General analyses of signaling systems illuminate fundamentals of psychology

Individual psychology is a locus or node within a larger social system.

More precisely, individual psychologies are particular signaling systems within larger social signaling systems.

It is valuable to see this because general analyses of signaling systems—even those having nothing to do with human psychology—can shed light on human signaling systems, including both individual psychology and many aspects of sociology.

When human psychology is viewed as a signaling system, we can readily see that narcissism is bound to occur because narcissism is fundamentally a simplistic signal system.  (See Narcissism redefined (yet again) for more.)

When human sociology is viewed as a signaling system, we can similarly see that parasitism is bound to occur because the exploitation of one system by another is a fairly simple matter.  (See Social parasitism in ants and humans for more.)

In like manner, we can see that social hierarchies importantly have evolved because they are simple and decently efficient signal (communication) systems.

We can also see why hierarchical system often are overthrown and why they often do not arise in systems where they are not needed.  For example, no hierarchy is needed for a language system once the basics have been established.  A parasitic or authoritarian group might impose a hierarchy on a language system, but that’s a different animal.

When individual psychology is viewed as a signaling system, we can see that a great deal of what we consider “disordered” or “ill” within that system is fundamentally a problem of the signal system itself and not the “personality” we have mistakenly abstracted out of that system.

Indeed, most of what we think of as personality is nothing more than an individual signal system attempting to conform to its understanding of the larger social system within which it exists.  When science is applied to “personality” erroneously conceived, we arrive at the many psychometric tautologies on personality traits we now have.  Psychometrics have limited value for describing societies, but are frequently misleading, even damaging, when applied to individuals.  In this, they resemble BMI data which originally was used as a marker for the health of whole populations, not individuals, and which can be misleading when applied to individuals.

When we view individuals as signaling systems rather than personalities, we can immediately see that these systems can and should be optimized for better communication.  Indeed, this is the real job of psychology—optimizing individual signaling systems. Not just treating “personality” disorders.

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Culture is the context of the languages we speak

Stated more clearly: Culture is nothing more than the context of the languages we speak.

In this sense culture defines our words and phrases; and in this sense, our psychologies.

This means that if you think or feel something, you probably can find a way to speak about it unless you are trapped within the context of your language.

For example, just think of anything you are afraid or embarrassed to talk about.

For some of those topics, you may have a friend (or stranger) with whom you are able to speak. Very traumatic experiences can be exceptionally difficult to speak about because they tend to be unique or uniquely horrific; so normal language in almost all contexts won’t get you there. You will feel inhibited, tongue-tied, embarrassed, afraid, timid, mute, isolated.

Traumatic experiences are an extreme example of how culture/context is not able to overlay all of our experiences. This is a core reason we turn to professional listeners—therapists, clergy, etc—to deal with trauma, though often we are even afraid of them.

Artists also provide us with unique experiences set in unique contexts. If well-done, or more importantly well-publicized, art may change the culture/context for many speakers. In this area, goodness lives alongside propaganda and hype. Many speakers feed the frenzy and feed on it.

In Buddhism, speech is a vessel of delusion as well as enlightenment. Buddhism provides an excellent context for speech because it fully recognizes the meta-contexts of impermanence, emptiness, ignorance, delusion, and suffering.

If you have experienced trauma, as we all have (it’s relative), you are in a good place to understand that traumas can be very small yet agonizing. And they can repeat often, causing constant suffering, sleeplessness, helplessness.

If we can see that traumas, both small and large, are outliers from whatever culture we are in, then we can also see that the way forward is to make our culture into something that can speak about them.

When culture is as small as one person—you alone—you can be free in many ways but also will get stuck on your traumas. With no way to speak about them with others, they will distort your thinking, carry weight they should not have. Disturb everything you do.

When culture is as large as two people, great freedom is possible. Two people just need to realize this. If they do, it’s a small step to realize that profound cooperation solves their  cultural “prisoners’ dilemma” better any other solution.

I cannot escape my trauma if I lie to you because my context will instantly become inauthentic, stultified fully as badly as my trauma always has been. So, I won’t do that. And you, my partner, are as smart as me so you won’t either.

Cultures are contexts for languages because cultures have rules. A two-person culture also needs rules. Best to figure most of them out for yourselves but also best to start with some very important basics. And these are: meta-cognitive rules that allow for accurate meta-communication.

Here is a set of rules that can start you off on a new way to communicate: How to do FIML.

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 must be 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.

