were raised on them. You can will yourself through them. Or theorize yourself over them. You can be confused by them or you can use them to confuse and control others. Malignant egos and narcissists thrive on gaps of understanding. Kinder people can be and often are devastated by them.

No one is free of them. Gaps arise frequently and can perdure for decades, whole lifetimes.

Communication gaps are filled with assumptions, illusions, wishful thinking, paranoia, emotionality, habit. When people visit a psychologist, a root cause is always going to be many painful gaps that have been internalized, reified, filled with wrong assumptions, make-believe.

The only way to correct a “self of the gaps” is FIML practice. Only FIML focuses precisely on real-time, real-world communication gaps and fixes them several orders of magnitude better than what they were.

I am in the weird position of knowing something really wonderful while also lacking a large enough public voice to share it widely. I do my best with this blog and hope more than a few people have learned and benefit from FIML, but it would be good if more would understand.

FIML or something similar has never been discovered before because it comes very close to violating a fundamental language instinct; the instinct to recoil at being questioned personally and quickly. Almost all people feel threatened, insulted, attacked when questioned quickly, especially if the question involves something we just said. More precisely: especially if the question involves “personal” contents of the working memory, out of which we just spoke. Doesn’t have to be anything bad in the working memory; it’s just that that information is close to home and almost never shared for itself.

FIML “comes close to violating” this instinct but it most assuredly does not actually do that. Instead, it assuages our tendency to fear being questioned. FIML is never a gotcha question. It is always a question that arises out of an explicit previously made agreement. Any FIML question can be truthfully answered, “I would rather not say.”

By doing FIML, malignant old gaps are gradually filled with truthful data while new gaps are much less likely to form or grow. FIML can be difficult to understand because it entails an entirely new way of looking at human psychology. By focusing on small segments of conversation (psychological morphemes) FIML enables partners to see and understand how their minds are actually working in real time.

This replaces the need to rely on external theories of psychology by just examining what is actually there.

PS: My SO and FIML partner came up with the term “self of the gaps” this morning.

An overview of the philosophy of Frank Ramsey

…Ramsey’s idea was that a given belief is to be understood in terms of its causes and effects, the ways in which it’s formed and the role it plays in behaviour, in conjunction with other beliefs, desires and mental states. This idea, now called functionalism in the philosophy of mind, is considered by many the most promising way to make sense of mental representation.

The Ramsey Effect

A philosophy of psychology must contend with similar problems as a philosophy of mind, and vice versa.

So how to understand any given belief pertaining to any psychological matter having to do with self or other? All psychological belief is based on this.

In addition to what is stated in the quotation above, psychological “belief” (or, better, analysis) must contend with real-world, real-time events as they happen. Understanding must be based on real-world, real-time events. That is precisely what FIML does or what FIML allows us to do. That is what FIML is for.

FIML can be understood as a philosophical process or method of thinking that is constant, continuous, and never stops. FIML situates the mind’s understanding of itself and other in an ongoing psycho-philosophical inquiry that is stabilized by being an agreed upon method that partners can use and refer to whenever they want.

In this, FIML reflects, embraces, and participates in the conscious development or evolution of thought, mind, spirit, belief, awareness. FIML is actively in the world while also providing a psychologically stable place from which to observe the world, self, and other.

UPDATE: In many respects for humans, there is nothing more basic or important than consciousness. Since FIML consciously works with consciousness as it shifts and adapts to another consciousness in real-time, it is arguably the most basic and objective thing there is.

Language cannot be divorced from communication with other. Theories of language and mind must account for this. Since communication with other is an activity (that always affects each), a philosophy of mind/belief/language must be based on an active method of ongoing communication analysis.

Just as you cannot learn to swim without getting into the water, you cannot have a philosophy of mind that does not actively analyze and influence communication in real-time.

Talking back to Smith College about race: “The consequences for not following the script are so severe…”

Good video. Sad she needs to make it.

Our present fixation on race is an “upgrade” of the communist theory of “class struggle.” Since class struggle does not work in wealthy nations, replacing class with race was an easy fix. This is the “intellectual” origin of “cultural Marxism.” Since the subject is race, Jews should be mentioned as having been among the most avid communists as well as primary architects of “critical race theory” and “systemic racism.”

