A brief outline of the FIML method

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The most basic part of the FIML method is thinking about, talking about, and analyzing judgements as they form in the working memory or as they arise in the working memory from established memory structures already in the mind.

The most basic FIML skill is noticing judgements as they first appear in the working memory during real-life, real world situations. Then the paragraph above.

After a few weeks or months of doing FIML, your mind will operate differently and better than before. Your understanding of what your mind is will be much more realistic, based on real data gathered with the help of your partner.

A major extra benefit of FIML practice is you and your partner will develop deep trust with each other; a trust deeper than vows or emotion alone because it is grounded in an ongoing process that is existentially as factual and objective as you can make it.

This is an extra benefit that also is fundamental to FIML practice. It is “extra” because its development does not depend on anything but doing FIML regularly. The practice itself will reveal the importance of trusting each other and provide you with the means to do that very well.

FIML is one hundred percent win-win. Everybody happy.

first posted MARCH 9, 2021

How the brain processes new information

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A new paper provides fascinating insight into how our brains amass information and organize and assess it in real-time.

The paper—Cliques of Neurons Bound into Cavities Provide a Missing Link between Structure and Function—proposes that “the brain processes stimuli by forming increasingly complex functional cliques and cavities.”

The full intro to the paper:

The lack of a formal link between neural network structure and its emergent function has hampered our understanding of how the brain processes information. We have now come closer to describing such a link by taking the direction of synaptic transmission into account, constructing graphs of a network that reflect the direction of information flow, and analyzing these directed graphs using algebraic topology. Applying this approach to a local network of neurons in the neocortex revealed a remarkably intricate and previously unseen topology of synaptic connectivity. The synaptic network contains an abundance of cliques of neurons bound into cavities that guide the emergence of correlated activity. In response to stimuli, correlated activity binds synaptically connected neurons into functional cliques and cavities that evolve in a stereotypical sequence toward peak complexity. We propose that the brain processes stimuli by forming increasingly complex functional cliques and cavities.

The cliques of neurons that grow and connect in real-time make up the transient “architecture” of awareness as it changes and responds to stimuli.

You can observe a process that seems to fit this description by simply turning your head and looking around. As your eye settles on something to consider in more detail, neuronic cliques will grow in your brain based on that stimulus.

Depending on the significance to you of what you are looking at, further associations drawn from memory and emotion will aggregate around it.

Interestingly, the concept of transient neuronal cliques that grow into larger structures fits very well with the Buddha’s Five Skandhas explanation of the path between perception and consciousness.

This paper also seems to explain why FIML practice works. FIML interrupts the (re)formation of mistaken neuronal cliques in real-time, thus preventing the (re)association of (mistaken) established mental states with new perceptions. If there was no mistake FIML affirms that truth.

By consciously interfering with habitual neuronal cliques, FIML eliminates the false and unwanted psychological structures that give rise to them.

FIML works because large (mistaken) psychological brain structures rely on reconsolidation through the continual processing of “new” information that falsely reconfirms them.

As such, human psychology to a large extent is an ongoing self-fulfilling prophesy.

Here is an article about the paper: Brain Architecture: Scientists Discover 11 Dimensional Structures That Could Help Us Understand How the Brain Works.

first posted JUNE 17, 2017

Philosophical psychology

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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.)

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

Study supports FIML practice

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This study—Neural Correlates of People’s Hypercorrection of Their False Beliefs—supports the contention that FIML practice can produce deep, wide-ranging, and enduring changes within the brain/mind of practitioners.

The basic finding of the study is:

Despite the intuition that strongly held beliefs are particularly difficult to change, the data on error correction indicate that general information errors that people commit with a high degree of belief are especially easy to correct. (Emphasis added.)

According to the study, this happens due to:

…enhanced attention and encoding that results from a metacognitive mismatch between the person’s confidence in their responses and the true answer.

