Psychology is a self-generating, auto-catalytic system

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rather than see yourself as a story or ego, see yourself as a system of signals loosely erected and controlled by metacognitive functions that sort and analyze perceptions, thoughts, sensations, and memories.

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first posted MAY 13, 2018

Psycholinguistics: our normal interpersonal communication system inevitably produces significant error

Our normal interpersonal communication system inevitably produces significant error; thus leading to misery, personality disorder, mental illness. In spiritual terms, the normal ways we talk and listen carry toxic seeds of ignorance (and evil) that scatter everywhere. Even the sciences are affected.

Without the FIML corrective, nothing will change.

I have done FIML long enough that I feel deeply sorry for everyone who does not do it.

It’s not super easy to do FIML, to correct the mistakes that cause so much suffering, but it can be done with no more effort than learning to cook well or play the piano passably well. And like those skills, it’s fun to do once you get going with it.

Societies collapse because ignorance, greed, and madness accumulate and rot them out from inside. It happens to all of them. It is happening to us very seriously right now.

Marriages, friendships, and individual lives collapse for similar reasons. Errors build on errors, minds overwhelmed; suffering ensues.

I beg of you. Give it a shot. Learn FIML.

Within a short time you will see what it does, how it does it, and why it is so necessary for a good life.

The Diamond Sutra section 6: The Rarity of True Belief

Section Six of the Diamond Sutra has been added. A link to the sutra can be found at the top of this page.

This section starts with Subhuti’s direct question: “World-honored One, can sentient beings, upon hearing these words, really be expected to believe them?”

In his answer, the Buddha emphasizes morality and goodness: “Even after I have been gone for five hundred years there will still be people who are moral and who cultivate goodness.”

Morality or “goodness” (without modern semiotic baggage) is the foundation of the “three trainings” which are essential to attaining enlightenment. The three trainings are morality, meditation, and wisdom.

Morality is the foundation because only when we are behaving morally and have a clear conscience can we meditate properly. Meditation can also be understood as concentration or mindfulness. An impure or immoral mind is confused and distracted by lies and harmful behaviors. The Buddha emphasizes this point when he says just below the line quoted above that “…if someone has so much as a single pure moment of belief concerning this teaching… they will be intimately known and seen by the Tathagata.”

Buddhist teachings often stress the importance of “belief,” “faith,” or simply having “confidence” in the Dharma. Belief alone or blind faith is not what is called for. But having enough belief or faith in the teachings to pursue them and continue learning from them is.

If you enroll in a school to learn some skill, it is important to believe that the school will teach you that skill and it is important to have faith in your teachers and confidence in the course material. It is also very helpful if you really want to learn that skill. It is in this sense, that “belief” and “faith” are stressed. In different times and places, this sort of faith or confidence will manifest in different ways. In some cultures, a scientific “coolness” will seem right. In others, reverence and warm acceptance will seem better.

“…if someone has so much as a single pure moment of belief concerning this teaching… they will be intimately known and seen by the Tathagata.”

To be “intimately known and seen by the Tathagata” is to awaken the Buddha mind in yourself, to sense your Buddha nature.

The Buddha then says: “And what is the reason that these sentient beings will attain so much infinite goodness? These sentient beings will not return to the laksana of self, the laksana of human beings, the laksana of sentient beings, the laksana of souls, the laksana of laws, or the laksana of non-laws.”

Laksana means “mental dharma” or “mental thing.” It is often translated as mark or characteristic. Readers of this site might appreciate that laksana are quite similar to semiotics. Semiotics are communicative signs that operate in the mind both internally (when alone) and externally (when communicating with others). If we do good deeds while dwelling on the semiotics of our selves, our actions are less pure than if we have no semiotics that reify the inauthentic “self.”

In section three of the Diamond Sutra, the Buddha said: “Subhuti, if a bodhisattva has laksana of self, laksana of human beings, laksana of sentient beings, or laksana of a soul, then he is not a bodhisattva.”

In this section, the Buddha says that the goodness attained by “a single pure moment of belief” will keep a sentient being “from returning to the laksana of self…” The purity and clarity of insight will be great enough to turn the sentient being away from confused and false semiotics toward enlightened Buddhahood.

