Repost: Metacognition and real-time communication

Metacognition means “awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes,” or “cognition about cognition,” or “being able to think about how you think.”

To me, metacognition is a premier human ability. How can it not be a good thing to be aware of how you are aware and how you think and respond to what is around you?

In more detail:

The term “metacognition” is most often associated with John Flavell, (1979). According to Flavell (1979, 1987), metacognition consists of both metacognitive knowledge and metacognitive experiences or regulation. Metacognitive knowledge refers to acquired knowledge about cognitive processes, knowledge that can be used to control cognitive processes. Flavell further divides metacognitive knowledge into three categories: knowledge of person variables, task variables and strategy variables. (Source)

Most people do metacognition and are aware of doing it. We do it when we plan, make decisions, decide how to get from one place to another, how to relate to one person differently from another, and so on.

Where we don’t do metacognition is in real-time communication in real life, where it matters most. This is not because we are not able to do it. It is because very few of us have the right technique, Flavell’s “acquired knowledge,” that allows us to do it.

If we have the right technique, we will be able to gain a great deal of knowledge about real-time cognitive process while also learning how to control them.

FIML practice is a metacognitive practice based on, to quote the above source, “acquired knowledge about cognitive processes… that can be used to control cognitive processes.”

In the case of FIML, the “acquired knowledge” is the FIML technique which allows us to gain conscious “control over cognitive processes” of real-time interpersonal communication.

FIML is different from other analytical communication techniques in that FIML provides a method to gain control over very short or small units of communication in real-time. This is important as it is these very short real-time units that are most often ignored or not dealt with in most analyses of human communication.

If you know how to catch small mistakes, they become sources of insight and humor. If you don’t know how to catch them, they often snowball into destructive misunderstandings.

FIML is fairly easy to do if you understand the importance of correcting the minor misinterpretations that inevitably arise between people when they speak and communicate. By using the FIML metacognitive method, partners gain control over the most elusive kinds of interpersonal error which all too often lead to serious interpersonal discord.

FIML can and does do more than catch small mistakes, but first things first. If you cannot correct small errors in real-time communication, you are not doing anything even resembling thorough metacognitive communication.

A very small irrational thought

A very small thought can show how irrational thinking operates.

Recently, I have been putting more salt in food I make. I have some good reasons for this and one bad one.

The bad one wrongly believes that my partner does not at the table salt food I make enough, so I have to use more to counter this.

This thought comprised about 10% of my reason for using more salt when I cooked. This thought was subliminal, meaning it almost never rose to consciousness. And when it did its appearance was fleeting and went unquestioned.

It is a selfish thought or at least not fully considerate. As soon as I examined it I realized it is a dumb thought and discarded it completely.

This thought was wrong and irrational for obvious reasons. But it still had a small effect on my conscious behavior.

I noticed it while washing dishes and watching my mind at the same time.

This thought has an element of reason in how it is constructed: i.e. “because my partner does not do this, I will do this.”

But not much else about it is reasonable. I have no idea how or when this thought formed. Did it form subconsciously or in a dream? I don’t know.

I believe it stayed in my mind as a weak but partially operative “reason” because it is selfish (and thus less likely to be examined) and because it has a reasonable construction when put in words.

Misjudgement and misinterpretation are the fabric of human “reality”

Besides misjudging other people’s intentions (People suck at judging others), we also misinterpret our presents and pasts.

  • For example, for many decades few people in the West understood how severe mass murder was under communist regimes. Indeed, the first mass murderers of modern Europe were communists. That many of them were also Jewish is usually also scrubbed from the story. Here is a meme illustrating that simple point.
  • An article published just yesterday—Why Readers Shouldn’t Trust Staff Reporters—does an excellent job describing how and why US MSM is so bad. The writer focuses on newsprint, but TV is the same.
  • Interpersonally, we make mistakes about each other constantly. FIML is the answer to this problem for small groups of adults, but how many will make the effort?

