Imaginary communication

Normal socially-defined communication—business, school, professional, etc.—operates within known limits and terminologies. Skill is largely defined as understanding how to use the system without exceeding its limits, how to play the game.

Many other forms of communication do not work within known limits or clear contexts and thus must be largely imagined. That is, I have to imagine what you mean and you have to imagine what I mean.

In many cases of this type I will imagine that you are normal to the extent that I am able to imagine what normal is. And I will imagine that you imagine me to be normal. As I imagine you I will probably assume that your sense of what is normal is more or less the same as mine. This is probably what the central part of the bell curve of imagined communication looks like. People in this group are capable of imagining and cleaving to normal communication standards. If you reciprocate, we will probably get along fine.

If my imagination is better than normal, I will be able to imagine more than the normal person or given to imagining more. If this is the case, I will tend to want to find a way to communicate more than the norm to you. If you reciprocate, we might do well communicating. If you don’t, I might appear eccentric to you or distracted.

If my imagination is worse than normal, I will have trouble imagining or understanding normal communication. I won’t have a good sense of the cartoons we are required to make of each other and will probably appear awkward or scatterbrained to most people. If you reciprocate, we might do well communicating and find comfort in each other.

Normal communication, even when imagined, is based on something like cartoons. I see myself as a cartoon acting in relation to the cartoon I imagine for you. If my cartoon fits you well enough that you like it and if your cartoon of me fits well enough that I like it, we have a good chance of becoming friends.

A great deal of normal imagined communication is cartoon-like, and being normal, will take the bulk of its cartoons from mass media—movies, TV, radio, and, to a lesser extent today, books and other art forms.

People still read and learn from books and art, but normal communication has come to rely heavily on the powerful cartoons of mass media.

The big problem with our systems of imagined communication is they are highly idiosyncratic, messy, and ambiguous. We have to spend a lot of time fixing problems and explaining what we really mean.

It’s good to have idiosyncratic communication, but we have to find ways to understand each other on those terms.


first posted May 25, 2014

Complex trauma as distinct from anxiety & depression

If you think about it, there are a great many people worldwide who have lived through years, even decades, of horrible treatment.

And often that horrible treatment led to maladaptive skills that led to more horrible treatment from people who know how to exploit weaknesses like that.

The following quote puts it very well. Be sure to read the whole piece linked below. Emphasis mine.

For those who have experienced trauma, anxiety comes from an automatic physiological response to what has actually, already happened. The brain and body have already lived through “worst case scenario” situations, know what it feels like and are hell-bent on never going back there again. The fight/flight/ freeze response goes into overdrive. It’s like living with a fire alarm that goes off at random intervals 24 hours a day. It is extremely difficult for the rational brain to be convinced “that won’t happen,” because it already knows that it has happened, and it was horrific.

Link: We Can’t Keep Treating Anxiety From Complex Trauma the Same Way We Treat Generalized Anxiety

People who have experienced complex trauma can be difficult to deal with because they very legitimately do not fucking trust anyone.

The linked article laments that few therapists are trained in complex trauma, which is true.

I would add that very few people know that many societies in the world, including the USA, contain malicious groups that work complex trauma to super exploit and/or destroy people.

These groups either start with a person who has been abused or start the abuse themselves. It is a form of persecution.

It can be done by states to repress whole subgroups (“counter-revolutionaries,” for example). Or by clandestine groups to gain power.

Free energy principle & interpersonal psychology

To be very brief, Karl Friston’s “free energy principle” says that the brain is an “inference machine” or “prediction machine” that uses Bayesian probability reasoning and is motivated to act by an inference seeming not true or “surprising” to it.

More can be found here and here.

The free energy principle is a straightforward way to explain what FIML practice does, how it does it, and why it works differently than any other form of psychotherapy and in many significant ways why it works better.

A psychological “complex,” “neurosis,” “personality disorder,” or “persistent thought,” call it what you will, affects human behavior by being or having become a nexus of thoughts, ideas, perceptions, feelings, interconnected neurons and chemistry.

The same is true for any personality trait or skill, including very positive ones.

In Friston’s free energy terms, the psychological elements described above are surrounded by Markov blankets.

