Pre-emptying

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Pre-emptying means excluding something from consideration during a conversation. Anyone can use this term/technique, but it is especially useful for FIML partners who have come to realize that they are spending a lot of time trying to control how they are being understood. Whether they are indeed being misunderstood in subtle ways or not does not matter all that much because, as we know, if one partner even thinks they are being misunderstood, it is definitely best to do something about it.

Pre-emptying is used when one partner does not feel the need to do a full-on FIML query because they do not see anything serious happening. They are not very much concerned about any potential misunderstanding and do not feel a serious neurosis is involved. All they want to do is avoid some kinds of interpretations from occurring in their partner’s mind. They want to prevent the conversation from going in a wrong direction.

For example, you want to say something about a hot political topic but do not want to discuss that topic at length. You just want to point out that, say, so-and-so said exactly the same thing two years ago. To do that you say: I want to pre-empty my next topic of all political argumentation or further analysis. I just want to point something out and use that example to say something else. Your partner will understand that this is not the time to bring up other things about that subject. They will understand that you are going to say something with a special purpose.

Yesterday, we had a post about retroactive revision. Retroactive revision can be used in conjunction with pre-emptying to deeply rework a conversation so that it can conform more closely to your current understanding and not be held back by discarded ideas or the need to keep making small distinctions. An example of how to do this with a topic that has included material from your own life is this–just say: I want to retroactively revise what we have been saying about topic QRX and pre-empty that subject of all of the autobiographical examples I have used so far. I no longer think they apply and may be seriously misleading. So from now on, this topic does not contain any reference to the autobiographical statements I have made and statements that were made are now retroactively pre-emptied from it.

This may sound like a lot of verbiage, but it just takes a few sentences to say. The special terms will alert your partner that you are using a meta-control technique to reconfigure your conversation. With a little practice, you will both see that using this method saves a great deal of time and makes conversations much more interesting since neither of you has to waste time explaining and re-explaining the same things. The more meta-control you can gain over your conversations, the better.

On this site we have frequently emphasized the importance of catching small mistakes and identifying them as the first germs of a new neurosis or as a micro-instance of an ongoing neurosis. That is all still true, but experienced FIML partners will eventually come realize that some of their mix-ups are occurring simply because that is how language works. This meta-understanding arises from having successfully resolved enough FIML discussions that both partners can see the same sort of thing happening and neither partner feels any (or hardly any) emotional jangling regarding it.

For example, if I start to talk about a difficult relative and introduce the topic in a vague sort of way (which is very common/normal), my partner may mistake my intentions (which may be only vague in my own mind) and start talking about some aspect of that relative’s problems that will lead away from what I really wanted to say (which is coming into clearer focus for me only now). My partner’s misunderstanding of my vague conversational gambits are not neurotic. They might become neurotic if either of us fails to understand how they have arisen, but at this point in a new conversation, they are nothing more than normal potential associations on what I first said.

To forestall neurotic development and make everything much more pleasant and interesting, at this point, I need only say that I want to pre-empty the topic of anything that may lead away from what I was aiming at. In most cases, your partner will be quite willing to do that. If they see something else to say about it, there is no problem; just discuss it with them.

Pre-emptying, as with all FIML techniques, requires high levels of honesty and integrity from both partners. Partners who are in a stable relationship should not find it all that difficult to treat each other with honesty and integrity. To be clear, no FIML technique should be used to deceive or take advantage. Watch yourself carefully because the ego is biased and it is natural for all speakers and listeners to act from a self-centered position. Properly done, FIML can easily deal with those very normal aspects of being human.