Herbert Marcuse was a major figure in the cheap “upgrade” to race. Read him yourself to find out why he was so deeply wrong or check out Matt Taibbi’s recent piece Marcuse-Anon: Cult of the Pseudo-Intellectual.

As for “whiteness.” Whites are a large group of people with very different histories and genes. The modern would, like it or not, was invented and first built by Northwestern European men. Others contributed, but Northwestern European men should definitely get the vast lion’s share of credit for having created the greatest civilization the world has ever seen.

In contrast, while Northwestern Europe was doing that, most Eastern Europeans were slaves. Eastern European slavery did not end until 1861 when it was only partly ended. Legal obligations continued until 1910 which explains the large influx of Eastern Europeans after that date into USA.

As someone of Eastern European descent, I can relate to the problems facing black Americans today. A big one is under slavery, men are utterly humiliated and destroyed. This destroys fatherhood and sonship for many generations. My own father passed on many of those difficulties to me. They are very real.

Are the descendants of Eastern European so-called “nobility” obligated to pay me reparations? Or the Jews who for centuries became wealthy running “noble” estates as slave-drivers over my ancestors? If they offered, I would be tempted. But I don’t believe I should have to pay the descendants of black slaves; and neither should I have to be especially solicitous of their problems when no one, including them, is solicitous of mine.

Add to that that almost all Europeans come from common stock; not just serfs, but also peasants, laborers, bonded laborers, cannon-fodder, servants, maids, underlings, etc. And when “corrections” to systemic racism are made today, it is invariably the underling descendants of historical white underlings who pay the price.

And none of that is hard to see. Race theory that replaces class theory only to completely ignore class is pretty stupid if you think about it. I might also mention that Shaw is part of a very welcome new wave of white women who for the first time in fifty years are feeling the heat of Cultural Marxism burning their feet and not just their brothers’, sons’, and fathers’ feet. I doubt the recent appearance of “Karen-hate” is not a factor in this.

Interestingly, the only physical description we have of the Buddha mentions his beautiful blue eyes. He is also very commonly referred to as Aryan in the traditional literature. The word Aryan has been deconstructed so many times, it’s hard to say simply what it originally meant. Make of it what you like.

A final point on race is all races and cultures and people and institutions can be “deconstructed.” It’s good to do that sometimes, but doing it almost exclusively to whites has led to situations like the one in the video above. This has been a very wrong turn in American history and the more of us who say something about it, the sooner it will change, possibly for the better.

More on Shaw and a copy of her letter to Smith can be found here: Whistleblower at Smith College Resigns Over Racism

Games as semiotic focus

Define a game as “a set of rules that focuses and directs thought, feeling, intention.”

Most human games are overwhelmingly involved with human semiotics. Human feeling, thought, and intention overwhelmingly operate within and are defined by human semiotics.

Humans are semiotic animals who live within semiologies as much or more than their natural environments. Few of us can even comprehend our natural environments save through a semiotic system.

A semiology is a signal system, a system of signals. Humans need and want their signal systems to be organized; from this arises culture and psychology.

From this arises the many games of human semiotic organization. Humans crave meaning—a synonym for semiotic organization and focus—and thus play games (as defined above) with their intentions, thoughts, emotions, behaviors, instincts, perceptions, desires, and so on. Without meaning, focus, purposive semiotic organization, life is dismal and many humans destroy themselves and others for this alone.

Human semiotic organization can be beneficially reorganized in two basic ways:

  • Through general thought, which mainly changes how we focus and what we focus on. This region of organization includes all culture and science, including mainstream psychology and its treatments.
  • Through analysis of the most basic elements of semiotic organization, individual semiotics and semiologies. To do this at the individual level, two individuals are needed because you cannot successfully analyze your own semiotics by yourself. This is so because a great number of human semiotics are fundamental to both psychology and communication. They do not exist independently.

The goal of reorganizing individual semiologies is to optimize them. As individual semiologies optimize, individual psychologies inevitably optimize apace. Much is possible at this level that is not possible at the general level of psychological theory.

