Perfect communication is not possible (but greatly improved communication is)

Human beings cannot possibly expect to communicate with each other perfectly. Perfect communication would require complete transfers of information with no ambiguity.

This point is fundamental to understanding why we need a method to frequently correct or adjust interpersonal communication in real-time.

If we do not have a method to do that, mistakes will inevitably cause problems, some of which will inevitably snowball.

TBH, I don’t understand why no one before me has figured the method out. Many have seen the problem in one way or another, but none has provided a way to fix it as far as I know.

To simplify the problem a bit, let’s just stick with language.

Language is ambiguous in and of itself. And when it is used for interpersonal communication it is fraught with ongoing and very significant ambiguities.

These ambiguities are so serious, I believe I can safely maintain that they account for a major component of our personalities. They may even be the major component.

Why does this seem so obvious to me but not to many others I speak with? I really do not know. Why didn’t Plato or Buddha or Laozi or Kant or Dostoevsky deal with this? I don’t know.

It’s possible the Buddha did privately or that’s what the Pythagorean’s secret was. Buddhist monks traveled in pairs and may have had a method to deal with interpersonal ambiguity.

If they did, I doubt it would be very different from my method, which you can find fully explained, free of charge here: FIML.

Please consider the problem of ambiguity before you undertake FIML.

Give ambiguity some real thought. Contemplate how it has affected your life in many ways you already know about. Then consider how many more ways you do not know about.

How many mistakes in communication—just due to ambiguity and consequent misunderstandings alone—have affected your life?

Watch for it and you will see ambiguity happening very often. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes insignificant, sometimes it’s tragic. The more there is, the worse it is.

When just two humans clear up almost all ambiguity between them (a process that must be constant like any other maintenance chore), amazing things begin to happen to their psychologies.

For each pair, what happens will be different because FIML is only a method. It has no content itself. What could be better than that?


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Psychological disorders shift throughout life, defying easy categorization

It has long been known that the more severe a mental disorder is, the greater the variety of symptoms it will manifest.  A news study based on longitudinal data shows that virtually all psychological disorders shift throughout life, rarely maintaining the same diagnosis.

“Better than any particular diagnosis, three parameters described each person’s mental health over their life: (a) age of onset, (b) duration of symptom history, and (c) number of different kinds of comorbid disorder symptoms. People with younger onset of symptoms, more years with symptoms, and more different kinds of symptoms tended to be the same people. These people also had more indicators of poor brain health at age 3, steeper child-to-adult cognitive decline, and older brain-age on structural MRI at midlife,” Caspi explained.

“This finding cautions against over-reliance on etiological theories, research hypotheses, and clinical protocols that are specific to one diagnosis. Studying disorders one at a time does not accurately represent most patients’ lived experience of shifting across disorder families.”

“Studying one disorder may mislead about specificity and hide transdiagnostic discoveries from view. There is a need for measurement instruments that capture shared liability to shifting disorders across the life course in order to make discoveries more efficiently. There is also a need to develop transdiagnostic treatments that can prevent many different conditions,” Caspi said. (New psychology study finds people typically experience shifting mental disorders over their lifespan)

IMO, if we base our understanding of human psychology—including disordered psychology—on signals, the problem of wavering diagnoses becomes clearer.

A complex signal system once disordered cannot be expected to a maintain homeostasis of “disorderedness.”

Micro-aggression or micro-aguessin’?

Do FIML practice successfully 25 times and you will understand how wrong the notion of micro-aggression is. Not only wrong but also destructive to self and other. Rather than have us probe own minds, micro-aggression asks us to assert a false interpretation of someone else’s mind. From a Buddhist point of view, micro-aggression turns us 180 degrees away from wisdom and enlightenment.

Scant physical evidence for Big Five personality traits

Collectively, these results indicate that if there are associations between the Big Five personality traits and brain structure, they are likely of very small effect size and will require very large samples for reliable detection. (Little evidence for associations between the Big Five personality traits and variability in brain gray or white matter)

I like Buddhist reasoning on the mind better. Are you thoughts wholesome? Are they conducive to enlightenment? Are your behaviors wise and kind? Are you trustworthy? Do you trust yourself?

