Interesting paper on consciousness

From the intro:

This main aim of this paper is to introduce a new theory of conscious states that incorporates principles of physics, neurobiology and psychoanalysis. The theory is intended to assist our understanding of the makeup of the human mind, addressing such questions as: ‘how does the normal waking consciousness of healthy adult humans relate to other states of consciousness?’, ‘how does the human brain maintain its normal state of waking consciousness?’, and ‘what happens to the human brain’s functionality when non-ordinary states such as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep/dreaming, early psychosis and the psychedelic state occur?’.

The abstract can be found here: The entropic brain: A theory of conscious states informed by neuroimaging research with psychedelic drugs. The paper itself can be accessed through a link on the right side of that page.

Neurosis as a semiotic phobia

Human beings are semiotic entities. We largely live in and react emotionally to semiotics. Virtually everything we think, feel, and believe is built on a foundation of signs and symbols—semiotics.

A recent German study elegantly shows that people with arachnophobia see spiders more quickly than people who do not fear spiders.

The study can be found here: You See What You Fear: Spiders Gain Preferential Access to Conscious Perception in Spider-Phobic Patients. An article about the study is here: Phobias alter perception, German researchers say.

The authors of the study say that there probably is “an evolutionary advantage to preferentially process threatening stimuli, but these effects seem to have become dysfunctional in phobic patients.”

I would argue that “these effects” have also migrated into human semiotics and are similarly dysfunctional. That is, humans perceive some signs and symbols as more threatening than they are. For some of us these signs and symbols can seem so threatening we become “phobic” or neurotic about them.

For example, insecure people may become hypersensitive to signs of rejection. People who have been abused or tortured may perceive signs that seem ordinary to others as serious threats. If the person who tortures you also smiles, you will probably see human smiles as being dangerous when to others they indicate kindness.

Once a semiotic becomes associated with strong emotions, and this can happen in many ways, we will tend to see that semiotic as an emotionally charged sign from then on.

FIML practice is designed to interrupt our emotionally-charged responses to semiotics the moment those responses occur. By doing this repeatedly with the same sign, FIML practice can extirpates the neurotic response to that sign.

_________________

Edit: Extirpating semiotic “phobias” or neuroses should be easier to do in most cases than extirpating phobias based on visual perceptions of things, such as the spiders discussed in the linked study. This is likely due to the more direct connection between emotional or limbic responses and the visual cortex. Complex semiotics are signs and symbols built on top of other signs and symbols, and thus their “architecture” is more fragile than direct visual perception and probably simpler to change in most cases. Human facial expressions probably fall somewhere between complex signs and direct visual perception. A good deal of what we call “psychology” are networks of complex semiotics. When a network becomes “neurotic” it is probably true that it contains erroneous interpretations of some or all of its semiotics. That said, a complex neurosis than involves many semiotic networks may be more difficult to extirpate than a straightforward phobia like arachnophobia.

Positive neurosis

On this site, a neurosis is defined simply as a “mistaken interpretation” or an “ongoing mistaken interpretation.” Thus a “positive neurosis” is a mistaken interpretation that feels good as opposed to a “negative neurosis,” which is one that feels bad.

There can also be “neutral neuroses,” ones that have no positive or negative feelings attached to them.

The advantage of defining a neurosis in this way is we have a clear definition that removes the term from the ambiguous, and often mistaken, connotations typically associated with it. The disadvantage is being even slightly wrong about something trivial can be deemed “neurotic.”

And yet, even this disadvantage has some advantages. If you wrongly believe the capital of NY State is Buffalo, your mistake is easily correctable, though it could lead to more serious problems, depending on when and how you figure it out.

Examples of positive neuroses are as numerous as negative ones. If you believe people are happier to see you than they really are, that your unethical “oversight” is less important than it really is, or that your motives are purer than they are, you will be in the grip of a positive neurosis.

Yes, sometime positive mistakes can snowball well and lead to a beneficial recreation of reality, just as negative mistakes may inspire us to try harder. But generally, from most points of view, we are better off dealing with the truth than with illusions. Narcissists and cults frequently base their self- and world-views on positive neuroses.

The deep point in this is that most people have no way of determining what within them is neurotic—positive, negative, or neutral.

And we do not have a sure way of determining that about other people either.

How can you know for sure how happy your friends are to see you or how serious your ethical lapse was? We do provide each other with many signs and signals about these matters, but it is always going to be hard-to-impossible to determine how to interpret those signs. Maybe the person(s) sending you signals are lying to you; maybe they want your money or want to hurt you for a perceived offense.