I think that what is described above is a big piece of the modern version of what the Buddha meant by delusion. In Buddhism, delusion is the core reason for human suffering. End delusion and you end suffering.

Many people have the idea that Buddhist practice is all about being minimalist, feeling good, and letting stuff go. This ignores the fact that the Buddha was mainly described as an “analyst” and that diligence and perseverance are central to the analytical path of Buddhism.

It is through analysis that we free ourselves from suffering. If your sincere analysis shows you that MSM is lying to you, that the history you learned in school is distorted, and that most if not all of your interpersonal relationships are fraught with misunderstandings or alienating simplifications, you are probably seeing a big part of what the Buddha meant by delusion.

Delusion makes us suffer because it is wrong and because it leads us to make more and worse mistakes. We extract ourselves from deluded “reality” by using “truth,” insofar as we are able, and the Dharma as tools. Once a bit of delusion is seen for what it is, it is usually fairly easy to eliminate it from the mind. If you have never identified with it, this will be very easy.

If you have identified with it, this could be very hard to do. Why is that? The reason is identifying psychologically with something is a form of what the Buddha called “clinging” or “attachment.” Suffering is the First Noble Truth. Clinging (to the delusions that cause suffering) is the Second.

People suck at judging others

A new study indicates that “it is incredibly easy to be mistaken” about another human being’s intentions.

Dr Warren Mansell, lead author of the study, said:

We think we know what someone is doing just by observing them… But our study shows that it is incredibly easy to be mistaken… In psychological research, for example, this study suggests that some behaviour studied may be no more than a side effect of participants’ true intentions. (Source)

Dr Mansell says that if you want to know people’s true intentions, you need to ask them. His study is designed to help psychologists and others be better at changing people’s unwanted behaviors, but it really applies to all of us because none of us is good at inferring the true intentions of others without asking them.

The study is here: Control blindness: Why people can make incorrect inferences about the intentions of others.

The abstract:

There is limited evidence regarding the accuracy of inferences about intention. The research described in this article shows how perceptual control theory (PCT) can provide a “ground truth” for these judgments. In a series of 3 studies, participants were asked to identify a person’s intention in a tracking task where the person’s true intention was to control the position of a knot connecting a pair of rubber bands. Most participants failed to correctly infer the person’s intention, instead inferring complex but nonexistent goals (such as “tracing out two kangaroos boxing”) based on the actions taken to keep the knot under control. Therefore, most of our participants experienced what we call “control blindness.” The effect persisted with many participants even when their awareness was successfully directed at the knot whose position was under control. Beyond exploring the control blindness phenomenon in the context of our studies, we discuss its implications for psychological research and public policy.

I would maintain that all people very often “fail to correctly infer” the intentions of people interacting with them and that this effect snowballs, thus causing either confusion or retreat to easily shared social norms (which may themselves also be misunderstood).

FIML practice is designed to overcome this problem for all forms of communication that occur between FIML partners.

The struggle against entropy

Life is “anti-entropic” signal organization.

FIML practice is “anti-entropic” (signal) information (re)organization between two people.

If two people converse and never do FIML, their conversation will be entropic (become less organized). Psychologically, this means there will be less understanding.

If two people do FIML, their conversation will (re)organize information shared between them. In this sense it is “anti-entropic.” Psychologically, this means there will be more understanding.

The above applies to those aspects of the conversation that can be accessed by FIML practice. Other aspects of the conversation will require other “anti-entropic” strategies, which generally relate more to non-psychological information.

For example, two people talking about a place they have both visited might share information about the place that has little or no psychological import on one level but may have considerable import on others.

Over time, FIML partners will engage in many conversations. If FIML practice is done regularly, psychological entropy (confusion, alienation, hurt feelings, etc.) will be greatly reduced.

(See this for more on the subject of information and entropy.)

Life is self-organizing signals

Life signals can be biological and unconscious or biological and conscious.*

If conscious, signals can be variously interpreted by the sender, the receiver, or both.

