Very small decisions and what they show about us

A very small decision I make on many mornings is which coffee cup is going to be mine and which goes to my partner.

The two cups we normally use are the same and I cannot tell one from the other. If I thought one was better than the other, I would give it to her.

What happens is at some point while I take the cups from the cupboard and set them on the counter, I incline toward deciding that one of them will be for me and one for her. This “decision” is so small I describe it as “incline toward deciding.”

As I continue preparing morning coffee, my very small decision about which cup is mine spends more time in my mind. By the time I pour the coffee, I am generally always mildly set on which one is going to be mine for the morning and which hers.

My initial “inclining toward deciding” has changed into my being “mildly set on” which cup is mine. I might even feel a bit possessive toward “my” cup as I pour the coffee.

The main point is that once we make even a very weak decision or incline toward a weak decision it requires energy to change that.

Of course, I do not really care which cup I get and yet I have inclined toward one or decided on one of them. At some point in this process you have to do that.

If I try to change my decision once the coffee is poured and give “my” cup to my partner, I am aware of expending a bit of energy.

The energy required to change which cup is mine is greater than the energy required to decide which cup is mine. I only fell into my initial decision but must climb out of it if I want to change it.

I bet you do this or something like it, too. Just watch yourself and observe it happening. Once you see it, try changing to the other cup or whatever it is you have chosen.

It’s not hard to change your decision but it decidedly requires a little bit of energy. That may be some of the smallest mental energy you will ever exert, but you will have to exert it.

I find I feel a bit awkward when I change my initial decision. It seems my mind is already set at some lower level so the meta-level that  changes that does not have the right networking or connections for the transition to be completely smooth. This is the opposite of the initial decision which seems to have required little or no energy. And has managed to grow bigger all on its own, outside of my awareness.

Notice also, if you are like me, you will happily give your partner the better cup if one of them is better. That decision, too, will require energy to change, maybe even more energy than if the cups are the same. This probably happens because if you change your decision to the better cup (for yourself), you will also feel a bit selfish in addition to the above considerations. This will happen even if your partner wants you to change cups.

So either way—changing between two cups that are the same or changing from the worse cup to the better one—you will need to expend a bit of energy, even though your initial decision probably required none at all.


first posted

ISTB – “I Said This Before”

My partner and I made up this acronym because we like to revisit subjects often, a valuable practice.

When subjects are revisited, misunderstandings can be exposed and corrected, changes in opinion can be voiced, new evidence or insights introduced.

Saying “ISTB” cuts off the horrible default response: “You already told me that…” or the feeling that such a response could be appropriate.

ISTB signals that either new information is forthcoming or the speaker wants to ensure that something—possibly something very subtle—has been understood in the way intended.

It might also simply signal that the speaker feels like saying what will follow for no other reason than that.

We say ISTB by just voicing those four letters out loud.

FIML is a unique speech act unlike any other

A FIML query shines a laser beam of light on a single data-point which has psychological importance for both partners.

In this respect and very importantly, a FIML query is unique among all speech acts. There is no other kind of speech act like a FIML query.

It is philosophically unique, psychologically unique, intellectually and emotionally unique, and linguistically unique.

The main reason FIML can be difficult for some people to learn is a FIML query is a unique speech act, not just a unique sentence or insight or idea. The act of making a FIML query with FIML intent is an act unique in human history.

This is not a trivial point.

It is not trivial for reasons stated above and also for the following reason: there exists no other way to accomplish what FIML accomplishes.

If you have tried FIML and found it odd or trivial or believe it is something you already do, or if you found it frustrating or petty or needlessly opaque, please think again.

FIML is mainly hard to do because you are doing something you have never done before.

Is psychology a self-imposed myth?

Language, and psychology are profoundly entangled. This causes fundamental problems with meaning and communication.

How do we know ourselves?

How do I know you and how do you know me?

How do we communicate with ourselves?

Do we impose meaning on ourselves from outside? Or do we create our own?

Is my psychology a self-imposed myth?

I can import psychological meaning from outside myself, from others, from books. But still, I must own what I import.

Psychological understanding is a mix of owned imports and owned own ideas, a sort of self-imposed myth.

It’s a myth because how can you or anyone analyze the psychology of a single person? How can you analyze and thus know your own psychology?

You cannot do that using psychological terms.

These problems or questions lie not only at the heart of psychology and language but also philosophy.

No abstract outline or explanation or description can let you know yourself. No static network of ideas or words can do that.