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What we know about COVID-19 and some speculation

First, what we know:

Speculation based on what I have read, COVID-19:

  • is likely a bio-weapon that escaped from a BSL-4 (Biosafety level 4) laboratory in Wuhan, China
  • it could also be a dangerous naturally-occurring virus being studied at that lab
  • statistics on numbers of infected and deaths in China are grossly underreported
  • clusters appearing in other parts of the world and within institutions indicate significant likelihood that a worldwide pandemic may be unavoidable
  • the virus attacks through ACE 2 receptors in the lungs
  • at this point in time, this seems to indicate that Mongoloid-type individuals (who have more ACE 2 receptors than others) are more susceptible to the virus, though this has not been confirmed. Counterevidence includes: a) China is the epicenter and b) disease clusters are also appearing in Italy and Iran
  • the WHO has been very ineffective against COVD-19 and may have hindered early containment (due to political connections with China’s CCP)
  • the virus is highly contagious and can be spread by carriers who are entirely symptomless
  • thus, it is only reasonable to take extra precautions against transmission: clean hands, don’t touch your face, shower more often, avoid crowds, and keep your distance from others

As for whether COVID-19 is a bio-weapon, RNA analyses seem to show that it is an unusually contagious chimera that could not have occurred naturally. WHO and all governments have been downplaying the danger of the virus to avoid panic and/or angering China.

If the virus is eventually shown to be a bio-weapon, worldwide turmoil will ensue. The above is what I have gathered from reading about the virus. On a small site like this, we can be honest without worrying about contributing to worldwide panic.

My listing of probabilities and uncertain evidence above is a sort of Bayesian reasoning tree. If any of the parts change, the whole tree could also change. A few other pieces of evidence in this line of reasoning are: a) a bio-weapon pandemic has been predicted for decades, largely because bio-weapons exist and several have already escaped (Lyme, SARS, MERS, etc); and b) a simulation of just such a pandemic was conducted in October 2019.

EDIT: Twitter feed with frequent updates: #Covid19

Facial expressions: we often read them wrong and then make huge mistakes

Both emotions and facial expressions are ancient instincts.

Human language and cognition have grown well-beyond ancient instincts. Grown beyond but also still affected by.

We have become more complex.

Today, we not only read instincts, we also read instincts into other people’s cognition through what they say, how they say it, how it sounds, how their faces move.

Which micro-expression is the right one?

The truth is we don’t know. Our readings of facial expressions in real-time, real-world situations are often wrong, often tragically.

Our cognition has advanced beyond our instincts but generally speaking it has not advanced far enough for us to generally recognize this fact.

Cultures and social groups deal with the ambiguity of facial expressions by being formal, wearing masks, emphasizing “face” or “saving face,” promoting respect or strong egos that can sell themselves through assertion of meaning, Botox, makeup, boobs, etc.

I think it is arguable that many/most/all people take on and use religion or philosophy in order to provide themselves with a generalizable set of emotions and facial expressions that can be employed in many situations. In this we can see how the architecture of our cognition (our philosophy/religion) is connected to our emotions and facial expressions.

Obviously, our reading of other people’s faces and emotions is not always wrong. If it were we wouldn’t do it at all. But our readings are wrong often enough that tragic mistakes are frequently made.

It is a pity that these truths are not more widely recognized. Browse almost any psychological forum and you will find many comments concerning the anguish people feel at having a condition that is widely misunderstood or misread.

At least they know what is going on.

This morning I saw this article: NEVER trust a person’s face: Scientists say it is ‘completely baloney’ that you can read people’s emotions from their expressions.

And that led me to search for this paper: Emotional Expressions Reconsidered: Challenges to Inferring Emotion From Human Facial Movements.

I am sure most, if not all, psychologists recognize the basic problem of our poor abilities at reading emotions, tone of voice, gesture, and even what we mean at all when we speak and act.

Does anyone know what to do about it?

Game theory and trust

The game linked below explains some basics of game theory and also some basics of why FIML practice works so well.

The game can be found at this link: The Evolution of Trust.

I highly recommend playing this game. It takes about thirty minutes to finish.

For the first part of it, I was only mildly interested though the game is reasonably engaging.

When it got a point where communication mistakes are factored in, I sat up and took notice.

The game is a very simple computer model of some very simple basic choices human beings make all the time. Without giving away too much, even this simple model shows something I bet most of us can already see.

And that is: zero-sum games do not give rise to trust. Win-win games do.

What was most interesting to me is the game also shows that communication mistakes foster trust if there are not too many of them.

Accepting mistakes in communication requires trust. Mistakes happen. When two people accept that in each other and in themselves, trust grows.

This is a very important point and a foundation of FIML practice.

In fact, I would say that mistakes foster trust even more in FIML than other communication games. This happens because in FIML mistakes are isolated in such a way that they can be fully recognized and understood for what they are.

This provides a method for solving immediate problems while also building a foundation for the inevitable occurrence of future ones. Moreover, the kinds of mistakes people make become less stupid.

In many respects, the game of FIML is largely one of recognizing communication mistakes or potential mistakes as soon as they arise, within seconds of their onset.

By doing that FIML shows us how our deep psychology is actually functioning in real-life. Multiple insights into this aspect of psychology are transformational.