Basic signaling and some things it explains

Basic signaling can be described or explained as follows:

  • A signal is information sent from one place and received at another.
  • A signal can be big or small.
  • A signal can be true or false.*

These are the most basic features of all signals. More complex signals contain these three basic features and also exhibit other features, such as:

  • having complexity or context
  • being conscious or not
  • being consciously designed to have an effect

From the three features of basic signaling, we can say a lot about human signaling.

The first feature of basic signaling simply defines what a signal is. I can signal to myself or I can signal to you. A simple example is I check my hair in the mirror (signal to self) and then present myself to you (signal to you). Insofar as my hair signal to you has a conscious element of how my hair looks or doesn’t look (sloppy, messy), the hair signal I sent to myself via the mirror is now being sent to you via my imagination.

This hair signal can also illustrate the second feature of basic signaling—how big or small the signal is. My hair signal may be important to me while I am looking in the mirror (big signal) or not very important (small signal). In like manner, my hair signal may be big or small in your mind.

This hair signal can also illustrate the third feature of basic signaling—its truth or falsity. If I have dyed my hair, in some sense I am sending a false signal. If I have not dyed my hair but you think I have, then you are receiving a false signal.

One could also say that dyed hair is not a truly “false” signal because it is common for people to dye their hair. Similar arguments can be made for combing or cutting hair or anything we do with our hair. The truth or falsity of many human signals is open to interpretation in this manner.

Normally, we use the three basic features of complex signals described in the second bullet list above to decide which interpretation to use. Changing the context and complexity upon which our interpretation is based will tend to change our interpretation of the signal.

Notice how many signals achieve their effects primarily by being big. Big signs, bright lights, loud music, heavy make-up, loud sexual signals, perfume, odor, big muscles, fake boobs, expensive cars, big houses and yachts, etc. all work in part by being big signals. Bigness or smallness is point two in the list above.

Bigness alone can explain why people lie, slant, or falsely accuse. As long as a signal is big, some people will be attracted to it and come under its spell. If someone accuses you falsely of something and spreads their accusation around, you may be faced with a big problem. If the lie is big enough and artful enough, you now are forced to defend yourself. If you do not even know what is being said about you, you can’t even do that.

Another version of the effectiveness of a big false accusation is one made to your face. As soon as it is uttered, the scene and context will shift dramatically. You are normally required to immediately defend yourself, derailing whatever rational exchange of ideas preceded the accusation.

We can see how this works in interpersonal communication and we can also see how it works on a larger scale. When nations go to war, they invariably lie about each other. Politicians lie, cultures lie, groups lie, religions lie, sports fans lie, and so on.

Lies or false accusation work because they send big signals that require a defense and, since they are lies, can be hard to defend against.

To me, this is a depressing side of human communication. Lies and false accusations very often win against the truth.

Simply stated, false accusations are aggressive lies, but we also know them in milder form as spin, slanting the facts, one-sidedness, tailoring the message, and so on.

Note: I got the idea of the importance of false accusations from a book I am reading on alcoholism: Vessels of Rage, Engines of Power: The Secret History of Alcoholism.

The author of this book, James Graham, makes the claim repeatedly that alcoholics very often engage in false accusations. In discussing this book with my partner, we came to conclude that Graham is right about this—false accusations do seem to be common among the alcoholics we both know.

Since I like to break things down into basic principles, my partner and I came up with the principles outlined above.

A false accusation sends a big signal into a social group while at the same time protecting the alcoholic from criticism. It allows them to say, “You see it is not me or my drinking that is the problem here, she is the one who is crazy!” Or, “Can you believe what he did to me?” Of course, he didn’t do anything but to a drunk, the accusation feels good and often works with others because it is big.

On a larger scale, false accusations in public today often take form as PC dictates. That’s “racist,” “sexist,” “micro-aggressive,” “privileged,” “homophobic,” etc. Just knowing that we might be accused of one of these attitudes has been enough to keep most people from saying anything that could even be tangentially interpreted in that way.