Note: The term pre-emptying recalls the English word “preempt” and the Buddhist term “empty”. We are using a new term because we are doing something different from preempting or realizing the emptiness of something. At the same time, pre-emptying is sort of close to both of those concepts.

first posted MARCH 30, 2012

Some notes

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  • Retroactive revision is a tool that allows partners to clear elements of a conversation that has already occurred. Pre-emptying is a tool that allows partners to clear, or preclude, elements from entering into a conversation that is just starting.
  • The origin of many neuroses and misunderstandings is our unavoidable tendency to speak and listen from a self-centric point of view. Experienced FIML partners should find it fairly easy to clear this sort of mistake quickly and as it is happening.
  • Another major initiator of neurosis is our need to guess about the fullness of what others are saying to us. Without FIML tools, communication–even between loving partners–is too vague to promote mental clarity and emotional security.
  • I wonder sometimes if socially awkward people appear that way because they lack greed or the need for self-aggrandizement. Without greed, or strong self-interest, they don’t use other people or groups of people because they don’t particularly want anything from them. This can make them appear unfocused or awkward.
  • Wonderment is an aspect of wisdom. It opens the emotions and allows us to use all of our senses and faculties in pursuit of understanding.
  • In deep wonderment the neocortex and limbic system work together to gain deeper understanding. It is one of the finest and most productive states of mind/brain/body.
  • FIML provides partners with the tools to describe and discuss their different frames of reference while they are being accessed. It allows them to deepen their understanding of each other without becoming lost in poses, excuses, or appeals to outside authority.
  • Ideally, FIML discussions should be largely unemotional and not employ histrionic tones of voice, except occasionally to further understanding. There should be no posturing or arguing, but rather a shared attempt to fully understand what each partner had been thinking at the moment in question.
  • Our morality should sound like this: “This is the way to be and I am trying to do it, too.” Rather than: “I am moral. Be like me.”
  • A great deal of what we call temptation is fundamentally neurotic (based on mistaken interpretations).Temptation can be user-defined or defined by the larger culture.
  • Since FIML practice removes neuroses, FIML partners will find it easier to control temptations than many other people
  • .FIML practice shows partners the value of honesty, integrity, mutual helping, and mutual harmlessness. FIML partners will see for themselves the rewards of following the basic moral principles described by the Buddha in the Five Precepts.
  • first posted APRIL 2, 2012

    The brain as a guessing machine

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    A new approach to the study of mental disorder—called computational psychiatry—uses Bayesian inference to explain where people with problems are going wrong.

    Bayesian inference is a method of statistical reasoning used to understand the probability of a hypothesis and how to update it as conditions change.

    The idea is that people with schizophrenia, for example, are doing a bad job at inferring the reasonableness of their hypotheses. This happens because schizophrenics seem to be less likely to put enough weight on prior experience (a factor in Bayesian reasoning).

    Somewhat similarly, “sensory information takes priority [over previous experience] in people with autism.” (Bayesian reasoning implicated in some mental disorders)

    Distorted calculations — and the altered versions of the world they create — may also play a role in depression and anxiety, some researchers think. While suffering from depression, people may hold on to distorted priors — believing that good things are out of reach, for instance. And people with high anxiety can have trouble making good choices in a volatile environment (Ibid)

    The key problem with autism and anxiety is people with these conditions have trouble updating their expectations—a major component of Bayesian reasoning—and thus make many mistakes.

    These mistakes, of course, compound and further increase a sense of anxiety or alienation.

    Like several of the researches quoted in the linked article, I find this computational approach exciting.

    It speaks to me because it confirms a core hypothesis of FIML practice—that all people make many, significant inferential mistakes during virtually all acts of communication.

    In this respect, I believe all people are mentally disordered, not just the ones who are suffering the most.

    I think a Bayesian thought experiment can all but prove my point:

    What are the odds that you will correctly infer the mental state(s) of anyone you speak with? What are the odds that they will correctly infer your mental state(s)?

    In a formal setting, both of you will do well enough if the inferring is kept within whatever the formal boundaries are. But that is all you will be able to infer reasonably well.

    In the far more important realm of intimate interpersonal communication, the odds that either party is making correct inferences go down significantly.

