…We postulate that consciousness has specific characteristics that are based on the temporal dynamics of ongoing brain activity and its coordination over distant cortical regions. Our hypothesis stems from the common stance of various contemporary theories which propose that consciousness relates to a dynamic process of self-sustained, coordinated brain-scale activity assisting the tuning to a constantly evolving environment, rather than in static descriptions of brain function (3–5). In that respect, neural signals combine, dissolve, reconfigure, and recombine over time, allowing perception, emotion, and cognition to happen (6). (Source)
Why, then, do we have the impression of direct access to our mind?
“The idea that minds are transparent to themselves (that everyone has direct awareness of their own thoughts) is built into the structure of our “mind reading” or “theory of mind” faculty, I suggest. The assumption is a useful heuristic when interpreting the statements of others. If someone says to me, “I want to help you,” I have to interpret whether the person is sincere, whether he is speaking literally or ironically, and so on; that is hard enough. If I also had to interpret whether he is interpreting his own mental state correctly, then that would make my task impossible. It is far simpler to assume that he knows his own mind (as, generally, he does). The illusion of immediacy has the advantage of enabling us to understand others with much greater speed and probably with little or no loss of reliability. If I had to figure out to what extent others are reliable interpreters of themselves, then that would make things much more complicated and slow. It would take a great deal more energy and interpretive work to understand the intentions and mental states of others. And then it is the same heuristic transparency-of-mind assumption that makes my own thoughts seem transparently available to me.” (Source)
Please be sure to read the whole article. I find in it a great deal of Buddhist thinking and FIML practice. See The five skandhas and modern science for more on the Buddhist aspect of Curruthers’ thoughts.
See this quote from the article for more on the FIML aspect:
…It would take a great deal more energy and interpretive work to understand the intentions and mental states of others. And then it is the same heuristic transparency-of-mind assumption that makes my own thoughts seem transparently available to me.
Curruthers maintains that we interpret ourselves with the same mechanism we use to interpret others. This is where FIML practice is especially useful: FIML asks us to spend the extra time and energy understanding others (as well as ourselves) while also providing the tools to do this.
The two biggest problems with FIML are finding a suitable partner and having enough time to do the practice.
Edit 12:30: Curruthers says:
If someone says to me, “I want to help you,” I have to interpret whether the person is sincere, whether he is speaking literally or ironically, and so on; that is hard enough. If I also had to interpret whether he is interpreting his own mental state correctly, then that would make my task impossible. (emphasis added)
No, the task is not impossible! It can be done with a suitable partner. This is exactly what FIML does. FIML helps both partners interpret all of their mental states more correctly.
This is how and why FIML practice optimizes individual psychology while also doing the same for communication and mutual understanding. They all upgrade together.
A new study has shown that:
…after mice formed a memory in a context, the engram cells encoding that memory in a brain region called the hippocampus would temporarily become much more electrically excitable if the mice were placed back in the same context again. ( How returning to a prior context briefly heightens memory recall)
The study is here: Engram Cell Excitability State Determines the Efficacy of Memory Retrieval
I do not believe it is much of a stretch to suppose that something similar happens with humans in virtually any significant context.
Since humans are social animals that respond to signals from other humans and since we often base our understanding of our social contexts on signals from other humans, it follows that strongly-perceived signals coming from others will cause “engram cells…in the hippocampus…to become electrically excitable.”
An “electrically excitable” hippocampus probably corresponds to what we have called a “jangle” in FIML practice. A jangle is the sensation that a psychological response may be or is initiating. It is the subjectively-felt onset in the mind of a “psychological morpheme.”
An instance of FIML practice is properly begun as soon as a significant “electrically excitable” response is first perceived. But before we “get reminded of details of some specific events” (Ibid) that originally produced that response.
Professor Tonegawa’s full statement on this is:
This initial recall could be a general recall of the vacation. But moments later, you may get reminded of details of some specific events or situations that took place during the vacation which you had not been thinking about.
By beginning a FIML query as soon after a jangle is perceived, any unwanted “context” that lies deeper in the brain is not recalled. Instead, the immediate basis of that context (the percepta that initiated the jangle) is isolated and analyzed.
See this for more: Disruption of neurotic response in FIML practice.
In Buddhist practice, a jangle is the second skandha. The five skandhas are form, sensation, perception, activity, consciousness. In modern terms, form might be better called “percepta.” In this context, a form/percepta is anything that enters working memory or consciousness.
