The complexity of communication

A better version of this would have a similar set of circles mostly outside of this set and to the right of it. The smallest circle would be “what sounds enter people’s ears.” The next one would be “what they thought they heard.” The next one would be “how they interpreted that.” The last and biggest circle would be “what they thought about that interpretation.”

It is typically an illusion that the speaker knows “what other people understand,” let alone what they think abut what they thought they heard.

Interpersonal communication is always fraught with ambiguity, misinterpretation, misspeaking, and mishearing, among many other errors. Even very close friends who know each other very well will make at least several significant mistakes in any given hour of interaction.

Even close friends use conformity—indeed, require it—to overcome communication errors which inevitably occur in one or more of the circles described above.

Yet conformity can also be a serious hindrance to deep communication between close friends. This fact is a central paradox of profound interpersonal communication.

Deception (or truth elision) in communication

To communicate, we often must ignore the truth or falsity of a statement, our own or someone else’s.

I believe it is an instinct to do this; that it is part of our instinct to communicate at all. Communication requires cooperation, an agreement to be agreeable enough to get the message through.

We might call ignoring truth or falsity in communication “truth elision” or “psychological elision.” Elision means to omit something. Psychological elision would mean omitting or not mentioning psychological truths.

We do a lot of truth elision to save time. In professional or group settings it is hard to communicate any other way because there is not enough time to be perfectly truthful and most people will not care. They just want to socialize and/or get the job done, not search for truth.

Most communication is like that. Most messages are not even superficially analyzed. Semiotics glide through our minds without any thought to their deep origins or interpretations. Truth and falsity are frequently elided.

Like all instincts, our instinct to cooperate by ignoring the truth or falsity of many statements can be misused to consciously deceive.

Indeed, we frequently deceive even ourselves by accepting our own statements as true when analysis would show they are not. One way we succeed in doing this to ourselves is by simply avoiding the analysis—analysis elision.

This is where a simple instinct starts to go bad. A basic need to cooperate on the signs and symbols of communication gets twisted into tricking people, deceiving them, even deceiving ourselves.

The way to see this most clearly and to stop doing it with at least one other person is FIML practice. One of my main goals for this website is to show how and why communication goes bad and how and why it harms us. At the same time, I present a practical way to fix the problem described—FIML.

 

Working memory is key to deep psychological transformation, Part 4

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

For something to appear in consciousness it must also appear in working memory. We interact with the (long) moments of real-life in real-time through our working memories.

The post below describes how psychological morphemes that appear in working memory can help us transform the psychological systems they are associated with. It discusses a study which “…shows that removing a key word from a linguistic network will cause that network to fracture and even be destroyed.”

This last point is key to using working memory to achieve deep psychological transformation. ABN

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Networks of words, semiotics, and psychological morphemes

On this site we have claimed many times that words and semiotics are held together in networks. We have further hypothesized that “psychological morphemes” are also held together in networks.

A “psychological morpheme” is the smallest meaningful unit of a psychological response. It is the smallest unit of communication that can give rise to an emotional, psychological, or cognitive reaction.

Of course word networks, semiotic networks, and emotional, psychological, and cognitive networks all intertwine with each other.

FIML practice is designed to help partners untangle unwanted emotions from these intertwined networks. FIML practice focuses on psychological morphemes because they are small and thus rather easily understood and rather easily extirpated from real-time contexts (when partners are interacting in real life in real-time).

The hard part about FIML practice is it is done in real life in real-time. But the easy or very effective part about FIML is that once partners learn to do it, results come quickly because the practice is happening in real life in real-time. It is not just a theory when you do it in that way. It is an experience that changes how you communicate and how you understand yourself and others.

In FIML practice partners are mindful of their emotional reactions and learn that when one occurs, it is important to query their partner about it. They are mindful of psychological morphemes and as soon as one appears, but before the morpheme calls up a large network leading to a strong reaction, they query their partner about it.

This practice leads, we have claimed, to a fairly smooth and effortless extirpation of unwanted psychological responses. This happens, we believe, because the data provided by the partner that “caused” the reaction shows the partner who made the FIML query that the psychological morpheme in question arose due to a misinterpretation. Seeing this repeatedly for the same sort of neurotic reaction causes that reaction and the psychological network that comprises it to become extinguished.

A fascinating study from the University of Kansas by Michael Vitevitch shows that removing a key word from a linguistic network will cause that network to fracture and even be destroyed. An article about the study and a link to the study can be found here: Keywords hold vocabulary together in memory.

Vitevitch’s study involves only words and his analysis was done only with computers because, as he says, ““Fracturing the network [in real people] could actually disrupt language processing. Even though we could remove keywords from research participants’ memories through psycholinguistic tasks, we dared not because of concern that there would be long-term or even widespread effects.”

FIML is not about removing key words from linguistic networks. But it is about dismantling or removing psychological or semiotic networks that cause suffering.

Psychological or semiotic networks are networks rich in emotional meaning. When those networks harbor unwanted, inappropriate, or mistaken interpretations (and thus mistaken or unwanted emotions), they can cause serious neurotic reactions, or what we usually call simply “mistaken interpretations.”

We believe that these mistaken interpretations and the emotions associated with them can be efficiently extirpated by revealing to their holder the “key” psychological morphemes that set them off.

My guess is the psychology of a semiotic network hinges on repeated reactions to key psychological morphemes and that this process is analogous to the key words described in Vitevitch’s study.

Vitevitch did not remove key words from actual people because it would be unethical to do so. But it is not unethical for consenting adults to help each other find and remove key psychological morphemes that are harmfully associated with the linguistic, semiotic, cognitive, and psychological networks that make up the individual.

The essay was first posted May 21, 2014.

