The complexity of communication

A better version of this would have a similar set of circles mostly outside of this set and to the right of it. The smallest circle would be “what sounds enter people’s ears.” The next one would be “what they thought they heard.” The next one would be “how they interpreted that.” The last and biggest circle would be “what they thought about that interpretation.”

It is typically an illusion that the speaker knows “what other people understand,” let alone what they think abut what they thought they heard.

Interpersonal communication is always fraught with ambiguity, misinterpretation, misspeaking, and mishearing, among many other errors. Even very close friends who know each other very well will make at least several significant mistakes in any given hour of interaction.

Even close friends use conformity—indeed, require it—to overcome communication errors which inevitably occur in one or more of the circles described above.

Yet conformity can also be a serious hindrance to deep communication between close friends. This fact is a central paradox of profound interpersonal communication.

Context drives electrical excitement in brain

A new study has shown that:

…after mice formed a memory in a context, the engram cells encoding that memory in a brain region called the hippocampus would temporarily become much more electrically excitable if the mice were placed back in the same context again. ( How returning to a prior context briefly heightens memory recall)

The study is here: Engram Cell Excitability State Determines the Efficacy of Memory Retrieval

I do not believe it is much of a stretch to suppose that something similar happens with humans in virtually any significant context.

Since humans are social animals that respond to signals from other humans and since we often base our understanding of our social contexts on signals from other humans, it follows that strongly-perceived signals coming from others will cause “engram cells…in the hippocampus…to become electrically excitable.”

An “electrically excitable” hippocampus probably corresponds to what we have called a “jangle” in FIML practice. A jangle is the sensation that a psychological response may be or is initiating. It is the subjectively-felt onset in the mind of a “psychological morpheme.”

An instance of FIML practice is properly begun as soon as a significant “electrically excitable” response is first perceived. But before we “get reminded of details of some specific events” (Ibid) that originally produced that response.

Professor Tonegawa’s full statement on this is:

This initial recall could be a general recall of the vacation. But moments later, you may get reminded of details of some specific events or situations that took place during the vacation which you had not been thinking about.

By beginning a FIML query as soon after a jangle is perceived, any unwanted “context” that lies deeper in the brain is not recalled. Instead, the immediate basis of that context (the percepta that initiated the jangle) is isolated and analyzed.

See this for more: Disruption of neurotic response in FIML practice.

In Buddhist practice, a jangle is the second skandha. The five skandhas are form, sensation, perception, activity, consciousness. In modern terms, form might be better called “percepta.” In this context, a form/percepta is anything that enters working memory or consciousness.

For Buddhists, FIML can be understood as a mindfulness partnership where partners help each other with the five skandhas. By disrupting the normal or habitual unfolding of the five skandhas at the second skandha, FIML partners learn how to eliminate mistaken or unwanted responses when they first arise as jangles but before they become full blown psychological contexts.

 

Deception (or truth elision) in communication

To communicate, we often must ignore the truth or falsity of a statement, our own or someone else’s.

I believe it is an instinct to do this; that it is part of our instinct to communicate at all. Communication requires cooperation, an agreement to be agreeable enough to get the message through.

We might call ignoring truth or falsity in communication “truth elision” or “psychological elision.” Elision means to omit something. Psychological elision would mean omitting or not mentioning psychological truths.

We do a lot of truth elision to save time. In professional or group settings it is hard to communicate any other way because there is not enough time to be perfectly truthful and most people will not care. They just want to socialize and/or get the job done, not search for truth.

Most communication is like that. Most messages are not even superficially analyzed. Semiotics glide through our minds without any thought to their deep origins or interpretations. Truth and falsity are frequently elided.

Like all instincts, our instinct to cooperate by ignoring the truth or falsity of many statements can be misused to consciously deceive.

Indeed, we frequently deceive even ourselves by accepting our own statements as true when analysis would show they are not. One way we succeed in doing this to ourselves is by simply avoiding the analysis—analysis elision.

This is where a simple instinct starts to go bad. A basic need to cooperate on the signs and symbols of communication gets twisted into tricking people, deceiving them, even deceiving ourselves.

The way to see this most clearly and to stop doing it with at least one other person is FIML practice. One of my main goals for this website is to show how and why communication goes bad and how and why it harms us. At the same time, I present a practical way to fix the problem described—FIML.

 

Working memory is key to deep psychological transformation, Part 4

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

For something to appear in consciousness it must also appear in working memory. We interact with the (long) moments of real-life in real-time through our working memories.

The post below describes how psychological morphemes that appear in working memory can help us transform the psychological systems they are associated with. It discusses a study which “…shows that removing a key word from a linguistic network will cause that network to fracture and even be destroyed.”

This last point is key to using working memory to achieve deep psychological transformation. ABN

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Networks of words, semiotics, and psychological morphemes

On this site we have claimed many times that words and semiotics are held together in networks. We have further hypothesized that “psychological morphemes” are also held together in networks.

A “psychological morpheme” is 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.

Of course word networks, semiotic networks, and emotional, psychological, and cognitive networks all intertwine with each other.