This is exactly what happens when a FIML query shows the questioner that his/her assumptions about what their partner’s thoughts or intentions were were wrong.

Initially, FIML partners may experience some embarrassment or disbelief at being wrong. But since FIML queries are generally based on negative impressions, after some practice being shown to be wrong will typically produce feelings of relief and even delight.

A FIML query will generally arise out of a state of “enhanced attention” and usually further increase it by being spoken about. Incidentally, this is probably the most difficult aspect of FIML practice—controlling the emotions that accompany enhanced attention, especially when that attention concerns our own emotional reactions.

With continued practice of FIML, however, even strongly held erroneous interpersonal beliefs will be fairly easily corrected whenever they are discovered during a FIML discussion. Correcting core false beliefs (mistaken interpretations) has a wide-ranging, beneficial effect on all aspects of a person’s life.

Since the hypercorrection effect discussed in the linked study only occurs during moments of enhanced attention, the FIML technique of focusing quickly on good data agreed upon by both partners can be seen as a way of inducing states of enhanced attention that will lead to deep changes in both partners. This technique (using good data) also turns the discussion from one about feelings to one about “information,” which the study finds makes errors “especially easy to correct.”

Furthermore, since FIML practice tends to deal with very small incidents, the enhanced attention FIML induces works like a laser that quickly and painlessly excises erroneous thoughts and feelings while they are still small and have not been allowed to grow into full-blown emotional reactions.

first posted OCTOBER 31, 2015

Mistakes and communication

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A fascinating aspect of FIML practice is it provides experiential evidence that a good deal of what we say and hear is mistaken. We frequently make mistakes when we speak and when we listen. A major part of FIML practice involves catching these mistakes as they happen and correcting them.

We have spell-checkers for writing and when they kick in most of us calmly–even gratefully–attend to the red lines under misspelled words. In speech, though, very few of us have the habit of even noticing when a mistake has been made, let alone correcting it. In fact, if one is pointed out to us, we might even deny it or try to justify it. Once we say something, we generally have a strong tendency to want to stand by our words as if we meant them even if we did not mean them, or only sort of meant them, in the moments just before we spoke.

What kinds of mistakes will you find through FIML practice? Pretty much any way you can think of to describe or categorize speech will constitute a way that mistakes can be made. A mistake might involve word-choice, tone of voice, pronunciation, a dramatic stance that doesn’t suit you or is misunderstood by your partner, not hearing, missing the main point, becoming distracted, using or hearing a word that carries an idiosyncratic emotional charge, speaking or listening from a point of view that is not well understood by your partner, and so on. Mistakes can and will occur in as many ways as you can think of to describe language and how it is used.

How often do mistakes occur? Often. In an hour of normal speaking you will surely encounter a few, if not more. Many of them are not serious and are of little or no consequence. That said, even small mistakes can have huge ramifications. If I misunderstand your respectful silence as indifference, my misunderstanding could start a division between us that is truly tragic because my mistake (however slightly I notice it) is 180 degrees off. If I see you behave that way again, I will be more likely to make that same mistake again and to feel it more strongly. It is tragic because I am interpreting what is in your mind good behavior as something that reflects negatively on me.

A speech act or an act of listening can lock our minds into a position that is dead wrong if we are not careful.

FIML practice prevents this from happening while at the same time providing a great deal of very interesting subject matter for partners to ponder and discuss. Speech can lock our minds into mistaken impressions, but it can also free us from limitations if we use it to do FIML.

In other posts we have called neuroses “mistaken interpretations” and generally used that definition in a context that supports the meaning of an ongoing mistaken interpretation. A neurosis is a mistake in thinking or feeling that manifests in listening or speaking and that almost certainly originated through speaking or listening. I would contend that many neuroses begin with nothing more than an innocent mistake. Once the mistake is made, it snowballs (especially in the mind of a child) until it becomes an established way of listening and speaking.