Be mindful of how your mind works as much as you can. Personality is impermanent, subject to change. Do your best.

Fourth wave cognitive behavior therapy

The third wave of cognitive behavior therapy is a general term for a group of psychotherapies that arose in the 1980s, inspired by acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).

To me, third wave therapies seem more realistic than older therapies because they accept emotions as they are and pay close attention to how they function in the moment.

The link above is well-worth reading. The frames of these therapies are also well-worth considering.

FIML, which I am calling a “fourth wave cognitive behavior therapy,” differs from third wave therapies in that FIML does not use a professional therapist. Instead, partners become their own therapists.

Moreover, how FIML partners frame their psychologies or generalize their behaviors is entirely up to them. Similarly, their psychological goals and definitions are entirely in their own hands.

At its most basic, FIML “removes wrong interpretations of interpersonal signs and symbols from the brain’s semiotic networks.”

This process of removal, in turn, shows partners how their minds function in real-time real-world situations. And this in turn provides the tools and perspectives to reorganize their psychologies in whichever ways they like.

FIML is based on semiotics because semiotics are specific and with practice can be clearly identified and understood. They give partners “solid ground” to stand on. Words, tone of voice, gestures, and facial expressions are some of the major semiotics partners analyze.

Using real-world semiotics as an analytical basis frees FIML from predetermined frameworks about personality or what human psychology even is. With the FIML tool, partners are free to discover whatever they can about how their minds communicate interpersonally (and internally) and do whatever they like with that.


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To vent or not to vent?

Venting is a common concept in American English.

It is a metaphorical word connoting other metaphors with similar meanings: blowing off steam, getting something off your chest, getting something out, getting it out there, clearing the air, etc.

I think it would be much better if we greatly demoted these small metaphors and replaced them with plain speech, such as: I want to speak about something with you and hope you will listen to me and provide some feedback.

Speech is sacred. Speaking honestly to someone who listens honestly is always transformative. Our common metaphors for needing or wanting to speak with someone too often obscure the beauty and profound potential of these important speech acts.

Another distantly related point to this is all the deconstructing going on right now in American society.

What I want to say to you about this is simply: any technique used to deconstruct America can very easily be used against any society anywhere in the world during any period of time.

All groups can be deconstructed easily because all groups are fundamentally simple. They are lowest-common-denominator communication systems shared by their members.

A little deconstructing and intelligent analyzing can be good, but too much is destructive. It’s much easier to destroy something than build it. And building new or better things does not always mean destroying established things first; in fact that approach rarely works.

Plants filter out green light to protect photosynthesis from “noise”

Plants are able to make photosynthesis more efficient by filtering out spectra of solar light that change most rapidly in their environments.

Protecting themselves from such “noisy” input allows them to obtain “quiet” outputs of energy.

This provides “…a unified theoretical basis for the experimentally observed wavelength dependence of light absorption in green plants, purple bacteria, and green sulfur bacteria.”

That quote is from the study: Quieting a noisy antenna reproduces photosynthetic light harvesting spectra.

Nathaniel Gabor, one of the authors of the paper, said of it: “Our model is the first hypothesis-driven explanation for why plants are green, and we give a roadmap to test the model through more detailed experiments.” (emphasis added)

This general principle—turning noisy inputs into quiet outputs—can probably be applied to many other systems, including human psychology. In this respect, many human behaviors could be viewed attempts to achieve quiet, steady, or consistent outputs by reducing noise.

FIML is a super efficient noise reducer.


Personality disorders and signaling

In my opinion, “personality disorders” are more easily understood as signaling problems.

All types of personality disorder involve dysfunctional signaling with other people. Signals are both sent and received in ways that result in suffering.

As currently defined, personality disorders “develop early, are inflexible, and are associated with significant distress or disability.”

Thus, if there are no significant brain injuries or other biological problems, all personality disorders (PD) develop through experience.

This means that during childhood the PD sufferer has received many bad signals (and/or interpreted many signals badly) resulting in their failing to form a coherent well-functioning internal signaling system.

The way to fix this is work with the signals. And the best way to do this is FIML practice. A professional psychotherapist cannot possibly provide this level of treatment.

