A major unit of psycholinguistics that I have not seen described: convertations

When we consider psycholinguistics from the point of view of interpersonal communication (especially psychologically rich communication) we can identify a unit of communication that springs from the working memory as it indexes deeper and more extensive information stored elsewhere in the mind/brain.

This unit of communication is used to start a conversation and then maintain it.

For example, my partner recently had a performance review at her job. This morning I asked her about it. When I asked her, I intended to start a conversation. Along with my intention, I knew a few things:

  • that she would be interested in the topic
  • that she would have new information
  • that I knew a good deal about it but not as much as her
  • that we would almost certainly engage in a conversation that is of practical as well as psychological interest to both of us

In raising the subject, I held an amorphous notion in my working memory roughly described by the text just above. I embarked on the subject with a pointed yet open-ended question, “So how is the job review going…”

That question signaled in my mind, and it turns out in may partner’s as well, that I wanted to converse with her about her job review.

I want to call what I did there the initiation of a convertation,(which is the word conversation with a “t” in place of the “s”). I am using a special term because I want to isolate and describe it as a psycholinguistic unit of major importance to both speech and psychology.

I submit that a convertation, which the above is merely a single example of, is a major psycholinguistic unit; a major piece of psychology and language both together and separately.

A convertation springs from the working memory where it appears as an index of much more. Many convertations could be described as “gambits,” but gambits are only one type.

Loosely speaking, a convertation includes an intention, a purpose, somewhat defined content, and open-endedness. In the example above:

  • My intention was to converse with my partner, listen to her speak, enjoy the morning, have fun talking with her, and find out how her job review was going.
  • My purpose was to get new information and assess how the review was affecting her and if I had any role to play in it.
  • The content (once it began) of now our convertation was the job review and my partner’s psychological responses toward it. Less important but also significant were my psychological responses to hers.
  • The open-endedness could be anything sparked by the original premise of the convertation.

In the case above, everything went smoothly. My partner was not stressed by the review. It seemed to be going well. I felt some relief but was not surprised. At some point, we began a discussion of why her employer did the review the way they did. Lastly, I said our talking constituted a good example of what I mean by convertation.

Convertations can be fruitful and very pleasant as in the above example. Or they can be fraught with dangerous misunderstandings, misplaced emotions, psychological and linguistic harm.

Sometimes a convertation constitutes an entire conversation. Sometimes a convertation is a sub-unit of a larger conversation. If you isolate convertations and view them as units in themselves, sharper distinctions can be made about how and why people speak to each other.

The Secret Speech of General Chi Haotian

This speech should be read by everyone interested in China. Draw your own conclusions about how much it has to do with recent events. Chi Haotian was the defense minister of China from 1993-2003. An excerpt from his speech can be found just below. Be sure to read the whole speech. More information about it is provided at the link below.

…Conventional weapons such as fighters, canons, missiles and battleships won’t do; neither will highly destructive weapons such as nuclear weapons. We are not as foolish as to want to perish together with America by using nuclear weapons, despite the fact that we have been exclaiming that we will have the Taiwan issue resolved at whatever cost. Only by using non-destructive weapons that can kill many people will we be able to reserve America for ourselves. There has been rapid development of modern biological technology, and new bio-weapons have been invented one after another. Of course, we have not been idle, in the past years we have seized the opportunity to master weapons of this kind. We are capable of achieving our purpose of “cleaning up” America all of a sudden. When Comrade Xiaoping was still with us, the Party Central Committee had the perspicacity to make the right decision not to develop aircraft carrier groups and focus instead on developing lethal weapons that can eliminate mass populations of the enemy country.

From a humanitarian perspective, we should issue a warning to the American people and persuade them to leave America and leave the land they have lived in to the Chinese people. Or at least they should leave half of the United States to be China’s colony, because America was first discovered by the Chinese. But would this work? If this strategy does not work, then there is only one choice left to us. That is, use decisive means to “clean up” America and reserve America for our use in a moment. Our historical experience has proven that as long as we make it happen, nobody in the world can do anything about us. Furthermore, if the United States as the leader is gone, then other enemies have to surrender to us.

Biological weapons are unprecedented in their ruthlessness, but if the Americans do not die then the Chinese have to die. If the Chinese people are strapped to the present land, a total societal collapse is bound to take place. (The Secret Speech of General Chi Haotian)

I have posted the translation found on J.R. Nyquist’s blog because this version contains parts left out of other versions I have seen, particularly Chi’s introductory discussion of an online survey.

As far as I have been able to determine, this translation is an accurate rendition of a real speech given to high-level Communist Party leaders.

Below are some quotes from Sun Tzu:

“The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.”

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”

“Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Coronavirus: fiasco, hoax, or the real thing?