FIML practice is designed to help partners untangle unwanted emotions from these intertwined networks. FIML practice focuses on psychological morphemes because they are small and thus rather easily understood and rather easily extirpated from real-time contexts (when partners are interacting in real life in real-time).

The hard part about FIML practice is it is done in real life in real-time. But the easy or very effective part about FIML is that once partners learn to do it, results come quickly because the practice is happening in real life in real-time. It is not just a theory when you do it in that way. It is an experience that changes how you communicate and how you understand yourself and others.

In FIML practice partners are mindful of their emotional reactions and learn that when one occurs, it is important to query their partner about it. They are mindful of psychological morphemes and as soon as one appears, but before the morpheme calls up a large network leading to a strong reaction, they query their partner about it.

This practice leads, we have claimed, to a fairly smooth and effortless extirpation of unwanted psychological responses. This happens, we believe, because the data provided by the partner that “caused” the reaction shows the partner who made the FIML query that the psychological morpheme in question arose due to a misinterpretation. Seeing this repeatedly for the same sort of neurotic reaction causes that reaction and the psychological network that comprises it to become extinguished.

A fascinating study from the University of Kansas by Michael Vitevitch shows that removing a key word from a linguistic network will cause that network to fracture and even be destroyed. An article about the study and a link to the study can be found here: Keywords hold vocabulary together in memory.

Vitevitch’s study involves only words and his analysis was done only with computers because, as he says, ““Fracturing the network [in real people] could actually disrupt language processing. Even though we could remove keywords from research participants’ memories through psycholinguistic tasks, we dared not because of concern that there would be long-term or even widespread effects.”

FIML is not about removing key words from linguistic networks. But it is about dismantling or removing psychological or semiotic networks that cause suffering.

Psychological or semiotic networks are networks rich in emotional meaning. When those networks harbor unwanted, inappropriate, or mistaken interpretations (and thus mistaken or unwanted emotions), they can cause serious neurotic reactions, or what we usually call simply “mistaken interpretations.”

We believe that these mistaken interpretations and the emotions associated with them can be efficiently extirpated by revealing to their holder the “key” psychological morphemes that set them off.

My guess is the psychology of a semiotic network hinges on repeated reactions to key psychological morphemes and that this process is analogous to the key words described in Vitevitch’s study.

Vitevitch did not remove key words from actual people because it would be unethical to do so. But it is not unethical for consenting adults to help each other find and remove key psychological morphemes that are harmfully associated with the linguistic, semiotic, cognitive, and psychological networks that make up the individual.

The essay was first posted May 21, 2014.

Fractals in the humanities

“A fractal is a natural phenomenon or a mathematical set that exhibits a repeating pattern that displays at every scale.” (Wikipedia)

Most of us know what math fractals look like and understand that shorelines and trees exhibit fractal patterns that display at different scales.

I think we can also see fractal patterns or sets in the humanities.

For example, the five skandha explanation in Buddhism to be fully understood must be conceived of as a fractal pattern that repeats at different scales. The normal explanation of the five skandhas is as follows:

The five skandhas are form, sensation, perception, activity, consciousness. A form can arise in the mind or outside of the mind. This form gives rise to a sensation, which gives rise to perception, followed by activity (mental or physical), and lastly consciousness. In the Buddha’s explanation, the five skandhas occur one after the other, very rapidly. They are not a continuous stream but rather a series of discrete or discernible moments. A form arises or appears, then there is a sensation, then perception, then activity, then consciousness. (Ibid.)

This explanation describes the most basic fractal pattern or the smallest one. “…the five skandhas occur one after the other, very rapidly.”

A simple example of this rapid movement of the five skandhas might be the experience of having something suddenly touch your neck. Your first awareness of this is the form. Your next awareness is the sensation; at this point you react with aversion, attraction, or neutrality. If you are outside, you might react with aversion as you perceive (third skandha) the touch to probably be an insect. Following that, there is often rapid physical activity (fourth skandha) as you involuntarily reach to brush it away. After that has been done, you will determine what actually happened, you will become conscious (fifth skandha) of what happened.

If it was an insect you might shudder or feel relieved. If it was a leaf on a tree branch you might feel a bit foolish. Your consciousness of the event comes after the first four skandhas have arisen or occurred.

A larger fractal version of the above might be the feeling (form, or first skandha) that you are ignorant about something. This form gives rise to an aversive sensation (second skandha), which leads you to perceive (third skandha) that you ignorance is probably something you should correct. This leads to mental activity (fourth skandha) which may require months of your time. At last, when you are satisfied that you are no longer ignorant on that subject, you will experience a new state of consciousness (fifth skandha).

In the above example, your ongoing feeling of ignorance as you study the subject might also be described as the fifth skandha, consciousness. Understanding that the five skandha explanation is a fractal pattern to be used to help you understand yourself will allow you to apply it where it can do the most good. As with so many things in the humanities, you will do better if you see the pattern and use it to aid understanding without letting yourself get trapped in a quasi-logical net that hinders understanding.