Reorganization at this level is done through individual semiotics, the actual signals of individual communication and psychology alike. To play this game—the game of semio-psychological reorganization and optimization—you have to have rules. Here they are.

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first posted APRIL 12, 2018

Buddhism and ethical signaling

Buddhism is very much a system of ethics. Buddhist practice is founded on the Five Precepts of refraining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and the irresponsible use of alcohol.

In most Buddhist traditions, these precepts are taught as if they are fundamental to the workings of the universe. But how can morality be fundamental to the workings of the universe? How does it really even matter to human beings?

If we think of a human being as a signaling system, we may be able to show that ethical thoughts and behavior are of fundamental importance to the system itself.

Human signaling systems signal internally, within themselves, and externally, toward other people. Our most important signaling system is the one we share with that person who is most important to us, our mate or best friend. Let’s confine our discussion to this sort of primary signaling system.

If I lie to my partner or cheat her, I may gain something outside of our shared signaling system, but that signaling system will suffer. And when that shared system suffers, my own internal signaling system will also suffer because it will contain errors. It will no longer be in its optimal state. Similarly, if she lies to me or cheats me, our mutual signaling system will become less than optimal as will both of our individual, or internal, signaling systems.

My own signaling system cannot grow or become optimal without my partner treating me with the best ethical behavior she can muster. And the same is true for her with respect to me. And we both know this.

We would be good to each other anyway, but it is helpful to see that our being good to each other has a very practical foundation—it assures us optimal performance of our mutual and internal signaling systems.

FIML practice is designed to provide partners with a clear and reasonably objective means to communicate honestly with each other. FIML practice will gradually optimize communication between partners by making it much clearer and more honest. In doing this, it will also optimize the operations of their mutual and individual signaling systems.

To my knowledge, there is nothing like FIML in any Buddhist tradition. But if I try to read FIML into the tradition, I may be able to find something similar in the way monks traveled together in pairs for much of the year. I don’t know what instructions the Buddha may have given them or how they spoke to each other, but it may be that they did a practice with each other similar to FIML practice.

In any case, if we view human being as a signaling system, we may be able to claim that clear signaling—that is, ethical signaling—is fundamental to the optimization of that system.

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first posted FEBRUARY 3, 2013

A fundamental feature of spoken language that is too often ignored

A fundamental feature—a primitive—of all spoken communication is a back-and-forth exchange that details all reasonable particulars of a topic and what both speakers think about them.

Let’s call this feature of spoken communication “primitive conversational induction” or, more simply, “primitive back-and-forth.”

It is primitive because it is a fundamental feature of all spoken communication; it is a primary feature.

It is a kind of spoken mutual reasoning between partners about a topic while also sharing all avenues of reasoning with each other, including emotional, aesthetic, and other nonrational sensibilities.

This primitive feature cannot be ignored without bad consequences for both parties. It cannot be reduced, shortened, or avoided without bad psychological consequences.

In hierarchical relationships, the situational hierarch can decree that the matter is settled to their satisfaction and discussion is over. But that will not avoid bad consequences except in some cases where either or both parties are so bad at negotiating primitive back-and-forths, less confusion and suffering will result if they agree to stop talking.

An example of a primitive back-and-forth happened this morning.

An old chest-of-drawers from one room had been moved into a hallway to accommodate a new and much better chest-of-drawers. The discussion was about what to do with the old chest-of-drawers in the hallway.

If I had been asked to estimate my partner’s ideas about the chest-of-drawers before we had our primitive back-and-forth, I probably would have been very close to 100% correct. The same is true of her estimating my positions before we ever discussed the matter.

That does not mean, however, that we could have skipped the primitive back-and-forth because the only way we could both be sure of all positions is to speak about them openly in a sort of logical tree that includes both practical and nonrational considerations.

In fact, even if we had advanced technology that allowed us to see each other’s emotional states, we would still have had to have had the primitive back-and-forth. Such advanced tech might have helped us in some ways and it might have hindered us in others, but it could not have replaced the primitive back-and-forth because only that can exhaust the logical tree to the full satisfaction and full understanding of both partners.