Only a method can. A way of talking that expressly addresses what can be known and nothing else.

No one has figured this method out before me (so far as I know) because:

  1.  people have always looked for an external network of ideas and words, rather than the thing itself; the real-time, real-world long moment of working memory, the self in action
  2. people have not looked there because it goes against a psycho-linguistic instinct to not interrupt or question an interlocutor abruptly (enough) about what they just said or did

The method is FIML and it is described here.

This method solves a core problem of language use and meaning; how to use language appropriately and well. At the same time it solves a core problem in psychology; how to understand it clearly.

This method takes time, but will bear abundant fruit. It does that because it strikes right at the heart of crucial problems in language, psychology, and philosophy.

It takes time because people are made up of many parts stitched-together. Many small parts (small enough to fit into working memory) must be identified and analyzed.

This takes time. And that can’t be helped. There is no quicker way to do it.

After many parts (linguistic, semiotic, psychological, memory, sensation, emotion, etc) have been analyzed, a much clearer idea will emerge about what your psychology is, how you use (and should use) language, what philosophy (especially of language and psychology) is.

Do we have an inner child or an inner dog?

Inner child is a widely recognized term that implies the presence in adults of unresolved problems or underdeveloped traits rooted in childhood.

Inner child further implies that full development of the adult requires “reparenting” or “retraining” the inner child as a way of resolving juvenile problems and advancing to full adulthood.

My FIML partner has been studying dog training and last night told me how much she thought effective dog training resembled FIML practice.

In a nutshell, FIML practice trains your inner dog, not your inner child.

For example, to stop bad behavior in a dog—say, barking at cars going by—its human trainer has to know how to intervene as quickly and as calmly as possible the moment that behavior arises. Quick intervention ensures that the dog knows what the trainer wants them to do. If you wait too long (as little as a few seconds), the dog won’t know what you want them to do. They will have forgotten the precise source of their behavior and thus any corrections they try to make will not address the root problem, which is they have interpreted a signal in the world (cars going by) as something they must react to.

When the trainer is calm and friendly as well as quick to intervene, they will prevent the dog from reacting to their (the trainer’s) excessive emotion, be it anger, panic, or an unskilled flustered state of mind.

The same sort of thing happens in FIML practice. When one FIML partner queries the other, the first thing they are doing is stopping their (own) inner dog before it starts behaving badly. They are intervening as soon as they feel their inner dog stir and start to rise from the floor (but before it starts barking).

The second thing they are doing is calmly asking their FIML partner a question about a very specific and precisely identified moment. They are gathering good data on that moment from their partner and will compare it to what their inner dog thought it saw or heard.

A FIML partner is in essence asking, should I be reacting right now as my inner dog is telling me or has my inner dog misinterpreted a signal coming from you?

The dog for much of its life has barked at cars going by, while the person for much of their life has reacted with sadness or anger to their interpretation of certain signs or signals (semiotics) coming from other people.

When you query your FIML partner about a sign that you have been reacting to for much of your life and discover that the sign you received was not the sign they sent, you will be like the dog who comes to understand that there is no reason to bark at cars going by, no reason to rise from the floor at all.

People are semiotic animals more than dogs, so we react very strongly to social semiotics. But we are just like dogs in that most of our reactions to semiotics can be changed without much effort as long as we arrest those reactions quickly and replace them with a more reasonable response.

My partner remarked last night especially on how easily a great deal of bad dog behavior can be corrected if the intervention of the trainer is quick and the dog is shown a more appropriate response. Oftentimes, just a few good interventions will correct the bad behavior.

What are some classic mistakes bad dog trainers make? They try to comfort or calm the barking dog by holding it and telling it everything is OK. That is, they treat it like a child. But all that actually does is reward the dog for the behavior they want to stop.

So if you reward yourself (your inner child) by indulging in childish feelings of abandonment when you misinterpret or over-interpret a sign of rejection, you are actually rewarding yourself for being wrong, for having an erroneous (or neurotic) interpretation of communicative signs.

It is better to treat your rapid and unthinking “limbic” responsivity like a dog than like a child. And rather than reparent your inner child, it is better to use good dog training techniques to retrain the actual semiotic responses that are the real roots of unwanted behaviors.


first posted May 3, 2014

Free energy principle & interpersonal psychology

To be very brief, Karl Friston’s “free energy principle” says that the brain is an “inference machine” or “prediction machine” that uses Bayesian probability reasoning and is motivated to act by an inference seeming not true or “surprising” to it.

More can be found here and here.

