Mindfulness and error recognition

Mindfulness practices improve our ability to recognize error.

A recent study shows this by monitoring brain activity with an EEG.

The EEG can measure brain activity at the millisecond level, so we got precise measures of neural activity right after mistakes compared to correct responses. A certain neural signal occurs about half a second after an error called the error positivity, which is linked to conscious error recognition. We found that the strength of this signal is increased in the meditators relative to controls,” said Jeff Lin, co-author of the study linked just below. [emphasis mine](link to quote: How meditation can help you make fewer mistakes)

The study is here: On Variation in Mindfulness Training: A Multimodal Study of Brief Open Monitoring Meditation on Error Monitoring.

Few Buddhists will be surprised at the general findings of this study.

Error recognition is what first got me to read about this study.

The findings became even more interesting to me when I saw the statement about the one-half-second error positivity response in the quote above.

Error recognition or the recognition that one might be making an error is key to successful FIML practice.

The second key is to act on our recognition quickly, within a few seconds if possible.

I have always figured it takes about a half second more or less to feel a slight disturbance that tells us we might be forming a wrong impression about what someone is saying or doing. That we might be making an error.

It is this disturbance that tells us it is time to do a FIML query. Virtually every time I do a proper FIML query I find I am either flat out wrong or wrong enough to want to revise my original impression.

In the past, have called the slight disturbance mentioned above a “jangle,” a term I don’t really like because it makes the response sound stronger than what it is. From now on, I may refer to it as the “error positivity response,” though maybe that’s not precisely the same and it is jargony.

In Buddhism, the response is probably the second of the five skandhassensation.

Buddhist practice will definitely make you more aware of the second skadha or “error positivity response.”

By being aware of this response in conversation with a trusted partner, FIML practice helps us take our mindfulness to a new level by providing  us with the opportunity to ask our partner about their intentions. That is, the check our mental work for error.

If this is done quickly enough to preserve clear memories of 1) your “error positivity response” and 2) your partner’s memory of what was in their working memory at that moment THEN you both have one of the few psychological facts you can both be sure of.

Facts of this sort are not just psychologically of great significance, they are also of philosophical significance because they really are one of the very few fact-types you can truly know about your own idiosyncratic existence; your own very weird being.

I believe this is why the Buddha emphasized the importance of the moment.

FIML practices explodes the moment or expands it to include more reliable information (your partner’s input). And this allows both of you to do a really good analysis of what just happened, what that moment entailed.

And doing that many times, will help both of you see how you really are. It will help you break fee from erroneous psychological frames or theoretical misinterpretations of any type.

FIML and functionalism

FIML (Functional Interpersonal Meta-Linguistics) is a kinda sorta type of functionalism. A general statement on functionalism is:

Functionalism is a theory of the mind in contemporary philosophy, developed largely as an alternative to both the identity theory of mind and behaviorism. Its core idea is that mental states (beliefs, desires, being in pain, etc.) are constituted solely by their functional role – that is, they are causal relations to other mental states, sensory inputs, and behavioral outputs. (Source same as above)

FIML differs from philosophical functionalism once we get beyond the generalities. FIML treats semiotics (a most basic element of communication) as good data (if agreed upon by both partners). It then uses this data to show partners how their communicative awareness is actually functioning. Since data points are necessarily small, their function can be determined with reasonable certainty, a degree of certainty much better than that obtained through the application of an overarching theory to the same data point.

For example, if you (my partner) believe I said something based on anger or a political leaning, you have a theory about why I said what I said. If you do a FIML query and find out from me (a truthful informant) why I said what I said, you will have a small fact to replace your big theory. Very often it turns out that I (or your partner) said what they said not due to your theory but due to something else entirely.

Seeing the difference between your acquired “theoretical” theory of mind and the actual factual state of your partner’s mind—and seeing this many times—will relieve you of many mistakes in how you perceive and interact with your partner.

In time, this relief will extend to others to some extent, though in a world where only a small number of couples are doing FIML we cannot expect others to function interpersonally with the same degree of honest agility as our FIML partner.

I believe the day will come when many people do FIML or something very much like it. That will be a time when humans have even more leisure than today, when robots do most work and through their impressive skills and intelligence have unburdened us from the need for status displays or exercising mindless power over others.

Compare FIML practice to traditional forms of psycho-analysis. Instead of subjecting your inchoate mind’s vague problem(s) to a paid theorist or dispenser of pills, you will in the security of your own domicile be able to observe and analyze how and why your mind reacts and communicates as it does. You and your partner will be free to draw on what you know and understand to observe and investigate your minds as they actually function in real time.

FIML cannot do everything, but it provides great detail in an area of activity—communication—that is crucial to being human, whether you are with others or alone.