If unconscious, signals are interpreted in only one way or in a limited number of ways.

Consciously organized signals make up such things as psychology and sociology, both of which have many variations.

Human beings generate, learn, send, receive, and interpret signals.

All signals have valence. If conscious, valences (like signals themselves) can be variously interpreted.

It is very beneficial when thinking about any complex matter to pay attention to the valences of its individual signals and signal networks.

For example, if you want to buy or rent a home the various factors that you may consider can all be thought of as signals with valences.

A “small place” is a signal that may have positive valences because it is cozy and easy to keep clean. And it may have negative valences because it is cramped and has no room to store stuff.

With some degree of rationality, we can asses these valences and decide which ones are important to us. If you are going to share the place with another person, you can both do assessments and compare.

Your conclusions won’t be perfectly rational but they will be clearer to you than if you did not do assessments like that.

Besides the size of the place, you will also want to analyze in a similar fashion its location, floor plan, cost, what’s nearby and so on.

The same is true for how to asses your own psychology or the sociology of your group, company, or nation.

If you do this often enough, you may decide to replace the idea of having a personality or identity with the idea of having an operating system that generates, learns, sends, receives, and interprets signals.

Notice that interpreting yourself (the signal of self) as an operating system that employs these few rules is a kind of self-organization. As such, it is concise (Occam’s razor), accounts for all data, has clearly identified parts, has explanatory power (you can use it as we did above), can be applied to all life including human psychology.

This is not the only explanation or description of life, but it is a good one with many uses.

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A few notes:

*Surely there are other bases for consciousness than biology as we know it.

Life self-organization is “anti-entropic.”

Politics runs on simple signals because they are readily grasped by large numbers of people. Importing simple political signals into your operating system and keeping their strong public valences is not a good idea.

Politics teeters between left and right and there is no good middle. The middle is no good because the true middle needs to be a middle of complexity against two extremes.

Reason and rational thought are in many respects organizing principles, maybe that’s all they are. Same can be said for logic.

Personality and identity are also organizing principles, here applied to self and others.  Seeing yourself as “an operating system that generates, learns, sends, receives, and interprets signals” is also an organizing principle, but the data is clearer and more useful than that which goes into identity and personality.

Small lies matter

A new study shows that even small lies can weaken our self control, causing us to tell bigger lies and more of them.

Lead author of the study, Neil Garrett, says of it:

“It is likely the brain’s blunted response to repeated acts of dishonesty reflects a reduced emotional response to these acts. This is in line with suggestions that our signals aversion to acts that we consider wrong or immoral. We only tested dishonesty in this experiment, but the same principle may also apply to escalations in other actions such as risk taking or violent behaviour.” [emphasis added] (How lying takes our brains down a ‘slippery slope’)

The study itself can be found here: The brain adapts to dishonesty.

Here is the abstract:

Dishonesty is an integral part of our social world, influencing domains ranging from finance and politics to personal relationships. Anecdotally, digressions from a moral code are often described as a series of small breaches that grow over time. Here we provide empirical evidence for a gradual escalation of self-serving dishonesty and reveal a neural mechanism supporting it. Behaviorally, we show that the extent to which participants engage in self-serving dishonesty increases with repetition. Using functional MRI, we show that signal reduction in the amygdala is sensitive to the history of dishonest behavior, consistent with adaptation. Critically, the extent of reduced amygdala sensitivity to dishonesty on a present decision relative to the previous one predicts the magnitude of escalation of self-serving dishonesty on the next decision. The findings uncover a biological mechanism that supports a ‘slippery slope’: what begins as small acts of dishonesty can escalate into larger transgressions. [emphasis added]

Though this is only one study based on results from only 80 people, I find it very credible.

In Buddhism we learn that even the smallest of thoughts can have enormous consequences.

An important aspect of Buddhist mindfulness is watching how our thoughts develop and how they affect us and others. FIML practice is based on sharing the fruits of real-time mindfulness with a partner.