The free energy principle is a straightforward way to explain what FIML practice does, how it does it, and why it works differently than any other form of psychotherapy and in many significant ways why it works better.

A psychological “complex,” “neurosis,” “personality disorder,” or “persistent thought,” call it what you will, affects human behavior by being or having become a nexus of thoughts, ideas, perceptions, feelings, interconnected neurons and chemistry.

The same is true for any personality trait or skill, including very positive ones.

In Friston’s free energy terms, the psychological elements described above are surrounded by Markov blankets.

That means they are isolated or protected systems with their own variables. These protected systems (protected by Markov blankets) are hard to change because they have their own sets of rules and habitual inputs and outputs.

And that makes them stubborn candidates for most forms of psychotherapy, especially psychotherapy that requires a therapist. One reason for this is time & expense. A second reason is it is difficult for the patient to change without therapeutically experiencing for themself the complex or trait in real-world situations.

The key here is therapeutic experience in the real-world of the unwanted trait or complex that requires change.

The third reason most psychotherapies are ineffective is very subtle incisiveness in real-time is needed to penetrate psychological Markov blankets.

What FIML does is penetrate the Markov blanket enshrouding a complex with a series of small pricks. Each prick in the blanket is small, but each prick also allows some of the valence (gas) inside the blanket to escape.

FIML slowly punctures the Markov blanket with many small pricks, eventually causing it to collapse.

Once it has collapsed, the energies that were trapped inside it can be used for other things. In this way FIML optimizes even non-neurotic psychology by removing pockets of inefficiency held within psychological Markov blankets.

By using only small pricks to penetrate Markov blankets, FIML allows people to gradually and painlessly see what needs to be changed, why, and how to do it. Since FIML works in real-time real-world situations, even very small insights can bring about large changes.

Karl Friston & the concept of free energy

The following sections are from an article on Karl Friston. Be sure to read the full article, which is here: The Genius Neuroscientist Who Might Hold the Key to True AI.

The quotes below provide a loose overview of the article.

,,,Friston’s free energy principle says that all life, at every scale of organization—from single cells to the human brain, with its billions of neurons—is driven by the same universal imperative, which can be reduced to a mathematical function. To be alive, he says, is to act in ways that reduce the gulf between your expectations and your sensory inputs. Or, in Fristonian terms, it is to minimize free energy.

That’s the most basic idea. It comes from and further explains that:

…Over time, Hinton convinced Friston that the best way to think of the brain was as a Bayesian probability machine. The idea, which goes back to the 19th century and the work of Hermann von Helmholtz, is that brains compute and perceive in a probabilistic manner, constantly making predictions and adjusting beliefs based on what the senses contribute. According to the most popular modern Bayesian account, the brain is an “inference engine” that seeks to minimize “prediction error.”

A “Markov blanket” is that which keeps life forms separate from each other. This allows them to act on individual variables different from those contained within the Markov blankets of other life forms.

…Markov is the eponym of a concept called a Markov blanket, which in machine learning is essentially a shield that separates one set of variables from others in a layered, hierarchical system. The psychologist Christopher Frith—who has an h-index on par with Friston’s—once described a Markov blanket as “a cognitive version of a cell membrane, shielding states inside the blanket from states outside.”

In Friston’s mind, the universe is made up of Markov blankets inside of Markov blankets. Each of us has a Markov blanket that keeps us apart from what is not us. And within us are blankets separating organs, which contain blankets separating cells, which contain blankets separating their organelles. The blankets define how biological things exist over time and behave distinctly from one another. Without them, we’re just hot gas dissipating into the ether.

Living organisms seek to minimize the difference between their predictions and what actually happens.

…Free energy is the difference between the states you expect to be in and the states your sensors tell you that you are in. Or, to put it another way, when you are minimizing free energy, you are minimizing surprise.

According to Friston, any biological system that resists a tendency to disorder and dissolution will adhere to the free energy principle—whether it’s a protozoan or a pro basketball team.

And this is how they do it.

…When the brain makes a prediction that isn’t immediately borne out by what the senses relay back, Friston believes, it can minimize free energy in one of two ways: It can revise its prediction—absorb the surprise, concede the error, update its model of the world—or it can act to make the prediction true.

Human interpersonal optimization parallels or aligns with psychological optimization. Both minimize “free energy” as defined above, thus allowing us to use our brains and energies more efficiently.

For readers with suitable partners and inclinations, FIML practice is designed to optimize human psychology, brain function, and energy use.