Lisa Feldman Barrett, “How Emotions Are Made”

One sentence I liked a lot in this vid is: “The experiences you cultivate today become the predictions your brain uses tomorrow.”

FIML practice cultivates in real-time the experience of changing your real-time interpretation, emotion, perspective, or understanding. Once you have done this many times with a partner, you will find that you will also be able do it with unwanted mental states when alone.

Basic FIML practice can be compared to musical scales or basic sports skills. Once these have been mastered, more complex skills become available. For this reason, FIML is a uniquely effective form of interpersonal psychotherapy.

Consciousness, Big Data, and FIML

Modern neuroscience does not see humans as having a discrete consciousness located in a specific part of the brain. Rather, as Michael S. Gazzaniga says:

The view in neuroscience today is that consciousness does not constitute a single, generalized process. It involves a multitude of widely distributed specialized systems and disunited processes, the products of which are integrated by the interpreter module. (Source)

Computer and Big Data-driven sociology sees something similar. According to Alex Pentland:

While it may be useful to reason about the averages, social phenomena are really made up of millions of small transactions between individuals. There are patterns in those individual transactions that are not just averages, they’re the things that are responsible for the flash crash and the Arab spring. You need to get down into these new patterns, these micro-patterns, because they don’t just average out to the classical way of understanding society. We’re entering a new era of social physics, where it’s the details of all the particles—the you and me—that actually determine the outcome.  (Source)

Buddhists may recognize in these insights close similarities to core teachings of the Buddha—that we do not have a self; that all things arise out of complex conditions that are impermanent and changeable; that the lion’s share of “reality” for any individual lies in being attentive to the moment.

Notice how similar Pentland’s insights are to Gazzaniga’s—the whole, or the common generalities (of society), can be far better understood if we can account for the details that comprise them. Is an individual mind a fractal of society? Do these complex systems—societies and minds—both use similar organizational processes?

I am not completely sure how to answer those questions, but I am certain that most people are using similar sorts of “average” or general semiotics to communicate and think about both minds and societies. If we stick with general averages, we won’t see very much. Class, self, markets, personalities don’t give us information as sophisticated as the detailed analyses proposed by Gazzaniga and Pentland.

Well then, how can individuals cognize Gazzaniga’s “multitude of widely distributed specialized systems and disunited processes” in their minds? And how can they understand how “the products” of those processes are actually “integrated” into a functional “interpreter module”?

And if individuals can cognize the “disunited processes” that “integrate” into a conscious “interpreter,” how will they understand traditional psychological analyses of the self, personality, identity, biography, behavior?

I would maintain that our understanding of what it is to be a human will change deeply if we can learn to observe with reliable clarity the “disunited processes” that “integrate” into a conscious “interpreter.” That is, we will arrive at a completely new understanding of being that will replace the “self” that truly does not exist in the ways most societies (and people) understand it.

FIML practice shows partners how to observe with great clarity the “disunited processes” that “integrate” into a conscious “interpreter.” Once these process are observed in detail and for a long enough period of time, partners will realize that it is no longer necessary to understand themselves in the “average” terms of self, personality, identity, biography, behavior, and so on.

Partners will come to understand that these terms denote only a more detailed version of a naive, static view of what a person is. Most psychology is largely a more detailed version of a naive, static view of what a person is.

We see this in Gazzaniga and Pentland’s findings that are derived from complex analyses of what is actually happening in the brain or in the multitude of real transactions that actually comprise a society. We can also see very similar insights in the Buddha’s teachings.

It is my contention that FIML practice will show partners the same things—that their actual minds and actual interactions are much more complex (and interesting) than the general semiotic averages we normally use to understand them.

From a Buddhist point of view, when we “liberate” ourselves from “attachment” to “delusive” semiotic generalities and averages and are truly “mindful” of the “thusness” of the ways our minds actually work, we will free ourselves from “suffering,” from the “ignorance” that characterizes the First Noble Truth.

_____________________

First published 09/01/12

Provocative analysis of cultural identity

A comment I read this morning has an insightful summary of what cultural identity is. And how it self-generates and self-perpetuates “…well beyond the control or foresight of anyone,.” (Source)

This complex of [cultural] ideas generates intense psychological pressures and allegiances and mobilizes some of the most primitive energies of the human psyche – safety, danger, clan, tribe, blood, status, power, domination – and leads to a clear pattern of behavior that is decentralized and not under anyone’s control but is still a very clear system that can be analyzed and identified. (Ibid.)

