Neurosis as a semiotic phobia

Human beings are semiotic entities. We largely live in and react emotionally to semiotics. Virtually everything we think, feel, and believe is built on a foundation of signs and symbols—semiotics.

A recent German study elegantly shows that people with arachnophobia see spiders more quickly than people who do not fear spiders.

The study can be found here: You See What You Fear: Spiders Gain Preferential Access to Conscious Perception in Spider-Phobic Patients. An article about the study is here: Phobias alter perception, German researchers say.

The authors of the study say that there probably is “an evolutionary advantage to preferentially process threatening stimuli, but these effects seem to have become dysfunctional in phobic patients.”

I would argue that “these effects” have also migrated into human semiotics and are similarly dysfunctional. That is, humans perceive some signs and symbols as more threatening than they are. For some of us these signs and symbols can seem so threatening we become “phobic” or neurotic about them.

For example, insecure people may become hypersensitive to signs of rejection. People who have been abused or tortured may perceive signs that seem ordinary to others as serious threats. If the person who tortures you also smiles, you will probably see human smiles as being dangerous when to others they indicate kindness.

Once a semiotic becomes associated with strong emotions, and this can happen in many ways, we will tend to see that semiotic as an emotionally charged sign from then on.

FIML practice is designed to interrupt our emotionally-charged responses to semiotics the moment those responses occur. By doing this repeatedly with the same sign, FIML practice can extirpates the neurotic response to that sign.


Edit: Extirpating semiotic “phobias” or neuroses should be easier to do in most cases than extirpating phobias based on visual perceptions of things, such as the spiders discussed in the linked study. This is likely due to the more direct connection between emotional or limbic responses and the visual cortex. Complex semiotics are signs and symbols built on top of other signs and symbols, and thus their “architecture” is more fragile than direct visual perception and probably simpler to change in most cases. Human facial expressions probably fall somewhere between complex signs and direct visual perception. A good deal of what we call “psychology” are networks of complex semiotics. When a network becomes “neurotic” it is probably true that it contains erroneous interpretations of some or all of its semiotics. That said, a complex neurosis than involves many semiotic networks may be more difficult to extirpate than a straightforward phobia like arachnophobia.

first posted

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response and Functional Interpersonal Meta Linguistics

Functional Interpersonal Meta Linguistics (FIML) is the use of language to understand interpersonal communication.

More precisely, it is the use of language to completely understand real-world, real-time interpersonal communication events.

FIML disables psychological presupposition and framing whether emotional, psychological, intellectual, or other. This happens because FIML only uses data agreed upon by both partners.

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is sometimes described as a “brain orgasm.” It is a feeling of profound clarity and may be accompanied by tingling sensations, pleasant light-headedness, or a sense that the blood and nerves are flushed with a clean feeling.

ASMR is often associated with tactile or sensory perceptions, but a successful FIML event can also produce ASMR sensations.

The pleasure of a successful FIML event comes from a state of psychological disarray resolving into everything being in the right place, all the pieces coming together as they should.

Once experienced during FIML practice, ASMR acts as an additional reward to having resolved a state of confusing communication into something wonderful. It is a pleasure to figure something out with FIML and also it is an even greater pleasure to have that accompanied by an ASMR brain orgasm.

Give it a shot. Two people who care about each other. It’s not that hard to do and will change your life.

first posted OCTOBER 28, 2018

Why We Hide From Ourselves | Nietzsche

Our “true self” or, as I prefer, “authentic being” can be revealed through FIML practice, which requires two people each of whom provides a check on the other’s beliefs about what they are thinking or feeling. Personas are for people who have never experienced their authentic being. Without FIML the individual mind is plagued by doubt, suspicion, error, fantasy, conceits and delusions both pleasant and unpleasant. All of us are raised in conditions like that. Our parents, families, caregivers all were like that. FIML will fix all of it and show that your “true self” is not scary. It is simply not known to you. It is also not a self but a state of being, a dynamic state of being. It is much more complex and also much simpler than any persona. The hardest part about FIML is finding a partner to do it with. FIML is something you do. It is not a static doctrine. I am coming to the belief that the West is failing because Westerners see the emptiness of personas but cannot see the fullness of authentic being. It’s quite possible FIML practitioners are the “philosophers of the future” that Nietzsche wrote about, the “free spirits” who go not beyond good and evil but beyond confinement within fallacious personas. ABN

This is why you need FIML

FIML not only accesses individual word maps but also the maps of all communicative signs.

