Listeners are different from speakers

A listener’s state of mind is different from a speaker’s.

It is more dreamy, often more visual, and has a wider range of associations in play.

For this reason, listeners often react more to their own minds than to what the speaker meant.

An example of this occurred recently.

While my partner was speaking, she referred to someone as a “douche bag.” She meant to distinguish that person from someone else with the same name (who is not a douche bag).

As she said “douche bag,” a strong image rose in my mind of the person in question being pushed into a region of darkness.

In response to that image, I protested “he is not a douche bag”; not so much to recover his honor or reputation as to keep him from being pushed further into the darkness.

She changed her wording and the conversation went on. I completely forgot the incident and the image that had arisen in my mind.

The next morning my partner brought the subject up again and explained in FIML detail why she had used “douche bag.” The memory came back to me.

It’s a good example of how a speaker’s mind differs from a listener’s.

Great film, especially from a FIML POV

The following link contains a short film written by an algorithm.

From one point of view, the film illustrates through exaggeration what communication is like without FIML.

Movie written by algorithm turns out to be hilarious and intense

I do not see the film as particularly hilarious because that is the way most interpersonal communication is.

An example of explosive arm’s length (non)communication

The following video provides a good example of arm’s length communication happening in a public forum.

This is a type of formal communication in that it follows some basic forms and deviation from them is rarely allowed. Private communication, in contrast, is intimate communication between close friends where deeper levels of subjectivity are allowed, even desired.

No need to watch too much of this vid because it quickly becomes a ridiculous shouting match:

Do I even need to point out that no one even bothers to define racism? It’s a strong semiotic that once hurled tends to prevent further thought.

My point today is not Trump and the judge, but rather how Trump and the judge is a good example of something that can also happen in private settings.

When nebulous words, ideas, values, or beliefs become strong symbols in private conversations like the word racist in the video, confusion, bad feelings, alienation, or apathy will be the result.

In arm’s length communication, the instinctual human lurks behind signs and symbols much like a wild animal in the forest.

In formal settings, this is typically not a huge problem because everything is predefined. In the video, the exchange is largely a performance designed to excite the viewer.

In private settings between close friends, however, arm’s length communication is a recipe for disaster.

This is so, because even if there are no bad motives, there will be bad interpretations. And these bad interpretations will snowball and eventually lead to problems.

Since almost all of us have been raised in environments that only allow arm’s length communication and see it as the norm, almost all of us carry very heavy psychological baggage.

Few of us know how to overcome the very serious limitations of the communication norms we have learned.

The people in the video are being ridiculous, but almost all of us are just as ridiculous in our own kitchens.

If you want to do better, practice FIML.

Computational psychiatry

Computational psychiatry is a fairly new field that

…seeks to characterize mental dysfunction in terms of aberrant computations over multiple scales….

….Aberrant decision-making is central to the majority of psychiatric conditions and this provides a unique opportunity for progress. It is the computational revolution in cognitive neuroscience that underpins this opportunity and argues strongly for the application of computational approaches to psychiatry. This is the basis of computational psychiatry. (source)

One important computation that I believe is missing from our current understanding of human cognition is the high rate of interpersonal communication error.

Interpersonal communication error is especially significant psychologically because so much of human psychology is based on and grows out of interpersonal communication.

If we are making a lot of mistakes when we communicate with friends, family, spouses, and so forth, it follows that our psychological make-up will be burdened with errors that contribute to mental illness and poor functionality overall.

My considered guess is that most people make several serious mistakes in speaking or listening every hour.

In normal interpersonal conversation, most people  mishear, misspeak, misinterpret, or misunderstand several times per hour.

These mistakes can be very serious. Often they snowball to produce strong emotional reactions that have no basis in fact.

The day will surely come when we will have technology that measures mistakes in communication. Before then, we have to use special techniques to find and correct communication mistakes.

Firstly, we have to recognize that such mistakes are common. Secondly, we have to understand that even a single small mistake can cause big problems. Thirdly, we need a technique to find and correct our mistakes.

FIML or something very similar to it is the technique we have available today. FIML is based on the idea that communication mistakes are common, serious, and have very significant psychological ramifications.