How can you find out? Basically, you can’t. All of us (except for FIML practitioners) live in a ghostly, amorphous world that forces us to rely on publicly shared semiotics to determine who we are and what others think of us.

A case in point might be the Texas judge who as a prosecutor withheld exculpatory evidence from a murder trial, leading to an innocent man spending twenty-five years in jail (see For the First Time Ever, a Prosecutor Will Go to Jail for Wrongfully Convicting an Innocent Man). The guilty party (the judge) in this case got ten days in jail, community service, a small fine, and a loss of his license to practice law.

What is remarkable, in addition to the disparity of sentencing, is that this is the first time in US history that a prosecutor has been legally punished for withholding important evidence from the defense even though this practice is fairly common.

Doesn’t that speak volumes about culture/society in the USA? A prosecutor, a supposed upholder of the law, can live with himself for twenty-five years knowing that he sent an innocent man to jail. And surely there are many others in his social and professional circles who do or abet similar deeds.

You can see the same sorts of behavior in all other human pursuits in the USA (and the world)—academia, medicine, politics, banking, business, religion, etc. People do these things not only because they can but also, in many cases, because they “must,” or almost must if they want to stay on their career ladders.

Furthermore, I would maintain that this also happens because too many people know how to exploit the ambiguity that results from virtually none of us knowing how to tell truth/reality from neurosis.

If you were a Texan and you met that judge at your club or wherever, you would be required to smile, be polite, and mutually “affirm” each others’ moral and social worth. To do otherwise might get you kicked out of the club or dropped from that circle of “friends.”

This is a nasty world, but what can a poor boy do?

The core problem is we have no way of knowing what constitutes a neurosis or how to tell if someone is free of neuroses. In other words, we have no way of knowing who other people really are. And because of that, we also have no way of knowing who we are.

I doubt there is a single person anywhere in the world who is not skewered, indeed gored, on this dilemma—I can’t know them and I can’t know myself without knowing them, so quietly, desperately I writhe.

Only the sociopaths enjoy this.

There are two ways out of this problem—1) accurate lie-detectors and 2) FIML practice. FIML works only with small numbers of people (for now), but it does work. It provides partners with a degree of certainty about each other that cannot be achieved in any other way. Without certainty anywhere in your life/social relations, you cannot but harbor many neuroses and you cannot but spend your time dealing with other people who have the same problem.

Repost: A theory of FIML

Note: I don’t care for the term “personality” if it is taken too seriously. Used as a rough indicator of how people see themselves, it works well-enough in this essay, I hope. ABN

____________________

FIML is both a practice and a theory. The practice  is roughly described here and in other posts on this website.

The theory states (also roughly) that successful practice of FIML will:

  • Greatly improve communication between participating partners
  • Greatly reduce or eliminate mistaken interpretations (neuroses) between partners
  • Give partners insights into the dynamic structures of their personalities
  • Lead to much greater appreciation of the dynamic linguistic/communicative nature of the personality

These results are achieved because:

  • FIML practice is based on real data agreed upon by both partners
  • FIML practice stops neurotic responses before they get out of control
  • FIML practice allows both partners to understand each other’s neuroses while eliminating them
  • FIML practice establishes a shared objective standard between partners
  • This standard can be checked, confirmed, changed, or upgraded as often as is needed

FIML practice will also:

  • Show partners how their personalities function while alone and together
  • Lead to a much greater appreciation of how mistaken interpretations that occur at discreet times can and often do lead to (or reveal) ongoing mistaken interpretations (neuroses)

FIML practice eliminates neuroses because it shows individuals, through real data, that their (neurotic) interpretation(s) of their partner are mistaken. This reduction of neurosis between partners probably will be generalizable to other situations and people, thus resulting a less neurotic individual overall.

Neurosis is defined here to mean a mistaken interpretation or an ongoing mistaken interpretation.

The theory of FIML can be falsified or shown to be wrong by having a reasonably large number of suitable people learn FIML practice, do it and fail to gain the aforementioned results.

FIML practice will not be suitable for everyone. It requires that partners have a strong interest in each other; a strong sense of caring for each other; an interest in language and communication; the ability to see themselves objectively; the ability to view their use of language objectively; fairly good self-control; enough time to do the practice regularly.

True crime

I just read a couple of true crime books.

The thing that struck me about both of them is how the idiotics (idiosyncratic semiotics) of both main characters (who were found guilty) were profoundly depraved.

Each of these characters (and I will assume their guilty verdicts were correct, though of course it is always possible they were not) had built up a huge story in their mind about who they were and who the person they eventually killed was and why it was right to kill them and how to do it.

Their stories were composed of semiotic units, semiotic bundles, bundles of meaning and belief that they clung to with such passion, one of them at least seems to continue to believe her story even today, many years later.

