Reason is signal organization

If we view the universe as being made up of signals rather than matter, what we call “reason” looks very much like a method for organizing signals.

We can visualize this and from our visualization imagine other ways signals organize.

We say something is reasonable when we cannot find elements that do not seem to be in place among elements that do seem to be in place.

In this respect, the term “aesthetic reasoning”—musical, visual, poetic, etc.—makes good sense. It explains how the elements of an artwork are put together, how they are organized.

Engineers generally reason in more utilitarian ways then artists, but there is a great deal of overlap between these pursuits.

Not all reason works only with tangibles and how to organize them. We also fit things  together in our minds by what we normally think of as reasoning, inference, intuition, purpose, and so on.

In many cases, it is simpler and easier to think of signals than matter.

Signals organize into networks that signal other networks and receive signals from them.

A more “reasonable” network organization will work better than a less reasonable one. This type of network will tend to evolve.

first posted MARCH 8, 2017

Edit 12/26/23: We can also see how our fractured world today, divided but not yet conquered, cannot come together. From almost every angle it is unreasonable or simply savage. Signals do not align, we do not even know who is in control or what they want. ABN

Semiotics and stress

A common explanation of human stress includes physical stress (heat, cold, etc.), hierarchical stress (low status, competition, etc.), and lack of social support (horizontal communication, belonging).

Supposedly, humans and other primates tend to stress themselves because we are smart enough to have a lot of free time (time not spent gathering food). As the neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky puts it:

“If you live in a baboon troop in the Serengeti, you only have to work three hours a day for your calories, and predators don’t mess with you much. What that means is you’ve got nine hours of free time every day to devote to generating psychological stress toward other animals in your troop. So the baboon is a wonderful model for living well enough and long enough to pay the price for all the social-stressor nonsense that they create for each other. They’re just like us: They’re not getting done in by predators and famines, they’re getting done in by each other.” (Why Humans (and Baboons) Stress So Much)

Sapolsky makes good points but I want to add something to what he says.

Humans are “semiotic primates.” That is, we live as much or more in a semiotic environment as a natural one.

This means that we stress ourselves not just by our place in a natural hierarchy, but also by how we understand where we are, what we are hearing and saying, and what others are hearing and saying when around us.

Since most humans have no way of fully adjusting their interpersonal communication, the semiotic environments they live in are ambiguous, frequently mistaken, sometimes dangerous. Our intimate semiotic environments are typically unsatisfying or stressful because the communication upon which they are based and which defines them is rarely, if ever, optimal.

When interpersonal stress is relieved through one of the three ways mentioned in the first paragraph above, people may exercise more, work harder to climb the hierarchy, or seek out more horizontal support from a club or temple.

Exercise is good, climbing the hierarchy is OK if that’s what you want, and adding social support never hurts. None of these methods will optimize interpersonal communication, however. They are substitute semiotics of a different kind.

The reason this is so is the core stress-inducing problem most people have is poor intimate interpersonal communication with their primary interlocutor.

It’s not bad to think of yourself as having a psychology and a psychological history, but this line of thought rarely, if ever, leads to optimal communication with your primary interlocutor. When we psychologize ourselves, we tend to generalize ourselves and others. We see ourselves as defined by theories (extrinsic semiotics) rather than by the the dynamic reality of our moment-by-moment interactions with the person(s) we care about most.

FIML optimizes communication between primary interlocutors and in so doing relieves some of the most deleterious human stressors by removing them as they arise. If your intimate interpersonal communication is good, you won’t care very much about where you are on the hierarchy.

first posted OCTOBER 30, 2015

FIML and Symbolic Interaction Theory

Symbolic Interaction Theory, also called symbolic interactionism, provides the best large-scale framework I have found so far for explaining FIML practice.

Three basic premises of symbolic interactionism are:

  • “Humans act toward things on the basis of the meanings they ascribe to those things.”
  • “The meaning of such things is derived from, or arises out of, the social interaction that one has with others and the society.”
  • “These meanings are handled in, and modified through, an interpretative process used by the person in dealing with the things he/she encounters.”

