What is FIML?

At its most basic FIML is a way to ask your partner what they are or were just thinking, feeling, perceiving, or meaning when they said or did something that communicated something to you. And then it is a way to get a good answer from them, an answer that completely satisfies you both.

FIML works with data that is as immediate as possible. It works with our “working memories,” the stuff we actually have in our minds as we speak and listen  (not the stuff we can call up quickly from memory but that is not actually there during the speech event.)

People often speak more vaguely than they listen. Listening often is more precise in its details than what the speaker was saying. Listening focuses on less of the discourse, sometimes more clearly.

The act of speaking takes up space in working memory and thus can have an atmospheric feel. Listening has sharp moments disturbed by confusion. An unknown group of people coming up an apartment stairwell is an example of a typical act of listening.

How working memory works and doesn’t work

A new study on working memory has some intriguing insights into how working memory works and how it doesn’t work.

It’s widely known that when working memory is overtaxed, confusion results, skills decline, while feeling of frustration and anger may arise. The reason for this seems to be:

Feedback (top-down) coupling broke down when the number of objects exceeded cognitive capacity. Thus, impaired behavioral performance coincided with a break-down of Prediction signals. This provides new insights into the neuronal underpinnings of cognitive capacity and how coupling in a distributed working memory network is affected by memory load. (Working Memory Load Modulates Neuronal Coupling)

A well-written article about this study contains the following diagram and explanation:

This article—Overtaxed Working Memory Knocks the Brain Out of Sync—also contains the following passages and quote from one of the study’s authors:

Miller thinks the brain is juggling the items being held in working memory one at a time, in alternation. “That means all the information has to fit into one brain wave,” he said. “When you exceed the capacity of that one brain wave, you’ve reached the limit on working memory.”

The prefrontal cortex seems to help construct an internal model of the world, sending so-called “top-down,” or feedback, signals that convey this model to lower-level brain areas. Meanwhile, the superficial frontal eye fields and lateral intraparietal area send raw sensory input to the deeper areas in the prefrontal cortex, in the form of bottom-up or feedforward signals. Differences between the top-down model and the bottom-up sensory information allow the brain to figure out what it’s experiencing, and to tweak its internal models accordingly. (Emphasis added)

Working memory works via connections between three brain regions that together form a coherent brain wave.

Notice that “an internal model of the world,” which is a “top-down signal” within the brain wave feedback loop, predicts or interprets “bottom-up” sensory input as it arrives in the brain.

I believe this “top-down signal” within working memory is the reason FIML practice has such enormous psychological value.

By analyzing minute emotional reactions in real-time during normal conversation, FIML practice disrupts the consolidation, or more often the reconsolidation, of “neurotic” responses. (Disruption of neurotic response in FIML practice)

FIML optimizes human psychology by helping partners intervene directly into their working memories to access real-world top-down signals as they are happening in real-time. Doing this repeatedly reliably alters the brain’s repository of top-down interpretations, making them much more accurate and up-to-date.

The model of working memory proposed in this study also explains why FIML can be a bit difficult to do. Partners must learn to allow a FIML meta-perspective or “super top-down” signal to quickly commandeer their working memories so that analysis of whatever just happened can proceed rationally and objectively. It does take some time to learn this skill, but it is no harder than many other “automated” skills such bicycling, typing, or playing a musical instrument.

Uncertainty in human social interactions

All human interactions entail some uncertainty and most entail a lot.

To deal with uncertainty, humans use heuristics (“rules of thumb”) that generally are based on what they perceive to be normal or required in the situation at hand. These heuristics come from experience, from role models, from organizational structures, beliefs and so on.

A recent study—Uncertainty about social interactions leads to the evolution of social heuristics—explores:

…an evolutionary simulation model, showing that even intermediate uncertainty leads to the evolution of simple cooperation strategies that disregard information about the social interaction (‘social heuristics’).

This study uses simulations to tease out how social heuristics and social cooperation evolve in very simple game scenarios.

If social games have rules, we can change how much uncertainty they contain and how best to cooperate within them.

This is essentially what FIML practice does. FIML greatly reduces interpersonal uncertainty between partners while increasing cooperation by having a few fairly simple rules.

When uncertainty is lowered and cooperation increased between partners, psychological well-being and understanding is proportionally enhanced. This happens because social interaction and communication are basic to human psychology.

The study linked above employs simulations to show a sort mathematically forced evolutionary outcome arising from initial settings. I believe FIML is similar in this respect, though the FIML game involves complex humans rather than simple sims.