It would be a fiasco if preventative measures are far in excess of what is warranted; a hoax if a deliberate agenda lies behind the fiasco; the real thing if our worst projections are born out by facts we do not yet have.

John Ioannidis makes a strong argument that we should wonder if the global response to the virus is a fiasco:

…The data collected so far on how many people are infected and how the epidemic is evolving are utterly unreliable. Given the limited testing to date, some deaths and probably the vast majority of infections due to SARS-CoV-2 are being missed. We don’t know if we are failing to capture infections by a factor of three or 300. Three months after the outbreak emerged, most countries, including the U.S., lack the ability to test a large number of people and no countries have reliable data on the prevalence of the virus in a representative random sample of the general population. (A fiasco in the making? As the coronavirus pandemic takes hold, we are making decisions without reliable data)

That the US response is a hoax or possibly a hoax is explained by sundance, a well-regarded conservative blogger:

…There’s been a debate about possible political motives surrounding the panic he has created; the massive economic damage he has inflicted; and the conflicting assertions of National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases (NIAID) Director Dr. Anthony Fauci.

CTH identifies the motives as sketchy.  He appears to use his position to advance theories and yet position himself to avoid scrutiny.

Sometimes within a 24 hour period Fauci will make a statement, then contradict the initial assertion, then attempt to cloud his own conflict with obtuse and wordy explanations. (Political Health – The Motives of a Very, Very, Political Dr. Fauci…)

If it’s the real thing, a real pandemic with unusually high mortality rates, then we still have many unknowns to consider. Chief among them is the question of whether the virus is a bioweapon or not. If it were a man-made bioweapon, its chemical and RNA structure should reveal that. If the virus evolved naturally, it still could have been used as a weapon.

If it was a weapon, was it released due to negligence or design? If by design, who did it? Since the virus first appeared in Wuhan, which is also the site of a virus research lab, the most likely explanation is it escaped into the general population due to negligence.

Other explanations are, the CCP did it deliberately as payback for losing its parasitic privileges in world trade; the US did it to finish the CCP off; someone else did it, possibly Russia or Israel (because Iran has also suffered badly).

Of course, there are many other possibilities worth considering. Variations on the coivd19 story read like prompts for playwrights.

From a Buddhist point of view, there is much to be gained from this catastrophe, no matter how it eventually comes to be seen. Life, death, impermanence, emptiness, the value of mindfulness, wisdom, and compassion are all stimulated producing heightened awareness and sensitivity to the miracle of existing at all.

Bad news on coronavirus

Here’s an article about it:

LONDON — Immediately after Boris Johnson completed his Monday evening news conference, which saw a somber prime minister encourage his fellow citizens to avoid “all nonessential contact with others,” his aides hustled reporters into a second, off-camera briefing.

That session presented jaw-dropping numbers from some of Britain’s top modelers of infectious disease, who predicted the deadly course of the coronavirus could quickly kill hundreds of thousands in both the United Kingdom and the United States, as surges of sick and dying patients overwhelmed hospitals and critical care units.

The new forecasts, by Neil Ferguson and his colleagues at the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team, were quickly endorsed by Johnson’s government to design new and more extreme measures to suppress the spread of the virus.

The report is also influencing planning by the Trump administration. Deborah Birx, who serves as the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, cited the British analysis at a news conference Monday, saying her response team was especially focused on the report’s conclusion that an entire household should self-quarantine for 14 days if one of its members is stricken by the virus. (A chilling scientific paper helped upend U.S. and U.K. coronavirus strategies)

And here is the paper that article is based on:

…Perhaps our most significant conclusion is that mitigation is unlikely to be feasible without emergency surge capacity limits of the UK and US healthcare systems being exceeded many times over. In the most effective mitigation strategy examined, which leads to a single, relatively short epidemic (case isolation, household quarantine and social distancing of the elderly), the surge limits for both general ward and ICU beds would be exceeded by at least 8-fold under the more optimistic scenario for critical care requirements that we examined. In addition, even if all patients were able to be treated, we predict there would still be in the order of 250,000 deaths in GB, and 1.1-1.2 million in the US.

In the UK, this conclusion has only been reached in the last few days, with the refinement of estimates of likely ICU demand due to COVID-19 based on experience in Italy and the UK (previous planning estimates assumed half the demand now estimated) and with the NHS providing increasing certainty around the limits of hospital surge capacity.

We therefore conclude that epidemic suppression is the only viable strategy at the current time. The social and economic effects of the measures which are needed to achieve this policy goal will be profound. Many countries have adopted such measures already, but even those countries at an earlier stage of their epidemic (such as the UK) will need to do so imminently.