That means they are isolated or protected systems with their own variables. These protected systems (protected by Markov blankets) are hard to change because they have their own sets of rules and habitual inputs and outputs.

And that makes them stubborn candidates for most forms of psychotherapy, especially psychotherapy that requires a therapist. One reason for this is time & expense. A second reason is it is difficult for the patient to change without therapeutically experiencing for themself the complex or trait in real-world situations.

The key here is therapeutic experience in the real-world of the unwanted trait or complex that requires change.

The third reason most psychotherapies are ineffective is very subtle incisiveness in real-time is needed to penetrate psychological Markov blankets.

What FIML does is penetrate the Markov blanket enshrouding a complex with a series of small pricks. Each prick in the blanket is small, but each prick also allows some of the valence (gas) inside the blanket to escape.

FIML slowly punctures the Markov blanket with many small pricks, eventually causing it to collapse.

Once it has collapsed, the energies that were trapped inside it can be used for other things. In this way FIML optimizes even non-neurotic psychology by removing pockets of inefficiency held within psychological Markov blankets.

By using only small pricks to penetrate Markov blankets, FIML allows people to gradually and painlessly see what needs to be changed, why, and how to do it. Since FIML works in real-time real-world situations, even very small insights can bring about large changes.

Karl Friston & the concept of free energy

The following sections are from an article on Karl Friston. Be sure to read the full article, which is here: The Genius Neuroscientist Who Might Hold the Key to True AI.

The quotes below provide a loose overview of the article.

,,,Friston’s free energy principle says that all life, at every scale of organization—from single cells to the human brain, with its billions of neurons—is driven by the same universal imperative, which can be reduced to a mathematical function. To be alive, he says, is to act in ways that reduce the gulf between your expectations and your sensory inputs. Or, in Fristonian terms, it is to minimize free energy.

That’s the most basic idea. It comes from and further explains that:

…Over time, Hinton convinced Friston that the best way to think of the brain was as a Bayesian probability machine. The idea, which goes back to the 19th century and the work of Hermann von Helmholtz, is that brains compute and perceive in a probabilistic manner, constantly making predictions and adjusting beliefs based on what the senses contribute. According to the most popular modern Bayesian account, the brain is an “inference engine” that seeks to minimize “prediction error.”

A “Markov blanket” is that which keeps life forms separate from each other. This allows them to act on individual variables different from those contained within the Markov blankets of other life forms.

…Markov is the eponym of a concept called a Markov blanket, which in machine learning is essentially a shield that separates one set of variables from others in a layered, hierarchical system. The psychologist Christopher Frith—who has an h-index on par with Friston’s—once described a Markov blanket as “a cognitive version of a cell membrane, shielding states inside the blanket from states outside.”

In Friston’s mind, the universe is made up of Markov blankets inside of Markov blankets. Each of us has a Markov blanket that keeps us apart from what is not us. And within us are blankets separating organs, which contain blankets separating cells, which contain blankets separating their organelles. The blankets define how biological things exist over time and behave distinctly from one another. Without them, we’re just hot gas dissipating into the ether.

Living organisms seek to minimize the difference between their predictions and what actually happens.

…Free energy is the difference between the states you expect to be in and the states your sensors tell you that you are in. Or, to put it another way, when you are minimizing free energy, you are minimizing surprise.

According to Friston, any biological system that resists a tendency to disorder and dissolution will adhere to the free energy principle—whether it’s a protozoan or a pro basketball team.

And this is how they do it.

…When the brain makes a prediction that isn’t immediately borne out by what the senses relay back, Friston believes, it can minimize free energy in one of two ways: It can revise its prediction—absorb the surprise, concede the error, update its model of the world—or it can act to make the prediction true.

Human interpersonal optimization parallels or aligns with psychological optimization. Both minimize “free energy” as defined above, thus allowing us to use our brains and energies more efficiently.

For readers with suitable partners and inclinations, FIML practice is designed to optimize human psychology, brain function, and energy use.

Mindfulness and error recognition

Mindfulness practices improve our ability to recognize error.

A recent study shows this by monitoring brain activity with an EEG.