These basic premises have been taken from the Wikipedia article linked above. I tend to agree with most of the general framework, as I understand it, of symbolic interactionism and believe that FIML practice can reasonably be understood as a method that can fit fairly comfortably within that framework.

FIML differs from symbolic interactionism in that FIML is much more a form of interpersonal psychotherapy than a sociological theory. FIML is a communication technique that focuses on meaning as it arises and is apprehended during short periods of time. FIML’s focus on very small units of interpersonal communication is what allows partners to understand how their sense of meaning intertwines with their emotional responses.

From a FIML point of view, society does not appear very well structured in many of its contexts, especially interpersonal contexts involving emotions, friendship, and intimate bonding. From this point of view, a great deal of social structure appears to be a substitute for authentic interaction between individual minds.

FIML seems also to show that a great deal of human suffering arises from the paucity of meaning that can be exchanged between individuals in most social contexts. Indeed, even in intimate contexts, most individuals, if not all of them, have great difficulty in attaining profound mutual understanding. This happens because our perceptions of our selves and others—due to how we use language and semiotics—are too crude and vague to allow for communicative complexity equal to the complexity of our minds/brains.

FIML corrects this problem by focusing on the details of interpersonal communication. Incidentally, FIML theory/practice can be falsified by having many couples do FIML practice and measuring the results. A criticism of symbolic interactionism is that it is not falsifiable. FIML differs from symbolic interactionism in that it is a practical technique that uses objective data (agreed upon by both partners) to optimize communication and improve psychological well-being.

I am pretty sure I will have more to say about symbolic interactionism in the days to come. A friend just sent me the article linked above, so I put down a few thoughts after one reading. FIML partners may find that symbolic interactionism helps with a general understanding of FIML practice.

first posted JUNE 26, 2014

UPDATE 01/13/22: The Wikipedia page has been updated since the excerpt above. I found this update interesting:

[Symbolic interactionism] is a framework that helps understand how society is preserved and created through repeated interactions between individuals. The interpretation process that occurs between interactions helps create and recreate meaning. It is the shared understanding and interpretations of meaning that affect the interaction between individuals. Individuals act on the premise of a shared understanding of meaning within their social context. Thus, interaction and behavior is framed through the shared meaning that objects and concepts have attached to them. From this view, people live in both natural and symbolic environments.

I agree with this and would add that the the shared understanding and interpretations of meaning that affect the interaction between individuals occurs all-importantly and very profoundly on the level of intimate interpersonal relationships. What FIML does is discover, foster, and create a much more accurate shared understanding and interpretations of meaning between FIML partners. The benefit of this is enormous since it has an extremely profound effect on individual psychology and all other shared understanding and interpretations of meaning encountered in society everywhere. ABN

Public semiotics: how they are used and controlled

Public semiotics are semiotics known to many people, semiotics that many people within a society or culture will respond to in similar ways.

Some examples of public semiotics are conventions in literature, film, news, customs, clothing, language use, courtship styles, and so on.

In film and literature, most viewers recognize the semiotic difference between first- and third-person narratives as well as typical plot-lines such as “the individual against the group,” “the individual who overcomes a tragedy,” or simply “good versus bad.”

Viewers responses are controlled by these narratives through expectation, emotion, and habit. Due to their short lengths, most popular films rely very heavily on a single strong emotion for narrative effect, while serious literature generally deals with more complex themes.

A recent scholarly study of US politics came to some conclusions about public semiotics and our perceptions of them that are not likely to surprise readers of this site.

The study and an interview with one of its authors can be found here: Scholar Behind Viral ‘Oligarchy’ Study Tells You What It Means.

In the interview co-author Gilens has this to say about the study:

I’d say that contrary to what decades of political science research might lead you to believe, ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States. And economic elites and interest groups, especially those representing business, have a substantial degree of influence. Government policy-making over the last few decades reflects the preferences of those groups — of economic elites and of organized interests. (Source: same as above. This source has the study as well as the interview.)

What this study says about public semiotics is the public does not control them. Rather, the public is controlled by them.