Our analysis informs the evaluation of both the nature of the measures required to suppress COVID19 and the likely duration that these measures will need to be in place. Results in this paper have informed policymaking in the UK and other countries in the last weeks. However, we emphasise that is not at all certain that suppression will succeed long term; no public health intervention with such disruptive effects on society has been previously attempted for such a long duration of time. How populations and societies will respond remains unclear. (Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID19 mortality and healthcare demand)

Here is a rebuttal of the above: REVIEW OF FERGUSON ET AL “IMPACT OF NON-PHARMACEUTICAL INTERVENTIONS…”

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: a discussion

Linked below is a thoughtful discussion of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD).

Personally, I think we all have CPTSD for how can the basic needs of a child (acceptance and security) ever be fully met?

A core aspect of Buddhist mindfulness training is noticing disturbing psychological responses the moment they arise. The ways these responses are dealt with and cured is a major focus of Buddhist practice.

The discussion linked below explores mindfulness in CPTSD therapy. It also describes the therapeutic concept “co-regulation,” which entails two people mindfully regulating or curing unwanted stressors together. (FIML does that extremely well, btw.)

Here’s the discussion. It’s a good read.

-Behaviors serve a purpose and are maladaptive attempts to meet an unmet need and trauma survivors generally have maladaptive behaviors which came from shame and recreate shame. If you struggle with an eating disorder, substances, or other compulsive or destructive behaviors, honor the need you were trying to get met, the feeling you were trying to feel/not feel, and work on addressing that in a substantial way instead of focusing on controlling symptoms or shaming yourself for “bad” behavior

-our childhood relationship solutions are our adult relationship problems. Complex trauma is attachment trauma, so we are all impacted primarily in our ways of relating to ourselves and others. Be gentle with yourself for the childhood solutions (fawning, complying, running, clinging, manipulating, avoiding, etc) that are now causing adult relationship problems. Don’t label yourself as co dependent or rush yourself to not feel what you feel – you’ve been programmed this way and it takes conscious unlearning and practice to create new patterns

-there is nothing wrong with craving deep, meaningful, secure relationships. We are meant to be connected and healing takes place not just in our relationship with ourselves but our relationship with others. Often children with complex trauma will develop one of two attitudes to cope. A) if I’m good enough I’ll be lovable or B) fine I don’t need these people anyways. If you need love and the needs are unmet those needs become so painful we sometimes shut them down, which creates inner tension because the deep need for attachment and love never truly goes away, it’s just repressed. Unfortunately, some “recovery from co-dependency” can mimic this message of needing to be independent, self sufficient, and shut down the need for co-regulation and attachment.

-co dependency isn’t about your relationship with anyone else,‘ it’s about a lack of a relationship with yourself

-identifying and healing my nervous system and attachment patterns and rebuilding self trust are the two most important parts of my healing (The main things I’ve learned as a CPTSD survivor and trauma therapist so far)

Facial expressions: we often read them wrong and then make huge mistakes

Both emotions and facial expressions are ancient instincts.

Human language and cognition have grown well-beyond ancient instincts. Grown beyond but also still affected by.

We have become more complex.

Today, we not only read instincts, we also read instincts into other people’s cognition through what they say, how they say it, how it sounds, how their faces move.

Which micro-expression is the right one?

The truth is we don’t know. Our readings of facial expressions in real-time, real-world situations are often wrong, often tragically.

Our cognition has advanced beyond our instincts but generally speaking it has not advanced far enough for us to generally recognize this fact.

Cultures and social groups deal with the ambiguity of facial expressions by being formal, wearing masks, emphasizing “face” or “saving face,” promoting respect or strong egos that can sell themselves through assertion of meaning, Botox, makeup, boobs, etc.

I think it is arguable that many/most/all people take on and use religion or philosophy in order to provide themselves with a generalizable set of emotions and facial expressions that can be employed in many situations. In this we can see how the architecture of our cognition (our philosophy/religion) is connected to our emotions and facial expressions.

Obviously, our reading of other people’s faces and emotions is not always wrong. If it were we wouldn’t do it at all. But our readings are wrong often enough that tragic mistakes are frequently made.

It is a pity that these truths are not more widely recognized. Browse almost any psychological forum and you will find many comments concerning the anguish people feel at having a condition that is widely misunderstood or misread.

At least they know what is going on.

This morning I saw this article: NEVER trust a person’s face: Scientists say it is ‘completely baloney’ that you can read people’s emotions from their expressions.

And that led me to search for this paper: Emotional Expressions Reconsidered: Challenges to Inferring Emotion From Human Facial Movements.

I am sure most, if not all, psychologists recognize the basic problem of our poor abilities at reading emotions, tone of voice, gesture, and even what we mean at all when we speak and act.

Does anyone know what to do about it?