The EEG can measure brain activity at the millisecond level, so we got precise measures of neural activity right after mistakes compared to correct responses. A certain neural signal occurs about half a second after an error called the error positivity, which is linked to conscious error recognition. We found that the strength of this signal is increased in the meditators relative to controls,” said Jeff Lin, co-author of the study linked just below. [emphasis mine](link to quote: How meditation can help you make fewer mistakes)

The study is here: On Variation in Mindfulness Training: A Multimodal Study of Brief Open Monitoring Meditation on Error Monitoring.

Few Buddhists will be surprised at the general findings of this study.

Error recognition is what first got me to read about this study.

The findings became even more interesting to me when I saw the statement about the one-half-second error positivity response in the quote above.

Error recognition or the recognition that one might be making an error is key to successful FIML practice.

The second key is to act on our recognition quickly, within a few seconds if possible.

I have always figured it takes about a half second more or less to feel a slight disturbance that tells us we might be forming a wrong impression about what someone is saying or doing. That we might be making an error.

It is this disturbance that tells us it is time to do a FIML query. Virtually every time I do a proper FIML query I find I am either flat out wrong or wrong enough to want to revise my original impression.

In the past, have called the slight disturbance mentioned above a “jangle,” a term I don’t really like because it makes the response sound stronger than what it is. I suppose I could refer to it as the “error positivity response,” but that would require an explanation every time I used it.

[Edit: I have decided to solve this problem this way: A jangle is basically a trigger.  The word jangle is used rather than trigger because the word trigger normally places too much responsibility on the speaker. A jangle should be understood as an internal emotional or psychological trigger that the listener 100% owns until it has been queried about. In most cases, partners will find that their jangles largely or entirely belong to their own psychologies and not their partner’s.]

In Buddhism, a jangle is probably the second of the five skandhassensation.

Buddhist practice will definitely make you more aware of the second skadha or “error positivity response.”

By being aware of this response in conversation with a trusted partner, FIML practice helps us take our mindfulness to a new level by providing  us with the opportunity to ask our partner about their intentions. That is, the check our mental work for error.

If this is done quickly enough to preserve clear memories of 1) your “error positivity response” and 2) your partner’s memory of what was in their working memory at that moment THEN you both have one of the few psychological facts you can both be sure of.

Facts of this sort are not just psychologically of great significance, they are also of philosophical significance because they really are one of the very few fact-types you can truly know about your own idiosyncratic existence; your own very weird being.

I believe this is why the Buddha emphasized the importance of the moment.

FIML practices explodes the moment or expands it to include more reliable information (your partner’s input). And this allows both of you to do a really good analysis of what just happened, what that moment entailed.

And doing that many times, will help both of you see how you really are. It will help you break fee from erroneous psychological frames or theoretical misinterpretations of any type.

Time pressure encourages socially acceptable speech

An interesting study shows that:

Prosociality increases when decisions are made under time pressure.

and that:

These results of socially desirable behavior under time pressure do not reflect people’s deep-down good selves but, rather, their desire to present themselves favorably to other people. (Rushing to Appear Virtuous: Time Pressure Increases Socially Desirable Responding)

Lead author, John Protzko says of the results:

“The method of ‘answer quickly and without thinking’, a long staple in psychological research, may be doing many things, but one thing it does is make people lie to you and tell you what they think you want to hear. This may mean we have to revisit the interpretation of a lot of research findings that use the ‘answer quickly’ technique. (Under Time Pressure, People Tell Us What We Want to Hear)

The cutoff for “time pressure” was 11 seconds; that is, a yes or no answer was required within 11 seconds to be considered pressured.

Most conversational speech comes well within 11 seconds after a person has been addressed. While being addressed is not the same as being questioned, it does usually imply a response is needed fully as much as a direct question.

If this extrapolation is true, the experiment may also show one important reason people fairly often say what they don’t really mean and/or would rephrase on further reflection.

Beyond that, it may also show why many people are uncomfortable in group settings or with speaking at all. Pressure—time or otherwise—forces us into a shallow “agreeable” mode that regurgitates whatever we think others want to hear or that seems most socially acceptable to us.

I know I have done that many times. And when I buck that tendency, I know I sometimes hit it out of the park and sometimes cause myself embarrassment.

Either way, no matter the result, quick speech is fraught with danger, even among close friends. And this is probably a major reason we legitimately cling to personas, egos, or roles as means to standardize our responses across a wide variety of conditions.