Over time, FIML practice completely changes the way we view communication, self, and other.

Whole brain transformation through micro accumulations

Can we achieve whole brain transformation through an accumulation of micro inputs?

In other words, can we achieve deep transformation by gathering many small bits of information? Or by many small insights?

To ask is to answer. Most deep transformation happens this way.

We see something, see it from another angle, see it again and again, and eventually a transformation happens. It takes time.

We don’t usually make deep changes in a single moment with no prior accumulation of bits of knowledge or insight. What happens is the bits accumulate into a large enough mass of information and we “suddenly” change.

Changes of this type can occur within skill sets, within thought and emotional patterns, and within our general psychology.

An example of this kind of change happened to me recently.

For years, my partner had been telling me that I have a “positive neurosis” about some friends of ours. (A positive neurosis is an “overly-optimistic mistaken interpretation of something.”)

And for years, she tried to convince me that I was making a mistake. My mistake persisted for a long time because we rarely saw those friends.

Persisting for a long time was sort of good because it showed me how deep-seated this mistake was and that I have made it in many areas of my life.

My positive neurosis was that I thought these friends were extremely open to freewheeling discussions where almost anything can be said.

“No, they are not like that. You just think they are like that,” my partner said.

It came to pass that I found out she was right. Those friends do not like that sort of discussion. They do not even understand what the point of it could be.

So I changed. I made a deep transformation in how I see them, how I see myself, and how I see other people in general.

I now know that I have to be more careful in how I speak and in what I assume about others. Some people are discomfited by freewheeling talk and suffer from it. Not my intent! A positive neurosis to think otherwise!

This realization came about slowly—first through a long accumulation of bits of information coming from my partner and then by a more rapid understanding that what she had been saying was right when we had a chance to spend some serious time with the friends in question (who are still friends, I think).

My partner got me to see that through an accumulation of many FIML queries and follow-up discussions about those friends. Even though I never agreed with her, I did store her views away in my mind.

When circumstances were right, I saw she was right and I was wrong and changed.

I do not feel ashamed or sad or humiliated. I simply realize that I was wrong.

An accumulation of many micro bits of information caused a deep transformation in my mind as soon as conditions were right.

FIML shows us that finding out we are wrong about stuff like that is great, wonderful, the best thing.

I am going to suffer less and our old friends, and others, will too. A mistake I have been making and that was a fairly large part of my mind is gone and now I am free to fill that space with better stuff.

Most FIML queries are about the two partners who are doing FIML. What happened above is a type of FIML that involves our understanding of other people.

The one above bore good fruit because the long time duration forced me to see how deep my mistake was.

Reduction of neurosis through immediate feedback

A recent study has found that persecutory delusions can be reduced by simulating fear-inducing situations in virtual reality.

patients who fully tested out their fears in virtual reality by lowering their defences showed very substantial reductions in their paranoid delusions. After the virtual reality therapy session, over 50% of these patients no longer had severe paranoia at the end of the testing day. (Oxford study finds virtual reality can help treat severe paranoia)

The crux of what happened is patients faced and “fully tested out their fears.”

The virtual reality environment allowed them to “lower their defenses” enough to see that their initial fears were wrong. That they were mistakes.

Few people suffer full-blown persecutory delusions on the scale of the patients in this experiment, but I would maintain that all people everywhere suffer from “mistaken interpretations” that manifest as neuroses or delusions.

The virtual reality in the Oxford study allows for patients to face their “mistakes” (their exaggerated fears) and this is what reduces their paranoia.

The technique works because patients receive immediate feedback in real-time.

As they perceive in real-time that their delusions are not justified, they are reduced dramatically.

In FIML practice, a similar result is achieved through the FIML query and response with a caring partner.

All people are riddled with “mistaken interpretations” that wrongly define their sense of who they are and what is going on around them.

A basic tenet of FIML is that immediate truthful feedback reduces and eventually extirpates these mistakes.

FIML allows people to “lower their defenses” by focusing on micro-units of communication as they arise in real-time.

The study is here: Virtual reality in the treatment of persecutory delusions: randomised controlled experimental study testing how to reduce delusional conviction.