Interestingly, the study left out some of the main ways that public semiotics are controlled by elites. Public semiotics are not just controlled by interest groups and lobbies influencing legislation, they are also greatly controlled by:

  • elite control of the media
  • elite control of which topics the media covers
  • elite control of presidential debates by the Democratic and Republican parties through the Commission on Presidential Debates
  • elite control of members of congress by the parties they “represent”

In the linked interview, which is well-worth reading, Gilens mentions non-business lobbying groups, but does not say who they are.

If we do not understand that our public semiotics come from somewhere—that many of them are created and maintained by special interest groups—we will fail to understand how we are manipulated by them.

As this study shows, voting for a very limited selection of candidates who rarely, if ever, fulfill their very limited campaign promises is an exercise in public hypnosis. It is a complex semiotic that fosters the illusion of participation where there is none.

I do not think any of this will change. But I do think it is important for individuals, and especially FIML partners, to understand where the semiotics that jostle around in their heads are coming from. As individuals, we can have great control over what we believe, value, do, and understand about human life, and need not be controlled by the self-serving agendas of others.

It is important to understand that much of what is construed as “public life” is actually a complex mix of semiotics consciously controlled by people who work to create and maintain illusions of plots and themes in the world in much the same ways that plots and themes are created and maintained in film.

first posted APRIL 23, 2014

Psychophysics gains a new law of sensory perception that also sheds light on subjective perception

First we have to understand Weber’s Law:

Weber’s law, also called Weber-Fechner law, historically important psychological law quantifying the perception of change in a given stimulus. The law states that the change in a stimulus that will be just noticeable is a constant ratio of the original stimulus. It has been shown not to hold for extremes of stimulation. (Weber’s Law)

Hang in with this, it’s interesting.

About 200 years ago, the German physician Ernst Heinrich Weber made a seemingly innocuous observation which led to the birth of the discipline of Psychophysics – the science relating physical stimuli in the world and the sensations they evoke in the mind of a subject. Weber asked subjects to say which of two slightly different weights was heavier. From these experiments , he discovered that the probability that a subject will make the right choice only depends on the ratio between the weights.

For instance, if a subject is correct 75% of the time when comparing a weight of 1 Kg and a weight of 1.1 Kg, then she will also be correct 75% of the time when comparing two weights of 2 and 2.2 Kg – or, in general, any pair of weights where one is 10% heavier than the other. This simple but precise rule opened the door to the quantification of behavior in terms of mathematical ‘laws’. (NEUROSCIENTISTS MAKE MAJOR BREAKTHROUGH IN 200-YEAR-OLD PUZZLE)

What’s new today is Time–Intensity Equivalence in Discrimination (TIED):

We investigated Weber’s law by training rats to discriminate the relative intensity of sounds at the two ears at various absolute levels. These experiments revealed the existence of a psychophysical regularity, which we term time–intensity equivalence in discrimination (TIED), describing how reaction times change as a function of absolute level. (The mechanistic foundation of Weber’s law)

Simply stated TIED says that the intensity of the stimulus determines the time it takes to “just notice” a change in it and that that scales linearaly as intensity changes up or down. For example, changes in louder sounds are noticed quicker than proportionally equal changes in quieter sounds and this can be scaled mathematically.

TIED is a new theory and needs more research, but whether it works out perfectly or not, I think it shows something very important about our individual and shared subjective perceptions of words, gestures, meanings, intentions, implications, and so on including all semiotics.

At present, we do not have machines that can measure our subjective perceptions, but we can surely feel them. And with training, we can also decently calibrate them.

Most of us can already vaguely talk about our subjective perceptions of each other, but few of us know how to do that with the precision of Weber’s Law or TIED. This is because we are all unique and we all react uniquely to each other. On top of that, few are able to employ language efficiently enough to capture significant detail when describing subjective responses or impressions.

FIML provides a very useful method for isolating and calibrating individual, idiosyncratic subjective perceptions.

Consistent, repeated use of FIML gradually recalibrates and reorganizes the entire psychologies of both partners.

FIML has virtually no content.. FIML is a method, and as such it allows partners to gradually identify, isolate, measure, and reorganize their entire body of psychological data, however they construe it.

first posted AUGUST 13, 2019

Semiotic codes

Simply stated, semiotic codes are the conventions used to communicate meaning.

Codes can be compared to puppet masters that control the words and semiotic bundles that people use when speaking and listening. For many people, semiotic codes are largely unconscious, functioning mainly as limits to communication or as givens.