You can find the need for primitive back-and-forths very often. They are very common. In ordinary life, we cannot always go into them, but with important friends we can and should go into them as often as possible. It costs a bit of energy to do that but pays both parties back with much better mutual understanding and much less unsettled second-guessing or after-thinking.

In macro, we can see the dangers of avoided primitive back-and-forths. American politics is riven with them. Our so-called “divided society” is divided because we avoid so many primitive back-and-forths. Facts are hidden, slow-walked, falsified, etc. just to win a battle as the nation loses the war.

This is actually understandable and to be expected. Primitive back-and-forths are somewhat difficult to do and, so far, we do not have a good term for them or an explicit common understanding of what they are and why we need to do them.

Rather than running from or trying to avoid the next primitive back-and-forth that arises in your life, get into it and do it well; do it fully to the satisfaction of both of you. If needed, explain to your partner what is happening and why you want to do something different about it and what it is you want to do.

Once the concept is grasped, it is not all that hard to do a successful primitive back-and-forth. I can all but guarantee its benefits will become clear to both partners after just a few tries.

The best way to proceed is share this concept and do it on something concrete, practical, and relatively minor like the chest-of-drawers described above. At some point, move carefully into more difficult subjects centered on deep subjective psychology.

UPDATE 2/15/21: As for the chest-of-drawers: I wanted them to stay in the hall for added storage and also had a minor emotional attachment to them because I had had them for so long. They are very cheap and poorly built but still look OK. My partner wanted to throw them out. We went back-and-forth on the matter for a good ten minutes and agreed to get something better and smaller for the hall. We left open whether to use the drawers for tools in the basement or discard them.

The advantage of going into this fully is we both traced each branch of the logical decision-tree wherever we wanted, which was actually quite interesting. We both made sure we understood each other well. Moreover, we gained more practice in fully going through a practical back-and-forth. The more we do this with simple, concrete things, the better we will be with complex or psychologically more significant things.

I am sure we all have done many primitive back-and-forths. I am also sure that most people much of the time try to avoid lengthy ones because they can be irritating or seem more involved than warranted. I think it is a mistake to routinely do this because primitive back-and-forths build and strengthen primitive conversational trust between partners.

If primitive conversational trust is not flourishing in a relationship, the relationship will weaken. Weakened trust will only grow weaker if it continues to be ignored. Weakened (or never having been strengthened) primitive conversational trust makes important discussions much harder to do. Like anything else, good speaking & listening habits have to be practiced often. They are best strengthened on simple, concrete matters that are conspicuously clear to both partners like the chest-of-drawers.

I think the objective mechanics of why primitive back-and-forths can be difficult is they make demands on the working memory.

Status as a fetish

Fetish can be defined as “a part standing for the whole” or “one thing being made bigger than it is by having become a psychological fixation.”

A good example of what I mean is pornography. Insofar as a mere image can stand for or replace instinctual sexual objectives, it is a fetish.

A sign (pornographic image) is as strong or stronger than the animal instinct. Or a sign can direct or redirect the animal instinct. That is a fetish.

Secondary sex characteristics do the same thing. You could call them nature’s fetishes but that would be stretching the concept. Human utilizations of makeup, clothing, and grooming could be said to stand “halfway” between the basic sexual instinct and the fetishized porno image.

Let’s apply that reasoning to status.

Two social psychologist I respect—Jordan Peterson and Kevin MacDonald—have both claimed many times that status is a fundamental human instinct and that it drives human behavior in many ways.

In posts on this site, I have disagreed with these ideas several times. I just don’t see it that way. Here are two of those posts: Status and hierarchy are as fundamental to human life as murder and Jordan Peterson on the gender pay gap, campus protests and the patriarchy.

In the second link just above, I said:

…I do not believe that social status is any more fundamental to human nature than murder is. Humans also possess reason and spiritual inclinations both of which can guide us away from status competition if we decide to do that and/or our conditions allow.