Done correctly, FIML allows us to observe small transitions in our minds and correct them in real-time if they are wrong.

FIML does not deal all that much with lies per se because partners are expected to be beyond that and FIML won’t work if partners lie.

Nonetheless, FIML does deal with small misunderstandings that can lead to slippery slopes similar to what is described in the study.

For example, if you think your partner’s tone is dismissive and it isn’t and you don’t do a FIML query, the next time you hear that tone you will experience confirmation bias and be on your way down the slope. It’s very hard to trace that sort of thing back to its origin after a few occasions. Your misunderstanding of your partner’s tone could be construed as an unconscious lie that you are telling yourself.

This is why FIML is so important and why it is very helpful to start doing it early in your relationship when all is well and there are no misunderstandings.

FIML can be described as detailed, shared, real-time moral and existential awareness. It demands integrity and mindfulness from both partners and rewards them with greatly enhance shared integrity and mindfulness.

A major purpose of FIML is to prevent the sort of thing that happened in the study. To prevent partners from sliding down a slippery slope that sometimes cannot be regained.

What can easily happen if you don’t have good FIML practice

Being a little tongue-in-cheek but not that much.

‘I’ll fight you for the kids’: ‘Furious’ Brad Pitt attacks Angelina over bitter divorce paper claims that he’s a ‘bad dad with anger and alcohol issues’ – but Jolie tells him: ‘I just can’t do this any more’

The story above is tabloid fare, but it’s reasonable to suppose the anger and battling are real, as are the explosive emotions that are causing the whole thing to go public.

How do two people with time, brains, and money get to this point?

It’s a long buildup of misunderstandings and failed communication. I actually believe that if the couple had learned FIML five years ago, they would probably be happy together today and almost certainly would not be wrangling in public, which does neither of them nor their kids any good.

Even a small misunderstanding—even one that begins innocently—can have massive consequences as it snowballs through the years.

The best time to begin FIML practice is when you are happy as a couple, when you know you can trust each other, when you want to keep doing well and even improve on it.

Properly done, FIML will not take the glow off your relationship. It will only improve it.

When couples don’t do FIML at all, no matter how much they profess ideals of tolerance and love, there is no way for them to stop small misunderstandings from growing into massive differences.

Evidence Rebuts Chomsky’s Theory of Language Learning

The idea that we have brains hardwired with a mental template for learning grammar—famously espoused by Noam Chomsky of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—has dominated linguistics for almost half a century. Recently, though, cognitive scientists and linguists have abandoned Chomsky’s “universal grammar” theory in droves because of new research examining many different languages—and the way young children learn to understand and speak the tongues of their communities. That work fails to support Chomsky’s assertions.

The research suggests a radically different view, in which learning of a child’s first language does not rely on an innate grammar module. Instead the new research shows that young children use various types of thinking that may not be specific to language at all—such as the ability to classify the world into categories (people or objects, for instance) and to understand the relations among things. These capabilities, coupled with a unique hu­­­man ability to grasp what others intend to communicate, allow language to happen. The new findings indicate that if researchers truly want to understand how children, and others, learn languages, they need to look outside of Chomsky’s theory for guidance. (link)

The notion that Chomsky is wrong is not new, but the linked article still a good read.

See this for a rebuttal of the above: Don’t believe the rumours. Universal Grammar is alive and well.

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The following is only tangentially related to the above articles.

The key point in FIML is that messages (language, semiotics, etc.) are often misunderstood and that these misunderstandings can have large psychological effects.

Messages can be misunderstood on many levels, but the level that is least appreciated today and thus has the greatest unacknowledged implications for human psychology is the micro-level.

The micro-level is the level of the short-term memory (time component) and the psychological morpheme (emotional component). Psychological morphemes arise as brief (short-term memory) associations are made with other semiotic and thought systems in real-time.

If errors at this level are not corrected, large effects can ensue. Errors at this level are best corrected in real-time as quickly as possible (while the contents of the short-term memory are still fresh). This is why the FIML technique is done the way it is and why it works as well as it does.