Whether that contention is right or wrong, only time will tell. For this post today, all I want to say is that FIML partners can and should expect to notice a good many small mistakes occurring almost whenever they speak together.

Generally, mistakes most frequently occur when we start a new subject or add a new factor to an old subject; when we want to say something slightly different from the norm; or when we want to add a slight nuance or qualification to something that was said. One reason this happens is a slight change in a familiar subject may not be noticed by the listener, leading them to misunderstand what is being said and react in ways that do not seem fitting. A second reason this happens is a new subject often causes both partners to call up different frames of reference, leading to confusion.

FIML will get you to see how common these (and other kinds) of mistakes are and it will help you correct them. As you do this, both partners will gain great insight into how they speak, listen, and perceive each other. Once you get going, it is a lot of fun. I cannot think of any other way to accomplish what FIML does without doing it.

From a Buddhist point of view, FIML can be thought of as a sort of dynamic mindfulness done between two people and using language. It is a very intimate and beautiful way to be deeply aware of your partner and yourself. Those who have practiced traditional Buddhist mindfulness for a year or more will probably find FIML fairly easy to do. I hope that Buddhists will also notice that doing active FIML/mindfulness practice with a partner provides a way of checking each other–someone else will have something to say about what you thought you heard or said. It takes you out of yourself and provides wholesome feedback about the mind you are being mindful about.

first posted FEBRUARY 9, 2012

How working memory works and doesn’t work

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A new study on working memory has some intriguing insights into how working memory works and how it doesn’t work.

It’s widely known that when working memory is overtaxed, confusion results, skills decline, while feeling of frustration and anger may arise. The reason for this seems to be:

Feedback (top-down) coupling broke down when the number of objects exceeded cognitive capacity. Thus, impaired behavioral performance coincided with a break-down of Prediction signals. This provides new insights into the neuronal underpinnings of cognitive capacity and how coupling in a distributed working memory network is affected by memory load. (Working Memory Load Modulates Neuronal Coupling)

A well-written article about this study contains the following diagram and explanation:

This article—Overtaxed Working Memory Knocks the Brain Out of Sync—also contains the following passages and quote from one of the study’s authors:

Miller thinks the brain is juggling the items being held in working memory one at a time, in alternation. “That means all the information has to fit into one brain wave,” he said. “When you exceed the capacity of that one brain wave, you’ve reached the limit on working memory.”

The prefrontal cortex seems to help construct an internal model of the world, sending so-called “top-down,” or feedback, signals that convey this model to lower-level brain areas. Meanwhile, the superficial frontal eye fields and lateral intraparietal area send raw sensory input to the deeper areas in the prefrontal cortex, in the form of bottom-up or feedforward signals. Differences between the top-down model and the bottom-up sensory information allow the brain to figure out what it’s experiencing, and to tweak its internal models accordingly. (Emphasis added)

Working memory works via connections between three brain regions that together form a coherent brain wave.

Notice that “an internal model of the world,” which is a “top-down signal” within the brain wave feedback loop, predicts or interprets “bottom-up” sensory input as it arrives in the brain.

I believe this “top-down signal” within working memory is the reason FIML practice has such enormous psychological value.

By analyzing minute emotional reactions in real-time during normal conversation, FIML practice disrupts the consolidation, or more often the reconsolidation, of “neurotic” responses. (Disruption of neurotic response in FIML practice)

FIML optimizes human psychology by helping partners intervene directly into their working memories to access real-world top-down signals as they are happening in real-time. Doing this repeatedly reliably alters the brain’s repository of top-down interpretations, making them much more accurate and up-to-date.

The model of working memory proposed in this study also explains why FIML can be a bit difficult to do. Partners must learn to allow a FIML meta-perspective or “super top-down” signal to quickly commandeer their working memories so that analysis of whatever just happened can proceed rationally and objectively. It does take some time to learn this skill, but it is no harder than many other “automated” skills such bicycling, typing, or playing a musical instrument.

first posted JUNE 7, 2018

Signal intensity during interpersonal communication

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An important part of FIML practice is understanding signal intensity. That is, how big or strong or important the signal in question is.