I still think that but over the past day or two a new understanding of the importance of status and human hierarchy has dawned on me. In essence, I think I have come to see that status really is a huge deal for many people; a much bigger deal than I had ever realized.

My explanation for that is people like me (and there are many of us) during childhood and adolescence see the “status game” as a choice. And we decide not to play it.

My SO made that choice. When we talked about this subject this morning, she said people like us are more open to art (in a broad sense) and less concerned with social hierarchies. I think that’s true. One good friend years ago used to call me a “now person,” meaning I am always living in the here and now and not doing a lot of planning for the future. I think she also meant or implied that I am not doing any thinking about my social status or the human hierarchies that surround me.

A Buddhist nun who is a close friend has often described mundane human behaviors as being motivated by jealousy. I have often disagreed with her, believing that her emphasis on jealousy was influenced too much by her culture (Chinese) or by the innocence of her monastic lifestyle.

Today, I think she was influenced by the status-conscious world she had grown up in and as a young adult renounced for Buddhism. But I also think she was able to see something I have been almost completely blind to. For me status has always been a very small cloud on the edge of the sky, not a major thunderstorm in human motivation. For her it is, or was, a storm in the human mind.

Status is a fetish. And fetishization does explain a lot about it. But if lots of people have that fetish or have that strong understanding of status, that’s how it is. As a social construct the status fetish can be even bigger and more imposing than the basic instinct it rests upon.

I hope this post helps people who see status as important understand people like me and my SO, and vice versa.

From a Buddhist point of view, I think it is important to fully understand the entire status spectrum—from instinct to fetishized sign—and to understand where you are on that spectrum and where the people you deal with are on that spectrum.

My guess is that most people reading this blog do not think of status as being very important. People like us need to appreciate that status is probably largely what motivates good people like Jordan Peterson as well as bad people like Bernie Madoff.

Might also be good if status-conscious people would understand that people like us are not all slackers or losers, nor are we seething with envy over your status. We mostly do not even see the game you are playing.

________________

first posted SEPTEMBER 10, 2019

The cat-like nature of interpersonal conversation

Two people converse with each other.

Their thoughts, words, reasons for speaking and listening are like a small herd of cats, maybe 8-15 cats each.

Your cats sort of follow you and my cats sort of follow me. As we converse it’s like we are walking together; down a road or in a field, wherever you like.

Our cats sort of follow us.

Each impetus to speak and each impetus to listen in whatever manner is a cat. Your thought-cats and my thought-cats wander around and intermingle with each other.

Basically, all psychologically meaningful interpersonal conversations are like that: a couple of small cat herds milling around and sort of going in the same general direction sort of together.

The semi-disciplined, semi-aimless nature of interpersonal speech is one of its primary characteristics. Ambiguity, imprecision, misspeaking and mishearing are also primary characteristics of interpersonal speech.

Where your cats are coming from and how they came to be with you is almost always a mystery to me; and same for you about my cats. Even if we try to be specific about a particular cat (a small speech act), it can be hard to explain and hard to understand the explanation; hard for both of us to be sure we both are understanding the same things about just that one cat.

That is a major reason people typically don’t try to understand particular cats. Spend time on one cat, the rest may wander off or we all forget where we were going. Moreover, even if we try hard, we may never get to shared understanding about just that one cat. We might even become exasperated, even angry with each other because the task is so difficult.

That’s a major problem and it distorts everything we think, feel, and believe.

It happens because we can’t control our cats very well, nor do we know all that much about them; even our own cats are typically very mysterious even to us. What is your actual impetus to speak at any moments? And how did you understand what you just heard? How long can you remember either one of those? What is all that stuff in your mind and how can you possibly convey it to someone else?

The difficulty of answering those questions all but forces us to abstract our conversations and our selves. That is what all cultures do. All languages do that. Instead of appreciating how ambiguous and indeterminable our minds and conversations really are, we make up abstract roles for each other and our selves. And thus is born the illusion of human psychology. The illusion that we can know each other and our selves through abstractions while ignoring the realities of our herds of cats, which over time can become very large.

Say what you like, but when we stop conversing with each other, chances are that some of your cats will follow me and some of my cats will follow you. Also very likely is some of both of our cats will have wandered off and some new ones will have joined us.