From a Buddhist point o view, a great deal of delusion starts right there.

Public language has problems similar to private language

Private language—what we say to ourselves, how we cogitate while alone—is greatly dependent on public language, that which is readily understood by many.

In fact, private language is so dependent on public language, it can be argued that a private language completely divorced from public language cannot exist.

It is obvious that anyone wanting to influence or control large numbers of people will address them in public language.

It is less obvious, that those same people frequently will also seek to change the public language itself.

Sometimes this language changing is a good thing as that is how civilizations adapt and grow. It is probably best, or usually best, when civilizational changes arise organically from the whole society or from important parts of society that are behaving honestly.

Sometimes, however, the changing of public language is done dishonestly by small numbers of people who have seized positions of power, sometimes precisely for that purpose.

They change public language to further their positions, ideas, or programs; to seize control of public topics; to seize or secure power over the public.

It is not as easy to parse this as it may seem. Who is restricting honest organic input into public language? Or when is organic input into public language itself but a ruse to falsely commandeer that language?

After Lenin and Stalin seized control of the public languages of the Soviet Union, we can see a clear-cut example of bad actors creating a basis for indoctrination. Before they seized power, we can see an example of a dishonest “organic” group seeking to commandeer control of public language.

And how do we see that today, through the lens of “history”?

Firstly, whose history? The same problem with public language arises.

Secondly, maybe we can never know. Maybe only societal laws or rules of governance can help us determine what’s right or best. But then the same problem arises.

Whose laws, whose rules?

In this sense both public and private languages have enormous problems basing themselves on anything.

Deception (or truth elision) in communication

To communicate, we often must ignore the truth or falsity of a statement, our own or someone else’s.

I believe it is an instinct to do this; that it is part of our instinct to communicate at all. Communication requires cooperation, an agreement to be agreeable enough to get the message through.

We might call ignoring truth or falsity in communication “truth elision” or “psychological elision.” Elision means to omit something. Psychological elision would mean omitting or not mentioning psychological truths.

We do a lot of truth elision to save time. In professional or group settings it is hard to communicate any other way because there is not enough time to be perfectly truthful and most people will not care. They just want to socialize and/or get the job done, not search for truth.

Most communication is like that. Most messages are not even superficially analyzed. Semiotics glide through our minds without any thought to their deep origins or interpretations. Truth and falsity are frequently elided.

Like all instincts, our instinct to cooperate by ignoring the truth or falsity of many statements can be misused to consciously deceive.

Indeed, we frequently deceive even ourselves by accepting our own statements as true when analysis would show they are not. One way we succeed in doing this to ourselves is by simply avoiding the analysis—analysis elision.

This is where a simple instinct starts to go bad. A basic need to cooperate on the signs and symbols of communication gets twisted into tricking people, deceiving them, even deceiving ourselves.

The way to see this most clearly and to stop doing it with at least one other person is FIML practice. One of my main goals for this website is to show how and why communication goes bad and how and why it harms us. At the same time, I present a practical way to fix the problem described—FIML.

first posted 12/05/18


Note 10/10/19: I think the above sheds light on false confessions and pretty much all self-abnegating lying on the spectrum trending down from a false confession with legal consequences.

Abusers work these ill-defined and difficult to grasp areas to dominate, entrap, and manipulate others. Narcissists and other “strong” or “clever” dark personality types use our fundamental willingness to cooperate against us.

Gas lighting greatly relies on people’s willingness to ignore truths and accept falsities about themselves. If there is more than one gas lighter at work, victims may even accept blame for things they know with certainty are not true.

As with so much in this world, immoral people put time and energy into fooling those who have not put time or energy into the dark arts.

Buddhists all know about wise compassion. We also need wise understanding of the world and wise cautiousness about the full scope of human motivations.

Our tendencies to go along with falsity can be seen in every part of life, from small corners of our own lives to the great expanses of entire societies.

Game theory and interpersonal relations

Game theory uses models to understand how people interact under predetermined conditions or rules.

The end result of any particular model is called its “equilibrium.” Equilibrium implies no one will change their input if external conditions remain the same.

One way to make a game theory model is to reason backwards from the equilibrium you want. To keep it simple, there are two players.