I believe the findings of this study lend support to the theory of FIML practice:

FIML practice eliminates neuroses because it shows individuals, through real data, that their (neurotic) interpretation(s) of their partner are mistaken.

Psychological optimization

Why settle for not being crazy when you could be going for psychological optimization?

A mental disorder, also called a mental illness or psychiatric disorder, is a diagnosis of a behavioral or mental pattern that can cause suffering or a poor ability to function in ordinary life.

Why settle for being able to “function in ordinary life” when you could have an extraordinary life?

Why take pills to get by when you could be optimizing your brain?

Humans go for optimization whenever we can. We optimize technology, our diets, our medical treatments, our educations, even our friendships.

Optimization : an act, process, or methodology of making something (as a design, system, or decision) as fully perfect, functional, or effective as possible.

Hell yeah. That’s what you want for your mind, your life. Why settle for less?

OK, that does read like a sales spiel, but I will deliver.

All you have to do is put time and thought into the process of optimizing your psychology. An optimized psychology is an optimized brain and life.

First, you have to learn how to do FIML.

This requires about as much time and effort as learning to play a musical instrument at a beginner’s level. About as much time as it takes to learn to drive a car. Or to learn to play pool well enough to enjoy it.

FIML takes less time to learn than a semester at school, whatever grade. Less time than most job-training courses. Less time than becoming a decent amateur cook. Less time than buying a house or redoing your kitchen.

The hardest part about FIML is learning the technique through reading. Start here: How to do FIML.

The second hardest part is having a friend or mate who is willing and able to do it with you. Sadly, this is a deal-breaker for too many people.

I hate saying this, but it is fairly normal for people world-wide not to have a friend who is close enough to do FIML with. This is the result of so many non-optimized psychologies in this world.

Many people have five or more “good friends” and a loving spouse, but not even one of them willing or able to do FIML.

Their excuses will be they can’t understand it, don’t want to bother, don’t want to be that honest, don’t want that kind of relationship, don’t have the time, etc.

The result is they and you will continue to languish in less than optimal mental states. Moods, alcohol, pills, arguments over nothing, ridiculous misunderstandings, ominous silences, severance of ties, and worse will rule your world(s).

For most, the best relief they will find are self-help books based on generalities, career books about “getting ahead” as defined by more generalities, nonsense about “loving yourself,” low levels of religious belief and practice, exercise programs, etc.

You didn’t learn to drive a car that way. Driving a car requires interaction, observation, the help of another person.

Your psychology needs similar kinds of input.

Once you have learned to do FIML with a trustworthy partner, the practice will tend to self-generate because the insights gained will be real and have real and deeply felt benefits for both partners.

Besides the “how to” and FAQ links at the top of this page, most posts on this site describe some aspect of FIML practice.

For psychologists, I honestly do not see how you can claim to be able to treat other people if you have not done at least a few years of FIML practice or the like. Human interactions without any technique for consistent meta-control and understanding (which FIML provides) are 100% guaranteed to be riddled with misunderstanding and wrong views.

 

Repost: Disruption of neurotic response in FIML practice

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-seated (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.

Foundations of psychology: what they should be

Human psychology should be separated into two basic categories:

  • biological
  • experiential

Biological psychology can be either good or bad. It includes the psychological effects of genes, brain health, health of perceptual and other organs, trauma or its absence, disease, extreme experiences that profoundly affect how the brain and body function at biological levels, etc.

Experiential psychology can also be either good or bad. It includes acculturation, training, childhood development, education, parenting, interpersonal experience, language use, and so on.

These two categories are often mixed together. This affects how we understand psychology and how we treat it or deal with it.

In this post, I am going to ignore biological psychology.

The foundation of experiential psychology should completely recognize and be based on the fact that virtually all human psychological interactions are fraught with error.

After years of studying and doing FIML, I am 100% convinced that human psychological communication is so fraught with error that the very foundation of human experiential psychology as it is recognized in the DSM, in academia, and in culture generally is rotten.

Another way to say that is we don’t even know what human psychology is because virtually all experiential psychology is a dysfunctional mess due to the presence of massive amounts of experiential error in virtually all people, including psychologists.