Identity as a vortex or tautology

Our identities are fundamentally made up of semiotic matrices. That is to say, in part, that our identities have meaning; they mean something to us.

Often they mean a great deal to us and from them we derive the semiotics of motivation, intention, life-plans, many of our central interests, and so on.

Identities have strong emotional components, to be sure, but our emotions are ambiguous or diffuse if they are not positioned on a semiotic matrix and focused or defined by that matrix.

Identity is usually tautological in that its components, interests, and associations tend always to lead back to a few central elements. Often these elements have been inculcated in us by training. Some, we learn on our own. These elements are our values and beliefs, and also how these values and beliefs are understood and pursued.

The semiotics of identity must mean something to the person identifying with them. In this sense, they are almost always tautological. I do what I do because that is how I learned how to do it, think it, feel it, perceive it.

Most people are more adept at moving the parts of language around than they are at moving semiotic elements around. When semiotics are unconscious, they act like a vortex pulling perception, emotion, and understanding always toward the center of the identity. I think this is another way to say, in the Buddhist sense, that the self is empty; that it has no “own being.”

We can pursue an understanding of an empty self through Buddhist thought and practice, but we will get better results more quickly if we add a practice that deals directly with the semiotics of our identities.

Since there is no book you can go to to look up how your unique semiotics of identity works, you have to see for yourself how it works. You can do much of this on your own, but eventually you will need a partner because there is no way you will be able to get an objective perspective on yourself acting alone.

FIML practice is the only way I know of to fully see into and through the semiotics of your “identity.” Beneath identity there is a sort of artesian well of pure, undefined consciousness. FIML helps us experience that well while keeping us from rushing back into the tautological matrix of identity or static self-definition.

FIML is able to do this because FIML is process. FIML itself has no definition, only a procedure. It is not a tautology because it has no semiotic boundaries.

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first posted JULY 30, 2013

Consciousness as reality itself

In Buddhism the idea that consciousness is reality and reality is conscious is called “mind only” or Yogachara.

David Ray Griffin, a process theologian, has come to similar conclusions—that reality is fundamentally conscious.

As has Donald D. Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science at UC Irvine.

Hoffman came at this subject from a mathematical angle, but arrived at a similar conclusion to Yogachara Buddhism. Hoffman says:

As a conscious realist, I am postulating conscious experiences as ontological primitives, the most basic ingredients of the world. I’m claiming that experiences are the real coin of the realm. (The Case Against Reality)

I tend to reach similar conclusions when I think about everything in terms of signals.

The advantage of thinking in terms of signals is we get a good picture of “reality” without needing to say what is real beyond the signal itself.

This kind of thinking is helpful for metaphysics but it is also extremely practical when it comes to human psychology.

Rather than posit personality types and what goes wrong or right with them, we analyze how people send and receive signals instead.

In thinking along these lines, I have come to the conclusion that most psychology as most people understand it uses “arms-length” language, the language of meso and macro signals rather than the much more precise language of the micro signals that actually comprise our shared “realities.”

The difference can be illustrated in this way: Rather than explain your most recent signal (sent or received) in terms of personality, explain it by accessing the micro-signals of short-term memory to find its true antecedents.

If you do this again and again by using a game such as FIML, you will probably come to conclusions similar to the above—that there is no deeper substance to psychological reality than your consciousness of it.  

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first posted 08/05/17

Psychology is a self-generating, auto-catalytic system

Human psychology is self-generated in the sense that it takes ideas and energy from other people and then interprets and builds on that.

Our cognitive systems self-generate with what we learn from life and other humans—language, ideas, philosophies, behaviors, emotions, almost everything.

Auto-catalytic systems are systems that are able to catalyze their own production. You learn something, combine it with something else and then auto-catalyze that combination into something new, something that is unique to you.

The problem with being a self-generating, auto-catalytic system is you need a way to unify your system. It has to make sense to you, has to have meaning. Part of it is copy-paste from other people and part of it is DIY. It’s hard to do.