I often wonder why no one has discovered the rules of FIML before. So many great thinkers, but not one found these key rules for optimal communication and psychological understanding. I believe there are two basics reasons for this: 1) FIML requires developing dynamic metacognition during real-time real-life communication events and this takes practice; and 2) most great thinkers that we know about today and hence could learn from also had great status, and this prevented them from noticing the deep flaws in interpersonal communication that FIML corrects.

Interoception, proprioception, and perception of dynamic mental states

Interoception means our “perception or sense of internal body states,” including the states of our cardiovascular, digestive, respiratory, and thermoregulatory systems among others.

Proprioception means “one’s own” or “ones’ individual” (Latin proprius) “perception.” We normally use this word to refer to our physical position in the world—whether we are standing or sitting, how we are moving, and how much energy we are using.

Both interoception and proprioception generally refer to physical states of the body though, of course, how we interpret those states may involve much more than immediate physical considerations.

Erroneous interoception or the misinterpretation of internal states is probably an important contributing factor to many psychological disorders, including anxiety, depression, panic disorder, and more.

Consider another level of interoception—our states of mind; our mental impressions of other people and of ourselves; our senses of our own psychologies.

This level of psychological reality is normally accessed through introspection, meditation, mindfulness, and psychotherapy. All of these methods are good, but each of them lacks ongoing, real-time input from another human being, thus missing the dynamic functioning of the human mind in real-life situations.

FIML corrects this problem by providing objective, dynamic access to real-time psychological functioning. FIML is a method or tool for optimizing human psychology by honing our perceptions of our mental states as they actually function in real-world situations.

Psychology is a self-generating, auto-catalytic system

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interpersonal pragmatics in real-time

Interpersonal pragmatics are absolutely fundamental to human psychology.

Understanding interpersonal pragmatics in real-time is the holy grail of human psychology because there is nothing else that reveals as well how human psychology actually functions.

Pragmatics “is a subfield of linguistics and semiotics that studies the ways in which context contributes to meaning.” It is the study of why we say what we say when we say it and how that is understood by others and vice-versa.

Real-time interpersonal pragmatics are highly idiosyncratic. This means that psychological generalizations can be and often are seriously misleading when applied to real-time interpersonal pragmatics. And this means that you will never figure out your own psychology or anyone else’s if you do not have a method for understanding real-time interpersonal pragmatics.

One day AI will help us with this task and when that day comes, our understanding of human psychology will change completely. After that day, people in future will have a very hard time understanding how and why we are so limited today in our comprehension of human psychology. They will see that, yes, we functioned, but Lord what a mess we make of it!

The way to understand interpersonal pragmatics in real-time today is FIML and I do not believe there is any other way. At least I have not found one after over ten years of searching.

The following comments are for readers who already practice FIML and/or those who are contemplating doing it or just getting started:

  • It is very important to fully grasp the difference between knowing that real-time communication details are extremely revealing of something else (how your mind functions) and becoming lost in the emotions of those details.
  • It is very good to be passionate about wanting to understand the minutiae of real-time communication but very bad to get embroiled in the emotions of those small, originating exchanges.
  • FIML works with small bits of data because only these can be reliable isolated and viewed analytically.
  • To lose perspective and become emotionally embroiled in these bits of data because they are being focused on (for FIML reasons) is to waste time and create unnecessary problems. Don’t do it. Be smarter than that.

Technology and human transformation

Most fundamental changes in human societies happen due to technological advances.

The next big change in human psychology will come from inexpensive, very sensitive brain scans.

These scans will show millions people in real-time how their brains are actually behaving and reacting. Presently unnoticed or concealed twinges of emotion will become conspicuously visible on a screen or within a hologram that surrounds our heads.

People will be able to use this technology in the company of a computer program or with a human partner. A good AI program will use brain-scan information to reveal much about us. We will learn stuff about how we actually function that very few are aware of today.

Having this knowledge will change the way we understand ourselves and our interactions with others. Rather than work almost exclusively with the vague stories we tell ourselves, we will be able to see how our brains (and bodies) actually function in real time.

The difference between our stories and how we actually function is very great. Great enough to completely change the landscape of what we now think of as human psychology.

There already exist inexpensive EEG rigs that are sort of good at measuring moods and honesty. There are also expensive ones with more capacity. Within a decade or two, these devices will be much better. An accurate lie-detector will surely be included in the consumer package.

This technology will rewrite our understanding of human psychology and remake the ways we think of human society today. If you want to get a head start on the future, learn how to do FIML now.