Some examples of codes might be the ready-made formulas of politics or the ordinary assumptions of any culture anywhere.

Codes work well in most cases when we do ordinary or formal things, but they inhibit thought and communication when we want to go beyond ordinary or formal interactions and behaviors.

Unconscious, unexamined, or strongly-held codes can be a disaster in interpersonal relations if one or both (or all) parties are rigid in their definitions and understanding of the codes being used. These are the sorts of conditions that lead to absurd exchanges at the dinner table and are one of the main reason most of us learn never to talk about politics or religion at most gatherings.

Gathering for dinner itself is a code. On Thanksgiving we are expected to break bread without breaking the code of silence on politics or whatever else your family can’t or won’t talk about. There is not much the individual can do to change this because the harder you try—no matter how good your intentions—the more it will seem that you are breaking the code, being aggressive, or threatening the (probably fairly weak) bonds that hold your dining unit together.

Many years ago, Charles Berger and Richard Calabrese proposed a theory about communication known as the Uncertainty Reduction Theory. This theory deals with how people initially get to know each other. It proposes:

…that, when interacting, people need information about the other party in order to reduce their uncertainty. In gaining this information people are able to predict the other’s behavior and resulting actions, all of which according to the theory is crucial in the development of any relationship. (Source)

The basic idea is that we humans need to reduce uncertainty in order to understand each other well-enough to get along. If we succeed at reducing uncertainty sufficiently, it then becomes possible to continue to develop relations.

The theory works pretty well in my view, but the problem I see with it is reducing initial uncertainty is much the same as feeling out semiotic codes, discovering which ones both (or all) parties subscribe to. As mentioned, this works well-enough for ordinary and formal relations, but what happens next? For the most part, most people then become trapped in the codes they seem to share.

What happens next can even be seen as sort of comical as people over the weeks or months continue to reduce uncertainty while confining themselves even more. Very often, if you try to go a bit deeper, you will be seen as breaking the code, disrupting convention, even threatening the group.

This is the region in which intimate relationships can be destroyed. Destruction happens because the parties involved are trapped in their codes and do not have the means to stand outside them and analyze them. Obviously, this leads to either reduced or turbulent speech.

I think the Uncertainty Reduction Theory might be extended and amended to include a stage two theory of uncertainty reduction. FIML practice would constitute a very reasonable stage two as FIML is designed to remove uncertainty and ambiguity between close partners.

Notice that FIML itself is not a semiotic code. It is a tool, a method, a procedure that allows partners to communicate without using any code at all save ones they consciously choose or create for themselves.

It seems clear to me that all established interpersonal codes are ultimately limiting and that people must find a way to analyze whatever codes they hold or have been inculcated with if they want to have truthful or authentic communication with their closest partners.

Most codes are public in the sense that they are roughly known by many people. But all of us have idiosyncratic ways of understanding these public codes and all of us also have private codes, idiosyncratic codes that are known only to us.

Sometimes our understanding of our idiosyncratic codes and/or idiosyncratic interpretations of public codes is not all that clear to us. One reason is we do not have good ways to access them. Another reason is a good many idiosyncrasies are sort of born in the dark. We muddle into them privately, inside our own minds with little or no opportunity to share them with others. Indeed, as seen above, to try to share them all too often leads to disruption of the shallow “certainty” that adherence to the shared code has provided.

What a mess. We need codes to learn, grow, and communicate with strangers. But we have to go beyond them if we want to learn, grow, and communicate with the people who are most important to us.

FIML is a sort of stage two Uncertainty Reduction Practice that allows partners to observe and analyze all of their codes—both public and private—in real-time.