Our brains are working overtime with deeply erroneous psychological data, producing terrible results.

We cannot correctly understand the human body if all of our specimens are riddled with parasites and disease. Similarly, how can we study human psychology if the data being processed by the brain (and body) are riddled with error?

Even if you have never studied FIML, you should be able to see that humans in the privacy of their own minds are like little zoos filled with shadowy monsters that have arisen due to the plethora of error each and every individual has experienced.

Human responses to these shadowy monsters are varied—some act on them, some fear them, some hide them, some expose them.

But few escape them because you cannot escape them by yourself. Those monsters arise out of decades of communication error and they will not go away until the communication errors have been removed.

You cannot remove those errors in normal psychotherapy. A therapist can only show a client what they are and how they arise.

The client must remove them through a practice like FIML.

Our current understanding of human psychology is largely delusional

Human psychology is formed through interactions with other humans.

In both complex and simple interactions with others, we often are forced to imagine what is happening. This is especially true in complex interactions.

Since what we imagine is often wrong, or wrong often enough to matter, our sense of who we are and who others are is largely deluded.

Humans do well enough in simple interactions involving formal rules. These are our public interactions that rely on the rules of our professions, clubs, churches, workplaces, etc. Even still, we are often wrong about what is happening in these settings, what our roles are, what others are thinking.

Complex interactions—that is, complex psychological interactions—are even more fraught with error than simple interactions. Indeed, they so fraught with error we can say that their very basis is riddled with error. In this sense they can be defined as delusional.

Complex psychological interactions are the principal interactions that form human psychology and our understanding of it.

Very complex psychological interactions that involve a method like FIML can eliminate most error, though even FIML cannot remove all of it and even FIML requires years to achieve this end.

Complex psychological interactions (psychological interactions that do not use FIML or something similar) can only reduce error by pretending they are simple interactions (ones involving formal rules).

These interactions “pretend” they are simple for convenience or to avoid ambiguity and argumentation. No person can develop complex psychology without complex psychological interactions.

Since our current understanding of human psychology is based on simple and complex interactions (plus biology), its basis is fundamentally riddled with error and thus delusional.

Human psychological delusion must be removed (by FIML or similar) before we can even begin to understand human psychology. I would go so far as to say that no psychologist can possibly understand or competently treat another human being if they have not practiced complex and very complex psychological interaction for many years.

The lion’s share, if not all, psychological problems (if they are not biological) are caused by the aggregation of error that comes from psychological interactions that fall short of very complex interactions as described above.

Brain in a box

We put our brains in a box when we adopt a limited view of any subject.

Once we adopt a limited view, it tends to self-propagate, to attract secondary and tertiary views as if the box were a magnet.

This is why so many subjects—both public and private–are polarized. You have this religion, therefore… You have this political belief or personality, therefore…

Rather than converse about the many nuances of any view or topic, most people tend strongly to categorize people, ideas, beliefs, emotions, and so on. That is, put them in a box.

We all do this, but like anything we all do, we are also capable of seeing through it.

An excellent large-scale example of this principle was reported today: Japan very nearly lost Tokyo.

The whole article, which is not long, is super worth reading because of what it says about the Fukushima disaster and also because of what it says about our tendency to put reality in boxes and talk about them rather than reality itself.

From the article:

Dramatic CCTV footage from the plant showed a skeleton staff – the Fukushima 50 – struggling to read emergency manuals by torchlight and battling with contradictory, confusing instructions from their superiors at Tepco. Total disaster was averted when seawater was pumped into the reactors, but the plant manager, Masao Yoshida, later said he considered committing hara-kiri, ritual suicide.

If readers recall, at the time the two main boxes in currency were:

  • the politically-approved box: “it’s serious but not to worry” and “the alarmists are crazy and also anti-nuclear and thus anti-science.”
  • and the alarmist box: “could mean the evacuation of Tokyo” and “nuclear power can never be safe.”

Turns out the second box—the “alarmists”—were closer to the truth. And worse, the important information and discussion of what was in-between those boxes was largely neglected or kept out of sight.

Additionally, the linked article reveals that incompetent officials were in charge of the plant, and that as the disaster unfolded few had any idea what to do.

