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 they way we use it is not neutral. We assume too much and clarify too little.

There Is No Such Thing as Conscious Thought

Why, then, do we have the impression of direct access to our mind?

“The idea that minds are transparent to themselves (that everyone has direct awareness of their own thoughts) is built into the structure of our “mind reading” or “theory of mind” faculty, I suggest. The assumption is a useful heuristic when interpreting the statements of others. If someone says to me, “I want to help you,” I have to interpret whether the person is sincere, whether he is speaking literally or ironically, and so on; that is hard enough. If I also had to interpret whether he is interpreting his own mental state correctly, then that would make my task impossible. It is far simpler to assume that he knows his own mind (as, generally, he does). The illusion of immediacy has the advantage of enabling us to understand others with much greater speed and probably with little or no loss of reliability. If I had to figure out to what extent others are reliable interpreters of themselves, then that would make things much more complicated and slow. It would take a great deal more energy and interpretive work to understand the intentions and mental states of others. And then it is the same heuristic transparency-of-mind assumption that makes my own thoughts seem transparently available to me.” (Source)


Please be sure to read the whole article. I find in it a great deal of Buddhist thinking and FIML practice. See The five skandhas and modern science for more on the Buddhist aspect of Curruthers’ thoughts.

See this quote from the article for more on the FIML aspect:

…It would take a great deal more energy and interpretive work to understand the intentions and mental states of others. And then it is the same heuristic transparency-of-mind assumption that makes my own thoughts seem transparently available to me.

Curruthers maintains that we interpret ourselves with the same mechanism we use to interpret others. This is where FIML practice is especially useful: FIML asks us to spend the extra time and energy understanding others (as well as ourselves) while also providing the tools to do this.

The two biggest problems with FIML are finding a suitable partner and having enough time to do the practice.

Edit 12:30: Curruthers says:

If someone says to me, “I want to help you,” I have to interpret whether the person is sincere, whether he is speaking literally or ironically, and so on; that is hard enough. If I also had to interpret whether he is interpreting his own mental state correctly, then that would make my task impossible. (emphasis added)

No, the task is not impossible! It can be done with a suitable partner. This is exactly what FIML does. FIML helps both partners interpret all of their mental states more correctly.

This is how and why FIML practice optimizes individual psychology while also doing the same for communication and mutual understanding. They all upgrade together.

Psychology: a fundamental correction must be made

The correction is: It must be recognized that individual psychological health is based on close interpersonal relations and that when these relations are not honest, individual psychology suffers. Most importantly, valid honesty in interpersonal relations almost never happens.

It almost never happens because people do not know how to do it or what it even is. When people do not know these things, they are forced to interact with each other in terms of personas, egos, and role-based or motive-based personalities. People are forced to define themselves in exoteric terms rather than authentic internal subjective terms.

This means their honesty cannot be valid because it is not based on authentic subjective reality.

Sentient beings constantly probe their worlds, perceiving, predicting, remembering, cogitating, planning, acting. Each sentient being is required to check their reality virtually all the time because we have to be sure of what we are seeing, hearing, feeling, doing.

Can I even believe myself? I make mistakes often. How can I be sure of my decisions?

It is a telling psychological truth that if I have a perfectly honest relation with my partner, I can trust her to tell me accurately what she is thinking more than I can trust myself with many of my own decisions.

My individual operating system gets close to flawless data from my partner. And she gets the same from me. For this reason, both of our individual operating systems are freed from needing external references on which to base our interpersonal reality.

We do not need personas, egos, or role-based or motive-based personalities when interacting with each other.

I can get close to flawless data from my partner because we do FIML practice.

FIML provides a deep reality check and degree of certitude that cannot be achieved in any other way.

Honesty in FIML practice does not mean that you have to expose something you do not want to expose. It just means that you are always completely honest when asked about something you said or did in the long moment of real-time now. (And with practice, at any time.)

For example, FIML honesty can work this way: Your partner asks you why you looked down just now. If you did so because you had an intrusive thought, you can tell that truth without telling them the thought. Be sure to confirm that you had looked down and then say, “I had an intrusive thought but would rather not say what it is.” Perfectly good and honest answer. FIML rules require your partner to accept this sort of answer while also requiring you to not abuse this sort of answer.