Here is the brain model of semantic maps.

And here is the study: Natural speech reveals the semantic maps that tile human cerebral cortex.

Here is a brief article about the study: Scans Show ‘Brain Dictionary’ Groups Words By Meaning. From this article:

Gallant says the findings contradict two beliefs nonscientists commonly have about the brain. First, that only the left hemisphere handles language. Second, that the brain has localized regions that handle specific tasks.

Edit: When you frequently access your word maps with the help of your FIML partner, both of you will become much more conscious of how these maps are structured and how they function during acts of communication.

This allows partners to make conscious meta-decisions to change and improve these maps in any way they want.

The meaning held in semantic maps (or semiotic maps) is the very meaning of your life as you understand it.

Not only do your maps form the basis of your communication with others, they also form the basis of how you understand yourself. How you communicate with yourself.

Gaining access to these maps is extremely liberating because it allows a degree of control over your own mind that few of us ever experience.

When we say that FIML has no content, no required beliefs, this can be understood as meaning that FIML gives us access to our own maps and control over them.

What you do with this access is entirely up to you and your partner.

first posted APRIL 28, 2016

An example of a psychological morpheme

A psychological morpheme is defined as the smallest unit of a psychological response.

This term is used in FIML practice to distinguish psychological micro responses from meso and macro responses which are more general and less amenable to change and productive analysis.

There are many kinds of psychological morphemes and every individual has a multitude of them that are unique to them. Some are associated with personal memories and emotions that were aroused in the past. Others are new and arise in the present moment.

Still others are internalized social responses which at their most basic feel almost like disembodied responses, responses that precede thought, that begin creating the world we live in before we even know it. They are part of us, but can be slightly astonishing when we notice them for what they are.

A good example of one happened yesterday. My partner was away on a short trip and since it was a warm day I was working at home in my birthday suit. At some point I decided to call my partner, who would think nothing of seeing me in my birthday suit, but before I did I found myself reflexively putting on a pair of shorts.

I stopped and wondered why I was doing that and realized I was being “directed” by an almost completely emotionless and thought-less psychological morpheme.

Since I was going to speak, I was going to engage in a social act. And since I was going to engage in a social act, some part of me decided I needed to put on a pair of shorts.

This morpheme is interesting because it is so elementary. I was going to speak over the phone, long-distance to someone I have been living with for many years. And yet even still a very weak and basic sense of propriety that I had learned from my culture arose in me and got me to put on a pair of shorts.

It was like a single cold spark. And yet it was strong enough to move my system. It was a sort of “logic” like the logic of a small pattern in sand, or a twist in a tree’s bark. It was “me” putting on the shorts, but the “logic” of my doing so seemed to belong more to nature or a physical process than “my” being.

Psychological morphemes of this type are wonderful to observe. They belong to an almost blank class of responses that work like directional signs that induce us to move one way or another, to do something or not.

Other kinds of psychological morphemes induce us to feel, think, or believe something with no more “charge” than the single small spark that got me to put on my shorts.

Psychological morphemes are the most basic data of FIML practice. They are the small signs that make up the “language” of our psychologies, our minds. Understanding them leads to a rich understanding of your own and others’ behaviors, feelings, and thoughts.

first posted JULY 19, 2015

Semiotics and stress

A common explanation of human stress includes physical stress (heat, cold, etc.), hierarchical stress (low status, competition, etc.), and lack of social support (horizontal communication, belonging).

Supposedly, humans and other primates tend to stress themselves because we are smart enough to have a lot of free time (time not spent gathering food). As the neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky puts it:

“If you live in a baboon troop in the Serengeti, you only have to work three hours a day for your calories, and predators don’t mess with you much. What that means is you’ve got nine hours of free time every day to devote to generating psychological stress toward other animals in your troop. So the baboon is a wonderful model for living well enough and long enough to pay the price for all the social-stressor nonsense that they create for each other. They’re just like us: They’re not getting done in by predators and famines, they’re getting done in by each other.” (Why Humans (and Baboons) Stress So Much)

Sapolsky makes good points but I want to add something to what he says.

