Consciousness is that which chooses

Anything that can choose is conscious to that extent, to the extent that it can choose.

In this respect, “that which chooses” has cognition of its options and also tends to make anti-entropic choices, choices that go against the entropy of itself. (If it did not do this or stopped doing this, it would not survive long. Its anti-entropic choices take energy from the environment, of course.)

Choosing and going against entropy does not mean always doing this correctly or in the best way.

It can be argued that matter also chooses or participates in some overarching principle of choice or selection. Matter’s very common cause-and-effect relations with itself must be based on something besides matter itself.

Consciousness, thus, can be defined as that which:

  • chooses
  • has cognition of options
  • is anti-entropic for itself

We can also say that this same consciousness as just defined:

  • chooses though not always well
  • has cognition though often mistaken
  • is anti-entropic in limited ways that are often counter-productive

Matter itself conforms to principles—the laws of physics—though these do not appear to apply or apply well to chaos, radiation, quantum fluctuations, black holes. Nor to themselves in the sense that they do not reveal where they come from.

This suggests that matter itself persists under unknowable conditions much as we do.

What we do not know does not just include metaphysics but also anything we can imagine. At some point, we just won’t know anymore.

Socially, we rarely know the motives of others. Psychologically, we often cannot be rational about our own motives. And even if we are being rational we often base our decisions on bad data or incomplete or unknowable data. We often do not understand or even know what our own motives are.

When there are many factors, we become confused. Our minds feel chaotic. We become anxious, indecisive. emotional. This is a form of consciousness trying to make choices, struggling to choose, to select.

Memory-guided behaviors employ spatial “maps” in the brain

A new study seems to show that the brains of rats—and by extension ours as well—use a spatial “mapping” system to encode more than just space.

This suggests that mammalian brains encode “continuous, task-relevant variables” in “common circuit mechanisms” that can “represent diverse behavioural tasks, possibly supporting cognitive processes beyond spatial navigation.” (Mapping of a non-spatial dimension by the hippocampal–entorhinal circuit)

It does seem that we do a lot of thinking, remembering, and associating in systematic or roughly systematic ways. And it does seem that these systems resemble spatial ones.

Ever notice how amazing it can feel to stumble upon a new view of a spatial system you already know well? “So that’s where the duct goes through the wall!” Or, “I never realized that Bob’s Street intersects Jones right here!”

When we explore our psychological “maps” in interpersonal settings using FIML techniques, we gain access to details that reorganize those “maps” in a similar way to the example above. Small insights can yield amazing results.

Typically, normal psychological maps are distorted impressions of the psychological space around us. FIML allows us to see in our psychological “maps” a level of detail or resolution that cannot be gained in any other way.

Understanding verbal, emotional, semiotic, and associative details is key to understanding our “psychological locations” in this world.

If we can have illusions about our bodies, how much more can we about other people?

A recent study, The Marble Hand Illusion, demonstrates that by simple manipulation of perceptual input, people can be induced to change their perceptions of their own bodies.

The authors state that:

“This novel bodily illusion, the ‘Marble-Hand Illusion’, demonstrates that the perceived material of our body, surely the most stable attribute of our bodily self, can be quickly updated through multisensory integration.”

The full abstract says:

Our body is made of flesh and bones. We know it, and in our daily lives all the senses constantly provide converging information about this simple, factual truth. But is this always the case? Here we report a surprising bodily illusion demonstrating that humans rapidly update their assumptions about the material qualities of their body, based on their recent multisensory perceptual experience. To induce a misperception of the material properties of the hand, we repeatedly gently hit participants’ hand with a small hammer, while progressively replacing the natural sound of the hammer against the skin with the sound of a hammer hitting a piece of marble. After five minutes, the hand started feeling stiffer, heavier, harder, less sensitive, unnatural, and showed enhanced Galvanic skin response (GSR) to threatening stimuli. Notably, such a change in skin conductivity positively correlated with changes in perceived hand stiffness. Conversely, when hammer hits and impact sounds were temporally uncorrelated, participants did not spontaneously report any changes in the perceived properties of the hand, nor did they show any modulation in GSR. In two further experiments, we ruled out that mere audio-tactile synchrony is the causal factor triggering the illusion, further demonstrating the key role of material information conveyed by impact sounds in modulating the perceived material properties of the hand. This novel bodily illusion, the ‘Marble-Hand Illusion’, demonstrates that the perceived material of our body, surely the most stable attribute of our bodily self, can be quickly updated through multisensory integration.

