Deception (or truth elision) in communication

To communicate, we often must ignore the truth or falsity of a statement, our own or someone else’s.

I believe it is an instinct to do this; that it is part of our instinct to communicate at all. Communication requires cooperation, an agreement to be agreeable enough to get the message through.

We might call ignoring truth or falsity in communication “truth elision” or “psychological elision.” Elision means to omit something. Psychological elision would mean omitting or not mentioning psychological truths.

We do a lot of truth elision to save time. In professional or group settings it is hard to communicate any other way because there is not enough time to be perfectly truthful and most people will not care. They just want to socialize and/or get the job done, not search for truth.

Most communication is like that. Most messages are not even superficially analyzed. Semiotics glide through our minds without any thought to their deep origins or interpretations. Truth and falsity are frequently elided.

Like all instincts, our instinct to cooperate by ignoring the truth or falsity of many statements can be misused to consciously deceive.

Indeed, we frequently deceive even ourselves by accepting our own statements as true when analysis would show they are not. One way we succeed in doing this to ourselves is by simply avoiding the analysis—analysis elision.

This is where a simple instinct starts to go bad. A basic need to cooperate on the signs and symbols of communication gets twisted into tricking people, deceiving them, even deceiving ourselves.

The way to see this most clearly and to stop doing it with at least one other person is FIML practice. One of my main goals for this website is to show how and why communication goes bad and how and why it harms us. At the same time, I present a practical way to fix the problem described—FIML.

first posted 12/05/18

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Note 10/10/19: I think the above sheds light on false confessions and pretty much all self-abnegating lying on the spectrum trending down from a false confession with legal consequences.

Abusers work these ill-defined and difficult to grasp areas to dominate, entrap, and manipulate others. Narcissists and other “strong” or “clever” dark personality types use our fundamental willingness to cooperate against us.

Gas lighting greatly relies on people’s willingness to ignore truths and accept falsities about themselves. If there is more than one gas lighter at work, victims may even accept blame for things they know with certainty are not true.

As with so much in this world, immoral people put time and energy into fooling those who have not put time or energy into the dark arts.

Buddhists all know about wise compassion. We also need wise understanding of the world and wise cautiousness about the full scope of human motivations.

Our tendencies to go along with falsity can be seen in every part of life, from small corners of our own lives to the great expanses of entire societies.

What limits speech? In a word: Fear

If we consider speech with only one listener and look firstly at the micro level, we find it is fear of wrong word choice, wrong gesture, expression, demeanor, or tone of voice that limits our speech because a misstep with any one of these may transgress interpersonal limits.

At the meso level, it is either fear of offending or embarrassing (our understanding of) the “personality” of our listener or the fear of an actual flareup from our listener.

At the macro level, it is the fear of introducing a largish idea with sociological or career implications that might disturb, embarrass, or anger our one listener.

With more than one listener, the analysis is much the same though the numbers of people make it more complex, until we get to so many people we are speaking to an audience. Then it becomes simpler in some ways because the micro and meso levels will be less prominent due to distance between speaker and audience and there being no clear single target of our tone of voice or phraseology.

On the other hand, an audience’s response can be more complex and problematic because more than one person can become angry at us.

Human beings thus are stuck in a game that is controlled by how most of us listen most of the time.

Stated differently, human beings have magnificent speech and communicative capabilities, but rarely get to use them to their full, best effect because one or more of the many speech limits outlined above will cause us either to hold our tongues or else risk creating a disruption in the mind(s) of our listeners.

This seems like a Big Problem to me. I do not want to spend my life constrained by those rules. FIML can help us overcome this problem but even FIML cannot do it all.

We must also recognize that our very comprehension of meaning itself is grounded in fear.

Game theory and strategic equilibrium

In Game theory and interpersonal relations, I said:

…The end result of any particular model is called its “equilibrium.” Equilibrium implies no one will change their input if external conditions remain the same.

To refine that statement I should add that equilibrium in game theory really means “equilibrium of strategies” or “strategic equilibrium.” And this means that players, each acting in their own self-interest, have found the best strategy/ies to achieve the outcomes they desire.