Humans are “semiotic primates.” That is, we live as much or more in a semiotic environment as a natural one.

This means that we stress ourselves not just by our place in a natural hierarchy, but also by how we understand where we are, what we are hearing and saying, and what others are hearing and saying when around us.

Since most humans have no way of fully adjusting their interpersonal communication, the semiotic environments they live in are ambiguous, frequently mistaken, sometimes dangerous. Our intimate semiotic environments are typically unsatisfying or stressful because the communication upon which they are based and which defines them is rarely, if ever, optimal.

When interpersonal stress is relieved through one of the three ways mentioned in the first paragraph above, people may exercise more, work harder to climb the hierarchy, or seek out more horizontal support from a club or temple.

Exercise is good, climbing the hierarchy is OK if that’s what you want, and adding social support never hurts. None of these methods will optimize interpersonal communication, however. They are substitute semiotics of a different kind.

The reason this is so is the core stress-inducing problem most people have is poor intimate interpersonal communication with their primary interlocutor.

It’s not bad to think of yourself as having a psychology and a psychological history, but this line of thought rarely, if ever, leads to optimal communication with your primary interlocutor. When we psychologize ourselves, we tend to generalize ourselves and others. We see ourselves as defined by theories (extrinsic semiotics) rather than by the the dynamic reality of our moment-by-moment interactions with the person(s) we care about most.

FIML optimizes communication between primary interlocutors and in so doing relieves some of the most deleterious human stressors by removing them as they arise. If your intimate interpersonal communication is good, you won’t care very much about where you are on the hierarchy.

first posted OCTOBER 30, 2015

Meaningfulness or emotional valence of semiotic cues

A new study on post traumatic stress disorder shows that PTSD sufferers actually perceive meaning or emotional valence within fractions of a second.

This study bolsters the FIML claim that “psychological morphemes” (the smallest psychological unit) arise at discrete moments and that they affect whatever is perceived or thought about afterward.

The study has profound implications for all people (and I am sure animals, too) because all of us to some degree have experienced many small and some large traumas. These traumas induce a wide variety idiosyncratic “meaning and emotional valence” that affects how we perceive events happening around us, how we react to them, and how we think about them.

The study in question—Soldiers with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder See a World Full of Threat: Magnetoencephalography Reveals Enhanced Tuning to Combat-Related Cues—is especially interesting because it compares combat veterans without PTSD to combat veterans with PTSD.

It is thus based on a clearly defined pool of people with “similar” extreme experiences and finds that:

…attentional biases in PTSD are [suggestively] linked to deficits in very rapid regulatory activation observed in healthy control subjects. Thus, sufferers with PTSD may literally see a world more populated by traumatic cues, contributing to a positive feedback loop that perpetuates the effects of trauma.

Of course all people are “traumatized” to some degree. And thus all people see “a world populated by traumatic cues, contributing to a positive feedback loop that perpetuates the effects of trauma.”

If we expand the word trauma to include “conditioned responses,” “learned responses,”  “idiosyncratic responses,” or simply “training” or “experience” and then consider the aggregate all of those responses in any particular individual, we will have a fairly good picture of what an idiosyncratic individual (all of us are that) looks like, and how an idiosyncratic individual actually functions and responds to the world.

FIML theory claims that idiosyncratic responses happen very quickly (less than a second) and that these responses can be observed, analyzed, and extirpated (if they are detrimental) by doing FIML practice. Observing and analyzing idiosyncratic responses whether they are detrimental or not serves to optimize communication between partners by greatly enhancing partners’ ranges of emotion and understanding.