    If we do not know someone’s mental state, we cannot know why they have communicated as they have. If our inferences about them are based on such questionable data, we are bound to make many more mistakes about them.

    first posted MAY 15, 2016

    Our psychologies are unnecessarily confined within narrow ranges of meaning and understanding

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    Human psychology is greatly affected by human language. Since humans normally use language rather crudely and almost always are confined within meanings already established in language, their psychologies are fundamentally both crude and unnecessarily confined within narrow ranges of meaning and understanding.

    This causes emotionality, discord, dependence, frustration, anger, and violence. Our normal uses of language often stimulate basic instincts that we either have to control or be controlled by.

    I usually discuss this problem as it occurs during interpersonal conversation, where it is generally most serious and where our “personalities” are generally formed. But it also exists in texting, emails, news stories, and even scientific peer reviewed papers.

    The basic underlying problem is we do not communicate well, almost no one does. Even very articulate, well-educated, intelligent people with good upbringings and admirable personalities have this problem. In fact, they often have it even worse than everyone else because their considerable skills have trapped them even worse.

    The trap is using established meaning or interpretation to override mistakes in interpersonal communication. The established meaning can be learned from others or self-generated. Either way, when it is used to override mistakes in communication (and this happens often) the person is trapped in a labyrinth of false references: the lived and learned matrix of their personality; the neuronal structures of idiosyncratic memories and behaviors that constantly misguide the sufferer through a tautological existence.

    When data is bad the output will be bad. When interpersonal data is bad, and far too much of it is, the output in speech, listening, and cogitating will be bad. When everyone is like this, the output will be horrendous. Look around you at our world as it becomes less truthful and more absurd daily. The root cause is massive amounts of uncorrected bad data at all levels of society.

    My contribution toward fixing this mess is FIML, which deals “only” with the enormous problems of close or intimate interpersonal communication.

    When two people do FIML conscientiously, all of their problems born of long histories of many mistakes can be cleared up. If you want to do this, if you want to optimize your being; find a good partner and do FIML. As of today, there is no other way. If you can see the problem, you will understand why FIML works. If you do FIML even without fully understanding it, you will still fix the problem and will eventually come to see how it’s not just your problem: all people everywhere have it and have always had it. I do not know why I am the first person to provide a solution to it.

    The problem is very obvious but it is so big and widespread, people either do not see it or believe it cannot be fixed.

    A study that supports FIML

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    This study–Preventing the return of fear in humans using reconsolidation update mechanisms–supports FIML practice, which works by having partners volitionally interfere with neurotic responses as they occur, thus preventing reconsolidation of the neurotic memory (habitual response).

    Truthful data supplied by a FIML partner provides much better (updated) information to the partner inquiring about their incipient neurotic reaction than that partner has had up to that point. This new non-neurotic information that is “provided during the reconsolidation window” results in neurotic responses “no longer [being] expressed”, often within just a few sessions.

    The linked study is about fear, but I bet the findings will apply to all sorts of neurotic responses. In FIML practice, we have defined a neurotic response as a “mistaken response” or one not based on good data or evidence.

    The technique used in the study produced “an effect that lasted at least a year and was selective only to reactivated memories without affecting others.”

    Since most FIML partners will continue doing FIML practice for more than a year, the effects of FIML sessions and follow-up sessions dealing with neuroses should last as long or longer. If an old neurosis regains its power, skilled FIML partners should be able to deal with it rather quickly.

    FIML posits that neuroses are very often the result of nothing more than mistakes in listening or speaking. This means that we can expect proto-neurotic mistakes to arise with great frequency (several per hour in most conversations). And this means that FIML partners will want to continue using basic FIML practices whenever they interact.

    Another point: the linked study concludes that the effect of their technique is “selective only to reactivated memories without affecting others.” This seems to be the case with FIML practice as well. Memories are not being erased by drugs or other kinds of physical interference. Rather, they are being upgraded during the crucial “window of reconsolidation”. This upgrade does not directly change other memories, though in FIML practice since core neuroses are being confronted, effects will be widespread throughout the organism, causing beneficial changes in personality, behavioral strategies, autonomic responses, ancillary neuroses, and so forth.