Note two: FIML practice entirely removes false accusations and any basis for them between partners. No FIML partner should ever say, “You did too mean that!” Or “I know why you did that!”

Partners who have established a habit of frequently checking their interpretations of each other should experience very few occasions to feel that their interpretation of something their partner signaled is better than their partner’s interpretation.

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*A false signal that is not conscious might be a non-poisonous snake or insect that has evolved to look like a poisonous one.

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First posted 01/10/16, slightly revised 09/28/17

Buddhism and ethical signalling

Buddhism is very much a system of ethics. Buddhist practice is founded on the Five Precepts of refraining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and the irresponsible use of alcohol.

In most Buddhist traditions, these precepts are often taught as if they were fundamental to the workings of the universe. But how can morality be fundamental to the workings of the universe? Why does morality even matter to human beings?

If we think of a human being as a signalling system, we may be able to show that ethical thoughts and behavior are of fundamental importance to the system itself.

Human signalling systems signal internally, within themselves, and externally, toward other people. Our most important signalling system is the one we share with that person who is most important to us, our mate or best friend. Let’s confine our discussion to this sort of primary signalling system.

If I lie to my partner or cheat her, I may gain something outside of our shared signaling system, but that signalling system will suffer. And when that shared system suffers, my own internal signalling system will also suffer because it will contain errors. It will no longer be in its optimal state. Similarly, if she lies to me or cheats me, our mutual signalling system will become less than optimal as will both of our individual, or internal, signalling systems.

My own signalling system cannot grow or become optimal without my partner treating me with the best ethical behavior she can muster. And the same is true for her with respect to me. And we both know this.

We would be good to each other anyway, but it is helpful to see that our being good to each other has a very practical foundation—it assures us optimal performance of our mutual and internal signalling systems.

FIML practice is designed to provide partners with a clear and reasonably objective means to communicate honestly with each other. FIML practice will gradually optimize communication between partners by making it much clearer and more honest. In doing this, it will also optimize the operations of their mutual and individual signalling systems.

To my knowledge, there is nothing like FIML in any Buddhist tradition. But if I try to read FIML into the tradition, I may be able to find something similar in the way monks traveled together in pairs for much of the year. I don’t know what instructions the Buddha may have given them or how they spoke to each other, but it may be that they did a practice with each other similar to FIML practice.

In any case, if we view human being as a signalling system, we may be able to claim that clear signalling—that is, ethical signalling—is fundamental to the optimization of that system.

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First posted 02/03/13, revised 09/25/17

Foundations of psychology: what they should be

Human psychology should be separated into two basic categories:

  • biological
  • experiential

Biological psychology can be either good or bad. It includes the psychological effects of genes, brain health, health of perceptual and other organs, trauma or its absence, disease, extreme experiences that profoundly affect how the brain and body function at biological levels, etc.

Experiential psychology can also be either good or bad. It includes acculturation, training, childhood development, education, parenting, interpersonal experience, language use, and so on.

These two categories are often mixed together. This affects how we understand psychology and how we treat it or deal with it.

In this post, I am going to ignore biological psychology.

The foundation of experiential psychology should completely recognize and be based on the fact that virtually all human psychological interactions are fraught with error.

After years of studying and doing FIML, I am 100% convinced that human psychological communication is so fraught with error that the very foundation of human experiential psychology as it is recognized in the DSM, in academia, and in culture generally is rotten.

Another way to say that is we don’t even know what human psychology is because virtually all experiential psychology is a dysfunctional mess due to the presence of massive amounts of experiential error in all people, including psychologists.

Our brains are working overtime with deeply erroneous psychological data, producing terrible results.

We cannot correctly understand the human body if all of our specimens are riddled with parasites and disease. Similarly, how can we study human psychology if the data being processed by the brain (and body) are riddled with error?

Even if you have never studied FIML, you should be able to see that humans in the privacy of their own minds are like little zoos filled with shadowy monsters that have arisen due to the plethora of error each and every individual has experienced.

Human responses to these shadowy monsters are varied—some act on them, some fear them, some hide them, some expose them.