This brings me to a second point: is there anyone who would not benefit from improving their signaling?

Why do we view psychotherapy as treatment designed merely to make us look and feel “average”? Why don’t we instead work to optimize our psychologies every day?

The Buddha said we are all crazy. We are. We all need to work on our signaling—our personality disorders—all the time.

The distinctions between one PD and another and those who have PDs and those who don’t are vague. This is because all PD problems (absent significant biological deficits, which may include intelligence) are idiosyncratic varieties of signaling malfunctions.

If signaling is the core problem, it should follow that all acquired PD will be classifiable as some kind of signaling malfunction. And that is precisely what we see.

Narcissism is a too simple signaling system. Borderline is an unstable signaling system. Compulsive, passive aggressive, histrionic, avoidant, and so on all are variations of a poorly formed internal signaling system.

The way to study this is through interpersonal semiotics; that is interpersonal semiotic analysis of real-time, real-world communicative signs and symbols.

All people need to do this to optimize their psychologies (their internal signaling systems). Why would anyone not want to do this? Maybe not wanting to do this is the surest sign of PD there is.

The hardest part about doing FIML is finding a willing and able partner. To me, this shows how pervasive bad signaling is. Most people will do almost anything but examine their own signaling with the help of another person.


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Indeterminacy of translation and FIML

I betray my poor education by admitting that I had never heard of W. V. Quine’s “indeterminacy of translation” until last week*. My ignorance is especially egregious as I have worked as a professional translator for many years.

Maybe I had heard about it but had forgotten. I am being self-reflective because FIML practice is deeply, fundamentally concerned with the “indeterminacy” of translating one person’s thoughts into another person’s head.

Quine’s thesis is not just about translating from one language to another, though there is that. It is much more about the fundamental impossibility of determining what anything means well enough to “translate” it into another context, a next sentence, into another person’s mind, or even “translating” your own speech from the past into the context of your mind today.

If I had known about Quine, I probably never would have thought of FIML because his ideas and the slews of papers written on “indeterminacy of translation” surely would have made me believe that the subject had been worked through.

As it was, I have plodded along in a delightful state of ignorance and, due to that, maybe added something practical to the subject.

In the first place, I wholeheartedly believe that speech is filled with indeterminacy, which I have generally called ambiguity or uncertainty. In the second place, I have confined my FIML-related investigations mainly to interpersonal speech between partners who care about each other. I see no solution to the more general problem of indeterminacy within groups, subcultures, or linguistic communities. Until brain scans get much better, large groups will be forced to resort to hierarchical “determinacy” to exist or function at all.

For individuals, though, there is much we can do. FIML practice does not remove all “indeterminacy.” Rather, it removes much more than most people are aware is possible, even remotely aware is possible. My guess is FIML communication provides a level of detail and resolution that is an order of magnitude or two better than non-FIML.

That is a huge improvement. It is life-changing on many levels and extremely satisfying.

FIML does not fix everything—and philosophical or “artistic” differences between partners are still possible—but it does fix a great deal. By clearing up interpersonal micro-indeterminacy again and again, FIML practice frees partners from the inevitable macro-problems that micro-ambiguity inevitably causes.

Moreover, this freedom, in turn, frees partners from a great deal of subconscious adhesion to the hierarchical “determinacy” of whichever culture they are part of. Rather than trapping themselves in a state of helpless acceptance of predefined hierarchical “meaning,” FIML partners have the capacity to sort through existential semiotics and make of them what they will with far less “indeterminacy,” or ambiguity, than had been possible without FIML practice.


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*that would not be over five years ago now

A signal-based model of psychology: part two

If we consider humans to be complex signaling systems or networks, then it is readily apparent that each human network signals within itself and also is connected by signals to other networks.

In A signal-based model of psychology: part one, we said:

the only significant interpersonal signaling data we can really know with significant certainty are data noticed, remembered, and agreed upon by two (or more in some cases) people engaged in significant interpersonal communication (signaling).