For other kinds of thoughts you are not prepared to share, just follow a similar pattern. The most important thing is do not deny you looked down if you did. Do not deny the gesture, tone, or sign your partner noticed. And do not deny its significance.

Always tell the truth about both of those. That way your partner will not have their reality denied. Yes, they had seen or heard you do that. The why is less important.

In time, you probably will not need to do this sort of limited response very often. It rarely happens in our practice anymore. We almost always talk both about what happened and why. That said, it does take time to fully believe each other, fully rely on the practice for giving you an accurate picture of your interpersonal reality. This is so because no culture anywhere does FIML or is based on anything like FIML.

When you first start FIML, you are coming from another place, one that has been defined by other people not you.

After a year or more of doing FIML, partners will come to understand that their individual psychologies—their individual operating systems—are no longer reliant on external references but rather are based on their authentically shared subjective realities. By reorganizing their interpersonal relations toward much great subjective honesty and accuracy, partners will also reorganize their individual psychologies toward much greater authenticity and stable integrity.

If the science of psychology can shift its reliance on abstract personality groupings to verifiably honest interpersonal relations and teach people how to form verifiably honest interpersonal relations, a great deal of chaos and tragedy will be removed from this world.

The complexity of communication

A better version of this would have a similar set of circles mostly outside of this set and to the right of it. The smallest circle would be “what sounds enter people’s ears.” The next one would be “what they thought they heard.” The next one would be “how they interpreted that.” The last and biggest circle would be “what they thought about that interpretation.”

It is typically an illusion that the speaker knows “what other people understand,” let alone what they think abut what they thought they heard.

Interpersonal communication is always fraught with ambiguity, misinterpretation, misspeaking, and mishearing, among many other errors. Even very close friends who know each other very well will make at least several significant mistakes in any given hour of interaction.

Even close friends use conformity—indeed, require it—to overcome communication errors which inevitably occur in one or more of the circles described above.

Yet conformity can also be a serious hindrance to deep communication between close friends. This fact is a central paradox of profound interpersonal communication.

Context drives electrical excitement in brain

A new study has shown that:

…after mice formed a memory in a context, the engram cells encoding that memory in a brain region called the hippocampus would temporarily become much more electrically excitable if the mice were placed back in the same context again. ( How returning to a prior context briefly heightens memory recall)

The study is here: Engram Cell Excitability State Determines the Efficacy of Memory Retrieval

I do not believe it is much of a stretch to suppose that something similar happens with humans in virtually any significant context.

Since humans are social animals that respond to signals from other humans and since we often base our understanding of our social contexts on signals from other humans, it follows that strongly-perceived signals coming from others will cause “engram cells…in the hippocampus…to become electrically excitable.”

An “electrically excitable” hippocampus probably corresponds to what we have called a “jangle” in FIML practice. A jangle is the sensation that a psychological response may be or is initiating. It is the subjectively-felt onset in the mind of a “psychological morpheme.”

An instance of FIML practice is properly begun as soon as a significant “electrically excitable” response is first perceived. But before we “get reminded of details of some specific events” (Ibid) that originally produced that response.

Professor Tonegawa’s full statement on this is:

This initial recall could be a general recall of the vacation. But moments later, you may get reminded of details of some specific events or situations that took place during the vacation which you had not been thinking about.

By beginning a FIML query as soon after a jangle is perceived, any unwanted “context” that lies deeper in the brain is not recalled. Instead, the immediate basis of that context (the percepta that initiated the jangle) is isolated and analyzed.

See this for more: Disruption of neurotic response in FIML practice.

In Buddhist practice, a jangle is the second skandha. The five skandhas are form, sensation, perception, activity, consciousness. In modern terms, form might be better called “percepta.” In this context, a form/percepta is anything that enters working memory or consciousness.

For Buddhists, FIML can be understood as a mindfulness partnership where partners help each other with the five skandhas. By disrupting the normal or habitual unfolding of the five skandhas at the second skandha, FIML partners learn how to eliminate mistaken or unwanted responses when they first arise as jangles but before they become full blown psychological contexts.


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.


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-standing (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.


First posted 10/28/2015