When there is a strategic equilibrium, players will continue playing the game using the same strategies. And this will produce an equilibrium outcome.

An economic description of sharing focuses on an equilibrium of economic values. A game theory description of sharing focuses on the strategies that produce that equilibrium (which as a game may grow in many directions).

In the interpersonal game of FIML, the best strategy has already been determined. It can be found at How to do FIML.

FIML practice is based on an agreement between players to be (strategically) scrupulously honest in small matters involving only the contents of their working memories. This strategy includes saying, : “I do not want to answer that question right now.”

A very interesting side of FIML practice is either player could cheat by only pretending to follow the FIML honesty rule. Since the FIML game is designed to provide ongoing insights into your own psychology as well as your partner’s, I believe most sincere players will at some point discover that not cheating is by far the best strategy.

I do think many fundamentally honest people will be tempted to fudge their FIML replies for a period of time because that is how we all have been conditioned by our various societies, none of which has ever practiced FIML.

Rather than practice scrupulous honesty in very small matters with just one person, many of us will tend at first to avoid even that minor discomfort, remain the same, preserve our personas, withhold information, and so on. We do this because that is how all societies have conditioned their members.

There are two possible fudging scenarios in the FIML game:

  1. one player fudges
  2. both players fudge

If the fudging player is fundamentally honest, I believe they will come to see that they are harming themself as well as their partner; and that their best strategy is to fudge no more.

In the worse case scenario where both partners fudge, I am pretty sure that in most cases the fudging will gradually be eliminated because:

  1. partners will fudge at different times, on different occasions often enough to
  2. see that the value of hearing an honest reply or speaking an honest reply is much greater than not doing so
  3. additionally, both players will come to see that FIML outcomes accumulate, grow, feed on themselves (self-catalyze), thus compounding and multiplying benefits for both players over time

All the rules and moves and strategies used in FIML are out in the open and known to both players. The good results of playing honestly and well will become very apparent to players the more they play the game.

FIML as described on this website has very few rules and almost no content. In this respect, the FIML game you play with your partner will quickly become unique to the two of you. Not only are you with someone you love, but also you are now able to play a wonderful game of mutual and shared self-discovery. Where is goes, only you two will decide.

For this reason or these reasons, I think FIML could be called the Most Magnificent Game. It has few rules and almost no prescribed content and as such it will draw the best out of both players concerning the world’s most interesting subject: who am I and what the fuck am I doing here?

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What if your partner is a psychopath?

From the above, it should be clear why it is important to have a FIML partner that you care about and who cares about you. What happens if you have a psychopathic or dark triad person as a partner?

A pure psychopath with little or no malice might benefit from the game and even enjoy it. A dark triad person probably will not agree to do the game. If they do agree to play, they probably will not be able to do it well enough to fool you. I do not know what to say about a dark, hostile player who succeeds in using the game to harm an honest partner. I hope that never happens, but I suppose it will.

Players who know they want to be honest and play well would do well to be on-guard in the beginning. For a time, you could honestly conceal any suspicions about your partner with the reply, “I don’t want to answer.” After a time, though, you probably should begin exposing your suspicions in very small matters. You may (very happily) discover the suspicion was your problem and not your partner’s.

If the problem is your partner’s and your suspicions are correct though not certain in your mind, I am reasonably sure that FIML replies and discussions are such that you will gain a great deal of insight into yourself and your partner and that your judgement in this area will tend to lead toward a good outcome for both of you. Either you will be able to help your partner or you may conclude that your relationship cannot go any further.

Advanced FIML

It is of paramount importance that FIML partners learn to use the basic FIML technique described here: How to do FIML.

Even very advanced partners should be using the basic technique most of the time.

This is because most mix-ups are fundamentally simple and/or are based on something quite simple. And this happens because of how humans use and process language. Basically, our limbic system is too closely connected to our neocortex. Our emotional reactions have a strong tendency to overwhelm our capacities for good listening and rational analysis.

Mix-ups are 100% completely guaranteed for all people because all of us have learned to speak non-FIML languages. And even after we are able to do FIML, we will still readily slip back into non-FIML reactions.

It’s no one’s fault. We are primitive beings with poor control of both language and our emotional reactions to it.