One way you can tell their stories were entirely depraved is they planned their crimes very badly. Their backup stories were often self-contradictory and filled with easily discoverable lies.

The stories in their heads about who they were, not surprisingly, were similarly filled with error and delusion. Also unsurprisingly, these stories were largely believed by loyal friends and family members.

Their stories of anger or concealed greed and why their emotions were justified were also mostly believed by these same sets of people. Friends like each other because they either are alike or strive to be.

In one of the books, some of the people surrounding the killer believed he was innocent even in the face of strong evidence against him.

In the other book, many loyal friends continued to believe the killer’s stories about why she had been right to do it even after it was obvious she had been lying about many important matters.

This is, sadly or happily, pretty normal. We stick by people and praise ourselves for being loyal. A basic thing people do all the time is generate, transmit, and receive meaning. Complex meanings (including the stories of murderers) can get woven into friends’ brains/minds in ways that make them hard to untangle.

True crime stories when seen as examples of extremely deluded human behavior can show us much about how we all function. We all make stories and present ourselves in different contexts; nothing wrong with that. Until it becomes depraved. With people like the ones I just read about, the stories are horrible, cruel, selfish, deluded, insane

It is good to be aware of what our stories are and what our intentions for telling them are. It is also good to review our feelings towards our friends and those who are close to us. Are we right about what we think and feel about them? Are our stories about them right? Have we ever asked them about that?

Denial and self-deception

Robin Hanson has an interesting post—Dark Pain, Dark Joy—about pains and joys “…we don’t let others know, and are often are in denial to ourselves.”

“Why do we hide and deny pain?” he asks. “Some pain makes us look bad. We’d look weak to complain of pains that many folks put up with without complaining.”

Hanson also describes “dark joys”—secret pleasures that would embarrass us if others knew about them.

I am glad to see Hanson expanding our sense of what the “unconscious” may hold and/or what we feel we must repress within our conscious minds. It is important to do this for, as he says, “consciousness…is a matter of degree, and repressed pain [or secret pleasures] can infect our mood and feelings in many indirect ways.”

In FIML practice, partners will discover a great many subconscious and semi-conscious misinterpretations of themselves and others that “deeply infect [their] moods and feelings in many indirect ways.” I would add that they also infect and affect us in many direct ways that can, and often do, have massive consequences.

Most of us are in denial about our misinterpretations of ourselves and others. Our denial is a complex form of self-deception that may be conscious or unconscious. Entire cultures are built upon a foundation of interpersonal misinterpretations. The central misinterpretation is that we understand each other better than we do.

We use very crude and ambiguous signs and symbols (language, gesture, tone, etc.) to communicate meanings that are frequently fraught with ambiguity. Then we pretend that we have been understood and that we understand how we are being responded to.

In a science lab when speaking about an experiment, the technical parts of exchanged messages may get sent and received without too many problems, but once at home, those same scientists will not be capable of communicating with their spouses with anything near the same clarity.

The “repressed pain” that stems from ambiguity and misinterpretation experienced during communications with significant friends and spouses is the herd of elephants in the room of human civilization from ancient times to today.

To compensate for our terribly poor understanding of each other (much of it deriving from inevitable and completely unavoidable ambiguities in communication), we are forced to adopt stock roles, to have unfounded beliefs about our “selves” and others, to make unsatisfying vows, to adhere to public semiotic standards that cannot possibly reflect or embody our authentic beings.

To correct this problem, we have to learn how to communicate with far more detail and far more accuracy than is normally possible in any culture in existence today. If you could communicate with minimal ambiguity (orders of magnitude better than now) and with great clarity with the people you love, would you not want to do that?

The “dark pains and pleasures” described by Hanson are a significant part of being human. But the corrosive and very harmful dark pain that comes from the bad communication of semiotic babies (us) is even worse.

Most people misunderstand everything

Why?

Because language is necessarily often ambiguous.

So?

The ambiguities are rarely fixed.

So?

Unfixed ambiguities lead to errors in interpretation. The errors accumulate and snowball. All people have been raised in environments like that and continue to live in them.

This causes pain because our minds are capable of communicating unambiguously, but we don’t know how.

We are semiotic animals, beings that live in semiotic jungles.

Our pain and error-ridden communication makes us mean, simple, greedy, stupid, violent, selfish, crazy.

Communication errors, misinterpretations, cause ghosts to form in the mind. We need to imagine a role for ourselves and others, but since we experience so many errors, our imaginings are fundamentally wrong. They are like ghosts in our minds.

We are as ghosts speaking and listening to each other.