That’s another box or a symptom of boxes. You donated to me or supported me or are my friend, how about being Japan’s nuclear safety advisor? Sure why not?

This is why:

…”very shocked” by the performance of Nobuaki Terasaka, his government’s nuclear safety adviser.

“We asked him, ‘Do you know anything about nuclear issues?’

“And he said, ‘No, I majored in economics’.”

If you look around, you will see boxes everywhere. A box that was first applied to anyone who questioned the JFK assassination story—“conspiracy theorist”—is one of the most long-lived.

“Alarmist,” “tin-foil hat,” “nut-job,” “kook,” “anti-science,” “anti-religion,” “racist,” “anti-racist,” and so on are other examples.

We should have gotten all the facts about Fukushima at the time, just as we should have gotten all the facts about WMD in Iraq before that war, which may have been caused by acts of treason.

If you asked for the facts, though, you would have been put in a box, your voice silenced.

If you can see these kinds of boxes in large events, they should also be findable in the smaller boxes of your life.

The small boxes of interpersonal communication and individual psychology are things like set views on personalities (yours or theirs), using “signs” about what someone thinks or believes without actually asking them in-depth, being intolerant of nuanced views or not even being able to hear them, categorizing people based on generalities, having a complex view of yourself but simple ones of others, or the other way around, etc.

In many cases, we do need to use boxes. They allow us to function easily in many situations, but boxes only describe boxed reality and in that prevent complex communication and understanding.

 

Metacognitive clutter

Metacognitive clutter is stuff that makes higher mental states not work well.

An individual example might be holding a mistaken view of your role in some organization or activity. Your mistaken view causes much of what you are doing to be wrong and to detrimentally entangle other parts of your life.

A national or social example of metacognitive clutter might be the many dumb subjects and shallow statements required of American politicians. See the following for a more detailed analysis: Semiotics in politics and the totalitarianism of PC.

Another area where metacognitive clutter causes a lot of problems is interpersonal relations. If you cannot speak to your SO and/or closest friends from a metacognitive point of view, you sort of don’t really have an SO or close friends.

In this context, metacognition means being able to talk about how you understand each other and why you think, feel, and behave as you do.

Good interpersonal metacognitive communication produces better relationships, happier people, and healthier individual psychologies.

This happens because good communication removes metacognitive clutter, greatly reducing interpersonal mistakes and cognitive entanglements.

I, for one, do not believe you can do really good metacognitive communication without a prior agreement to do that and a technique that reliably works on small details. See this for information on such a technique: How to do FIML.

General discussions on beliefs, biographies, emotions, philosophies, religion, science, and so forth are helpful, even essential, for good metacognitive communication but they cannot by themselves remove the idiosyncratic clutter that has built up in the mind over many years.

Meso and macro level techniques cannot remove micro clutter, especially idiosyncratic micro clutter which we all have a lot of.

Repost: Microaggression and FIML

I have been seeing a lot of stuff about microaggression recently.

The term interests me because FIML is all about micro impressions.

When done with a caring partner, FIML is designed to correct mistaken impressions or interpretations that often derive from micro impressions and/or manifest as micro expressions.

Anyone who has done FIML for more than a few months surely must be aware that we create wrong impressions of even our most trusted partners frequently.

A wrong impression often snowballs, leading to a wrong interpretation that after festering can be much harder to correct than the original micro impression.

So between friends, and especially FIML partners, the perception of micro aggression can and should be noticed and dealt with immediately or as soon as possible. It is basic to FIML practice that even a single uncorrected wrong impression can lead to serious divisions between people.

In this sense, I heartily accept the idea of microaggression being a thing. In fact, I believe it is such a thing that it happens all the time, especially if you mean micro mis-impressions and not just microaggression.

But the term microaggression means something different from the above, though the central concepts are related. Wikipedia has this short definition of microaggression:

…the use of known social norms of behavior and/or expression that, while without conscious choice of the user, has the same effect as conscious, intended discrimination.

The main difference is “without conscious choice of the user.” FIML is all about being conscious. Both parties being conscious.