Why is real-time analysis important? It is important because codes can only be richly and accurately analyzed when we see clearly how they are functioning in the moment. The “psychological morphemes” that appear only during brief moments of communication must be seen and analyzed if deep understanding is to be accomplished.

first posted NOVEMBER 28, 2014

Musk bans Ye, a Buddhist take

Ultimately, these are just words, symbols, signs. They are not trafficked children, sex slaves, or Satanic sacrifices. In Buddhism, there are prominent stories of prominent monks spitting on a statue of the Buddha or destroying one, illustrating the emptiness of even the most revered figure of the Buddhist tradition. In America today, you can do whatever you want in public with such symbols as the flag, the cross, the Constitution, statues of historical or religious figures, the Buddha, Jesus and Mary, but not Nazis or the Star of David. “Who made you the judge?” Ye asks Musk. Musk says Ye is “inciting violence.” Ye is definitely bringing that on himself. I see him as an artist like Alex Jones. Both say things or display things others do not like. At the same time we have Satanic displays and laws allowing infanticide. I make these comments not to defend or condemn either Musk or Ye but to illustrate the extremely strong bondage of words and symbols. We can find similar bondage in terms like “The Science” or “Follow The Science”; “vaccinations” or “antivax”; “Anthropogenic Global Warming” or “Climate Change” soon to become “Climate Restoration”; “Democracy,” “equity,” “diversity,” “communism.” Words, concepts, and stories are all interrelated on many levels and always fascinating both in their beauty and foolishness. The Buddha was best known as an analyst. Analysis is basic to Buddhist practice.

In Buddhism, everything is empty including the Dharma. Before he died, the Buddha himself explicitly asked that statues not be made of him. He said that to avoid turning his teachings into dogma and his memory into a sacrosanct anti-empty doctrine that must be worshiped rather than understood, revered rather than loved and learned from. The Buddha asked to be remembered only by the symbols of a lotus branch, a Dharma Wheel, and a footprint. Obviously, most Buddhists did not obey and most of us own and cherish images of the Buddha. Oh well, no one is perfect and that transgression does not seem too bad. I was a bit proud of the world Buddhist community for not becoming too upset when the Buddhas of Bamiyan were destroyed by the Taliban. None of us liked it but all of us knew that becoming angry or violent over it is not at all what the Buddha taught or would have wanted or, stated more plainly, that would not have been the right thing to do. ABN

The swastika in Buddhism and other religions; Asian faiths try to save the symbol corrupted by Hitler

The equilateral cross with its legs bent at right angles is a millennia-old sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism that represents peace and good fortune, and was also used widely by Indigenous people worldwide in a similar vein.

The word “swastika” has Sanskrit roots and means “the mark of well being.” It has been used in prayers of the Rig Veda, the oldest of Hindu scriptures. In Buddhism, the symbol is known as “manji” and signifies the Buddha’s footsteps. It is used to mark the location of Buddhist temples. In China it’s called Wàn, and denotes the universe or the manifestation and creativity of God. The swastika is carved into the Jains’ emblem representing the four types of birth an embodied soul might attain until it is eventually liberated from the cycle of birth and death. In the Zoroastrian faith, it represents the four elements – water, fire, air and earth.


This is a fairly long article about saving the swastika from associations with Nazi symbolism and legal proscriptions against displaying it. In many Buddhist uses of this symbol today and in the past, it is turned the other way like this:

Years ago I frequented a Buddhist temple in California and was friends with the people who worked in the small book store that also sold Buddhist stuff. A few times customers complained or become upset over seeing a Buddha statue with the symbol as in the image here. Usually, they would calm down after receiving an explanation. I never witnessed those exchanges myself but my friends told me about them. I personally hope the Nazi associations can be wiped away. The swastika is an ancient symbol with deep meaning in many traditions. What if Stalin had used a cross or some other religious symbol. Would we ban them or be upset by them today? ABN

Is morality a fundamental part of nature?

Viewing nature as a signaling network shows its advantage with this question.

Instead of asking where our moral sense comes from, we ask instead what makes for a good signaling network?

The answer is “good organization.”

By “good,” I mean efficient, well-made, good use of resources, easy to maintain, rational, etc.

You are a signaling network.

A well-organized you will probably tend to be morally pretty good and wanting to get better at it, depending on your conditions.

Of course some people view “morality” as whatever is in their best interests. And that is a type of moral thinking. When it is found out, though, most other people, very reasonably, do not like it.

If we view nature as the evolution of signals and signaling networks rather than as the evolution of matter, we will see that changes in signal organization are fundamental to the evolutionary process.