FIML practice was designed to work with small signals and works best when close attention is paid to small signals. These “small signals” can be ones you send to your partner, ones your partner sends to you, or the ways in which either one of you interprets any signal at all.

Small signals are of great importance because they can be signs or aspects of larger or habitual ways of interpreting signals. Small signals can also generate mistaken interpretations that have the potential to snowball.

An example of a habitual way of interpreting signals might be a person who grew up in a less wealthy environment than his or her partner. The less wealthy partner may tend to interpret spending or not spending money differently than the other partner. This could manifest as stinginess, being too generous, or as mild anxiety about money in general. Of course, both partners will be different in the ways they interpret signals dealing with money. Their semiotics about money will be different.

FIML partners would do well to deal with these differences by paying close attention to small signals of that type the moment they come up. This is where partners will come to see how this entire class (money) of signals is affecting them in the moments of the lives they are actually living. It’s good to also have long general discussions about money, but be sure to pay close attention to the appearances of small signals.

From this example, please extrapolate to the signaling areas that matter to you and your partner. These may include anything that causes mistakes in communication or anything that causes either partner to feel anxiety or discomfort.

A good way to gain access to this perspective is to also pay close attention to how often you and your partner miscommunicate about trivial material things. Notice how often—and it happens a lot—you misunderstand each other about even the simplest of concrete, material matters. For example, what kind of lettuce to buy, where you left the keys, is the oven off, etc.

All people everywhere make many communicative mistakes in matters as small as those. If we do that in the material realm, where mistakes are easy to see and correct, consider how much more often and how much more serious are signaling mistakes in the emotional, interpersonal realm.

When you do a FIML discussion with your partner, be sure to frequently include an analysis of how big or small the signals in question are—how intense they are. Remember that FIML practice strongly encourages discussing even the very smallest of signals. FIML does that because small signals are easier to isolate and analyze; clearly seeing a small signal often is sufficient to understanding a big habit; small signals can snowball, so they should not be ignored.

first posted 10/01/2012

FIML changes the personality and sense of group allegiance

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FIML practice changes your personality, your sense of self, because the basis of who you tell yourself you are changes. It changes from a static notion/story/semiology of a solid, if elusive, “me” to an active function. The active function, a process of understanding, happens because when you do FIML you interact with your partner on a truly active basis. This basis is mutually agreed upon and admits far more “objective”/external data into your core self-assessment than is possible without FIML. FIML teaches both partners the value of micromanaging their communication and being completely honest about every moment of communication, every “psychological morpheme” that transits between them.

FIML practice changes your sense of group allegiance by gradually allowing partners to shift their sense of allegiance away from the static ideals of an external group to the dynamic, functional processes of their mutual FIML practice, their honest and very accessible “interpersonality.”

For example, if both partners are “Buddhists,” they will gradually be able to shift their understanding of the Dharma from static, imitative notions of how to be to much richer conclusions based on honest interactive experience. They will grow away from their reliance on two-dimensional ideals toward a mutually understood experience of Buddhist truths. Nothing wrong with ideals in the right place and time, but individual Buddhists must advance beyond merely acting them out, pretending they feel ways they don’t. The core of the mind is accessed in FIML practice because FIML accesses core communication processes. An individual all alone can gain many insights, but without the help of a FIML partner how can they check their insights?

Buddhists who practice FIML will find their practice informed by Buddhism at almost every turn, but this is different from modelling a static personality on static Buddhist ideals. It is so radically different, I suspect it is much closer to what the Buddha actually meant and probably a major reason monks traveled in pairs for most of the year. How can you know yourself, your being, your reality, if you aren’t sure of what people are saying to you or how they are hearing you? Not only not sure, but wrong much of the time? The answer is you cannot. It’s not possible. FIML will wake you and your partner from that major aspect of the dream. As the Diamond Sutra says:

All conditioned dharmas
are like dreams, like illusions,
like bubbles, like shadows,
like dew, like lightning,
and all of them should be contemplated in this way.