    I, for one, do not see any other way than FIML practice to deal with the plethora fundamental mistaken interpretations that occur in all human minds and with great frequency. Traditional talk therapy or the more common drug therapies used today can only deal with very general aspects of the fundamental cause of neurotic suffering–humans tend to make a great many mistakes when they speak and when they listen and these mistakes tend to compound and turn into ongoing mistaken interpretations (neuroses) of the self, the world, and people around us.

    first posted APRIL 13, 2012

    Karl Friston & the concept of free energy

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

    The quotes below provide a loose overview of the article.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    And this is how they do it.

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

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

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

    first posted NOVEMBER 22, 2019

    Humans are fractals of their societies

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    The microcosm of the individual human is made of the same stuff as the macrocosm of the society to which it belongs. The two are a fractal set displaying similar patterns.

    This makes sense since both individuals and their societies use the same networks of semiotics to communicate.

    In many ways, societies are less complex than individuals. In the sense that a society is an assemblage of many individuals, society is more complex. But in the sense that a society is held together by a network of communicable ideas, or semiotics, society is frequently less complex than many of the individuals living within it.

    For example, most societies have very simple “biographies” (their always slanted histories), while many individuals have nuanced biographies that encompass change, growth, and contradiction.

    A recent study of people’s attitudes towards atrocities points to this truth by showing that “…the way people’s memories are shaped by selective discussions of atrocities depends on group-membership status.” (Source)

    In-groups forget bad things they have done—or “morally disengage” from them—while clearly remembering bad things that out-groups have done. This is a major element of all group stories.

    I bet you cannot name a single society that has anything even approaching a fully nuanced view of itself on almost any matter, let alone its history. Individuals often “morally disengage” from their past acts, but it is not common for them to do so to the same extent as the societies they live in.

    It hardly matters, though, if the social story is about atrocities or trivia. I have actually witnessed fairly heated arguments over who first invented pasta, the Chinese or the Italians. And another one on who first invented dumplings, Poles, Jews, or Chinese. The origin of beer is another subject that can get people going.

    It makes sense that societies’ stories about themselves be as simple as they are false because they serve as lowest-common-denominator social bonds. Indeed, it probably even helps that these stories be knowingly false as the bond will then require an even deeper level of commitment.

    Of course, some of the energy for falsification and simplification comes from one group’s story needing to counter another group’s story. Yes, we did that to you, but you did this to us first.

    In that, societies further resemble individuals because that’s what we do as individuals, too. Only individuals who are very well disposed toward each other and who try hard ever overcome the need for false stories between them.

    FIML practice provides individuals with a means to observe the smallest fractal details of their individual stories and correct them where they are wrong. FIML partners would do well to take what they have learned as individuals and apply it to the stories told by the society in which they live. You will surely find a macrocosm of yourself in the absurdities of whichever group you “identify” with.

    Maybe people in the future will be better able to see how ridiculous our stories are and better able to deal with the complexities that lie beyond them. For now, maybe we can at least start getting a fuller, truer view of what is happening in and around us.

    I doubt we can do this on a societal level any time soon because the LCD stories will always reassert, but as individuals with a good partner I believe we can. This is probably a main reason that monastic and reclusive traditions have been practiced all over the world. Groups are ignorant, violent, stifling, and crazy. Individuals simply have a better chance at going beyond their simple patterns by acting on their own.

    The fractal of the individual is generated by society but it is prone to being trapped by it as well.

    _______________

    Edit 6/13: When good people do bad things. We all know that people in groups can behave badly. This article is about a study that uses a plausible fMRI method to measure some of the basic processes underlying immoral behavior. In my view, the situation is not much different when the group is a large culture, rather than a small number of participants in a laboratory experiment. Cultures not only permit bad behavior toward out-groups, but they also numb us to what our in-group is doing.

    first posted JUNE 10, 2014

    Cooperative narcissism and meta-communication

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    I think we can describe virtually all group cohesion as “cooperative narcissism.”