In an article about the linked study (whose main author is Rebecca Todd), Alva Noë says:

…Todd’s work shows that soldiers with PTSD “process” cues associated with their combat experience differently even than other combat veterans. But what seems to be driving the process that Todd and team uncovered is the meaningfulness or emotional valence of the cues themselves. Whether they are presented in very rapid serial display or in some other way, what matters is that those who have been badly traumatized think and feel. And surely we can modify how we think and feel through conversation?

Indeed, what makes this work so significant is the way it shows that we can only really make sense of the neural phenomena by setting them in the context of the perceptual-cognitive situation of the animal and, vice-versa, that the full-import of what perceivers say and do depends on what is going on in their heads. (Source)

I fully agree with the general sense of Noë’s words, but want to ask what is your technique for “modifying how we think and feel through conversation?” And does your technique comport well with your claim, which I also agree with, that “we can only really make sense of the neural phenomena by setting them in the context of the perceptual-cognitive situation of the animal”?

I would contend that you cannot make very good “sense of neural phenomena” by just talking about them in general ways or analyzing them based on general formulas. Some progress can be made, but it is slow and not so reliable because general ways of talking always fail to capture the idiosyncrasy of the “neural phenomenon” as it is actually functioning in real-time during a real “perceptual-cognitive situation of the animal.”

The FIML technique can capture “neural phenomena” in real-time and it can capture them during real “perceptual-cognitive situations.” It is precisely this that allows FIML practice to quickly extirpate unwholesome responses, both small and large, if desired.

Since all of us are complex individuals with a multitude of interconnected sensibilities, perceptions, and responses, FIML practice does not seek to “just” remove a single post traumatic response but rather to extirpate all unwholesome responses.

Since our complex responses and perceptions can be observed most clearly as they manifest in semiotics, the FIML “conversational” technique focuses on the signs and symbols of communication, the semiotics that comprise psychological morphemes.

FIML practice is not suited for everyone and a good partner must be found for it to work. But I would expect that combat veterans with PTSD who are able to do FIML and who do it regularly with a good partner will experience a gradual reduction in PTSD symptoms leading to eventual extirpation.

The same can be said for the rest of us with our myriad and various traumas and experiences. FIML done with a good partner will find and extirpate what you don’t want knocking around in your head anymore.

first posted JULY 9, 2015

The brain as a guessing machine

A new approach to the study of mental disorder—called computational psychiatry—uses Bayesian inference to explain where people with problems are going wrong.

Bayesian inference is a method of statistical reasoning used to understand the probability of a hypothesis and how to update it as conditions change.

The idea is that people with schizophrenia, for example, are doing a bad job at inferring the reasonableness of their hypotheses. This happens because schizophrenics seem to be less likely to put enough weight on prior experience (a factor in Bayesian reasoning).

Somewhat similarly, “sensory information takes priority [over previous experience] in people with autism.” (Bayesian reasoning implicated in some mental disorders)

Distorted calculations — and the altered versions of the world they create — may also play a role in depression and anxiety, some researchers think. While suffering from depression, people may hold on to distorted priors — believing that good things are out of reach, for instance. And people with high anxiety can have trouble making good choices in a volatile environment (Ibid)

The key problem with autism and anxiety is people with these conditions have trouble updating their expectations—a major component of Bayesian reasoning—and thus make many mistakes.

These mistakes, of course, compound and further increase a sense of anxiety or alienation.

Like several of the researches quoted in the linked article, I find this computational approach exciting.

It speaks to me because it confirms a core hypothesis of FIML practice—that all people make many, significant inferential mistakes during virtually all acts of communication.

In this respect, I believe all people are mentally disordered, not just the ones who are suffering the most.

I think a Bayesian thought experiment can all but prove my point:

What are the odds that you will correctly infer the mental state(s) of anyone you speak with? What are the odds that they will correctly infer your mental state(s)?

In a formal setting, both of you will do well enough if the inferring is kept within whatever the formal boundaries are. But that is all you will be able to infer reasonably well.

In the far more important realm of intimate interpersonal communication, the odds that either party is making correct inferences go down significantly.

If we do not know someone’s mental state, we cannot know why they have communicated as they have. If our inferences about them are based on such questionable data, we are bound to make many more mistakes about them.

first posted MAY 15, 2016

The importance of analyzing tone of voice

Tone of voice is difficult to define clearly or control. It can also be very seriously misunderstood.