Psychology recapitulates sociology, and the other way around is true, as well—sociology recapitulates psychology. Groups of people when they are bound by static ideals/beliefs are worse than individuals. Groups like that—and that is how almost all groups are—are sociopathic; that is, the group acts like a psychopath. Individuals within the group may be “nice” to other group members, but the group itself rarely will eschew all “callous disregard for” other groups, the very definition of a psychopath. Even Buddhist groups do this. The only ones that don’t are so small and weak, they dare not.

The same is true as much or more so for all other groups—religious, national, ethnic, gender-based, racial, psychological, whatever. This is because all groups are based on static ideals, which when internalized, reduce the functionality of the individual and corrupt their morality.

Science in many ways is an exception because as a group “science” is objective, rational, parsimonious, evidence-based. In practice of course, the sociology of how science is actually done can be fraught with delusion. Science works very well at a high level of abstraction, but many individual scientists will feel low-grade sociological pressures and many of them will belong to groups that are based on ideals that are very different from science and that are sociopathic.

Yes, I believe all large groups are dangerous and will lead individuals to make serious ethical mistakes. And yet, we have to belong somewhere. It is torture to be all alone. This is where FIML can help greatly. You can fulfill many of your group needs by identifying your core group as you and your partner. FIML partners must continue to be deeply informed by other groups—science, Buddhism, good politics, your friends and neighbors, etc.—but they need not take in the sociopathic ideals of those groups. Go to your temples, enjoy them, do the meditations, participate, but don’t be a damn fool about it. With the help of your partner, you will be able to separate out the dreams, illusions, shadows, and lightning of the Dharma from the profound reality of your actual lives as you are actually living them. You will discover, with the help of the Dharma, the suchness of your actual being, not someone else’s.

first posted DECEMBER 4, 2012

Game theory and interpersonal relations

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Game theory uses models to understand how people interact under predetermined conditions or rules.

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

One way to make a game theory model is to reason backwards from the equilibrium you want. To keep it simple, there are two players.

Let’s say we want an interpersonal equilibrium that is honest, clear, and open to the dynamic reality of life. Here is a hypothesis: an equilibrium like that should also result in psychological optimization, psychological well-being for both players.

To achieve that equilibrium, my game model will be based on the following rules:

  1. communication will be as honest as possible
  2. communication will be as clear as possible
  3. all acts of communication (within reason) will be subject to clarification, revision, correction, and explication to the point (within reason) that there is no misunderstanding and whatever ambiguity remains is reduced to its lowest practical level

To do this, players will:

  1. focus on the smallest practical units of communication because error and ambiguity (which often leads to error) frequently begin at this level; this level includes: words, phrases, gestures, tone of voice, expressions, gasps, laughter, grunts, and so on; anything that communicates; all pertinent semiotics
  2. correcting error at the above level, which we will call the micro-level, ensures that small mistakes do not lead to large mistakes; it also teaches players how to correct errors at meso and macro levels of communication
  3. since human minds are limited in what they know and can communicate, and if players are diligent in following the above rules, players will steadily become more familiar with each other; how they speak, hear, think, what their references are, their values, beliefs, and so on
  4. if they continue to maintain these practices, they will build on their mutual familiarity, eventually achieving an interpersonal equilibrium that is honest, clear, and open to the dynamic reality of life

I have played this game with my partner for over ten years and can attest that it has worked even better than we had hoped.

Not only have we achieved an interpersonal equilibrium that is honest, clear, and open to the dynamic reality of life, but also what we hypothesized has come to pass: this equilibrium has also resulted in what feels to us to be psychological optimization and psychological well-being for both of us.