Let’s say we want an interpersonal equilibrium that is honest, clear, and open to the dynamic reality of life. Here is a hypothesis: an equilibrium like that should also result in psychological optimization, psychological well-being for both players.

To achieve that equilibrium, my game model will be based on the following rules:

  1. communication will be as honest as possible
  2. communication will be as clear as possible
  3. all acts of communication (within reason) will be subject to clarification, revision, correction, and explication to the point (within reason) that there is no misunderstanding and whatever ambiguity remains is reduced to its lowest practical level

To do this, players will:

  1. focus on the smallest practical units of communication because error and ambiguity (which often leads to error) frequently begin at this level; this level includes: words, phrases, gestures, tone of voice, expressions, gasps, laughter, grunts, and so on; anything that communicates; all pertinent semiotics
  2. correcting error at the above level, which we will call the micro-level, ensures that small mistakes do not lead to large mistakes; it also teaches players how to correct errors at meso and macro levels of communication
  3. since human minds are limited in what they know and can communicate, and if players are diligent in following the above rules, players will steadily become more familiar with each other; how they speak, hear, think, what their references are, their values, beliefs, and so on
  4. if they continue to maintain these practices, they will build on their mutual familiarity, eventually achieving an interpersonal equilibrium that is honest, clear, and open to the dynamic reality of life

I have played this game with my partner for over ten years and can attest that it has worked even better than we had hoped.

Not only have we achieved an interpersonal equilibrium that is honest, clear, and open to the dynamic reality of life, but also what we hypothesized has come to pass: this equilibrium has also resulted in what feels to us to be psychological optimization and psychological well-being for both of us.

The rules to our game can be found here: FIML.

Note that initially FIML will upset your normal interpersonal equilibrium, whatever that may be. It cannot be otherwise. Note also that the rules of FIML will help you find or create a much better equilibrium.

If FIML is undertaken in a spirit of exploration, creativity, and fun, it will tend to self-generate or self-catalyze many new insights into your psychologies and how you interact with each other.

The ultimate FIML equilibrium is a dynamic one that keeps both partners open to the dynamic reality of life. With little or no “content” of its own, FIML rules allow partners to adapt to or create any “reality” they want.

Once understood, FIML is pretty much only difficult in the very beginning because in the beginning it will upset your normal interpersonal equilibrium. By doing FIML, you are choosing to change your normal equilibrium to a more efficient one.

More science supporting mindfulness

A small study on meditation has confirmed what is pretty well-known already.

“…Mindfulness can be used by almost anyone and learnt online, so could be applied across society. In particular, it has been demonstrated to be effective at improving both mental health and academic performance in schools.” (Experienced meditators display an altered pattern of brain activity during a test of attention and self-control)

Also found was confirmation that the first and second skandhas (form and sensation) “fire” or arise before there is conscious awareness.

…“Unexpectedly, the meditators also showed more activity in their right parietal lobe between 0 and 50 ms after the images were presented on the computer screen. This time period is before the information from the images even reaches the occipital lobe, where vision is processed.” (Ibid)

Mindfulness has many definitions and interpretations. Here is one of my favorites from the Buddha himself:

And what, monks, is the faculty of mindfulness? Herein, monks, a noble disciple is mindful and is endowed with the highest prudence in mindfulness; he is one who remembers and recollects even what is done or said long ago. This, monks, is called the faculty of mindfulness. — S V 197 (Source)

I tend to think that mindfulness is best applied to closely observing the workings of our minds and being honest with ourselves about what we see.

When we communicate information from this side of ourselves to another person, close attention to what we say and how we say it as well as how we hear what they are saying in response can be a very important aspect of Buddhist practice.

Mindfully sharing mindfulness can be a very significant addition to meditative mindfulness.

The study is here: Mindfulness meditators show altered distributions of early and late neural activity markers of attention in a response inhibition task

Word and phrase valence as keys to understanding human psychology

Since virtually everything we do, think, and feel has some linguistic component it follows that our perceived valences of words and phrases will be reliable indicators of our psychological makeup.

This is especially true if our perceptions of these valences is “captured” in fraught contexts in real-world, real-time situations.

To be even clearer and more precise, it is fair to say that it is only possible to capture actual real valences in real-world, real-time situations.