If people can change physical perception of their hand in five minutes, our sense of the world around us must be as susceptible.

Our sense of our bodies in the world depends on the world around us. Our sense of our minds in the world depends on the people around us. We speak to ourselves with the same language we use with others.

If our core interpretations of self and other are wrong, we will make downstream mistakes and bring suffering to ourselves and others.

If those same interpretations are right, we will make downstream improvements.

The world answers us through science, reason, and imagination. Other people answer us on their own volition. We can get immediate truthful responses from them if they are willing.

Other people are the only entities in the world that can communicate in detail with us about their interpretations at a level commensurate with our own minds.

Since our interpretations include them, we can best improve those interpretations with the help of them.

Cultures and psychologies as fixed ideas and how to escape

A major contention of FIML practice is that “cultures” all tend toward holding many fixed ideas and so does individual psychology.

The subjective psychology of the individual can be understood as a kind of interior “culture” that often is as rigid and shallow as the lowest-common-denominator culture to which that individual belongs.

In this respect, psychology and culture are much the same thing. They range across a spectrum that grades from the idiosyncrasies of the individual to the values and beliefs of their group/culture.

Consider the predominance of leftist views held by majorities in academia and the news media.

Anyone who draws close to academia will know that some values and beliefs may not be questioned. To do so is to risk ostracism, bad grades, not going to grad school, not getting published, not getting tenure, job loss, and more.

Another example is the behavior of the EU, which to this day continues to deny the problems caused by mass migration as well as the statistics of that mass migration or what they mean. (Two graphs on EU asylum seekers)

The tendency of all cultures to shun people who violate deep values or beliefs is mirrored in individual psychology.

When, as individuals, we believe that another individual has violated some aspect of our interior “culture,” our idiosyncratic mixture of ideas and emotions, we will tend to avoid that person or at least step back from them.

This response seems to be innate, instinctive, existing in virtually all people everywhere.

Reasonable people can usually discuss culture and cultural differences if there is a forum for this or some kind of prior agreement.

If you just bring up the bad side of someone’s culture without prior agreement to discuss it, they generally will not like it or you.

Something similar can be said about individual psychology. If you bring up a fault in your friend without warning, they generally will not like it. If you introduce your thought deferentially, though, most people will accept it and maybe even thank you for it. But you cannot keep doing this even with the most tolerant of individuals.

This is a weak point in all of us. We need input from others but cannot stand getting it except sometimes. By the time we become adults, most of us will not tolerate or receive even slight input from others. Once or twice a year is probably an average limit.

This is how cultures get so many fixed ideas. At the most basic level of culture, individual-to-individual, we cannot bear to be questioned enough.

Thus we ossify as individuals and as groups.

This is where FIML can do a lot of good.

FIML works with very small bits of real-time communication using a technique that partners agree on.

Because there is prior agreement and because the bits of information being worked on are very small, there is much less emotional charge than if general “traits” or “habits” are being discussed.

The low emotional charge of FIML material makes it much easier for individuals to accept results that show them to have been wrong. Indeed, FIML practitioners soon learn that correcting these small mistakes leads almost immediately to greater happiness and well-being because a mistake once removed frees brain-space for better stuff. Makes you smarter because you will stop being stuck on whatever it was.

FIML also works well and efficiently because it uses real-time bits of real communication that are agreed upon by both partners. This aspect prevents pointless “discussions” during which partners are talking about different things or vaguely defined things.

People are not very smart. You can see this in the ways that both cultures and individual psychologies tend to become rigid, settling on fixed ideas, beliefs, values.

As semiotic entities, we are still beginners. We are at the stage where we are able to see and think about how we communicate, but it is still very hard for us to apply this information or gain much from it. For the most part, insights into communication/psychology are only used to manipulate others, not to speak honestly to them.

FIML and Symbolic Interaction Theory

Symbolic Interaction Theory, also called symbolic interactionism, provides the best large-scale framework I have found so far for explaining FIML practice.

Three basic premises of symbolic interactionism are:

  • “Humans act toward things on the basis of the meanings they ascribe to those things.”
  • “The meaning of such things is derived from, or arises out of, the social interaction that one has with others and the society.”
  • “These meanings are handled in, and modified through, an interpretative process used by the person in dealing with the things he/she encounters.”