For Buddhists, FIML can be understood as a mindfulness partnership where partners help each other with the five skandhas. By disrupting the normal or habitual unfolding of the five skandhas at the second skandha, FIML partners learn how to eliminate mistaken or unwanted responses when they first arise as jangles but before they become full blown psychological contexts.
By analyzing minute emotional reactions in real-time during normal conversation, FIML practice disrupts the consolidation, or more often the reconsolidation, of “neurotic” responses.
In FIML, a neurotic response is defined as “an emotional response based on a misinterpretation.” The misinterpretation in question can be incipient (just starting) to long-standing (been a habit for years).
The response is disrupted by FIML practice and, thus, tends not to consolidate or reconsolidate, especially after several instances of learning that it is not valid.
A neurotic response is a response based on memory. The following study on fear memories supports the above explanation of FIML practice.
Memories become labile when recalled. In humans and rodents alike, reactivated fear memories can be attenuated by disrupting reconsolidation with extinction training. Using functional brain imaging, we found that, after a conditioned fear memory was formed, reactivation and reconsolidation left a memory trace in the basolateral amygdala that predicted subsequent fear expression and was tightly coupled to activity in the fear circuit of the brain. In contrast, reactivation followed by disrupted reconsolidation suppressed fear, abolished the memory trace, and attenuated fear-circuit connectivity. Thus, as previously demonstrated in rodents, fear memory suppression resulting from behavioral disruption of reconsolidation is amygdala-dependent also in humans, which supports an evolutionarily conserved memory-update mechanism. (Source: Disruption of Reconsolidation Erases a Fear Memory Trace in the Human Amygdala)
FIML practice works by partners consciously and cooperatively disrupting reconsolidation (and initial consolidation) of neurotic memory (and associated behaviors). FIML both extirpates habitual neurotic responses and also prevents the formation of new neurotic responses through conscious disruption of memory consolidation.
FIML probably works as well as it does because humans have “an evolutionarily conserved memory-update mechanism” that favors more truth. Obvious examples of this update mechanism can be seen in many simple mistakes. For instance, if you think the capital of New York State is New York City and someone shows that it is Albany, you will likely correct your mistake immediately with little or no fuss.
Since FIML focuses on small mistakes made between partners, corrections are rarely more difficult than the above example though they may be accompanied by a greater sense of relief. For example, if you thought that maybe your partner was mad at you but then find (through a FIML query) that they are not, your sense of relief may be considerable.
First posted 10/28/2015
For something to appear in consciousness it must also appear in working memory. We interact with the (long) moments of real-life in real-time through our working memories.
The post below describes how psychological morphemes that appear in working memory can help us transform the psychological systems they are associated with. It discusses a study which “…shows that removing a key word from a linguistic network will cause that network to fracture and even be destroyed.”
This last point is key to using working memory to achieve deep psychological transformation. ABN
Networks of words, semiotics, and psychological morphemes
On this site we have claimed many times that words and semiotics are held together in networks. We have further hypothesized that “psychological morphemes” are also held together in networks.
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.
Of course word networks, semiotic networks, and emotional, psychological, and cognitive networks all intertwine with each other.
FIML practice is designed to help partners untangle unwanted emotions from these intertwined networks. FIML practice focuses on psychological morphemes because they are small and thus rather easily understood and rather easily extirpated from real-time contexts (when partners are interacting in real life in real-time).
The hard part about FIML practice is it is done in real life in real-time. But the easy or very effective part about FIML is that once partners learn to do it, results come quickly because the practice is happening in real life in real-time. It is not just a theory when you do it in that way. It is an experience that changes how you communicate and how you understand yourself and others.
In FIML practice partners are mindful of their emotional reactions and learn that when one occurs, it is important to query their partner about it. They are mindful of psychological morphemes and as soon as one appears, but before the morpheme calls up a large network leading to a strong reaction, they query their partner about it.
This practice leads, we have claimed, to a fairly smooth and effortless extirpation of unwanted psychological responses. This happens, we believe, because the data provided by the partner that “caused” the reaction shows the partner who made the FIML query that the psychological morpheme in question arose due to a misinterpretation. Seeing this repeatedly for the same sort of neurotic reaction causes that reaction and the psychological network that comprises it to become extinguished.