In this sense, it is the most ordinary thing in the world that you, a complex signaling system that is conscious, would consciously seek good organization and/or want to adapt your organizing principles, both objective and subjective, to conditions that impact you.

Conditions that impact you are signals being perceived by the signaling network you think of as yourself.

Your adaptations, both small and large, will encompass many moral considerations and choices.

Morality can be viewed as a kind of organization. The networks that make up your being must organize their relations with the world around them and other sentient beings. We make many moral decisions when we do this. These decisions are an integral part of how we are organized.

Last night I heard a drunk swearing at his friend from the street. “You fucking bastard…” etc. Not well-organized, but still he was yelling a local version of morality and this was fundamental to his networks and behavior.

first posted MARCH 4, 2017

UPDATE 11/09/22: The above shows that what we scientifically think of today as evolution does not contradict what might be called spiritual evolution, or Buddhist evolution that happens in three ways combined: through 1) morality/ethics; 2) concentration/mindfulness; and 3) wisdom/understanding. Karma is the path of our mind as it wends through its various and numerous realities, sometimes tending toward goodness or the Tathagata, sometimes tending away. By consciously contemplating our signaling networks and describing them to ourselves and close friends we can make our signals clearer and more ethical and thus become wiser, have better understanding. The act of doing this is a kind of concentration or mindfulness. It really doesn’t matter what your religion is, including atheism or even oblivionism, honestly analyzing your signaling will change you probably for the better. ABN

Narcissism, alcoholism, and malice

Narcissism is an interesting condition because it does not appear to have a large genetic component, if any, and it can be understood as a cognitive strategy.

Narcissism often co-occurs with alcoholism or is the result of alcohol addiction.

I think it is probably a mistake to say that narcissism leads to alcoholism because alcoholism so often begins in the late teens and early twenties when personality and cognitive strategies are not well developed.

We generally study language and cognitive development by studying growing children, but we can also gain valuable insights into language and cognition by studying how they decline in alcoholism and other degenerative conditions later in life.

My sense is that in alcoholics, narcissism can be understood as an overall cognitive strategy that works because it is a simple and relatively easy way to organize general cognition.

With fewer things to consider, the narcissist is better able to function while drunk or while suffering the neurotoxic effects of years of alcohol abuse.

Why are narcissists and alcoholics so often malicious?

I think the reason is much the same as the argument above: malice is a simple, self-centered response to poorly understood or completely misunderstood social stimuli.

Malice is a side-effect of the simplicity of the narcissist’s overall cognitive strategy which has placed enormous emotional weight on an inflated sense of self.

In terms of FIML theory, narcissism is a dominant network of semiotics centered around self-interest and self-aggrandizement. (Narcissism as a cognitive strategy)

I think FIML practice would be very difficult, maybe impossible, for mid-stage and beyond alcoholics due to reduced capacity for the meta-cognition needed for FIML.

A non-alcoholic narcissist or an alcoholic in the earlier stages of the disease would, in my opinion, benefit greatly from FIML practice if conditions are good.

Rather than being a mysterious force directing personality, I believe narcissism is cognitive strategy. As such it is based on self-centered heuristics that are founded on semiotic networks that can be perceived through FIML practice.

I also believe that these networks almost certainly will be identified by brain scans or other instruments within the next few decades.

first posted APRIL 22, 2016

Signal intensity

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 poster OCTOBER 1, 2012

Signals and morality

A valuable and basic definition of morality might simply be “clear signaling.”

If I harm you, I am messing with your signaling, making it less clear. If I deceive you, I am doing the same.

If my own internal signaling is unclear, confused, or contradictory, I am probably going to cause harm to others whether I mean to or not.

If we see humans as signaling networks at various levels of clarity or confusion, we can remove terms like self, personality or ego. “I,” then, am a system or network of signals that interfaces and interacts with other signaling networks.

By extension, there is no need for terms like “narcissist” or “abusive personality” or any of the other many, many words we normally use to describe human signaling networks.

For example, we can see that each human does social management within their own signaling system and as that system interacts with other human signaling systems. We compose a signaling system that we want others to see and then display it.

When a person often uses social signaling to manipulate, control, or deceive others, we can say they are doing malignant or immoral signaling instead of saying they are “narcissists” or “abusive personalities.”