Some basic benefits of FIML practice

  • FIML clears up communication problems in the moment (at the time they occur and just afterward) while establishing a valuable precedent for clearing up future problems, which are inevitable.
  • FIML helps partners see their own neuroses (mistaken interpretations) and understand how those neuroses operate in their lives during a real moment of their lives. Each basic FIML discussion is based on a real problem identified by one or both partners.
  • Being able to efficiently and effectively fix real problems as they occur gives partners a sense of confidence and joy.
  • If only one partner had a problem with something, both partners still benefit because the second partner will come to understand how the first hears or speaks and why. Partners will increase their understandings of each other as well as of language, semiotics, communication, emotion, psychology, etc.
  • Each FIML discussion can be extended into other fields (history, science, art, Buddhism, etc.) as much as partners want. This helps both partners increase their awareness of how the large “net” of cultural semiotics is put together and where they stand in relation to it.
  • Each FIML discussion forms a basis, or can serve as an example, for the next discussion. After a single neurosis has been identified a few times, partners will learn to recognize it immediately and deal with it very quickly.
  • Fixing one neurosis increases confidence and skill, making it easier to fix the next or to deepen discussions to include other kinds of psychological material.
  • Once partners are reasonably skilled at FIML, they will find they are able to deal with a much broader range of subjects because they have communication techniques that allow them to quickly overcome misunderstandings.
  • Once the skills are developed, FIML discussions are a lot of fun. In many ways, there is nothing more interesting.
  • FIML practice greatly supports Buddhist practice and should serve to help Buddhists gain immediate and very personal experiential comprehension of the Dharma.
  • Buddhist terms like delusion, suffering, liberation, wisdom, karma, compassion and more will take on new meaning as they become less an abstract code for behavior and more a personally understood aspect of our own behavior.
  • FIML helps us see for ourselves in real time how our own particular delusions create suffering, and how we can attain liberation from those delusions.
  • FIML works with very small instances of delusion so it is neither painful nor embarrassing. Indeed, it is a great pleasure to eliminate delusion.
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First posted May 13, 2012

Imaginary communication

Normal socially-defined communication—business, school, professional, etc.—operates within known limits and terminologies. Skill is largely defined as understanding how to use the system without exceeding its limits, how to play the game.

Many other forms of communication must be imagined. That is, I have to imagine what you mean and you have to imagine what I mean. This is so because many general rules of  communication are not sufficient to encompass broad psychological realities or account for individual idiosyncrasies.

In many cases of this type I will imagine that you are normal to the extent that I am able to imagine what normal is. And I will imagine that you imagine me to be normal. As I imagine you I will probably assume that your sense of what is normal is more or less the same as mine. This is probably what the central part of the bell curve of imagined communication looks like. People in this group are capable of imagining and cleaving to normal communication standards. If you reciprocate, we will probably get along fine.

If my imagination is better than normal, I will be able to imagine more than the normal person or given to imagining more. If this is the case, I will tend to want to find a way to communicate more than the norm to you. If you reciprocate, we might do well communicating. If you don’t, I might appear eccentric to you or distracted.

If my imagination is worse than normal, I will have trouble imagining or understanding normal communication. I won’t have a good sense of the cartoons we are required to make of each other and will probably appear awkward or scatterbrained to most people. If you reciprocate, we might do well communicating and find comfort in each other.

Normal communication, even when imagined, is based on something like cartoons. I see myself as a cartoon acting in relation to the cartoon I imagine for you. If my cartoon fits you well enough that you like it and if your cartoon of me fits well enough that I like it, we have a good chance of becoming friends.

A great deal of normal imagined communication is cartoon-like, and being normal, will take the bulk of its cartoons from mass media—movies, TV, radio, and, to a lesser extent today, books and other art forms.

People still read and learn from books and art, but normal communication has come to rely heavily on the powerful cartoons of mass media.

The big problem with our systems of imagined communication is they are highly idiosyncratic, messy, and ambiguous. We have to spend a lot of time fixing problems and explaining what we really mean.

It’s good to have idiosyncratic communication, but we have to find ways to understand each other on those terms.

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First posted May 25, 2014; slightly edited

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.

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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.

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First posted 1/9/14

How signals form in the brain

Researchers at the University of Oxford’s Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour have discovered that:

“…nerve cells collect evidence for the alternative choices as minute voltage changes across their surface. These changes build up over time until they reach a hair-trigger point, at which the nerve cell produces a large electrical impulse. This impulse signals that a decision has been reached.” (Source)

Lead author of the study behind these conclusions, Dr. Lukas Groschner, says:

“We have discovered a simple physical basis for a cognitive process.

“Our work suggests that there is an important analogue component to cognition. People sometimes compare the brain to a digital machine operating with sequences of impulses and silences. But much of what looks like silence is actually taken up by analogue computation.” (Ibid)

The study, which can be found here, worked with a small number of nerve cells important for decision-making in fruit flies. One can imagine that similar processes occur in human brains.

If decisions are based on electrical charges that “build up over time” as analog computations, many aspects of thought become clearer. Indecision, abrupt decision, and mistakes as well as rational analysis all show signs of a mounting and wavering of voltage prior to decisive action. Frequently, the deciding “voltage” is an emotional burst or a bias.

It seems clear to me that decisions are built up over time (experience, training, rumination, unconscious accumulations) before they are made, often seemingly spontaneously.

As humans, we are particularly susceptible to a bias toward familiar or authoritative human semiotics. This is why propaganda works so well or why Google can swing an election without consumers of its products being aware they have been manipulated.

That humans copy and follow other humans is the basis of sociology and psychology. Culture is much like a Google algorithm that all but forces us to “decide” between limited options that have been “built up” over time by social inertia or manipulated by people who control social semiotics or the algorithms that select the ones we see.