These basic premises have been taken from the Wikipedia article linked above. I tend to agree with most of the general framework, as I understand it, of symbolic interactionism and believe that FIML practice can reasonably be understood as a method that can fit fairly comfortably within that framework.

FIML differs from symbolic interactionism in that FIML is much more a form of interpersonal psychotherapy than a sociological theory. FIML is a communication technique that focuses on meaning as it arises and is apprehended during short periods of time. FIML’s focus on very small units of interpersonal communication is what allows partners to understand how their sense of meaning intertwines with their emotional responses.

From a FIML point of view, society does not appear very well structured in many of its contexts, especially interpersonal contexts involving emotions, friendship, and intimate bonding. From this point of view, a great deal of social structure appears to be a substitute for authentic interaction between individual minds.

FIML seems also to show that a great deal of human suffering arises from the paucity of meaning that can be exchanged between individuals in most social contexts. Indeed, even in intimate contexts, most individuals, if not all of them, have great difficulty in attaining profound mutual understanding. This happens because our perceptions of our selves and others—due to how we use language and semiotics—are too crude and vague to allow for communicative complexity equal to the complexity of our minds/brains.

FIML corrects this problem by focusing on the details of interpersonal communication. Incidentally, FIML theory/practice can be falsified by having many couples do FIML practice and measuring the results. A criticism of symbolic interactionism is that it is not falsifiable. FIML differs from symbolic interactionism in that it is a practical technique that uses objective data (agreed upon by both partners) to optimize communication and improve psychological well-being.

The importance of seeing the small in the large and the large in the small: repost

When the subject is human behavior and we see the small in the large and the large in the small, we will be much better able to appreciate the spectrum of thought, feeling, and behavior that underlies whatever is in question.

For example, the self-centeredness of individuals scales from the individual (small) to society (large) and everything in between. Two friends can be self-centered together as can larger groups and entire societies comprising millions of people.

Similarly, when we see self in other and other in self, we are more likely to grasp the spectrums of thought, feeling, and behavior that underlie the actions of all individuals.

For example, alcoholics often make false accusations against others as their conditions worsen. They take the seed of unreasonable defensiveness that resides in all of us and expand it into malicious attacks against “adversaries” that do not even exist.

In FIML practice, partners will discover many kinds of small mistakes in themselves. Usually, it is easy to see how these small mistakes, if left uncorrected, can lead to much more serious misunderstandings and bad (because it is based on a mistake) behavior.

For example, the alcoholic who falsely attacks a friend is almost certainly magnifying some little misunderstanding into something huge, something  worrisome or insulting that demands revenge.

Nations can behave like children and all good people have at least the seeds of a malicious drunk in them.

FIML discussions can be greatly enhanced by seeing almost everything as part of spectrums that underlie all people and societies.

Microaggression as a crude measure of interpersonal ambiguity

I do not doubt that microaggression exists in human communication.

The problem is ambiguity exists in all the same places, so you can never be sure what is aggressive, wary, weirdly friendly, just weird, or nothing at all.

A recent paper on microaggression has this to say:

The microaggression concept has recently galvanized public discussion and spread to numerous college campuses and businesses. I argue that the microaggression research program (MRP) rests on five core premises, namely, that microaggressions (1) are operationalized with sufficient clarity and consensus to afford rigorous scientific investigation; (2) are interpreted negatively by most or all minority group members; (3) reflect implicitly prejudicial and implicitly aggressive motives; (4) can be validly assessed using only respondents’ subjective reports; and (5) exert an adverse impact on recipients’ mental health. A review of the literature reveals negligible support for all five suppositions. (Microaggressions: Strong Claims, Inadequate Evidence)

I think we can assume that intercultural interactions will often involve many prejudices and assumptions founded on cultural norms and that microaggression will sometimes be one of these. But that is very hard to study, quantify, and identify.

In public situations—jobs, organizations, many private settings—just follow public norms and forget about microaggression. Your looking for it will itself constitute a kind of microaggression.

In private, you can and should do something about all kinds of interpersonal micro ambiguities.

The way to do this is FIML practice.

I found the study cited above in this essay, Micro-aggression and Hyper-sensitivity, which discusses the study.

Here are a couple of relevant posts on ABN on this topic: Triggers and microaggression and Microaggression and FIML.