Nonetheless an algorithm designed by researchers has succeeded in predicting the outcomes of marital counseling with 79% accuracy, which is better than what human counselors predicted.

The study shows that tone of voice is measurable with decent accuracy and thus is an objective aspect of language to a point. I qualify that statement because tone of voice can also be misunderstood and misunderstandings can become habits and/or become serious hindrances to understanding if they are not properly analyzed.

One of the researchers had this to say of the study:

Psychological practitioners and researchers have long known that the way that partners talk about and discuss problems has important implications for the health of their relationships. However, the lack of efficient and reliable tools for measuring the important elements in those conversations has been a major impediment in their widespread clinical use. These findings represent a major step forward in making objective measurement of behavior practical and feasible for couple therapists. (Source)

Note the line: “…the lack of efficient and reliable tools for measuring the important elements in those conversations has been a major impediment in their widespread clinical use…”

This is good news for clinics, but what do you do at home years before you need to seek counseling for a rocky marriage?

What you can do is analyze at home using FIML techniques.

When FIML partners focus on analyzing tone of voice long before they are experiencing problems in their relationship, I am confident most of them will not develop problems, and surely most will never develop problems related to tone of voice.

Tone of voice is accessible to rational analysis and understanding if partners make FIML-type agreements to do so. Besides avoiding marital discord, FIML analyses provide many other insights into the idiosyncrasies of partners’ unique relationships and circumstances.

The study can be found here: Still Together?: The Role of Acoustic Features in Predicting Marital Outcome.

An article about the study can be found here: Words can deceive, but tone of voice cannot.

first posted NOVEMBER 26, 2015

Why you can’t fix it with generalities

Psychological, cognitive, emotional, or communicative problems cannot be fundamentally corrected by using general analyses or generalized procedures. You can teach someone to think and see differently, even to behave differently, by such procedures, but you cannot bring about deep change by using them. The reason this is so is change through generalizations does little more than substitute one external semiosis for another. The person seeking change will not experience deep change because all they are essentially doing is importing a different explanation of their “condition” into their life.

This happens with Buddhists who remain attached to surface meanings of the Dharma as well as to people seeking mainstream help for emotional problems. Any change will feel good for a while in most cases, but after some time stasis and a recurrence of the original problem, or something similar to it, will occur. You cannot become enlightened by importing someone else’s ideas. You cannot achieve deep transformation by replacing one inculcated semiosis with another. You cannot find your authentic “self” by using the static ideas of others.

The way around this problem is to use a technique that is at its core entirely dynamic. Buddhist mindfulness, which stresses attentiveness in and to the moment, is a dynamic technique. The problem with this technique in the modern world is it is not well-suited to the cacophony of signs and symbols that surround us almost all the time. Mindfulness too often entails being mindful of a cultural semiosis that is itself a tautology, a trap that does not contain within itself an obvious exit.

Mindfulness coupled with FIML practice overcomes this problem because the interactive dynamism of FIML gives partners a tool that strengthens mindfulness while at the same time affording them the opportunity to observe in the moment how their habitual semiosis operates, and why it operates that way. FIML gives partners the means to create a rational leverage-point that they can both share and use to grapple with neurotic issues that have always eluded generalized treatments.

FIML does not tell partners how to be or what to think. It describes nothing more than a technique that gives partners access to their deep “operating systems.” If you hack your “operating system” with FIML practice, you will find that you are able to eliminate neuroses (kleshas in Buddhist terms) and replace them with a semiosis (subculture) of your and your partner’s own choosing. To do FIML, partners must have a deep ethical, emotional, and intellectual commitment to each other, but it is important to recognize that these are not static or generalized ideas. They are dynamic principles upon which the transformational behaviors of FIML are built.

first posted APRIL 26, 2012

FIML and ‘sins of omission’

By “sin of omission” I mean refraining from doing a FIML query because you feel it will be too much trouble, seem contentious, take too long, expose a failing or weakness in yourself, hurt your partner’s feelings, and so on.