The Buddha adds “laksana of laws, or the laksana of non-laws” to his statements on laksana. In this case, “laws” means the Buddha’s basic teachings on the five skandhas, the eighteen realms, the twelve nidanas, and so forth. “Non-laws” mean his teachings on emptiness.

To be clear as a bell, the Buddha repeats his point saying that a Bodhisattva “…must not cling to laws or non-laws, and this is why I have often said to you monks that even my teachings should be understood to be like a raft; if even the Dharma must be let go of, then how much more must everything else be let go of?”

We can see that the Buddha is not asking for belief alone or blind faith, but rather clear comprehension that the enlightened mind cannot be found among laksana/semiotics. At the same time, he also recognizes that laksana/semiotics are necessary at many stages of our development. This is what the raft metaphor means—you use a raft to cross a river, then you leave the raft and keep going. Similarly, you use laksana/semiotics/ideas/concepts/beliefs/confidence to get you further along and then you leave these “mental things” once they have served their purpose.

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first posted NOVEMBER 22, 2014

You aren’t at the mercy of your emotions — your brain creates them

Can you look at someone’s face and know what they’re feeling? Does everyone experience happiness, sadness and anxiety the same way? What are emotions anyway? For the past 25 years, psychology professor Lisa Feldman Barrett has mapped facial expressions, scanned brains and analyzed hundreds of physiology studies to understand what emotions really are. She shares the results of her exhaustive research — and explains how we may have more control over our emotions than we think.

This talk is a very good background for FIML practice, which is based on acknowledging that interpersonal emotions and interpretations are fundamentally ambiguous and must be investigated often to achieve good communication. ABN

The danger of all identities

Recent revelations have exposed a secretive homosexual subculture within the Catholic Church.

(Cardinal McCarrick scandal inflames debate over gay priests)

Please completely ignore the homosexual part of that. Instead focus on the secret identity aspect of that.

Wherever there is group identity, there will be a subculture of people with dark personality traits who seek to and often succeed in taking it over or subverting it.

To be brief, in the Catholic Church there is a subculture of homosexuals. Due to Church teachings this subculture became secret. And due to its secrecy, it became stronger and either contains a dark sub-subculture or has been taken over by a dark sub-subculture.

Ignore again the homosexual part, because the same thing will happen in all groups. Wherever there is group identity, there will be a subculture of people with dark personality traits who seek to and often succeed in taking it over or subverting it.

This must be true in Buddhist groups. And it must be true in governments, news media, spy agencies, charities, ethnic groups, religious groups, ideological groups, schools and universities.

The older and larger the group, the more likely it is that a dark subculture is parasitizing it.

Group identity is the deluded human ego writ large. This dark tendency resides in all humans without exception.

The human spirit, soul, mind, mind-stream, bhavanga, pudgala—call it what you will—exists within a haze of moral ambiguity. It wallows in it, lives and breathes in it, forms its passions within it, and can barely escape being destroyed by it.

There’s no way around this. Whatever you identify with will almost certainly lead to you being morally compromised if not destroyed. And it will almost certainly lead to you furthering your identity group being morally compromised if not destroyed.

This process happens in groups and individuals. It must be constantly guarded against.

This is the reason we all need to do FIML practice. You cannot possibly be honest with yourself without the help of another person. There is no way around this fact.

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EDIT 9:00 AM 08/20/18: I wish that was all there is to it. A deeper level is even if you solve your problem and your group’s problem with dark tendencies, you will still have problems with other groups who have not solved their problems. Thus, all of us must overcome our own dark tendencies—both individual and group—and also guard against the dark tendencies of other groups and individuals.

Take the Church as an example. I am sure most priests are not part of the dark group of sexual predators. But I am also sure that they did not stop that dark group from acting on its dark tendencies, harming thousands of children and undermining the Church.

Take American universities as another example. In light of the above, isn’t it clear that dark groups of left-wing ideologues have taken them over almost completely? How else did we come to have higher education crippled by slavish adherence to a single point of view? Notice homosexuality has nothing to do with this. It is an ideological darkness.

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first posted AUGUST 20, 2018

Is consciousness continuous or discrete?

Is consciousness a continuous flow of awareness without intervals or is it something that emerges continually at discrete points in a cascade of microbits?