The entire string of comments is well-worth reading and can be found at the link above. [No permalink, so Ctrl F a snippet of the quote above to find the starting point.]

These comments are on Jewish culture and history but they apply just as well to any cultural “construct,” all of which are the stronger precisely because they are social constructs.

The commenter quoted above leans toward a negative appraisal of Jewish culture and history, which I largely agree with, but if it’s up to me I would say that virtually all successful cultures (“successful” being ones that perpetuate) have analogous negative features.

Incidentally, I believe a great deal of Buddhist practice and the practices of other religions are based on disentangling practitioners from cultural constructs to discover their authentic beings, souls, or the will of God.

Religions do this because in many ways cultures are toxic to the higher mind, the metacognitions of thusness and individual authenticity.

That said, cultures do teach us and raise us and we cannot develop without them. Religions are also cultures. And that said, we are capable as individuals of both learning from our cultures and growing well beyond them.

In this respect and in light of Buddhist practice, I am very leery of any and all kinds of cultural identities or individual identities fashioned as allegiance to a culture, especially an aggressive one. Sadly, it is also true that if you have no identity your culture will be lost or destroyed, so we all really do need some sort of “defensive identity.” In this respect, I can happily identify with most of the world Buddhist community and most of the traditional American Constitutional system interpreted conservatively. I also have a mild-but-strong-enough defensive white identity because that group is fast approaching eight percent of world population and I want it to survive.

Narcissism is a zero-sum game

My guess is all overt narcissistic traits can be understood as zero-sum.

Even the narcissist’s painful inner vacuity is a minus-sum result of playing a zero-sum game of life.

This explains why narcissists often will attack even their own children. A child that displays pride or autonomy is seen as taking something away from the narcissist.

This also explains why narcissists typically are good at “impression management.” People that do not know them intimately frequently see narcissists as impressive, even admirable, people.

Narcissists manage social impressions—the impressions others have of them—because they are playing the game of zero-sum. That is how they understand life itself.

In the sense that everything is connected and all of us do “narcissistic” zero-sum behaviors sometimes, if you look closely you can see that it is precisely those behaviors that cause painful inner vacuity even in generally non-narcissistic people.

In a Buddhist sense, narcissistic thoughts and behaviors are the Second Noble Truth, the “origin of suffering.” Ceasing doing them is the Fourth Noble Truth, the “path leading to cessation of (the) suffering” they cause.

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

Can’t see the trees for the forest

Examples of not seeing the trees for the forest are flyover assessments of sociological  regions or general assessments of human psychology.

A more detailed example of this pertaining to psychology might be the following description of Borderline Personality Disorder:

People with borderline personality disorder are unstable in several areas, including interpersonal relationships, behavior, mood, and self-image. Abrupt and extreme mood changes, stormy interpersonal relationships, an unstable and fluctuating self-image, unpredictable and self-destructive actions characterize the person with borderline personality disorder. These individuals generally have great difficulty with their own sense of identity. They often experience the world in extremes, viewing others as either “all good” or “all bad.” A person with borderline personality may form an intense personal attachment with someone only to quickly dissolve it over a perceived slight. Fears of abandonment may lead to an excessive dependency on others. Self-multilation or recurrent suicidal gestures may be used to get attention or manipulate others. Impulsive actions, chronic feelings of boredom or emptiness, and bouts of intense inappropriate anger are other traits of this disorder, which is more common among females. (Source)

I have no doubt that this general description of the “forest” of BPD is somewhat useful as a flyover take on a psychic region that seems to have its own reality within American culture. The same link concludes that “there is hope” for personality disorders if we come to “understand that they are illnesses.”

Thus, a general remedy is assigned to a general “illness”; a semiotic contortion is assigned to the category “hope.”

TBH, as a Buddhist  I must say you really should “have difficulty with your own sense of identity” because there is no such thing. Sentience in all its guises is dynamic and ever-changing.

You actually do not need a “self-image” at all. So if the one(s) you keep trying for are “unstable and fluctuating,” you are probably seeing reality more clearly than people whose “self-images” are stable and not fluctuating!

The fundamental problem with BPD and Narcissistic Personality Disorder, two of the most difficult disorders to cure, is in the trees. It is good to see the forest and know where it lies within the terrain of the sufferer’s culture, but the problem of any individual suffering from either of these disorders is always going to be in their trees.

So what are the trees? They are the actual signals received by the person, sent out by the person, and used internally by the person.

Those are the units that best describe what a sentient being is and does. If you can’t fix the trees or treat the trees, the forest will never be healthy.