But few escape them because you cannot escape them by yourself. Those monsters arise out of decades of communication error and they will not go away until the communication errors have been removed.

You cannot remove those errors in normal psychotherapy. A therapist can only show a client what they are and how they arise, if that.

The client must remove them through a practice like FIML.

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First published April 7, 2016. Revised today.

How to evaluate something you don’t know

A fascinating post by Robin Hanson—We Add Near, Average Far—describes some of the difficulty of presenting an idea like FIML to an Internet audience.

The problem is lots of detail and many bits of evidence make it difficult for people to evaluate the overall worth of a complex idea because people tend to evaluate information of that type by averaging the data rather than adding it up.

Should we just say that FIML will make you and your partner smarter and happier? Maybe we should when discussing it online, though of course, we won’t do that.

In person, we have found people quite receptive, but that is probably due to the same effect—in person we focus on one or two results of FIML practice and we only do that if people show interest.

I think Buddhism probably has a similar problem getting it’s message across through books or film. You really have to go to a temple or spend time with people who understand the Dharma to want to take on Buddhism as a way of thinking or living.

Up close and personal, most of us realize that we live in a very complex world and that our capacities for understanding our conditions cannot be taken for granted. But when it comes to learning how to hone or augment our skills for dealing with speech and symbolic communication, we tend to look for simple answers, or abstract ones, that do not include the kinds of detail we must pay attention to. Broad extrinsic theories that provide a general picture without essential detail—and these are everywhere in psychology, religion, sociology, the humanities—simply cannot do for you what a technique like FIML can because FIML is entirely based on the actual data of your actual life, and there is a great deal of that.

I do understand why it is hard to see this. At the same time, I wonder why it is so obvious in the physical sciences and engineering that we can’t do anything properly if we don’t make sure of our data.

Why should the humanities be different? We simply cannot communicate well or understand ourselves well without good data. FIML provides damn good data.

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First posted 10/2/2012

Meaningfulness or emotional valence of semiotic cues

A new study on post traumatic stress disorder shows that PTSD sufferers actually perceive meaning or emotional valence within fractions of a second.

This study bolsters the FIML claim that “psychological morphemes” (the smallest psychological unit) arise at discrete moments and that they affect whatever is perceived or thought about afterward.

The study has profound implications for all people (and I am sure animals, too) because all of us to some degree have experienced many small and some large traumas. These traumas induce a wide variety idiosyncratic “meaning and emotional valence” that affects how we perceive events happening around us, how we react to them, and how we think about them.

The study in question—Soldiers with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder See a World Full of Threat: Magnetoencephalography Reveals Enhanced Tuning to Combat-Related Cues—is especially interesting because it compares combat veterans without PTSD to combat veterans with PTSD.

It is thus based on a clearly defined pool of people with “similar” extreme experiences and finds that:

…attentional biases in PTSD are [suggestively] linked to deficits in very rapid regulatory activation observed in healthy control subjects. Thus, sufferers with PTSD may literally see a world more populated by traumatic cues, contributing to a positive feedback loop that perpetuates the effects of trauma.

Of course all people are “traumatized” to some degree. And thus all people see “a world populated by traumatic cues, contributing to a positive feedback loop that perpetuates the effects of trauma.”

If we expand the word trauma to include “conditioned responses,” “learned responses,”  “idiosyncratic responses,” or simply “training” or “experience” and then consider the aggregate all of those responses in any particular individual, we will have a fairly good picture of what an idiosyncratic individual (all of us are that) looks like, and how an idiosyncratic individual actually functions and responds to the world.

FIML theory claims that idiosyncratic responses happen very quickly (less than a second) and that these responses can be observed, analyzed, and extirpated (if they are detrimental) by doing FIML practice. Observing and analyzing idiosyncratic responses whether they are detrimental or not serves to optimize communication between partners by greatly enhancing partners’ ranges of emotion and understanding.