The Buddhist answer has always been the latter.

The Buddha’s five skandha explanation of perception and consciousness says that there are four discrete steps that are the basis of consciousness.

The five skandhas are form, sensation, perception, activity, consciousness. A form can arise in the mind or outside of the mind. This form gives rise to a sensation, which gives rise to perception, followed by activity (mental or physical), and lastly consciousness. In the Buddha’s explanation, the five skandhas occur one after the other, very rapidly. They are not a continuous stream but rather a series of discrete or discernible moments. A form arises or appears, then there is a sensation, then perception, then activity, then consciousness. (The five skandhas and modern science)

The first four skandhas are normally unconscious. Buddhist mindfulness and meditation training are importantly designed to help us become conscious of each of the five skandhas as they actually function in real-time.

A study from 2014—Amygdala Responsivity to High-Level Social Information from Unseen Faces—supports the five skandha explanation. From that study:

The findings demonstrate that the amygdala can be influenced by even high-level facial information before that information is consciously perceived, suggesting that the amygdala’s processing of social cues in the absence of awareness may be more extensive than previously described. (emphasis added)

A few days ago, a new model of how consciousness arises was proposed. This model is being called a “two-stage” model, but it is based on research and conclusions derived from that research that support the Buddha’s five skandha explanation of consciousness.

The study abstract:

We experience the world as a seamless stream of percepts. However, intriguing illusions and recent experiments suggest that the world is not continuously translated into conscious perception. Instead, perception seems to operate in a discrete manner, just like movies appear continuous although they consist of discrete images. To explain how the temporal resolution of human vision can be fast compared to sluggish conscious perception, we propose a novel conceptual framework in which features of objects, such as their color, are quasi-continuously and unconsciously analyzed with high temporal resolution. Like other features, temporal features, such as duration, are coded as quantitative labels. When unconscious processing is “completed,” all features are simultaneously rendered conscious at discrete moments in time, sometimes even hundreds of milliseconds after stimuli were presented. (Time Slices: What Is the Duration of a Percept?) (emphasis added)

I, of course, completely support science going where the evidence leads and am not trying to shoehorn these findings into a Buddhist package. Nonetheless, that does sound a lot like a slimmed-down version of the five skandhas. Considering these and other recent findings in a Buddhist light may help science resolve more clearly what is actually happening in the brain/mind.

As for form-sensation-perception-activity-consciousness, you might suddenly think of your mother, or the history of China, or the spider that just climbed onto your shoulder.

In Buddhist terms, initially, each of those items is a form which leads to a sensation which leads to perception which leads to activity which leads to consciousness.

Obviously, the form of a spider on your shoulder differs from the form of the history of China. Yet both forms can be understood to produce positive, negative, or neutral sensations, after which we begin to perceive the form and then react to it with activity (either mental or physical or both) before becoming fully conscious of it.

In the case of the spider, the first four skandhas may happen so quickly, we will have reacted (activity) to it (the spider) before being conscious of what we are doing. The skandha of activity is deeply physical in this case, though once consciousness of the event arises our sense of what the first four skandhas were and are will change.

If we slapped the spider and think we killed it, our eyes will monitor it for movement. If it moves and we are sensitive in that way, we might shudder again and relive the minor panic that just occurred.

If we are sorry that we reacted without thinking and notice the spider is moving, we might feel relief that it is alive or sadness that it has been wounded.

In all cases, our consciousness of the original event, will constellate around the spider through monitoring it, our own reactions, and whatever else arises. Maybe our sudden movements brought someone else into the room.

The constellation of skandhas and angles of awareness can become very complex, but the skandhas will still operate in unique and/or feedback loops that can often be analyzed.

The word skandha means “aggregate” or “heap” indicating that the linear first-fifth explanation of how they operate is greatly simplified.

The above explanation of the spider can also be applied to the form skandhas of the history of China or your mother when they suddenly arise in your mind, or anything else.

We can also perceive the skandhas when our minds bring in new information from memory or wander. As we read, for example, it is normal for other forms to enter our minds from our memories. Some of these forms will enhance our reading and some of them will cause our minds to wander.

