Micro, meso, and macro levels of human understanding

This post is concerned with the micro, meso, and macro levels of existential semiotics and communicative thought, and how those levels affect human understanding.

  • Micro levels are very small units of thought or communication. These can be words, phrases, gestures, etc. and the “psychological morphemes” that accompany them. A psychological morpheme is the smallest unit of an emotional or psychological response.
  • Meso levels lie between macro and micro levels. Longer discourse, a sense that people have personalities or egos, and the basic ideas of any culture appear at this level.
  • Macro levels are the larger abstract levels that sort of stand above the other two levels. Macro levels might include religious or scientific beliefs, political ideologies, long-term personal goals or strategies.

Most people most of the time socialize on the meso level, often with support from shared macro level beliefs or aims. For most people, the broad outlines of most emotions are defined and conditioned at the meso level. This is the level where the nuts and bolts of convention are found. This is the level that tosses the beach balls of conversation back and forth across the dinner table and that defines those balls. The meso level defines our subculture and how well or badly we conform to it. The meso level is necessary for much of social life and sort of fun, though it is by definition not very detailed or profound. It is something most people can agree on and work with fairly easily for an hour or two at a time.

Many people define themselves mainly on the meso level and judge others by their understanding of this level. Many subcultures become stifling or cloying because meso definitions are crude and tend to leave out the rich subjectivity of individuals. Macro definitions are not all that different from meso ones except that they tend to define group feelings more than meso definitions. Groups band together based on macro level assumptions about ideologies, science, religion, art, style, location, ethnicity, etc.

Since most people are unable to fully access micro levels of communication the rich subjectivity of the individual mind is rarely, if ever, communicated at all and almost never communicated well.

In other fields, micro levels are all important. For example, the invention of the microscope completely changed the way humans see and understand their world. All that was added by the microscope was greater resolution and detail in the visual sphere. From that arose germ theory, material sciences, modern biology, modern medicine, and much more.

Micro levels of communication are basic to how we understand ourselves and others. Poor micro communication skills consign us to communication that occurs only at meso or macro levels. This is a problem because meso and macro levels do not have sufficient detail and also because meso and macro levels become the only tools we have to decide what is going on. When we are forced to account for micro details with the crude tools of meso thought, we will make many mistakes. Eventually we become like the long-term cigarette-smoker whose (micro) alveoli have collapsed, destroying full use of the lungs.

Without the details of the microscope, people for millennia happily drank germ infested water. Without a way to resolve micro levels of communication, people today, as in the past, happily ingest multitudes of micro error—errors that make them ill.

Micro communication errors make us sick because we make many serious mistakes on this level and also because our minds are fully capable of comprehending the sort of detail we can find at the micro level. We speak and listen on many interpersonal levels like crude beasts when we are capable of very delicate and refined understanding.

FIML or a technique similar to it provides a method for grasping micro details. Doing FIML for a long time is like spending a long time using a microscope or telescope. You will start to see everything differently. Detailed micro analyses of interpersonal communication changes our understanding of micro communication and also both the meso and macro levels of existential semiotics and communicative thought. Microscopes allowed us to see germs in water and also to understand that some of those germs can kill us.


First posted 12/04/2014


Memory reconsolidation as key to psychological transformation

I’ll probably have more to say on this subject, but for now let me just say I am delighted to have found a psychotherapy that is highly compatible with FIML practice.

Indeed this psychotherapy is based on the same principles as FIML, though the approach is different.

In FIML unwanted psychological reactions are discovered in real-world, real-time situations with a partner.

In Coherence Therapy—the psychotherapy I just discovered—unwanted psychological reactions are called schemas. Schemas are transformed through memory reconsolidation in a way that is theoretically very similar to FIML practice.

Here is a video that explains the process of memory reconsolidation that is achieved through Coherence Therapy:


Coherence Therapy (CT) requires a therapist, while FIML does not.

In a nutshell, CT uses three steps (as described in the video) to achieve results. I will list them below in bold font and explain briefly how FIML differs and is also very similar.

1) CT: Reactivate the target schema as a conscious emotional experience. This is done with the help of a therapist.

FIML: In FIML, harmful or unwanted schemas are encountered in real-life with a participating partner. No therapist is needed, though prior training in the technique is helpful.

2) CT: Guide a contradictory experience. This juxtaposition unlocks (de-consolidates) the target schema’s memory circuits. (“Mismatch”/”prediction error” experience)

FIML: The “contradictory experience” is discovered in real-life through the FIML query. The partner’s answer to the FIML query provides the “juxtaposition” that unlocks or de-consolidates the encountered schema. In FIML, we have been calling this process the discovery and correction of a contretemps or mix-up.

3) CT: Repeat contradictory experience in juxtaposition with target schema. This rewrites and erases target schema.

FIML: Repetition of the contradictory experience happens in real-life whenever it next happens if it happens again. Generally, most schema or unwanted reactions are corrected within 5-10 recurrences. Serious unwanted schemas may take more repetitions.

Since CT uses a therapist as a guide, it is better than FIML for very serious problems and for people who are unable to find a partner to do FIML with.

Since FIML does not use a therapist, it is better for dealing with a very broad range of many unwanted schemas, not just the most serious.

I am quite sure that CT will be very effective for many kinds of psychological agony. If a problem is acute, I would recommend CT based on my experience with FIML.

A shortcoming of FIML is it requires a caring partner and the transformations it induces are generally all induced in the presence of that partner. Much good comes of that and most transformations can be extrapolated to other people and other situations, but for serious problems like panic or deep anxiety, an CT therapist may be more helpful.

FIML is best for two people who want to optimize their psychologies. Partners will discover and correct many unwanted schemas and many bad communication habits.

If you can understand CT, you should be able to do FIML. If you have already done CT and had good results and now you want to go further and optimize your psychology, FIML will help you do that.

I believe the core theory of CT is sound. If that is so, it should be clear that bad schemas arise constantly in life. We start new ones all the time. Bad schemas are like trash that inevitable accumulates and must be cleaned away. FIML does this job very well.

Here is more on memory reconsolidation, which underlies CT: A Primer on Memory Reconsolidation and its psychotherapeutic use as a core process of profound change.

More on FIML can be found at the top of this page and in most posts on this site.

Fourth wave cognitive behavior therapy

The third wave of cognitive behavior therapy is a general term for a group of psychotherapies that arose in the 1980s, inspired by acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).

To me, third wave therapies seem more realistic than older therapies because they accept emotions as they are and pay close attention to how they function in the moment.

The link above is well-worth reading. The frames of these therapies are also well-worth considering.

FIML, which I am calling a “fourth wave cognitive behavior therapy,” differs from third wave therapies in that FIML does not use a professional therapist. Instead, partners become their own therapists.

Moreover, how FIML partners frame their psychologies or generalize their behaviors is entirely up to them. Similarly, their psychological goals and definitions are entirely in their own hands.

At its most basic, FIML “removes wrong interpretations of interpersonal signs and symbols from the brain’s semiotic networks.”

This process of removal, in turn, shows partners how their minds function in real-time real-world situations. And this in turn provides the tools and perspectives to reorganize their psychologies in whichever ways they like.

FIML is based on semiotics because semiotics are specific and with practice can be clearly identified and understood. They give partners “solid ground” to stand on. Words, tone of voice, gestures, and facial expressions are some of the major semiotics partners analyze.

Using real-world semiotics as an analytical basis frees FIML from predetermined frameworks about personality or what human psychology even is. With the FIML tool, partners are free to discover whatever they can about how their minds communicate interpersonally (and internally) and do whatever they like with that.


First posted 12/21/17

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.