Some time ago we came up with the slogan: “It is always cheaper to do a FIML query than not do one.” This slogan is meant to help us guard against “sins of omission.”

If you refrain from saying something because you are afraid it will cause one of the problems mentioned above, you are right there causing a worse kind of problem in that you are assuming something about your partner that may not be (probably isn’t) true.

Even worse, you are refraining from informing your partner that you have concluded that some kinds of speech acts are not safe or pleasant to engage in with them.

It would be far, far cheaper for both you and your partner to deal with whatever you think the problem is the moment it arises.

This is so because small matters are much easier for us to understand and deal with than large matters. When we deal with small matters as they arise in normal conversation,we are doing at least two very important things: 1) we are dealing with the matter and its ramifications and 2) we are learning something very important about how we speak.

FIML changes the way we think not just what we think. If we fully understand that our understandings of each other can be very far off and if we fully understand how serious these misunderstandings can become, we no longer will see discussing minor mix-ups as a waste of time or something to be avoided.

I saw a post the other day by a beginning Buddhist who was confused about his mindfulness practice. He asked: “Every time I try to be mindful, my mind seems to fill with thoughts, words, and feelings. How do I stop that?”

Mindfulness is about being clear about what your mind is really doing. It’s not about pretending you have an ideal mind, or acting as if you do. If that Buddhist has a partner and if they both do FIML, they will experience the value of mindfulness in a very direct and beneficial way.

Human languages have evolved within violent hierarchical social systems that exploit our normally poor abilities to understand each other.

FIML practice allows us to be mindful of these limitations and go beyond them to achieve real understanding with our partner. The deep reward of FIML practice lies in that and in the profound feeling of resolution you will reach with your partner each and every time you carry a FIML discussion through to a mutually satisfying resolution.

first posted JUNE 15, 2012

Philosophical psychology

Are your thought patterns valid? Are your premises true? Is your mind sound?

Buddhism further asks are your mental states wholesome? Are they conducive to enlightenment, wisdom, freedom from delusion?

There are many things we can do while alone to clean up our thought processes. And there are some things we can only do with the help of another person.

Only another person can tell us if our premises, thoughts, and conclusions (however tentative) about them are true, valid, and sound.

Buddhism has a concept of a “spiritual friend,” a “good friend,” a noble friend,” or an “admirable friend.” All of these terms are translations of the Pali Kalyāṇa-mittatā, which is well-explained at that link. (Chinese 善知識). That link is well-worth reading in full.

From the link above and from many years of working with Buddhist literature and people, my sense is that a Buddhist “good friend” is someone who is to be admired and emulated. They are similar to what we mean today by mentors or “good role models.”

I deeply respect the concept of a Buddhist good friend, but find it lacks what I consider the preeminent virtue of philosophical psychology—real-time honesty based on a teachable technique.

Indeed, I cannot find anything anywhere in world philosophy, religion, or literature that provides a teachable technique for attaining real-time honesty with another person.

I also do not quite understand how this could be.

For many centuries human beings have thought about life but no one has come up with a technique like FIML?

How can that be?

I do not see a technique like FIML anywhere in the history of human philosophy nor anywhere in modern psychology.

The importance of a “good friend” who does FIML with you cannot be overemphasized because it is only through such a friend that you can discover where your premises about them are right or wrong, where your thoughts about them are valid or not, and through those discoveries where your mind itself is arranged soundly or not.

first posted MAY 30, 2017

UPDATE 12/14/23: Buddhists can and should make Buddhist practice their own, update or improve the practice with new ideas that are sound, valid, and true. This is a very positive and excellent side of Buddhism, which is not written in stone. Buddhism is preeminently a mind-to-mind teaching. It does not depend on ancient texts or the absolute interpretation of words. It depends on fulsome understanding of the deep truths at the core of all Buddhist thinking—impermanence, emptiness, and nirvana. Anything that is consonant with those three truths and conforms to Buddhist morals is good Buddhism. Anything that contradicts those three truths and/or Buddhist morals is not Buddhism.