That said, advanced FIML partners will find themselves regularly engaging in FIML discussions that may be continued for days and that will refer to factors that lie outside of the basic data described in the basic technique.

As partners progress, they will come to better understand the complexity of their interactions while noticing that some dynamic features between them tend to repeat. It’s good to keep a record in your minds of those features or routines that tend to recur. These are the idiosyncratic dynamics of your Functional Interpersonal Meta Linguistic reality.

Yes, some of these dynamic features can and will be generalizable to other couples, but the mixture of all of them together will largely be unique to the two of you.

FIML is not about telling you what to think or believe. It is, rather, a technique that will help you and your partner achieve optimum communication and mutual understanding with each other.

FIML partners must learn the basic technique and they must use it frequently because all other discussions will require it. That said, advanced FIML partners should also expect to engage in FIML discussions that go well beyond the basic technique in length, complexity, and the factors considered.

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first posted 09/05/12

Buddhism: Advanced Right Speech requires Advanced Right Listening

The modern world has shown us that Ordinary Right Speech too often leads to no-speech, banal speech, or what used to be called PC speech.

This happens because we can never be sure how even very well-intentioned speech will be heard in Ordinary Situations.

Good intentions are not enough to ensure that Right Speech will be heard Rightly.

A second point about the modern world is it has shown us that, for the most part, more information is better than less information.

Rather than guess about something or rely on a neighbor’s experience, we can look it up on our phones and usually find exactly what we needed to know.

If we do not want to suffer the endless pain of Ordinary Speech because we almost never know how our speech will be heard, let’s learn from our cell phones and ask each other how we are hearing, what we are hearing, what we are able to hear or not able to hear.

In my experience, modern Buddhists virtually all respect the capacity for change inherent in the Buddhadharma. The Four Dharma Seals ensure that we are not being stupid when we interpret the teaching in light of our lived experiences.

My guess is virtually all people suffer a great deal due to fraught speech and fraught listening. Either not enough gets said, or we miss our one chance to say whatever it is, or we are misheard, misunderstood, misremembered. Or we do that to someone else.

So how do we make it better?

Since we were all raised in a world of Ordinary Speech where almost anything could be misunderstood, we all need a way to distinguish speech that is better. We need better rules for how to speak and how to listen.

Advanced Right Speech requires Advanced Right Listening.

You cannot just jump into Advanced Right Speech if your partner knows neither what you are doing nor how to listen to you.

If you want to do Advanced Right Speech you have to have a prior agreement with your partner so that both of you know exactly what is meant by Advanced Right Speech and Advanced Right Listening.

In Buddhism, all relative things are impermanent and empty. Therefore Advanced Right Speech and Advanced Right Listening must be based on a method or process, a technique or way of doing something and not on specific, codified formalities.

FIML practice meets all of the above requirements and if done with reasonable diligence will provide Right Conditions for Advanced Right Speech and Advanced Right Listening.

And that will change your life for the better. It will free you from the constraints of Ordinary Speech and you will never want to go back.

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?

Psychology as a feature (and bug) of language

Since almost all uses of language are ambiguous and since this ambiguity can only be resolved sometimes, it follows that whatever is not resolved is interpreted subjectively.

Since such subjective interpretations happen many time per day, it follows that individuals will tend to deal with unresolved ambiguity in idiosyncratic ways that tend toward becoming patterns in time.

This results in what we call “personality.” Extroverts seek to define the moment by asserting meaning while introverts tend to wonder about that or just accept the meaning asserted by the extrovert.

A paranoid person sees danger in unresolved ambiguity while a neurotic person worries and reacts to it.

Having experienced early trauma associated with unresolved ambiguity, borderline personalities are acutely aware that something is wrong and often mad about it.

Besides these rough categorizations, all people are molded by their habitual responses to unresolved ambiguity. Personality is little more than a name for our groping attempts to find or manufacture assurance and consistency in a world where little is certain.

Instead of talking about our feelings or pasts, we would all do much better if we talked about how we talk and how we deal with the ambiguity inherent in virtually all significant communication.

Language itself is neutral as a thing in itself, but the way we use it is not neutral. We assume too much and clarify too little.