The entry on functionalism linked above is interesting and worth reading, but after the first few sentences it veers off into something that FIML is not. FIML is not a complete theory about how minds work. Rather it is a theory about how semiotics function in real time and how understanding that much better (through FIML practice) leads to better communication and a better sense of well-being overall.

An interesting benefit of FIML is you don’t have to wonder if your partner is thinking something weird about you because they will ask long before it gets weird.

FIML might also be called Dynamic Semiotic Analysis or Functional Semiotic Analysis, but I decided on FIML some time ago and believe it is a good enough name. FIML is not exactly doing meta-linguistics, but it is close enough and most people are more familiar with that term than semiotics.

A note to psychologists: You guys do great work. I am not against you. FIML is a practice designed to optimize communication and self-understanding. If you have clients that are doing more or less alright but still feel they are missing something, teach them FIML. Depending on their and your skills, you should be able to teach couples how to do it in approximately four to eight sessions.

first posted 02/18/15

Relational Frame Theory and FIML practice

This video gives a good, brief explanation of Relational Frame Theory (RFT).

FIML practice can be understood in terms of RFT. What FIML practice does is give partners immediate access to their neurotic “relational frames” of reference, their mistaken interpretations. When we see a few times with great clarity that our neurosis is based on a mistaken interpretation (a mistaken relational frame) of what our partner actually means or meant, we will be able to change our relational frame (correct our mistaken interpretation) without much trouble.

FIML works especially well for making this sort of change in relational frames because it deals with those frames the moment they arise, while they are still just starting to be accessed. FIML also works well in this respect because it is based on real data shared and agreed upon by partners who trust each other.

Here is another article on Relational Frame Theory.

first posted 12/16/11

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Note 10/12/19: In terms of RFT, FIML practice could be defined as a practical application of RFT during unique real-world situations that arise in a unique relationship between two (obviously unique) people, each of whom speaks a unique idiolect.

The results of FIML practice are therapeutic and include: deeper understanding of how partners speak and listen, how their psychological frames function and interact, how and why they make mistakes in understanding each other, and how to correct those mistakes.

FIML can be done with zero knowledge of RFT. If exposed to RFT after they are good at FIML, partners may find that much of what they have learned could be described or outlined in terms of RFT.

An advantage FIML has over RFT in practical applications is partners will discover their own frames in their own contexts without any need for a theoretical outline or explanation of them.

FIML needs very little theoretical structure or explanation to work. By simply using the simple rules of the FIML “game”, partners will find themselves immediately engaging with their shared and unique relational frames.

There is no need for further guidance once partners understand FIML rules and know how to apply them. All discoveries made after that point will be unique to them and under their own control.

Their discoveries will have wider application and will help them with other relationships. And while many of their discoveries could be generalized to all language or all psychology, it is not necessary for them to do that.

Game theory and strategic equilibrium

In Game theory and interpersonal relations, I said:

…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.

To refine that statement I should add that equilibrium in game theory really means “equilibrium of strategies” or “strategic equilibrium.” And this means that players, each acting in their own self-interest, have found the best strategy/ies to achieve the outcomes they desire.

When there is a strategic equilibrium, players will continue playing the game using the same strategies. And this will produce an equilibrium outcome.

An economic description of sharing focuses on an equilibrium of economic values. A game theory description of sharing focuses on the strategies that produce that equilibrium (which as a game may grow in many directions).

In the interpersonal game of FIML, the best strategy has already been determined. It can be found at How to do FIML.

FIML practice is based on an agreement between players to be (strategically) scrupulously honest in small matters involving only the contents of their working memories. This strategy includes saying, : “I do not want to answer that question right now.”

A very interesting side of FIML practice is either player could cheat by only pretending to follow the FIML honesty rule. Since the FIML game is designed to provide ongoing insights into your own psychology as well as your partner’s, I believe most sincere players will at some point discover that not cheating is by far the best strategy.

I do think many fundamentally honest people will be tempted to fudge their FIML replies for a period of time because that is how we all have been conditioned by our various societies, none of which has ever practiced FIML.

Rather than practice scrupulous honesty in very small matters with just one person, many of us will tend at first to avoid even that minor discomfort, remain the same, preserve our personas, withhold information, and so on. We do this because that is how all societies have conditioned their members.

There are two possible fudging scenarios in the FIML game:

  1. one player fudges
  2. both players fudge

If the fudging player is fundamentally honest, I believe they will come to see that they are harming themself as well as their partner; and that their best strategy is to fudge no more.

In the worse case scenario where both partners fudge, I am pretty sure that in most cases the fudging will gradually be eliminated because:

  1. partners will fudge at different times, on different occasions often enough to
  2. see that the value of hearing an honest reply or speaking an honest reply is much greater than not doing so
  3. additionally, both players will come to see that FIML outcomes accumulate, grow, feed on themselves (self-catalyze), thus compounding and multiplying benefits for both players over time

All the rules and moves and strategies used in FIML are out in the open and known to both players. The good results of playing honestly and well will become very apparent to players the more they play the game.