In an article about the linked study (whose main author is Rebecca Todd), Alva Noë says:

…Todd’s work shows that soldiers with PTSD “process” cues associated with their combat experience differently even than other combat veterans. But what seems to be driving the process that Todd and team uncovered is the meaningfulness or emotional valence of the cues themselves. Whether they are presented in very rapid serial display or in some other way, what matters is that those who have been badly traumatized think and feel. And surely we can modify how we think and feel through conversation?

Indeed, what makes this work so significant is the way it shows that we can only really make sense of the neural phenomena by setting them in the context of the perceptual-cognitive situation of the animal and, vice-versa, that the full-import of what perceivers say and do depends on what is going on in their heads. (Source)

I fully agree with the general sense of Noë’s words, but want to ask what is your technique for “modifying how we think and feel through conversation?” And does your technique comport well with your claim, which I also agree with, that “we can only really make sense of the neural phenomena by setting them in the context of the perceptual-cognitive situation of the animal”?

I would contend that you cannot make very good “sense of neural phenomena” by just talking about them in general ways or analyzing them based on general formulas. Some progress can be made, but it is slow and not so reliable because general ways of talking always fail to capture the idiosyncrasy of the “neural phenomenon” as it is actually functioning in real-time during a real “perceptual-cognitive situation of the animal.”

The FIML technique can capture “neural phenomena” in real-time and it can capture them during real “perceptual-cognitive situations.” It is precisely this that allows FIML practice to quickly extirpate unwholesome responses, both small and large, if desired.

Since all of us are complex individuals with a multitude of interconnected sensibilities, perceptions, and responses, FIML practice does not seek to “just” remove a single post traumatic response but rather to extirpate all unwholesome responses.

Since our complex responses and perceptions can be observed most clearly as they manifest in semiotics, the FIML “conversational” technique focuses on the signs and symbols of communication, the semiotics that comprise psychological morphemes.

FIML practice is not suited for everyone and a good partner must be found for it to work. But I would expect that combat veterans with PTSD who are able to do FIML and who do it regularly with a good partner will experience a gradual reduction in PTSD symptoms leading to eventual extirpation.

The same can be said for the rest of us with our myriad and various traumas and experiences. FIML done with a good partner will find and extirpate what you don’t want knocking around in your head anymore.

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First potsed on July 9, 2015

Psychiatry still has big problems and so does our model of the human mind

This interview with Robert Whitaker— Psychiatry Now Admits It’s Been Wrong in Big Ways – But Can It Change?—is well worth reading. Whitaker has been an influential critic of psychiatry’s misuse of antipsychotic drugs as well as its models for diagnosis and treatment.

In addition to all of the problems Whitaker describes in the linked article—failed diagnostics, failed theories, failed “disease models,” failed treatments, making matters worse for the mentally ill, and drugging children and minors without their consent—I would further submit that our generally accepted model of the human mind itself is as deeply flawed.

Rather than starting with the idea that humans have or develop personalities that do or don’t adapt well to some ambiguous social standard, we would do better to start with the idea that humans are fundamentally interactive beings, beings that communicate.

If our interactions are good, we will be well enough. If our communications with even one other person are deeply satisfying and as truthful as we are able, we will be even better than well enough.

People go crazy because their relations to no one are satisfying. In a very real sense, poor communication and shallow interaction condemn most humans to a sort of solitary confinement, where the inner network of semiotic reality cannot interface satisfactorily with the network of any other person’s semiotic reality.

For individuals who are fortunate enough to have a suitable partner, FIML practice will likely fix this problem while also fixing most emotional dissatisfaction. It accomplishes this by providing a means for people to fully engage their inner semiotic networks with each other.

The dead end of the traditional mental health model of a “personality-being-well-adapted-to-a-group-or-culture” is, sadly, best illustrated by the profession of psychiatry itself. I believe Whitaker is right in saying that

… it is going to be so hard for psychiatry to reform. Diagnosis and the prescribing of drugs constitute the main function of psychiatrists today in our society. From a guild perspective, the profession needs to maintain the public’s belief in the value of that function. So I don’t believe it will be possible for psychiatry to change unless it identifies a new function that would be marketable, so to speak. Psychiatry needs to identify a change that would be consistent with its interests as a guild.