More recently, in Indeterminacy of translation and FIML, we discussed W. V. Quine’s thesis, which describes;

the fundamental impossibility of determining what anything means well enough to “translate” it into another context, a next sentence, into another person’s mind, or even “translating” your own speech from the past into the context of your mind today.

When we analyze a person based on vague ideas like “personality,” “psychology,” or “cognition,” we are principally assigning ambiguous referents to amorphous categories. We have more words but not much more understanding.

Cognition is a huge grab-bag of a word that means almost anything, as do the terms psychology and personality.

If we replace these terms with the concept of signaling networks, we gain specificity. For example, rather than analyzing the “cognitive-behavior” of a person we can more easily and profitably analyze their signaling.

The advantage of examining signaling rather than “cognitive-behavior” is signals are quite specific. They can usually be defined pretty well, they can be contextualized, and their communicative intent can be determined with reasonable specificity.

To be most effective, signaling analysis works best if we abandon the idea that we can accurately analyze the signals of someone else, especially if we do not analyze our own signals at the same time.

Moreover, a signaling analysis will work best if we do it with:

  • someone that we care about and that cares about us
  • someone with whom we can be completely honest and who will be completely honest with us
  • someone who is willing to spend the time to do the analyzing

Sad to say, it can be difficult to find two people who fit together in those ways, but that is how it is. Much of this problem is due to social expectations, which presently greatly reduce opportunities for clear, honest communication. And much of this is due to how we normally conceive of a person, as a bundle of vague things that cannot be pinned down.

The ideal signaling analysis will be done between close friends with the above qualifications. A signaling analysis will not work well, if at at all, if it is done between a professional and a patient. A professional psychologist would do the best for their patient by teaching them how to do signaling analysis with a friend. If they don’t have a friend, maybe one can be found; if not, a different approach should be used.

But you don’t have to have “problems” to do a signaling analysis. Everyone will benefit from it.

Signaling analysis works because partners learn to work with good data that has been generated between them during real-life situations. Having this data allows partners to do micro, meso, and macro levels of analysis on it. And these different levels help them see the specifics of a particular signal exchange, the immediate context of the exchange, and the larger social or historical context from which the exchange has derived some or much of its meaning.

For example, if clear data on a tone of voice has been agreed upon, both partners can then explain the micro antecedents and context of that data, the meso context of those antecedents, and if necessary the macro context that gave rise to either or both of those. The same outline applies to all micro data, be it tone, gesture, word choice, body language, reference, etc.

With practice, a new way of understanding communication will arise in partners’ minds. Rather than having a vague “cognition” about some poorly-defined “emotion” or “personality trait,” partners will find that they can benefit much more by simply analyzing what actually happened based upon data they both agree on.

It is very important for partners to do many analyses of specific micro-data, a single word or phrase, a single tone of voice, a single gesture, etc.. The reason for this is we can’t accurately remember much more than that. When we try to do more, we are pushed immediately out of specific micro data into vague meso or macro generalities that constitute nothing more than general categories with general references to other general categories. Rather than analyzing something that has actually occurred, we instead argue about general emotions, vague traits, unsubstantiated assumptions about “personalities,” and so on.

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General analyses of signaling systems illuminate fundamentals of psychology

Individual psychology is a locus or node within a larger social system.

More precisely, individual psychologies are particular signaling systems within larger social signaling systems.

It is valuable to see this because general analyses of signaling systems—even those having nothing to do with human psychology—can shed light on human signaling systems, including both individual psychology and many aspects of sociology.

When human psychology is viewed as a signaling system, we can readily see that narcissism is bound to occur because narcissism is fundamentally a simplistic signal system.  (See Narcissism redefined (yet again) for more.)

When human sociology is viewed as a signaling system, we can similarly see that parasitism is bound to occur because the exploitation of one system by another is a fairly simple matter.  (See Social parasitism in ants and humans for more.)

In like manner, we can see that social hierarchies importantly have evolved because they are simple and decently efficient signal (communication) systems.

We can also see why hierarchical system often are overthrown and why they often do not arise in systems where they are not needed.  For example, no hierarchy is needed for a language system once the basics have been established.  A parasitic or authoritarian group might impose a hierarchy on a language system, but that’s a different animal.