Either way, our consciousness is always slightly jumpy because it emerges continually at discrete points in a cascade of microbits, be they called skandhas or something else.

Edit 11/23/20: The above explanation of consciousness is a good way to understand how and why FIML practice works so well. Ideally, the intention to make a FIML query will begin to arise at the sensation skandha or soon thereafter. A FIML query is based on wondering if the consciousness that has arisen from the form is correct or not.

This also shows why FIML does not presuppose theories on personality, mental illness, or psychotherapy. In this sense, FIML has no content; it is “just” a method, a way to rationally engage and analyze our minds as they function in real-time in the real-world. How you analyze the data you acquire is up to you and your partner.

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See also: How the brain produces consciousness in ‘time slices’

first posted APRIL 16, 2016

The Nine Features of Great Philosophy: The Ethical Skeptic

The Ethical Skeptic has become one of my favorite blogs and Twitter accounts. Today he posted a must-read: The Nine features of Great Philosophy. The image below provides a clear summary:

This kind of thinking works across all domains of rational endeavor, including psychology, psycholinguistics, communication, and semiotics. It also fits perfectly with Buddhist thought and practice.

I am happy to also say that FIML practice as explained on this site is well-characterized by these nine features. I tend to think of FIML as practical psychotherapy that can be used by almost anyone. At the same time, I am well-aware that FIML took many years to fully develop and that fundamentally it is a way to think.

FIML is a theory of communication that yields a method for much better communication. You could also say that FIML is a method of communication that also yields a theory of why we now communicate mostly badly; how to fix that and why fixing that leads to a much greater understanding of life.

Since FIML is a method of thinking or communicating, it has no content of its own. FIML does require honesty and the basic human virtues of self-examination, self-correction, willingness to learn and share, and the desire for wholesomeness or integrity. But other than that, FIML has no ideology, credo, belief system, or cultural envelope. It can be used by anyone anywhere to optimize interpersonal communication and individual psychology.

In fact, even non-humans could do FIML if they use a self-conscious communication system to convey subjective meanings that may be ambiguous.

Is the greatest emotion taking pleasure in correcting our own mistakes?

Surely it’s in the top few.

In the Buddhist tradition, shame is sometimes called the greatest emotion because shame makes us open to changing for the better.

But shame can also be felt and avoided or hidden or misdirected. Shame here generally means something bothers our conscience.

Correcting our own mistakes often follows shame but not always. Someone may tell us of a mistake that does not make us feel ashamed.

Taking pleasure, even delight, in correcting our own mistakes is very close in time and psychology to actually making the correction.

Whether it is the greatest or not, the emotion that accompanies self-correction is well-worth cultivating.

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first posted APRIL 1, 2018

Global Workspace Theory: mistake awareness (and correction)

Global workspace theory is a description of how our minds work. The word global refers to the whole mind or brain, not the world.

The central feature of this theory—the global workspace—is conscious working memory, or working memory that could be made conscious with minimal effort.

This global workspace is also what a great deal of Buddhist mindfulness attends to. If we focus our attention on what is coming in and out of our global workspace, we will gain many insights into how our minds operate.

The Buddha’s five skandha explanation of consciousness can be understood as a form (or percepta) entering the global workspace.

Consciousness is the fifth skandha in the chain of skandhas. It is very important to recognize that whatever we become conscious of is not necessarily right.

With this in mind, we can see that being mindful of what is entering and leaving our global workspace can help us forestall errors from forming and growing in our minds.

In the Buddhist tradition, ignorance (a kind of error) is the deep source of all delusion.

But how do I know if the percepta or bits of information entering my awareness are right or wrong?

Well, there is science and Bayesian thought processes to help us, and they are both very good, but is there anything else?

What about my actual mind? My psychology? My understanding of my being in the world? How do I become mindful and more right about these?

Besides science and Bayes, I can ask an honest friend who knows me well if the percepta I think I just received from them is right or wrong.

If my friend knows the game, they will be ready to answer me before my global workspace changes too much. If my friend confirms my interpretation of what they just did or said, I will know that my interpretation (or consciousness) is correct.

If they disconfirm, I will know that my interpretation was incorrect, a mistake.

This kind of information is wonderful!