If I perceive something in your speech, demeanor, or behavior that makes me think that maybe you are disrespecting me or mad at me or or suspicious of me or something like that, then if you are my FIML partner I am basically required to ask you about it if there is time.

In FIML, the asking is done without prejudgement. I simply ask “what was in your mind when you made that expression or said those words or did that thing.” Your answer must be honest. If you don’t trust your partner to be honest, you can’t do FIML (though you can start trying and see if either or both of you changes).

If your partner answers honestly and you do not perceive an iota of what you thought was in their mind, that part of the event is finished. If when the person spoke or acted they had no nothing about doing what you thought they might be doing, you are done with it. You no longer have any right to further impute your thing onto them.

You can if you want, and this is encouraged, continue to discuss the matter. For example, you might say: “From your response, I can tell that you were not disrespecting me and I am delighted to find that out. That’s a huge relief for me because I have spent much of my life reacting to people who do that as if they were disrespecting me. It’s weird to hear that I am wrong in this case and it makes me wonder if I have been wrong in other cases.”

Then the two of you can discuss that. I know one person who frequently reacts to educated northeast American accents as being “imperious” or “arrogant” when they are not. (Don’t get me started on all the many phrases and attitudes in culture that wrongly limit speech and thus culture itself—“condescending,” “know-it-all,” “argumentative,” “imperious,” etc.)

So, if two friends are having problems between themselves with microaggression, they are prime candidates for FIML practice. Of course, any two friends who are having any problems with micro impressions (all friends all the time) are prime candidates for FIML. (You cannot but have these problems.)

But microaggression as the word is being used today is not something FIML can deal with directly because it is

…the use of known social norms of behavior and/or expression that, while without conscious choice of the user, has the same effect as conscious, intended discrimination.

The important words here are “known social norms,” “without conscious choice” leading to “discrimination.”

I don’t know how to unpack that. From a FIML point of view, my guess is behaviors that could potentially be identified as “microaggression” according to that definition would be in the range of dozens per day per every person in the world. Maybe more.

An example many readers will remember is Michelle Obama reacting to a customer in Target asking her to hand them something they could not reach.

I tell this story – I mean, even as the first lady – during that wonderfully publicized trip I took to Target, not highly disguised, the only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf.

If even the president’s wife can get something so ordinary so wrong, you can see the scope of the problem. In the same interview, the president himself mentioned being “mistaken for a waiter.”

Both later downplayed their comments because they had to. Microaggression is an inherently super-ambiguous term open to a multitude of interpretations every time it is used.

In FIML, we find that micro-mistakes are real and dangerous. They are not ignored but addressed immediately because they can be so serious. Relevantly, in my experience with FIML a great many micro-impressions that I form are simply dead wrong. Most of them are wrong. I can’t enter that as evidence because the world does not have enough FIML practitioners for me to do a study on it. However, I do suspect that a great many micro-impressions of or impressions of microaggression are wrong.

Many of us laughed or thought it was ridiculous for Michelle Obama to bristle at having a short person ask her for help because we all have been on one side or the other of an exchange like that and thought nothing of it. I have been mistaken for a store employee or construction worker more than once and never thought anything of it, except maybe to feel slightly flattered that someone thought I looked like I knew what I was doing.

Another problem with the notion of politicizing microaggression (because that is what the term is about) is whose microaggression against whom?

I have strabismus, lazy eye. Even though the condition has been surgically corrected, I still cannot maintain a direct friendly gaze for long periods of time. This means that many people are led to misinterpreting my micro expressions (I start to look down) as me being bored, tired, or not friendly when all that is happening is my eye is so tired it starts to blur and needs to look away.

I know this from years of experience and because some people tell me what they are thinking. One in twenty or twenty-five people have strabismus. Add in other eye conditions with similar problems and you will get much higher percentages. Add hearing problems, attention-deficit problems, autism problems, and so on and you can include most people in the world having difficulties with micro-expressions and how they are being interpreted by others.

If someone from a different culture or race or neighborhood interprets my strabismus as microaggression (boredom with them or condescension toward them rather than simple fatigue), they will get it all wrong. And there is little or nothing I can do about it.

I even tell people about strabismus sometimes. I explain what it does. They say they understand, but very few of them really do. Only very close friends or people who have similar eye problems understand well enough that it stops being an issue with them.