The rules to our game can be found here: FIML.

Note that initially FIML will upset your normal interpersonal equilibrium, whatever that may be. It cannot be otherwise. Note also that the rules of FIML will help you find or create a much better equilibrium.

If FIML is undertaken in a spirit of exploration, creativity, and fun, it will tend to self-generate or self-catalyze many new insights into your psychologies and how you interact with each other.

The ultimate FIML equilibrium is a dynamic one that keeps both partners open to the dynamic reality of life. With little or no “content” of its own, FIML rules allow partners to adapt to or create any “reality” they want.

Once understood, FIML is pretty much only difficult in the very beginning because in the beginning it will upset your normal interpersonal equilibrium. By doing FIML, you are choosing to change your normal equilibrium to a more efficient one.

first posted SEPTEMBER 17, 2019

A psycholinguistic “process philosophy” combining both theory and action

I just learned the term “process philosophy” and am happy to say that FIML is “a psycholinguistic process philosophy combing both theory and action to both understand and improve what we are.”

Process philosophy is based on the premise that being is dynamic and that the dynamic nature of being should be the primary focus of any comprehensive philosophical account of reality and our place within it. Even though we experience our world and ourselves as continuously changing, Western metaphysics has long been obsessed with describing reality as an assembly of static individuals whose dynamic features are either taken to be mere appearances or ontologically secondary and derivative.

Process Philosophy

Another fundamental point is FIML is super objective within an area of cognition, perception, and belief that has traditionally been inaccessible to objective assessment and measurement.

the fundamental underlying problem of problems is the chaos of interpersonal ambiguity

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race, racism, identity politics, the majority of psychological diagnoses and personality types, all culture, all religions, all sects, all regionalism, nationalism, styles, gangs, gender identities, fads, etc.; all of it grows out of the boiling cauldron of ineluctable interpersonal ambiguity
cast your eyes across the world and its histories, no matter how big or small, no matter which corner of the globe; all of it grows or has grown out of the boiling cauldron of ineluctable interpersonal ambiguity

individual humans, with rare exception, need the external signs and symbols of “culture” (semiologies) to provide the unifying markers and coordinates that (appear) to save them from the fear and angst and madness of being naked in the boiling cauldron of ineluctable interpersonal ambiguity
that’s just how it is. period. no exceptions


the only other option different from all of the above, the only option that will actually save you from the boiling cauldron is FIML practice. did you expect more signs and symbols at this point? more abstract ideas? political solutions? new identities? not gonna happen because none of that works
FIML is a dynamic method that must be used to bear fruit. if you are smart you probably can figure out how to do it from reading enough posts on this website


it does bother me that there is no other way out, no other real hope. yet I am also heartened to know that FIML is not very hard to do once you understand it. if enough people do it, more will follow because the results are extremely good. and from that the fundamental problem of problems will gradually clear up and go away

a note to Buddhists: FIML is perfectly compatible with all Buddhist teachings. you could think of FIML as an addon that catalyzes traditional methods and makes them work faster. FIML sharpens mindfulness and provides profound insight into the deep meaning of non-attachment, no-self, and karma

“This thing they say about me – and it could be not that – but the paranoia lingers…”

The crux of all identity and social problems is right there: “it could be not that, but the paranoia lingers.” This statement lives at the individual level and is something we all face all the time with no exceptions.

The discussion in the video below lives at the general level, filled with abstractions that cannot solve the complex individual problem of constant insecurity caused by constant interpersonal ambiguity. Not knowing what people really mean or think or are intending to do; why they want to be with you or not.

Brittany says it is fundamentally a “trust problem,” which it is but you cannot fully trust what you do not know. And the paranoia always lingers. Political abstractions cannot fix this problem.

Readers who practice FIML will understand that a major cause of all social and psychological problems is individual uncertainty in the face of constant interpersonal ambiguity. This problem can be fixed between a couple of individuals but that’s all, at least for now.