We calibrate fine instruments to be sure we are getting accurate readings from them. Why not our own minds?

This kind of calibration can be done in a general way, but you will get a general answer in that case. If you want a precise reading, a mindfulness answer, you need to play the FIML communication game.

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first posted

Trust over love

Since a Merlin falcon appeared in our neighborhood, my SO has been reading about raptors and falconry. One interesting piece of information is trained falcons require trust, not love or caresses. If they trust the falconer all will go well.

As mammals, maybe we humans place too much emphasis on neotenic bonding through coddling, both with our own species and with others. I love cats and dogs (and horses) as much as anybody, but all of us need rock-bottom foundations of trust.

Buddhism practiced with no thought of a loving God or higher beings can be immensely rewarding because it puts responsibility for our lives completely on us, including what we think is best and how we assess it.

It’s not easy to trust yourself. On analysis, it seems more important to trust yourself than love yourself. Loving yourself makes little sense in Buddhism while trusting yourself makes a lot of sense as the word “self” and the actions being done to it have very different connotations.

Am I wise enough to trust my judgement? Do I trust myself to correctly cultivate my mind, do the right thing? These are much clearer questions than do I love myself, and more beneficial as well.

Perfect communication is not possible (but greatly improved communication is)

Human beings cannot possibly expect to communicate with each other perfectly. Perfect communication would require complete transfers of information with no ambiguity.

This point is fundamental to understanding why we need a method to frequently correct or adjust interpersonal communication in real-time.

If we do not have a method to do that, mistakes will inevitably cause problems, some of which will inevitably snowball.

TBH, I don’t understand why no one before me has figured the method out. Many have seen the problem in one way or another, but none has provided a way to fix it as far as I know.

To simplify the problem a bit, let’s just stick with language.

Language is ambiguous in and of itself. And when it is used for interpersonal communication it is fraught with ongoing and very significant ambiguities.

These ambiguities are so serious, I believe I can safely maintain that they account for a major component of our personalities. They may even be the major component.

Why does this seem so obvious to me but not to many others I speak with? I really do not know. Why didn’t Plato or Buddha or Laozi or Kant or Dostoevsky deal with this? I don’t know.

It’s possible the Buddha did privately or that’s what the Pythagorean’s secret was. Buddhist monks traveled in pairs and may have had a method to deal with interpersonal ambiguity.

If they did, I doubt it would be very different from my method, which you can find fully explained, free of charge here: FIML.

Please consider the problem of ambiguity before you undertake FIML.

Give ambiguity some real thought. Contemplate how it has affected your life in many ways you already know about. Then consider how many more ways you do not know about.

How many mistakes in communication—just due to ambiguity and consequent misunderstandings alone—have affected your life?

Watch for it and you will see ambiguity happening very often. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes insignificant, sometimes it’s tragic. The more there is, the worse it is.

When just two humans clear up almost all ambiguity between them (a process that must be constant like any other maintenance chore), amazing things begin to happen to their psychologies.

For each pair, what happens will be different because FIML is only a method. It has no content itself. What could be better than that?

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fitst posted

Micro-aggression or micro-aguessin’?

Do FIML practice successfully 25 times and you will understand how wrong the notion of micro-aggression is. Not only wrong but also destructive to self and other. Rather than have us probe own minds, micro-aggression asks us to assert a false interpretation of someone else’s mind. From a Buddhist point of view, micro-aggression turns us 180 degrees away from wisdom and enlightenment.

A crucial mistake in Jordan Peterson’s philosophy

A crucial mistake in Jordan Peterson’s philosophy is his oft repeated false dichotomy between identity politics and individualism. He never considers the third option of a polity of individuals wisely aware of the danger of identity politics and able to craft policies to guard against it.

From a Buddhist point of view, identity politics is akin to a deluded self drunk on greed, anger, pride, and ignorance. Wisdom always counsels against passionate egotism, whether of individuals or groups. This is not complicated. It’s not hard to see this.

Peterson has presented this false dichotomy many times. The video below is an excellent example. It might also be an example of high-flying rhetoric sometimes bearing more weight than it can support.

Peterson is a great speaker. I support him and wish him the best. I hope he fully recovers from his benzodiazepine illness and look forward to more of his work.