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.

Google and FIML

Google has helped all of us upgrade our info about the world around us, whatever we are interested in, etc.

In the past, people had brains as complex as ours and a love of good information as great as ours, but they had to make do with less.

Somewhat resembling Google, FIML practice upgrades interpersonal information shared by (usually) two people.

Rather than guess and fill our minds with superstitions about the people we care about most, FIML allows us to “look up” the info we need when we need it.

This has a dramatic and beneficial effect on both the self and other(s). The foundations of human psychology are exposed in FIML practice.

Once you see how FIML works and what it does, you will be doing it as often as you jump on the computer to look up something you want to know.

FIML is advanced interpersonal technology that makes first-rate psychological information as readily available as a computer search. It does take some practice, but is emotionally even more valuable than Google.

Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a form of interpersonal abuse that works by manipulating meaning, memory, and perception.

Gaslighter(s) play dirty pool with the ambiguity inherent in all human communication.

Gaslighting could not work if interpersonal reality did not contain a great deal of ambiguity. Gaslighters know this and exploit it for selfish advantage.

In this respect, gaslighting shows how important it is to remove as much ambiguity as possible in relationships with significant others.

Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to tell if you are being gaslighted. Gaslighting relies fundamentally on abuse of interpersonal trust.

Victims of gaslighting…

…might harbor feelings of anger toward the person they sense is an aggressor but also find themselves thrown into positions of anxious defensiveness, which makes them feel unjustified and unsure of themselves. If their manipulator also happens to be skilled in the art of “impression management” — displaying superficial charm and enjoying the capacity to make favorable impressions on others — those on the receiving end of their tactics are likely to feel even crazier. (Gaslighting Revisited: A Closer Look at This Manipulation Tactic)

I bring the subject up for itself but also because it sheds light on FIML practice. FIML is the polar opposite of gaslighting. Rather than manipulate each other, FIML partners seek to remove the source material of gaslighting—interpersonal ambiguity.

From a FIML point of view, gaslighting is the worst thing one person can do to another short of criminal acts.

If you suspect you are being gaslighted, I suggest you try to get your partner to do FIML with you. If they are gaslighters, my guess is they will not want to do it. Or if they do, they will try to manipulate you through FIML.

But that won’t work for long. Before long, you will begin to see that they are lying and that their purpose is not to help you but to control you by distorting interpersonal “reality.”

I will venture a guess that most gaslighters will be incapable of the mindfulness or metacognitive self-control FIML requires. I will also guess that they will be deeply frustrated by FIML queries and that this will lead to anger and a spike in gaslighting behaviors.

Gaslighters are “reality bullies” that seek control of others by forcing their interpretations on them. This is the exact opposite of what FIML does.

(Note: Obviously not everyone who cannot or will not do FIML is a gaslighter.)

Triggers and microaggression

I greatly dislike the way these two words—trigger and microaggression—are currently being used.

Trigger implies that something inevitable will follow while microaggression outright claims that the other person is at fault.

I much prefer my own neutral term for those small stimuli that might cause emotional discomfort.

My term is psychological morpheme, which is defined as:

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.

I strongly believe psychological morphemes exist and that they arise at distinct moments and that these moments can be perceived by the owner of them and that that owner of these moments can and must learn to control them, analyze them, learn from them.

It is a huge mistake to automatically blame another person for our own psychological morphemes. From a FIML point of view, there is almost nothing worse.

The reason this is a really bad thing to do is you are very likely wrong.

Even if you are wrong only one out of twenty times, the consequences of your mistake can be very large. I guarantee you are wrong much more often than that.

I say this after doing years of FIML practice during which I have discovered in myself and my partner hundreds of wrong psychological morphemes, most of which were connected to subjective networks that had grown large over many years.

Most psychological morphemes arise due to habits of subjective interpretation.

Rather than let these subjective interpretations have their way, a far more profitable and much wiser course of action is to stop that process at the initiating morpheme. Stop it before it gets going and fills your mind.