When it is not fixed within a society—and no society has ever fixed it—individual passions rule: violence, psychopathy, dark personality disorders, greed, ignorance, pride, suspicion.

UPDATE: Bret offers some intellectual kumbaya but none of that will deeply change anything. I am not trying to be mean, just stating the truth. The same assessment applies just as well to Jordan Peterson and the entire “intellectual dark web.” It also applies to BLM, Antifa, wokism, identity politics, and much more. The fundamental issue is stated very clearly by Brittany: “…the paranoia lingers.” She also says that this is “annoying.” Yes, it is. In fact, that paranoia is much worse than annoying. It is driving all of us crazy. See this for more: the fundamental underlying problem of problems is the chaos of interpersonal ambiguity.

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.

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first posted DECEMBER 5, 2018

Microaggression and FIML

I have been seeing a lot of stuff about microaggression recently.

The term interests me because FIML is all about micro impressions.

When done with a caring partner, FIML is designed to correct mistaken impressions or interpretations that often derive from micro impressions and/or manifest as micro expressions.

Anyone who has done FIML for more than a few months surely must be aware that we create wrong impressions of even our most trusted partners frequently.

A wrong impression often snowballs, leading to a wrong interpretation that after festering can be much harder to correct than the original micro impression.

So between friends, and especially FIML partners, the perception of micro aggression can and should be noticed and dealt with immediately or as soon as possible. It is basic to FIML practice that even a single uncorrected wrong impression can lead to serious divisions between people.

In this sense, I heartily accept the idea of microaggression being a thing. In fact, I believe it is such a thing that it happens all the time, especially if you mean micro mis-impressions and not just microaggression.

But the term microaggression means something different from the above, though the central concepts are related. Wikipedia has this short definition of microaggression:

…the use of known social norms of behavior and/or expression that, while without conscious choice of the user, has the same effect as conscious, intended discrimination.

The main difference is “without conscious choice of the user.” FIML is all about being conscious. Both parties being conscious.

If I perceive something in your speech, demeanor, or behavior that makes me think that maybe you are disrespecting me or mad at me or or suspicious of me or something like that, then if you are my FIML partner I am basically required to ask you about it if there is time.

In FIML, the asking is done without prejudgement. I simply ask “what was in your mind when you made that expression or said those words or did that thing.” Your answer must be honest. If you don’t trust your partner to be honest, you can’t do FIML (though you can start trying and see if either or both of you changes).

If your partner answers honestly and you do not perceive an iota of what you thought was in their mind, that part of the event is finished. If when the person spoke or acted they had no nothing about doing what you thought they might be doing, you are done with it. You no longer have any right to further impute your thing onto them.

You can if you want, and this is encouraged, continue to discuss the matter. For example, you might say: “From your response, I can tell that you were not disrespecting me and I am delighted to find that out. That’s a huge relief for me because I have spent much of my life reacting to people who do that as if they were disrespecting me. It’s weird to hear that I am wrong in this case and it makes me wonder if I have been wrong in other cases.”

Then the two of you can discuss that. I know one person who frequently reacts to educated northeast American accents as being “imperious” or “arrogant” when they are not. (Don’t get me started on all the many phrases and attitudes in culture that wrongly limit speech and thus culture itself—“condescending,” “know-it-all,” “argumentative,” “imperious,” etc.)

So, if two friends are having problems between themselves with microaggression, they are prime candidates for FIML practice. Of course, any two friends who are having any problems with micro impressions (all friends all the time) are prime candidates for FIML. (You cannot but have these problems.)

But microaggression as the word is being used today is not something FIML can deal with directly because it is

…the use of known social norms of behavior and/or expression that, while without conscious choice of the user, has the same effect as conscious, intended discrimination.

The important words here are “known social norms,” “without conscious choice” leading to “discrimination.”