Human games make it easier. Games are things we do with our psychological systems. Many games unify our systems for a short period of time. Sports, cooking, reading, TV, etc. provide “meaning” or systemic focus long enough for most of us to experience a sense of contentment or purpose. Religions, careers, philosophies, etc. are meta-unifying games that provide unification or meaning at meta levels and for longer periods of time.

A big problem here is as self-generating systems we make mistakes, and many of them compound.

Conscious, self-generating auto-catalytic systems are complex and difficult to manage. They can induce terrible misery if they fail to bring unity and meaning to themselves.

Rather than see yourself as a story or ego, see yourself as a system of signals loosely erected and controlled by metacognitive functions that sort and analyze perceptions, thoughts, sensations, and memories.

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first posted MAY 13, 2018

Psycholinguistics: our normal interpersonal communication system inevitably produces significant error

Our normal interpersonal communication system inevitably produces significant error; thus leading to misery, personality disorder, mental illness. In spiritual terms, the normal ways we talk and listen carry toxic seeds of ignorance (and evil) that scatter everywhere. Even the sciences are affected.

Without the FIML corrective, nothing will change.

I have done FIML long enough that I feel deeply sorry for everyone who does not do it.

It’s not super easy to do FIML, to correct the mistakes that cause so much suffering, but it can be done with no more effort than learning to cook well or play the piano passably well. And like those skills, it’s fun to do once you get going with it.

Societies collapse because ignorance, greed, and madness accumulate and rot them out from inside. It happens to all of them. It is happening to us very seriously right now.

Marriages, friendships, and individual lives collapse for similar reasons. Errors build on errors, minds overwhelmed; suffering ensues.

I beg of you. Give it a shot. Learn FIML.

Within a short time you will see what it does, how it does it, and why it is so necessary for a good life.

Error correction

While reading David Deutsch’s The Beginning of Infinity, I came across the following sentence:

What is needed is a system that takes for granted that errors will occur, but corrects them once they do—a case of ‘problems are inevitable, but they are soluble’ at the lowest level of information-processing emergence. (p. 141)

This statement comes from the chapter “The Jump to Universality,” in which Deutsch argues that “error correction is essential in processes of potentially unlimited length.”

Error correction is fundamental to FIML practice. In fact, the nuts-and-bolts of FIML practice could be described as being little more than a method for correcting errors “at the lowest level of information-processing” during interpersonal communication. This level is “the lowest” because FIML deals primarily with very short segments of speech/communication. In many posts, we have called these segments “psychological morphemes” or the “smallest speech/communication error” we can reliably identify and agree upon with our partner.

If you try to tackle bigger errors—though this can be done sometimes—you frequently run into the problem of your subject becoming too vague or ill-defined to be rationally discussable.

I haven’t read enough of Deutsch’s book to be sure of what he means by “universality,” but I do think (at this point) that FIML is universal in the sense that it will clear up interpersonal communication errors between any two qualified partners. “Qualified” here means that partners care about each other, want to optimize their relationship, and have enough time to do FIML practice.

We all demand that our computers be error-free, that buildings and bridges be constructed without error, that science work with error-free data as much as possible. But when it comes to communication with the person we care about most, do we even talk about wanting a method of error correction, let alone actually using one?

You can’t correct big errors if you have no method for correcting errors that occur “at the lowest level of information-processing,” to use Deutsch’s phrase. Once you can correct errors at this level, you will find that you and your partner are much better able to tackle bigger questions/errors/complexes. This happens because having the ability to reliably do small error-correcting gives you the capacity to discuss bigger issues without getting lost in a thicket of small mistakes.

Your ability to talk to each other becomes “universal” in the sense that you can tackle any subject together and are not tethered to static ideas and assumptions about what either of you really “means.” As mentioned many times on these pages, FIML does not tell you how to think or what to believe. In this sense, it is a universal system that allows you and your partner to explore existence in any way you choose.

To use Deutsch’s words again, “error correction is essential in processes of potentially unlimited length.” Your relationship with your partner can and should be a “processes of potentially unlimited” growth, and error correction is essential to that process.

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first posted FEBRUARY 10, 2013