Moreover, strabismus and other eye problems can lead to problems with facial recognition. So the person in the store that asked Michelle Obama for help may have also had facial recognition problems. I have that problem, too, and I seriously doubt that I would recognize Michelle Obama if I saw her in Target.

So, sorry, I don’t have any really good answer to how to understand microaggression or deal with it. On a personal level with friends or FIML partners, micro-impressions are what we want to work with as much as we can. On a societal level, you can hardly do anything about it. A super-smart person might be able to become aware of a good many of the difficulties faced by people in the world, but even that person will miss many of them or misinterpret what they perceive even if they “know” the right thing to do.

At the abstract heart of the problem there is probably a measurement or resolution problem. Simply stated, no person can ever possibly do perfect microanalyses all the time in all situations with all people. Far from it. Thus, it is a sort of “reverse microaggression” to demand or expect that they can or will or should.

I suppose we can and should become more aware of how complex people are and how difficult it is to know even one other person well, or even to know yourself well. But nothing that I can think of will ever relieve us of the difficulty of dealing with the immense number of micro-impressions we all give and receive every minute of every day.

The power of words and habit formation

How we use and hear words becomes a habit.

A recent study on personal space, reported in Personal Space Is a Fear Response, shows that this fear response can be stimulated by words alone.

When placed in an MRI—and told a person was standing over the machine—[people with normal amygdalae] showed heightened activity in their amygdala; when they were told the person was further away from the machine, the activity returned to normal. This shows, says the study’s leader, Ralph Adolphs, that the belief that someone is too close for comfort is enough to spark the same activity as if they actually are.

You could also say that hearing the words that “someone is too close for comfort is enough to spark the same activity as if they actually are.”

I doubt I need to illustrate this idea as most readers are surely aware that all people have many strong emotional responses to words, gestures, facial expressions, as well as personal space encroachments.

Another recent study, unsurprisingly, shows that forming a habit leaves a lasting mark on specific circuits in the brain. In more detail:

In the basal ganglia, two main types of paths carry opposing messages: One carries a ‘go’ signal which spurs an action, the other a ‘stop’ signal.

Experiments by Duke neurobiology graduate student Justin O’Hare found that the stop and go pathways were both more active in the sugar-habit mice. O’Hare said he didn’t expect to see the stop signal equally ramped up in the habit brains, because it has been traditionally viewed as the factor that helps prevent a behavior.

The team also discovered a change in the timing of activation in the two pathways. In mice that had formed a habit, the go pathway turned on before the stop pathway. In non-habit brains, the stop signal preceded the go.

These changes in the brain circuitry were so long-lasting and obvious that it was possible for the group to predict which mice had formed a habit just by looking at isolated pieces of their brains in a petri dish. (same link as just above)

The study on habits is about mice with sugar habits, but I think it is fair to hypothesize that something similar happens with humans in their use of communication cues.

Humans, in my view, habituate to semiotic stimuli in much the same way that mice habituate to sugar.

The Duke study shows that the stop pathway grew as much as the go pathway in the mice, the main difference being that the go pathway turned on before the stop pathway.

Since human language and its uses is more complex than mice habituated to too much sugar, there must be many more stop and go pathways within the language and communication networks of human beings.

Many of these pathways will be similar among people in the same culture, but many of them won’t. Each human being is a repository of a multitude of idiosyncratic emotional and semantic responses and outputs.

So how do you figure out what your pathways are? And how do you correct ones that aren’t working well? And similarly, how do you figure out your partner’s pathways?

FIML practice helps partners to both identify their idiosyncratic communication habits and correct ones that are not working well. FIML finds and corrects pathways through micro-analysis.

It seems very likely to me that a FIML-style analysis corrects mistaken communication pathways by bringing the stop pathway to the fore. When a particular mistaken response is stopped a few times and under analysis seen to be wrong, the go pathways for that response will tend to be extirpated.

By using words to analyze micro units of miscommunication, FIML partners tap into the power of words to change actual pathways of neurons in their brains, thus reorganizing the deep linguistic basis of habitual psychological responses, no matter how idiosyncratic.