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 assess 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 assess 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.


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.