FIML practice can be seen as a fractal pattern as well. The smallest, or most basic level, is the basic FIML query which interrupts normal communicative processing to insert rational thought and more accurate information. The FIML query interrupts the mind as soon as the second skandha, sensation, arises. Whenever partners question a sensation, they will immediately change all of the five skandhas associated with it. Rather than follow a semi-conscious sensation down the same associative path as usual, partners gain an entry point to their deep psychology and an awareness of how their communications are affected by it.

A larger fractal pattern of FIML, might be hearing about it (form); feeling interested in it (sensation); perceiving what it is; learning the system (activity); and lastly gaining a new consciousness about how language can be made to work much better than without FIML.

FIML is a tool that helps partners leverage communicative details to gain great insight into how their minds work. Since FIML is not (yet) the rule for how people speak to each other, a non-FIML fractal pattern can be seen in society at large: since most people do not have a way to access the highly important details that FIML can access, they do not expect anyone else to access them. Thus, by default they accept horribly sloppy reasoning and lies from politicians and others who make important statements in public.

The fractal pattern of non-FIML communication in society at large is all but defined by lies, secrets, and hidden motives. At a smaller fractal level, so are the personal lives of most people. The world goes on. It is my guess that brain scans and better computers and computer programs will one day make it easier for people to see that having the ability to perceive and manipulate communicative details greatly enhances communication. And that communication so enhanced greatly enhances our understanding of ourselves and others. And that this sort of understanding will help us see that we do not have to live in a society that is all but characterized by lies, sloppy reasoning, and partisan nonsense.

In the humanities, fractal patterns can be seen at many levels. By changing the details of very significant communicative patterns between ourselves and our partners, we will change both ourselves and our perceptions of others, and this will gradually lead to better concepts of what society is and how it can function.

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First posted August 29, 2014

Brain waves encode sentence structure and other cognitive functions

Author summary

Human language is a fundamental biological signal with computational properties that differ from other perception-action systems: hierarchical relationships between sounds, words, phrases, and sentences and the unbounded ability to combine smaller units into larger ones, resulting in a “discrete infinity” of expressions. These properties have long made language hard to account for from a biological systems perspective and within models of cognition. We argue that a single computational mechanism—using time to encode hierarchy—can satisfy the computational requirements of language, in addition to those of other cognitive functions.

(A mechanism for the cortical computation of hierarchical linguistic structure)

An short article about the above study: Brainwaves Encode the Grammar of Human Language

Working memory is key to deep psychological transformation, Part 3

Part 1

Part 2

A great advantage of analyzing the contents of working memory is working memory does not hold much information and thus each item in it is small.

Most items of psychological import will be psychological morphemes—the smallest units of human psychology—or only slightly larger. This has several important advantages for real-time psychological analysis:

  • data points can be easily identified
  • they can easily be agreed upon by both partners
  • when both partners agree on a data point, a reasonably objective standard is established for what just occurred
  • analyzing these data points is almost painless due to their small size
  • though small, items in the working memory are connected to the rest of the brain/mind and thus often implicate or expose much larger internal psychological systems

The kinds of data points we are talking about are things like word choice, tone, expression, and gesture. Generally, it is not difficult for both partners to agree that one of them used a certain word, or made a certain gesture, or displayed a certain expression.

Once the data point is isolated and agreed upon, it can be discussed and analyzed as described here.

Rather than conceive of our minds as having an Id, it is more accurate to describe them as having interconnected systems or networks that resemble the layouts of brain neurons, maps, or language.

When an item appearing in working memory has surprising connections to larger psychological systems, we can analyze it with our partner (or not) to gain some insight into how our working memory—our being in real-time—is actually acting and perceiving.

When and if the same sort of item appears repeatedly in our working memory, we can be sure that it is connected in many ways to larger mental or psychological systems.

Some items of interest will have just arisen and have no further psychological import if they are queried and analyzed. If they are not queried and analyzed, those same items may plant a seed that will grow from then on.

This is why it is important for partners to do many FIML analyses. Do many analyses of very minor stuff to get used to the practice. (Also, I guarantee some of that “minor stuff” will be very revealing.)

Whether we conceive of working memory as a sketchpad or as a core component of higher cognitive function, most of us are aware that there can be considerable delay between the appearance of a psychological morpheme in working memory and the excitation of the much larger psychological system(s) it is attached to.

Whenever we stay a psychological response of anger, irritation or anything else, we make use of the delay between real-time life and the rumination or behavior that might follow later on.

When we analyze a negative psychological morpheme very soon after it appears in working memory, we always change it and almost always change it to something much better. This happens if only because the weight our full minds can put on something like that is typically much greater than anything our partner intended or was in their mind.

But this also happens very often because we are simply wrong.

Consistent FIML analysis will show this is true. When we clear many mistakenly stimulated psychological morphemes of the same type, we will become convinced (almost painlessly) that our minds have been malfunctioning or misperceiving in that area. Once we are convinced of our mistake, that malfunction will all but disappear as if it had never been.