If even psychiatry as a group needs to “identify a change… consistent with its interests as a guild,” it is clear that groups cannot be taken as a standard for wellness.

If even a group of doctors of the mind cannot get it right, how can any other group be expected to?

And if groups cannot, neither can cultures. And if none of that is right, neither is the notion of a “personality” that “adapts” to those vague standards.

This is an important point: groups can be and are just as crazy as individuals. In fact, many groups are crazier than individuals. The idea that people have “personalities” that must “adapt” in a way that is “satisfying” to an extremely dubious group standard is bankrupt and cannot be fixed. Of course individuals can adapt to laws and clearly stated mores and taboos, but adaptations based on such emotionally unsatisfying generalities will never produce wellness.

The individual can only be well when the individual can communicate their authentic semiotic reality with another, and in turn, receive similar communication from that other.

Semiotics is the right word to use here because its definition includes communicative signs and the meanings of those signs as they are variously interpreted by the individuals using them. Furthermore, the term semiotics implies, or necessarily extends to, networks of communicative signs and their inevitably differing individual interpretations.

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First posted March 6, 2014 ~ ABN

FIML and sociotics

The term idiotics means “the idiosyncratic agglomeration of the semiotics of a single individual.”

An individual’s idiotics indicates the agglomeration of public and private semiotics that comprise the unique signaling system of their mind; this signaling system is what we normally call a person’s mind.

Each individual brain has an idiotics that is unique to it. The signaling system that employs and organizes this unique idiotics works internally within the individual and externally as a system that signals to other people.

Problems in signaling—both internal and external problems—occur when the signaling systems of two (or more) people are not in good accord. That is, when two (or more) people misunderstand the signals they are sending to each other or the signals being sent to them. Obviously, mistakes in signaling can and frequently do compound, or snowball, leading to very large errors.

To control for error, human beings have probably evolved master semiotics that provide general ways for people to comprehend (pretty badly or well-enough, depending on your perspective) the signaling of other people.

Let’s call these general semiotic categories that allow for crude comprehension between people sociotics.

Sociotics is a compound of the words sociology and semiotics. It means the “public semiotics,” or socially agreed upon and accepted semiotics, of just about any group you can think of.

Most sociotics is emotional. A good deal of it is very emotional. The beliefs of a religion, the stories of an ethnic group, the values of a community can be extremely emotional.

In this respect, a great deal of sociotics binds very deeply with human emotion to form an intoxicating blend of meaning and feeling.

Most people do not see any choice but to adopt a sociotics. Without one, they feel lost, empty, undefined. Even the sociotics of science can be very emotional, to say nothing of the sociotics of political, gender, or ethnic identities.

FIML partners will surely find that their idiotics have strong sociotic components. Rather than accept their inherited and often mindless and emotional sociotics, partners would do well to analyze them and transfer their emotional allegiance away from them and toward rational bonding with each other based on FIML principles.

FIML has much greater power to organize the sociotics and idiotics of FIML partners than does any other traditional communication system. This is so because FIML practice provides a means for partners to understand each other without resorting to thoughtless extrinsic sociotic categories for mutual definition. FIML practice helps partners form wholesome bonds with each other without becoming entangled in the emotional and irrational sociotics of large groups.

Another way to say this is FIML is a sort of “operating system” for the mind/brain, while sociotics are broadly shared public references that are fairly static and not too complex.

Ideally, good scientific practice is also an operating system rather than a static sociotic. The scientific method deeply informs FIML practice, but since FIML is an interpersonal operating system, it cannot be the same as science. FIML can be investigated by the scientific method and it can be confirmed or falsified by the scientific method, but this is not strictly (in the sense of formal science) the job of FIML partners. FIML partners, however, if they are doing FIML correctly, are engaged in a practice that is fundamentally rational and objective and that removes mistakes from partners’ signaling systems, including sociotic mistakes.

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First posted April 24, 2013 ~ ABN