When individual psychology is viewed as a signaling system, we can see that a great deal of what we consider “disordered” or “ill” within that system is fundamentally a problem of the signal system itself and not the “personality” we have mistakenly abstracted out of that system.

Indeed, most of what we think of as personality is nothing more than an individual signal system attempting to conform to its understanding of the larger social system within which it exists.  When science is applied to “personality” erroneously conceived, we arrive at the many psychometric tautologies on personality traits we now have.  Psychometrics have limited value for describing societies, but are frequently misleading, even damaging, when applied to individuals.  In this, they resemble BMI data which originally was used as a marker for the health of whole populations, not individuals, and which can be misleading when applied to individuals.

When we view individuals as signaling systems rather than personalities, we can immediately see that these systems can and should be optimized for better communication.  Indeed, this is the real job of psychology—optimizing individual signaling systems. Not just treating “personality” disorders.


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Culture is the context of the languages we speak

Stated more clearly: Culture is nothing more than the context of the languages we speak.

In this sense culture defines our words and phrases; and in this sense, our psychologies.

This means that if you think or feel something, you probably can find a way to speak about it unless you are trapped within the context of your language.

For example, just think of anything you are afraid or embarrassed to talk about.

For some of those topics, you may have a friend (or stranger) with whom you are able to speak. Very traumatic experiences can be exceptionally difficult to speak about because they tend to be unique or uniquely horrific; so normal language in almost all contexts won’t get you there. You will feel inhibited, tongue-tied, embarrassed, afraid, timid, mute, isolated.

Traumatic experiences are an extreme example of how culture/context is not able to overlay all of our experiences. This is a core reason we turn to professional listeners—therapists, clergy, etc—to deal with trauma, though often we are even afraid of them.

Artists also provide us with unique experiences set in unique contexts. If well-done, or more importantly well-publicized, art may change the culture/context for many speakers. In this area, goodness lives alongside propaganda and hype. Many speakers feed the frenzy and feed on it.

In Buddhism, speech is a vessel of delusion as well as enlightenment. Buddhism provides an excellent context for speech because it fully recognizes the meta-contexts of impermanence, emptiness, ignorance, delusion, and suffering.

If you have experienced trauma, as we all have (it’s relative), you are in a good place to understand that traumas can be very small yet agonizing. And they can repeat often, causing constant suffering, sleeplessness, helplessness.

If we can see that traumas, both small and large, are outliers from whatever culture we are in, then we can also see that the way forward is to make our culture into something that can speak about them.

When culture is as small as one person—you alone—you can be free in many ways but also will get stuck on your traumas. With no way to speak about them with others, they will distort your thinking, carry weight they should not have. Disturb everything you do.

When culture is as large as two people, great freedom is possible. Two people just need to realize this. If they do, it’s a small step to realize that profound cooperation solves their  cultural “prisoners’ dilemma” better any other solution.

I cannot escape my trauma if I lie to you because my context will instantly become inauthentic, stultified fully as badly as my trauma always has been. So, I won’t do that. And you, my partner, are as smart as me so you won’t either.

Cultures are contexts for languages because cultures have rules. A two-person culture also needs rules. Best to figure most of them out for yourselves but also best to start with some very important basics. And these are: meta-cognitive rules that allow for accurate meta-communication.

Here is a set of rules that can start you off on a new way to communicate: How to do FIML.

Thoughts hidden by subjective phrases

After years of clearing up my mind, I noticed that my inner voice sometimes uses short phrases to bring negative trains of thought to an end. It was a habit I was aware of but had never given any thought to.

The phrases are not pretty; e.g. “I hate them all,” “fuck them,” “who cares about assholes like that,” etc.

My guess is this kind of inner speech is not uncommon. I was using it to end various lines of thought that had wandered into painful territory.

Having a clearer mind today or at least believing I did, I decided that when phrases or words like that came up again, I would not let them shut off my thoughts as I had been doing. Rather I would let the thoughts continue, explore what was there.

What I found is a bunch of old memories and emotions that were fairly easy to clean up. They were not so much repressed as not having been visited for many years. The nasty phrases were like labels in an old, unused filing cabinet.