If you can stop it at the psychological morpheme and analyze it with the help of your FIML partner, those morphemes will not become mindless triggers that you wrongly interpret as microaggression, but rather opportunities to see and understand how your brain is actually functioning in real-time.

Psychological morphemes are also commonly misinterpreted as signs that reside in the other person of boredom, anger, contempt, arrogance, insecurity, optimism, happiness, pleasure, and so on including as many states as you can imagine.

When a sign becomes a (wrong) symbol

Signs become symbols all the time. What you want to be careful about is wrongly making signs into symbols.

A sign is a simple element of thought or communication. Symbols are signs with extra meaning.

Here’s an example. My partner spends a lot of time at her job working outside. She works hard and sometimes it bothers me. This morning I noticed that a sign in my mind had become a symbol.

The symbol was an imaginary image of her at her job with rain falling, wind blowing, and her in a panic to finish. It was one of several images I have of her at work.

As it floated into the foreground of my mind, I simply asked her, “Tell me this image is not true.”

I described it and she said, “No, that’s not true. Sometimes it happens, but generally I enjoy what I am doing.”

My imaginary sign (her in the rain) became a symbol (her being worked too hard) that she corrected with a few words (“no that’s not true”).

Our years of FIML practice allowed me to allow the symbol to lose all meaning and the simple sign to become a sign again. My bad feeling about her going to work and the conditions of her work changed immediately.

To become symbols, signs must be invested with meaning and feeling. Sometimes signs are symbols and sometimes not.

We all turn signs into wrong symbols all the time. Observing how that happens in you with the help of a trusted partner will do more to clear your head than anything else I can think of.

In this respect, FIML is a form of analytical psychotherapy that removes wrong symbols from the brain’s semiotic networks.

Since humans are fundamentally semiotic animals who react instinctively to symbols, it is essential that we have a way to clear out wrong ones. FIML, or something similar, is an absolute must for clear thinking and rational psychology.

You cannot clean up most wrong symbols (or signs) by yourself. You absolutely must have a trusted partner to help you because signs and symbols function as tools of communication.

Since they are also the building blocks of human psychology, clearing up wrong signs and symbols also clears up human psychology.

Metacognition improves memory retrieval

In this post I am going to argue that strong metacognitive awareness of one’s own intentionality in real-time translates into better and more accurate memory retrieval.

More specifically, I mean that the strong metacognitive awareness of one’s own intentionality that results from FIML practice is a skill that transfers to memory retrieval.

FIML partners spend a good deal of time asking and answering questions about each others’ intentionality in real-time.

The metacognitive skills that develop out of that practice streamline communication between partners, while also streamlining communication within the brains of each partner.

Each partner benefits psychologically as a standalone individual from the practice of FIML because FIML skills can also be applied to individual, subjective brain functions.

One of the psychological benefits of FIML practice is greatly enhanced awareness of the difference between truth and lies during interpersonal communication with the FIML partner.

This awareness beneficially affects memory retrieval.

It does so by increasing the individual’s capacity to better know when memories are reliable and when they are dubious if not outright false.

Advanced FIML practitioners will have less need for egotistical interpretations of their pasts (or anything else), and thus have minds and memories that are more streamlined and efficient.

This happens because FIML practice gradually shifts brain organization away from the heuristics of a static ego to operations that can be described as “metacognitive.”

Metacognitive operations of this caliber are a great improvement on static beliefs in a self or an egocentric narrative.

Additionally, since psychology is based on memory, fine metacognitive awareness of memory retrieval will also improve psychological functioning in other areas.

For example, emotions based on memory (all of them really) will be less likely to negatively influence intentionality if fine metacognitive awareness of memory retrieval is also functioning in the individual.

The same can be said of psychological schemas, framing, values, beliefs, instinct and its interpretations, and so on. All aspects of human psychology can enjoy improvements (more truthful, less stupid) through the metacognitive skills that result from FIML practice.