A fascinating study from the University of Kansas by Michael Vitevitch shows that removing a key word from a linguistic network will cause that network to fracture and even be destroyed. An article about the study and a link to the study can be found here: Keywords hold vocabulary together in memory.
Vitevitch’s study involves only words and his analysis was done only with computers because, as he says, ““Fracturing the network [in real people] could actually disrupt language processing. Even though we could remove keywords from research participants’ memories through psycholinguistic tasks, we dared not because of concern that there would be long-term or even widespread effects.”
FIML is not about removing key words from linguistic networks. But it is about dismantling or removing psychological or semiotic networks that cause suffering.
Psychological or semiotic networks are networks rich in emotional meaning. When those networks harbor unwanted, inappropriate, or mistaken interpretations (and thus mistaken or unwanted emotions), they can cause serious neurotic reactions, or what we usually call simply “mistaken interpretations.”
We believe that these mistaken interpretations and the emotions associated with them can be efficiently extirpated by revealing to their holder the “key” psychological morphemes that set them off.
My guess is the psychology of a semiotic network hinges on repeated reactions to key psychological morphemes and that this process is analogous to the key words described in Vitevitch’s study.
Vitevitch did not remove key words from actual people because it would be unethical to do so. But it is not unethical for consenting adults to help each other find and remove key psychological morphemes that are harmfully associated with the linguistic, semiotic, cognitive, and psychological networks that make up the individual.
The essay was first posted May 21, 2014.
Human language is a fundamental biological signal with computational properties that differ from other perception-action systems: hierarchical relationships between sounds, words, phrases, and sentences and the unbounded ability to combine smaller units into larger ones, resulting in a “discrete infinity” of expressions. These properties have long made language hard to account for from a biological systems perspective and within models of cognition. We argue that a single computational mechanism—using time to encode hierarchy—can satisfy the computational requirements of language, in addition to those of other cognitive functions.
An short article about the above study: Brainwaves Encode the Grammar of Human Language
A great advantage of analyzing the contents of working memory is working memory does not hold much information and thus each item in it is small.
Most items of psychological import will be psychological morphemes—the smallest units of human psychology—or only slightly larger. This has several important advantages for real-time psychological analysis:
- data points can be easily identified
- they can easily be agreed upon by both partners
- when both partners agree on a data point, a reasonably objective standard is established for what just occurred
- analyzing these data points is almost painless due to their small size
- though small, items in the working memory are connected to the rest of the brain/mind and thus often implicate or expose much larger internal psychological systems
The kinds of data points we are talking about are things like word choice, tone, expression, and gesture. Generally, it is not difficult for both partners to agree that one of them used a certain word, or made a certain gesture, or displayed a certain expression.
Once the data point is isolated and agreed upon, it can be discussed and analyzed as described here.
Rather than conceive of our minds as having an Id, it is more accurate to describe them as having interconnected systems or networks that resemble the layouts of brain neurons, maps, or language.
When an item appearing in working memory has surprising connections to larger psychological systems, we can analyze it with our partner (or not) to gain some insight into how our working memory—our being in real-time—is actually acting and perceiving.
When and if the same sort of item appears repeatedly in our working memory, we can be sure that it is connected in many ways to larger mental or psychological systems.
Some items of interest will have just arisen and have no further psychological import if they are queried and analyzed. If they are not queried and analyzed, those same items may plant a seed that will grow from then on.
This is why it is important for partners to do many FIML analyses. Do many analyses of very minor stuff to get used to the practice. (Also, I guarantee some of that “minor stuff” will be very revealing.)
Whether we conceive of working memory as a sketchpad or as a core component of higher cognitive function, most of us are aware that there can be considerable delay between the appearance of a psychological morpheme in working memory and the excitation of the much larger psychological system(s) it is attached to.
Whenever we stay a psychological response of anger, irritation or anything else, we make use of the delay between real-time life and the rumination or behavior that might follow later on.
When we analyze a negative psychological morpheme very soon after it appears in working memory, we always change it and almost always change it to something much better. This happens if only because the weight our full minds can put on something like that is typically much greater than anything our partner intended or was in their mind.
But this also happens very often because we are simply wrong.
Consistent FIML analysis will show this is true. When we clear many mistakenly stimulated psychological morphemes of the same type, we will become convinced (almost painlessly) that our minds have been malfunctioning or misperceiving in that area. Once we are convinced of our mistake, that malfunction will all but disappear as if it had never been.