About half the material was out of date and easy to toss. Another one-quarter was pertinent but was stuff I had dealt with in other ways and was thus redundant.

Only about a quarter of the material lying behind those nasty phrases deserved more thought.

In some of the most interesting cases, I realized that I was letting someone off too easy by hiding their behavior inside a neutral memory. They actually had been horrible but I had been too young to understand (narcissists, for example). Analyzing that stuff over again in a more mature mind was a bit of a chore, but the results have been good, even refreshing.

The process is ongoing. It does resemble cleaning an attic or an old filing cabinet. The stuff I found behind those nasty phrases was not all the stuff from my past. It was just stuff where I was blaming someone or feeling angry about something or had been harmed by someone. The bad stuff I’ve done is elsewhere in my mind.

I am struck by several things concerning those phrases and what lay behind them. One is a lot of that material dates back to childhood and early adulthood. It was not so much unconscious as not having been visited for a long time. Though most of it does not have strong emotional valence, some of it is very revealing because it brings together memories that had been disconnected, leading me to understand dramas or aspects of experience I had not understood before even though I had lived them. I also notice that it was just a few words that closed off those “files.” The power of words to command silence in the mind.

I had been dismissing all that material with just a few words whenever I didn’t feel like going there, which was every time. After not going there for many years, it was refreshing to poke around and rearrange those parts of my mind. I am quite sure I freed up some memory space and removed some snags in my thinking by dealing with that stuff. I also see new patterns within my general sense of my past, patterns with better explanatory power, both truer and more concise.

I see our minds as having a structure sort of similar to language or a forest. Trees of ideas, memories, and feelings grow and change. It’s good to remove some of them sometimes, put the space to better use. Buddhist practice is very helpful in endeavors like this. Rather than get all worked up with Freudian passions and delusions, we can simply observe, dismiss, refile, erase, upgrade, or reimagine as needed based on our capacities and understanding of what’s best.

Our bhavanga or “storehouse consciousness” contains memories, pictures, ideas, words., explanations They flow along with us, in many ways are us. When the mind is clear, a lot of that material can be rearranged for the better. There aren’t many rules for that. Just do your best.


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Intrinsic motivation is important for sustained creative activity

A recent study shows that An insight-related neural reward signal exists and is more active in some people than in others.

This study also confirms the idea that “intrinsic motivation is important for sustained creative activity.”

Some other findings that may be of interest:

…our findings suggest that individuals who are high in reward sensitivity experience the sudden emergence of a solution into awareness as strongly rewarding whereas individuals who are low in reward sensitivity may still experience insight as sudden and attentionally salient but lacking in hedonic content.

As lifelong autodidact, I wonder if others with this marvelous “addiction” can relate to feeling almost not alive unless there is something to wonder about or figure out. I recently read a biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein. One standout was his strong tendency to seek out simple or humble environments that stimulated his mind.

…Individuals high in reward sensitivity are more likely to take drugs, develop substance-abuse disorders or eating disorders, and engage in risky behaviors such as gambling. The fact that some people find insight experiences to be highly pleasurable reinforces the notion that insight can be an intrinsic reward for problem solving and comprehension that makes use of the same reward circuitry in the brain that processes rewards from addictive drugs, sugary foods, or love.

Getting lost in the woods or on a motorcycle ride, for me, is a highly enjoyable feeling. There have to be slight tremors of fear and agitation followed by finding my way again. I suppose others may experience similar feelings in social settings or as live performers.

…These findings shed light on people’s motivations for engaging in challenging, often time-consuming, activities that potentially yield insights, such as solving puzzles or mysteries, creating inventions, or doing research. It also reinforces the notion that intrinsic motivation is important for sustained creative activity. The expectation of intrinsic rewards from comprehending and creating, rather than from an extrinsic source such as payment, is thought to be the most effective type of workplace motivation…

A society with universal basic income in which no one has to work unless they want to might bring about the greatest flourishing of human talent ever. Then again, maybe not. Inspiration does need a stick on the back sometimes and “joy has no children,” meaning happiness produces few inventions.

Here’s an article about the study: Aha! + Aaaah: Creative Insight Triggers a Neural Reward Signal.