The advantage of removing those traditional terms that assume an intentional personhood (narcissist, etc.) is we can see much more clearly what is actually happening.

With respect to narcissism,  we can clearly say what a “narcissist” is. When narcissism is redefined as a signaling problem, we can also see that many narcissistic acts are done out of ignorance more than “selfishness.” People believe that they are supposed to be selfish or secretive or withhold important information simply because they do not know another way to act or have had long experiences with others who signal in those ways.

Of course, all of us manage our signaling systems to put us in a good light, at least to some extent. Refraining from gross behavior at the dinner table is a form of manipulating the signals you send to others. Since that is objectively a kind act, it is not narcissism.

Signaling integrity between adult friends is rarely perfect or even very good. Not because many of us don’t want that, but because we don’t know how to do it. Rather than make virtually all signals clear through a technique like FIML, we are forced instead to use off-the-shelf cultural norms to communicate our “personalities” to others.

Besides the few crude markers like punctuality, basic honesty and reciprocity, basic pleasantness, etc., it is very difficult to know another or even oneself without detailed control over the signaling we do with them.

If morality is seen as fundamentally a signaling issue, then the soundest ethical position would be to make our signaling clearer, more honest, less manipulative. Clarity depends on detail. In this light, we can say that there is a sort of moral imperative to do FIML or something very much like it.

first posted OCTOBER 24, 2014

Creation of meaning and human behavior

Humans create meaning because they have to.

Virtually all humans need meaning and a sense that their minds are organized or unified by meaning. The macro-meanings of religion, science, and politics are obvious examples of the sorts of “organized” or “unified” meaning people want and need.

Gangs are another type of organized meaning that unify the minds of their members.

An exceptionally cruel example of the importance of meaning can be seen in the recent story of a young man who was killed for wearing red shoes—gang colors—in the wrong neighborhood (Teen shot after refusing to give up shoes).

This story illustrates how small a bit of meaning can be and yet still elicit violent reactions.

Most people don’t do stuff like that but most people can be and often are as petty if not as violent. In so-called “polite” society a poorly expressed opinion or a deviant political stance can lead to ostracism.

People go nuts over tiny misunderstandings because practically anything can threaten their sense of meaningful unity or organization. In this vein, notice how many people are attracted to institutions that define them. Define their beliefs, values, thoughts, vocabularies, semiotics, even their hairdos and clothes.

In FIML practice, partners also often deal with small bits of meaning. But rather than fight over them or accept them as definitions of anything, partners analyze them and work to understand how those bits of meaning are functioning, what they are doing. A FIML analysis is a process that works toward shared understanding rather than a static—even a programmed—response that is often instinctual, if not violent.

If you take meaning for granted—your uniform, candidate, religion, ethnicity—you will be owned and used by it or by the people who created it, often before you were born. In contrast, if you analyze meaning you will own it and be able to use it freely and as you choose.

While riding in the car, I spoke with my partner about the ideas expressed above. She thought for a moment and said, “You know how if a parasite kills its host quickly it is a sign that it is a recently evolved parasite?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, isn’t what you’re saying similar? Those hunks of cultural meaning have been around for centuries. They are like successful parasites that condition the behaviors of millions of people at a time.”

“Nice,” I said.

“FIML is recent and it may not survive because it is hard to pass on to others. It’s not a parasite, though. It frees us from the parasitism of convention. It doesn’t allow us to get locked in.”

first posted JUNE 3, 2015

Ithaca College follows other schools in futile attempt to ‘dismantle white supremacy’ by segregating white staff

Here is an article about it.

At the heart of all of this lies semiotics and semiotic codes. You cannot work out some vague problem of “racism” by dismantling and clashing an assortment of semiotic codes. In Buddhist terms, this is like two delusive selves battling each other for uncertain goals, or many delusive groups (which resemble delusive selves) battling each other for uncertain goals. If the goals appear somehow certain, they will undoubtedly be idealistic which means nothing more than based entirely on simplified semiotic codes, often projected into the future. Ideologies based entirely on simplified semiotics, like communism or equity, always fail because they are not only wrong as is but also grossly oversimplified. As such they are fantasies that enthrall individuals and groups that have a poor understanding of group semiotics. Notice that the allure of such ideologies often becomes passionate and violent. These emotions are strong semiotic signals that replace reason, logic, clarity, and practicable goals. Semiotics are not easy to understand. Semiotic codes are even harder to understand because it is hard to stand outside of them. In many ways, trans ideologies, confusions and fantasies are similar to racial ones. In extreme cases, when trans fantasies go beyond harmless playfulness, the biological semiotics of sexuality are harmfully altered–even in children–to fulfill a delusion. Should we try that with races? ABN

FIML from a Buddhist point of view: What is it and what does it do?