I don’t know how to unpack that. From a FIML point of view, my guess is behaviors that could potentially be identified as “microaggression” according to that definition would be in the range of dozens per day per every person in the world. Maybe more.

An example many readers will remember is Michelle Obama reacting to a customer in Target asking her to hand them something they could not reach.

I tell this story – I mean, even as the first lady – during that wonderfully publicized trip I took to Target, not highly disguised, the only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf.

If even the president’s wife can get something so ordinary so wrong, you can see the scope of the problem. In the same interview, the president himself mentioned being “mistaken for a waiter.”

Both later downplayed their comments because they had to. Microaggression is an inherently super-ambiguous term open to a multitude of interpretations every time it is used.

In FIML, we find that micro-mistakes are real and dangerous. They are not ignored but addressed immediately because they can be so serious. Relevantly, in my experience with FIML a great many micro-impressions that I form are simply dead wrong. Most of them are wrong. I can’t enter that as evidence because the world does not have enough FIML practitioners for me to do a study on it. However, I do suspect that a great many micro-impressions of or impressions of microaggression are wrong.

Many of us laughed or thought it was ridiculous for Michelle Obama to bristle at having a short person ask her for help because we all have been on one side or the other of an exchange like that and thought nothing of it. I have been mistaken for a store employee or construction worker more than once and never thought anything of it, except maybe to feel slightly flattered that someone thought I looked like I knew what I was doing.

Another problem with the notion of politicizing microaggression (because that is what the term is about) is whose microaggression against whom?

I have strabismus, lazy eye. Even though the condition has been surgically corrected, I still cannot maintain a direct friendly gaze for long periods of time. This means that many people are led to misinterpreting my micro expressions (I start to look down) as me being bored, tired, or not friendly when all that is happening is my eye is so tired it starts to blur and needs to look away.

I know this from years of experience and because some people tell me what they are thinking. One in twenty or twenty-five people have strabismus. Add in other eye conditions with similar problems and you will get much higher percentages. Add hearing problems, attention-deficit problems, autism problems, and so on and you can include most people in the world having difficulties with micro-expressions and how they are being interpreted by others.

If someone from a different culture or race or neighborhood interprets my strabismus as microaggression (boredom with them or condescension toward them rather than simple fatigue), they will get it all wrong. And there is little or nothing I can do about it.

I even tell people about strabismus sometimes. I explain what it does. They say they understand, but very few of them really do. Only very close friends or people who have similar eye problems understand well enough that it stops being an issue with them.

Moreover, strabismus and other eye problems can lead to problems with facial recognition. So the person in the store that asked Michelle Obama for help may have also had facial recognition problems. I have that problem, too, and I seriously doubt that I would recognize Michelle Obama if I saw her in Target.

So, sorry, I don’t have any really good answer to how to understand microaggression or deal with it. On a personal level with friends or FIML partners, micro-impressions are what we want to work with as much as we can. On a societal level, you can hardly do anything about it. A super-smart person might be able to become aware of a good many of the difficulties faced by people in the world, but even that person will miss many of them or misinterpret what they perceive even if they “know” the right thing to do.

At the abstract heart of the problem there is probably a measurement or resolution problem. Simply stated, no person can ever possibly do perfect microanalyses all the time in all situations with all people. Far from it. Thus, it is a sort of “reverse microaggression” to demand or expect that they can or will or should.

I suppose we can and should become more aware of how complex people are and how difficult it is to know even one other person well, or even to know yourself well. But nothing that I can think of will ever relieve us of the difficulty of dealing with the immense number of micro-impressions we all give and receive every minute of every day.

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first posted APRIL 8, 2015

UPDATE 3/24/21: Since I first posted this, the notion of reacting strongly to “systemic microaggression” has gained in popularity. Guys, that is a downward spiral into Hell. Misunderstanding micro impressions that way is to turn almost everything into “fighting words.”

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.

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first posted May 3, 2014