The Buddha encouraged teaching the Dharma in people’s native languages. He discouraged writing his teachings down because he did not want them to become sacred texts that people worshipped rather than understood. FIML practice is an efficient, detailed, sound, and accurate way for “good friends” to deeply share mind-to-mind communion/communication with each other. In this sense, it is excellent Buddhist practice. FIML has no other teaching than how to communicate really well with a good friend. FIML does not tell you what to think or believe. Anyone can do it. ABN

FIML and Symbolic Interaction Theory

Symbolic Interaction Theory, also called symbolic interactionism, provides the best large-scale framework I have found so far for explaining FIML practice.

Three basic premises of symbolic interactionism are:

  • “Humans act toward things on the basis of the meanings they ascribe to those things.”
  • “The meaning of such things is derived from, or arises out of, the social interaction that one has with others and the society.”
  • “These meanings are handled in, and modified through, an interpretative process used by the person in dealing with the things he/she encounters.”

These basic premises have been taken from the Wikipedia article linked above. I tend to agree with most of the general framework, as I understand it, of symbolic interactionism and believe that FIML practice can reasonably be understood as a method that can fit fairly comfortably within that framework.

FIML differs from symbolic interactionism in that FIML is much more a form of interpersonal psychotherapy than a sociological theory. FIML is a communication technique that focuses on meaning as it arises and is apprehended during short periods of time. FIML’s focus on very small units of interpersonal communication is what allows partners to understand how their sense of meaning intertwines with their emotional responses.

From a FIML point of view, society does not appear very well structured in many of its contexts, especially interpersonal contexts involving emotions, friendship, and intimate bonding. From this point of view, a great deal of social structure appears to be a substitute for authentic interaction between individual minds.

FIML seems also to show that a great deal of human suffering arises from the paucity of meaning that can be exchanged between individuals in most social contexts. Indeed, even in intimate contexts, most individuals, if not all of them, have great difficulty in attaining profound mutual understanding. This happens because our perceptions of our selves and others—due to how we use language and semiotics—are too crude and vague to allow for communicative complexity equal to the complexity of our minds/brains.

FIML corrects this problem by focusing on the details of interpersonal communication. Incidentally, FIML theory/practice can be falsified by having many couples do FIML practice and measuring the results. A criticism of symbolic interactionism is that it is not falsifiable. FIML differs from symbolic interactionism in that it is a practical technique that uses objective data (agreed upon by both partners) to optimize communication and improve psychological well-being.

I am pretty sure I will have more to say about symbolic interactionism in the days to come. A friend just sent me the article linked above, so I put down a few thoughts after one reading. FIML partners may find that symbolic interactionism helps with a general understanding of FIML practice.

first posted JUNE 26, 2014

UPDATE 01/13/22: The Wikipedia page has been updated since the excerpt above. I found this update interesting:

[Symbolic interactionism] is a framework that helps understand how society is preserved and created through repeated interactions between individuals. The interpretation process that occurs between interactions helps create and recreate meaning. It is the shared understanding and interpretations of meaning that affect the interaction between individuals. Individuals act on the premise of a shared understanding of meaning within their social context. Thus, interaction and behavior is framed through the shared meaning that objects and concepts have attached to them. From this view, people live in both natural and symbolic environments.

I agree with this and would add that the the shared understanding and interpretations of meaning that affect the interaction between individuals occurs all-importantly and very profoundly on the level of intimate interpersonal relationships. What FIML does is discover, foster, and create a much more accurate shared understanding and interpretations of meaning between FIML partners. The benefit of this is enormous since it has an extremely profound effect on individual psychology and all other shared understanding and interpretations of meaning encountered in society everywhere. ABN

Big mistake: We often own what we didn’t mean

A fascinating study from Sweden confirms something that FIML practice has shown us to be a fairly common occurrence and a potential source of serious interpersonal problems.

In FIML terms, the mistake is that we own something we didn’t mean. Or we take on an attitude, mood, or belief that we did not hold after we have been misheard or misunderstood.

In the study from Lund University in Sweden—How to confuse a moral compass—researchers found that:

People can be tricked into reversing their opinions on moral issues, even to the point of constructing good arguments to support the opposite of their original positions…

I was not surprised at all to read that because FIML practice has clearly shown my partner and me that it is really easy to fall into the trap of owning what your partner erroneously thinks you meant.