FIML is fundamentally a communication technique with wide-ranging implications for many other aspects of being human.

FIML removes mistakes from communications between partners. FIML reduces or eliminates neurotic feelings. FIML encourages honesty, integrity, responsibility, and many other virtues. It greatly improves communication. It transforms beliefs in a static self, a personality, an ego, or a set autobiography to a more realistic understanding of the dynamic nature of being, speaking, listening, remembering, functioning. FIML skills are useful when dealing with people other than the FIML partner. FIML greatly reduces the need to rely on external standards (public semiotics) for self-definition and/or communication. FIML elevates consciousness in the sense that FIML practice is done consciously and improvements are made in partners’ consciousnesses. FIML works directly with partners’ experiences and thus is a deeply experiential practice that generates experiential understanding.

FIML greatly supports Buddhist practice and though FIML is not specifically a traditional Buddhist teaching, it does not contradict any core Buddhist teaching. For many people, FIML may be a very good tool to use with the Dharma. This is so because FIML allows each partner to identify kleshas (mistaken interpretations) the moment they arise and to correct them with input from their partner. FIML also helps partners experience the reality of no-self, impermanence, emptiness, and dependent origination. When these truths are experienced together with a partner, both partners are able to deeply confirm the validity of their insights as both share in this confirmation. Both partners will notice kleshas being eliminated and both will be able to confirm this to each other, through explicit statements to each other and also through observations of each other.

FIML practice also helps partners understand and experience how the First and Second Noble Truths actually operate in their lives. When one partner discovers a klesha through a FIML query, they will see very clearly how their mistaken interpretation, if not corrected, could be the source of suffering. When they correct their mistake, they will see how eliminating a klesha is liberating and how it produces a bit of “enlightenment” (Third and Fourth Noble Truths).

FIML practice encourages honesty between partners and many other virtues. FIML partners will directly experience the importance of being honest with their partner and treating them with the utmost respect and integrity. This strengthens partners’ understanding of the Buddha’s teachings on morality (sila).

FIML’s emphasis on fully understanding the roles of language and semiotics supports the Buddha’s teachings on Right Speech (for language) and wisdom (for semiotics). In the Prajna Sutras, “dharmas of the mind” (laksana) very closely correspond to the modern English word semiotics as that word is used in FIML practice. By focusing on this word and concept and experiencing with a partner how semiotics affect everything we think and do, partners will gain great insight into the kind of consciousness described in the Diamond Sutra—a consciousness without the “marks” or “characteristics” (laksana, semiotics) of a self, a human being, a sentient being, or a being that takes rebirth.

FIML accomplishes most of what it does by being a technique that is called up quickly, the moment it is needed. FIML queries almost always lead to long and interesting discussions, but the basic technique must be done quickly. The moment either partner feels a klesha arising, they should stop and query their partner about what is/was in their mind. After hearing your partner’s honest answer, compare it to what you had thought. The better data from your partner should eliminate that particular klesha after a small number of its appearances. Remember, your partner’s data is better because you asked them quickly enough for them to be able to recall with great accuracy what really was in their mind during the moments you were asking them about. If you wait too long or get into long stories or theories, or become emotional, you will miss the chance to catch that klesha. When you do catch a klesha, feel good about it. That means there is one less hindrance in your mind.

Non-Buddhists will experience the same results from FIML practice as Buddhists, though their understanding of these results will be framed differently. We have discussed FIML from a non-Buddhist point of view in many other posts. Interested readers are encouraged to browse some of those posts for more on that angle.

first posted as “What is FIML and what does it do?” on MAY 16, 2012