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

Status as a fetish

Fetish can be defined as “a part standing for the whole” or “one thing being made bigger than it is by having become a psychological fixation.”

A good example of what I mean is pornography. Insofar as a mere image can stand for or replace instinctual sexual objectives, it is a fetish.

A sign (pornographic image) is as strong or stronger than the animal instinct. Or a sign can direct or redirect the animal instinct. That is a fetish.

Secondary sex characteristics do the same thing. You could call them nature’s fetishes but that would be stretching the concept. Human utilizations of makeup, clothing, and grooming could be said to stand “halfway” between the basic sexual instinct and the fetishized porno image.

Let’s apply that reasoning to status.

Two social psychologist I respect—Jordan Peterson and Kevin MacDonald—have both claimed many times that status is a fundamental human instinct and that it drives human behavior in many ways.

In posts on this site, I have disagreed with these ideas several times. I just don’t see it that way. Here are two of those posts: Status and hierarchy are as fundamental to human life as murder and Jordan Peterson on the gender pay gap, campus protests and the patriarchy.

In the second link just above, I said:

…I do not believe that social status is any more fundamental to human nature than murder is. Humans also possess reason and spiritual inclinations both of which can guide us away from status competition if we decide to do that and/or our conditions allow.

I still think that but over the past day or two a new understanding of the importance of status and human hierarchy has dawned on me. In essence, I think I have come to see that status really is a huge deal for many people; a much bigger deal than I had ever realized.

My explanation for that is people like me (and there are many of us) during childhood and adolescence see the “status game” as a choice. And we decide not to play it.

My SO made that choice. When we talked about this subject this morning, she said people like us are more open to art (in a broad sense) and less concerned with social hierarchies. I think that’s true. One good friend years ago used to call me a “now person,” meaning I am always living in the here and now and not doing a lot of planning for the future. I think she also meant or implied that I am not doing any thinking about my social status or the human hierarchies that surround me.

A Buddhist nun who is a close friend has often described mundane human behaviors as being motivated by jealousy. I have often disagreed with her, believing that her emphasis on jealousy was influenced too much by her culture (Chinese) or by the innocence of her monastic lifestyle.

Today, I think she was influenced by the status-conscious world she had grown up in and as a young adult renounced for Buddhism. But I also think she was able to see something I have been almost completely blind to. For me status has always been a very small cloud on the edge of the sky, not a major thunderstorm in human motivation. For her it is, or was, a storm in the human mind.

Status is a fetish. And fetishization does explain a lot about it. But if lots of people have that fetish or have that strong understanding of status, that’s how it is. As a social construct the status fetish can be even bigger and more imposing than the basic instinct it rests upon.

I hope this post helps people who see status as important understand people like me and my SO, and vice versa.

From a Buddhist point of view, I think it is important to fully understand the entire status spectrum—from instinct to fetishized sign—and to understand where you are on that spectrum and where the people you deal with are on that spectrum.

My guess is that most people reading this blog do not think of status as being very important. People like us need to appreciate that status is probably largely what motivates good people like Jordan Peterson as well as bad people like Bernie Madoff.

Might also be good if status-conscious people would understand that people like us are not all slackers or losers, nor are we seething with envy over your status. We simply do not even see the game you are playing. We do other stuff like become monastics or perform ordinary tasks cheerfully and without complaint.

Consciousness as reality itself

In Buddhism the idea that consciousness is reality and reality is conscious is called “mind only” or Yogachara.

David Ray Griffin, a process theologian, has come to similar conclusions—that reality is fundamentally conscious.

As has Donald D. Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science at UC Irvine.

Hoffman came at this subject from a mathematical angle, but arrived at a similar conclusion to Yogachara Buddhism. Hoffman says:

As a conscious realist, I am postulating conscious experiences as ontological primitives, the most basic ingredients of the world. I’m claiming that experiences are the real coin of the realm. (The Case Against Reality)

I tend to reach similar conclusions when I think about everything in terms of signals.

The advantage of thinking in terms of signals is we get a good picture of “reality” without needing to say what is real beyond the signal itself.

This kind of thinking is helpful for metaphysics but it is also extremely practical when it comes to human psychology.

Rather than posit personality types and what goes wrong or right with them, we analyze how people send and receive signals instead.

In thinking along these lines, I have come to the conclusion that most psychology as most people understand it uses “arms-length” language, the language of meso and macro signals rather than the much more precise language of the micro signals that actually comprise our shared “realities.”

The difference can be illustrated in this way: Rather than explain your most recent signal (sent or received) in terms of personality, explain it by accessing the micro-signals of short-term memory to find its true antecedents.

If you do this again and again by using a game such as FIML, you will probably come to conclusions similar to the above—that there is no deeper substance to psychological reality than your consciousness of it.

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first posted 08/05/17

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

Advanced FIML

It is of paramount importance that FIML partners learn to use the basic FIML technique described here: How to do FIML.

Even very advanced partners should be using the basic technique most of the time.

This is because most mix-ups are fundamentally simple and/or are based on something quite simple. And this happens because of how humans use and process language. Basically, our limbic system is too closely connected to our neocortex. Our emotional reactions have a strong tendency to overwhelm our capacities for good listening and rational analysis.

Mix-ups are 100% completely guaranteed for all people because all of us have learned to speak non-FIML languages. And even after we are able to do FIML, we will still readily slip back into non-FIML reactions.

It’s no one’s fault. We are primitive beings with poor control of both language and our emotional reactions to it.

That said, advanced FIML partners will find themselves regularly engaging in FIML discussions that may be continued for days and that will refer to factors that lie outside of the basic data described in the basic technique.

As partners progress, they will come to better understand the complexity of their interactions while noticing that some dynamic features between them tend to repeat. It’s good to keep a record in your minds of those features or routines that tend to recur. These are the idiosyncratic dynamics of your Functional Interpersonal Meta Linguistic reality.

Yes, some of these dynamic features can and will be generalizable to other couples, but the mixture of all of them together will largely be unique to the two of you.

FIML is not about telling you what to think or believe. It is, rather, a technique that will help you and your partner achieve optimum communication and mutual understanding with each other.

FIML partners must learn the basic technique and they must use it frequently because all other discussions will require it. That said, advanced FIML partners should also expect to engage in FIML discussions that go well beyond the basic technique in length, complexity, and the factors considered.

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first posted 09/05/12