    Groups are pretty much all self-aggrandizing and almost all of them show callous disregard for other groups, unless they are connected in a narcissistic super-group.

    Sports teams are a very basic example of narcissistic groups; players and fans revel in their selfishness and contempt for competing groups. That we generally consider those emotions to be playful and healthy demonstrates my point.

    Another example might be a parent who dedicates excessive time and energy to a group outside of the family. To the extent that that parent’s participation in that group is excessive it is narcissistic. Excessive in this context would entail some degree of self-aggrandizement and callous disregard for the family. Some degree in this context is open to question but often can be decided.

    Once again in this context, the family itself might be considered a narcissistic group if it demands an excessive degree of group allegiance from the parent. What excessive means here can often be reasonably decided.

    The reason I raise the above topic is I think that most groups most of the time have so much difficulty with honest meta-communication they simply cannot allow it.

    Groups, of course, excel at the meta-communication we call conformity. Honest meta-communication that does not support conformity, though, usually causes discord. Generally it is perceived as being disruptive, aggressive, rude, “other.” We like those who are like us and dislike those who are not.

    Honest meta-communication is not only dangerous for group cohesion but also for interpersonal bonding. This is so because virtually all interpersonal bonding is a type of group bonding. We like the same things, believe the same things, so we can bond; we are friends because we already are members of the same group(s).

    When people are very close and have formed their own group that is stronger than any other group they feel they belong to, meta-communication is much less likely to produce discord.

    For example, my partner can say she doesn’t like my shirt or the way I cut my hair without bothering me at all. In fact, I am grateful if she tells me that because I trust her and can easily fix the problem. If she criticizes me for something I can’t fix, that’s another matter (and another subject for another day).

    If a new friend or colleague criticizes my shirt or hair, I probably will not take it in the same spirit as I did when the comment came from my partner. Rather than feel grateful (which I still might do), I am more likely (than with my partner) to hear my colleague’s comment as aggressive, rude, or disruptive. Rather than strengthen our bond, it can damage it.

    This is a basic reason why so many groups and so much human communication is so dissatisfying, so dukkha. As such, we simply cannot say interesting meta things to most people without risking strife.

    Some other examples of dangerous meta-communication that should be neutral but are not for people with strong beliefs or group allegiances are:

    • doubting the veracity of religion or science
    • saying anything bad or good about vaccines
    • saying anything bad or good about political parties, political philosophies, or politicians
    • saying anything bad or good about ethnicity or ethnic history, regions or regional histories or politics, symbols, flags, etc.

    Lists like this could go on for miles. And that is because most people normally organize their minds along lines like that. When you engage in meta-communication about any subject that organizes someone’s mind, they will have trouble with it. Propaganda even uses that basic reaction as part of its basic formula.

    Cooperative narcissism very often exists in intimate relations between two people. This happens because the dominant means (conformity, agreement, general semiotics) people use to communicate within groups are brought into the intimate relationship as a “natural” part of it.

    The problem with that is it is much too confining for individual minds. This point is probably obvious to many readers. But I wonder if those same readers have a means to overcome it. How many intimate partners can do clear meta-communication with each other extensively without causing discord?

    I bet it is not so many. The reason there are often problems in this area is partners restrict themselves to doing meta-communication on meso and macro subjects only.

    “I think you are this kind of person.” “I believe your personality is thus and so.” “I think you are like this because you have that background.” Etc.

    These sorts of meta-conversations can be fun and informative, but they also tend to go in circles while generating massive misunderstandings. At worst, we come to believe them—to reify “main points”—and bind each other to forms and stereotypes that are not deeply real.

    The way out of this problem is to escape through micro communication. As long as two people have a prior agreement (as in FIML practice) to honestly do micro corrections on as much of their communication as possible, they will overcome the problems of cooperative narcissism and the damage it does to human communication at all levels.

    first posted JULY 28, 2015

    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

    882 words

    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

    491 words

    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

    495 words

    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