FIML as described on this website has very few rules and almost no content. In this respect, the FIML game you play with your partner will quickly become unique to the two of you. Not only are you with someone you love, but also you are now able to play a wonderful game of mutual and shared self-discovery. Where is goes, only you two will decide.

For this reason or these reasons, I think FIML could be called the Most Magnificent Game. It has few rules and almost no prescribed content and as such it will draw the best out of both players concerning the world’s most interesting subject: who am I and what the fuck am I doing here?

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What if your partner is a psychopath?

From the above, it should be clear why it is important to have a FIML partner that you care about and who cares about you. What happens if you have a psychopathic or dark triad person as a partner?

A pure psychopath with little or no malice might benefit from the game and even enjoy it. A dark triad person probably will not agree to do the game. If they do agree to play, they probably will not be able to do it well enough to fool you. I do not know what to say about a dark, hostile player who succeeds in using the game to harm an honest partner. I hope that never happens, but I suppose it will.

Players who know they want to be honest and play well would do well to be on-guard in the beginning. For a time, you could honestly conceal any suspicions about your partner with the reply, “I don’t want to answer.” After a time, though, you probably should begin exposing your suspicions in very small matters. You may (very happily) discover the suspicion was your problem and not your partner’s.

If the problem is your partner’s and your suspicions are correct though not certain in your mind, I am reasonably sure that FIML replies and discussions are such that you will gain a great deal of insight into yourself and your partner and that your judgement in this area will tend to lead toward a good outcome for both of you. Either you will be able to help your partner or you may conclude that your relationship cannot go any further.

Game theory and interpersonal relations

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.

Psychological optimization

Why settle for not being crazy when you could be going for psychological optimization?

A mental disorder, also called a mental illness or psychiatric disorder, is a diagnosis of a behavioral or mental pattern that can cause suffering or a poor ability to function in ordinary life.

Why settle for being able to “function in ordinary life” when you could have an extraordinary life?

Why take pills to get by when you could be optimizing your brain?

Humans go for optimization whenever we can. We optimize technology, our diets, our medical treatments, our educations, even our friendships.

Optimization : an act, process, or methodology of making something (as a design, system, or decision) as fully perfect, functional, or effective as possible.

Hell yeah. That’s what you want for your mind, your life. Why settle for less?

OK, that does read like a sales spiel, but I will deliver.

All you have to do is put time and thought into the process of optimizing your psychology. An optimized psychology is an optimized brain and life.

First, you have to learn how to do FIML.

This requires about as much time and effort as learning to play a musical instrument at a beginner’s level. About as much time as it takes to learn to drive a car. Or to learn to play pool well enough to enjoy it.

FIML takes less time to learn than a semester at school, whatever grade. Less time than most job-training courses. Less time than becoming a decent amateur cook. Less time than buying a house or redoing your kitchen.

The hardest part about FIML is learning the technique through reading. Start here: How to do FIML.

The second hardest part is having a friend or mate who is willing and able to do it with you. Sadly, this is a deal-breaker for too many people.

I hate saying this, but it is fairly normal for people world-wide not to have a friend who is close enough to do FIML with. This is the result of so many non-optimized psychologies in this world.

Many people have five or more “good friends” and a loving spouse, but not even one of them willing or able to do FIML.

Their excuses will be they can’t understand it, don’t want to bother, don’t want to be that honest, don’t want that kind of relationship, don’t have the time, etc.

The result is they and you will continue to languish in less than optimal mental states. Moods, alcohol, pills, arguments over nothing, ridiculous misunderstandings, ominous silences, severance of ties, and worse will rule your world(s).

For most, the best relief they will find are self-help books based on generalities, career books about “getting ahead” as defined by more generalities, nonsense about “loving yourself,” low levels of religious belief and practice, exercise programs, etc.

You didn’t learn to drive a car that way. Driving a car requires interaction, observation, the help of another person.

Your psychology needs similar kinds of input.

Once you have learned to do FIML with a trustworthy partner, the practice will tend to self-generate because the insights gained will be real and have real and deeply felt benefits for both partners.

Besides the “how to” and FAQ links at the top of this page, most posts on this site describe some aspect of FIML practice.

For psychologists, I honestly do not see how you can claim to be able to treat other people if you have not done at least a few years of FIML practice or the like. Human interactions without any technique for consistent meta-control and understanding (which FIML provides) are 100% guaranteed to be riddled with misunderstanding and wrong views.

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first posted 04/14/16

Signal intensity during interpersonal communication

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.

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first posted 10/01/2012