Continue reading “Big mistake: We often own what we didn’t mean”

Fabula and semiotics

Fabula are “the raw material of a story or narrative.”

I want to borrow this term to denote the raw material of a purposive conversation. For example, if I say to my partner that I want to have a salad for dinner, the notion or idea of that salad is a fabula that we can now discuss.

Our discussion of this as yet non-existent salad, this salad fabula, will include particular items, acts, and visualizations. For example, I may want sliced tomatoes in the salad, my partner may mention some olives in the refrigerator. We may both visualize our salad bowl and kitchen while we decide who does what.

Before the salad is made it is a fabula. The particular elements that go into getting the salad made while they are still only in our minds are semiotic elements.

In this sense, semiotics can be defined as the units or parts of a conversational fabula. We use these semiotics to discuss how to make what kind of salad.

We do the same thing with virtually all other conversational subjects. That is, we declare or grope toward determining what our fabula is and use semiotics to further clarify our vision of it. While doing this, ideally, we will remain open to real-time alterations and misunderstandings about both the fabula and the semiotics.

In these terms, most reasonable (and many unreasonable) conversations can be understood as two (or more) people negotiating* the “meanings” of their imperfectly shared fabula and semiotics. The fabula is a sort of context that defines the semiotics used in the discussion of it.

When the conversation is about salads, much of the process of going from a salad fabula to a real salad is straightforward and unproblematical.

When a conversation is about matters that are more ambiguous, subjective, emotional, or existential, there may be more problems because the fabula often will not be as clear as a salad to both parties. Or if it is, it may lead parties to quickly cleave to cliches or obvious explanations, thus limiting fresh responses or creative insights.

FIML practice can fix these problems by getting partners to clarify their fabula while also allowing them to alter it, or even change it entirely, as their discussion progresses.

The same is true at a different level for the semiotics they employ in their discussion. With FIML practice these semiotics often can be adjusted and clarified as soon as diverging understanding is noticed in either person’s mind.

Even if diverging understandings persist for some time, experienced FIML partners will be better prepared notice them when the opportunity arises.

A more complex example of this is an ongoing discussion my partner and I have had for several years. The basic discussion involves a strong reaction I sometimes have to cosmetic surgery. I admit that my reaction can be irrational and I can’t quite explain it. My partner frequently makes the point that I do like cosmetic surgery as long as I don’t notice it and/or like the results. We have gone back and forth on this quite a few times without ever getting a really good resolution, until a few days ago. The core problem had been that I do dislike the idea of cosmetic surgery, period. And also, I do recognize that it can be necessary and that if I like the results, I may be able to accept it even when it is not necessary.

We had never been involved in a simple dichotomy—like versus don’t like—but we both had been speaking as if we were. This was mostly my fault as I sometimes expressed revulsion at some forms of cosmetic surgery, but it was also not true that I actually liked the surgery if I liked the results or didn’t notice it.


*I mean the word negotiating not so much as making a deal but more as negotiating a narrow foot bride across a stream or negotiating a turn in an automobile. Negotiation in this sense is an effort between two or more people to make many small adjustments to arrive at a mutually satisfying result, the “meaning” of which is understood in roughly the same way by all parties.

first posted JANUARY 8, 2014

UPDATE 12/12/23: Wow, did I have a huge misunderstanding of a conversational fabula last night. I had trouble falling asleep over it and woke up ruminating on it. My partner is a genius and all I did was bring it up and describe exactly what I had thought and within minutes, everything was cleared up. I can’t go into it because it is too complex. But I can say that this kind of mistake is what causes neurosis, emotional agony, even mental illness. This is the kind of mistake FIML was designed to correct. Usually, FIML mistakes are small and involve semiotics but a huge fabula mistake is always possible, as I saw very clearly over the past 12 hours. I cannot thank my partner enough for having such deep understanding of me, herself, and what we had been talking about and how we generally talk. FIML is a profound training exercise. If you have ever gotten anything from this site (or not), please try FIML. It is by far the best unique thing I have to offer. ABN