When we do not work with real-world, real-time situations, we are capable only of working with the idea of them, a theory of them, a memory of them. And none of that can possibly capture the actual valence as it actually functions in real-life.

The theory, memory, or idea of a psychological valence associated with words and phrases occurs at a different level of abstraction or cognition from the valence itself.

Theories, memories, and ideas of psychological valences can be very interesting and are worth pursuing, but they are not the thing itself and as such have only a weak capacity to grasp the psychology exposed by actual valences in action in the real-world.

In a post yesterday—Words and word groups mapped in the brain—I discussed the following video, which is well-worth viewing again if you missed it the first time.

Yesterday, I said:

From these maps we can see that word groups have idiosyncratic arrangements, associations, and emphases.

And from this we can understand how analysis of interpersonal communication details can lead to beneficial changes in word group arrangements and thus also human psychology.

The video is very helpful for visualizing how words and word groups are organized in the brain. And this illustrates how and why FIML works as well as it does.

By “capturing” actual verbal psychological valences in real-time, real-world situations, partners gain immense insight into how their psychologies actually function in the real-world, how they actually deal with real life.

Focusing on very brief real-life valences has another very large benefit: though the valences are as real as they come, they are also very small, comprising nothing more than part of the working memory load at the time.

This is a bigger deal than it might seem. Virtually all of us have been trained by years of theorizing about our psychologies to see even very small incidents of real psychological valence as aspects of some theory or story about them.

No, no, no. Don’t do that. Just see each one for what it is—a brief valences that appeared briefly in working memory; and that has been “frozen” by the FIML technique as a small snapshot to be identified and understood as it is.

First get the evidence, get the data. Those valence snapshots are the data. Get plenty of them and you may find that you do not even need any theory about what they are or what caused them.

They just are. Indeed, theorizing about them makes them different, bigger, or worse while simultaneously hiding their real nature.

Most of us do not know how to think about real-world, real-time valences because we tend to always fit them into into an a priori format, a format we already believe in. That could be a theory of psychology or a take on what our personality is or what the other person’s personality is.

In the maps shown in the video, that would constitute a whole brain response to a small valence that appeared only briefly.

By using the FIML technique, you will find it is much easier and much more beneficial to reorganize small parts of the verbal map one piece at a time than to reorganize the entire map all at once based on some idea.

In practice, FIML deals with more than just words and phrases, but the whole practice can be largely understood by seeing how it works with language. FIML treats gestures, tone of voice, expressions, and so on in the same way as language—by isolating brief incidents and analyzing them for what they really are.

Words and word groups mapped in the brain

This is interesting.

From these maps we can see that word groups have idiosyncratic arrangements, associations, and emphases.

And from this we can understand how analysis of interpersonal communication details can lead to beneficial changes in word group arrangements and thus also human psychology.

It is very likely that other aspects of communication—gesture, tone of voice, accent, and so forth—will also present idiosyncratic arrangements and emphases; and can be beneficially changed through detailed analyses of their components.

More here: A map of the brain can tell what you’re reading about

Brain networks act dynamically, rapidly reorganizing on both spatial and temporal scales

A new model of the brain is emerging from research that shows that:

The brain is highly dynamic, reorganizing its activity at different interacting spatial and temporal scales, including variation within and between brain networks.  (The spatial chronnectome reveals a dynamic interplay between functional segregation and integration)

Traditionally, models of brain activity have assumed networks were spatially more fixed. More information about this study can be found here: Structure of Brain Networks Is Not Fixed, Study Finds.

In Buddhist literature, it is frequently stated that one’s karma can be completely changed in the “duration of a single thought,” or words to that effect.

If we understand karma to mean the work or ongoing functional habits of the mind, and consider that in light of the above findings, we may fairly conclude that thousands of years of Buddhist practice have been based on valid insights into how our brains actually operate.

Buddhist concepts of non-attachment, emptiness, and impermanence can also be seen in this light. And this would apply both to individual psychology, group psychologies, or the cosmos itself from a Mind Only perspective.

A good tool to have is the understanding that even deep psychological states can be transformed in a moment’s time. Consider also that the Buddha did describe some individual traits as “persistent” or unchanging even after enlightenment.