A signal-based model of psychology: part four

In the first three parts of A signal based model of psychology, we discussed micro, meso, and macro levels of human understanding and how paying attention to these levels can make human signaling easier to comprehend.

In this post I want to discuss how human signaling is normally managed and, knowing this, how we can better understand how it affects us.

In truth, there are countless possible interpretations for every moment of every day if we choose to notice them. In the material world of doing familiar things in familiar surroundings, we handle the abundance of possible interpretations by simply ignoring most of them. We put our minds on autopilot and do our tasks by accessing rote procedures and memories.

In social situations, though the stakes may be higher psychologically, we do much the same. Rather than wonder about the vast majority of communicative exchanges with others, we generally put our minds in social autopilot mode and interpret what we are hearing and perceiving according to fairly simple rules we have already established.

Continue reading “A signal-based model of psychology: part four”

Narcissism, a semiotic interpretation

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The simplest definition of narcissism is “narrow or reduced interpretation(s) of psychological signs.”

This is a functional definition that provides insight into a wide range of human psychological reactions.

A broad example of psychological narcissism using the above definition is alcoholism which reduces sign interpretation due both to inebriation and toxicity.

Notice this definition does not presuppose anything psychological about the alcoholic. Alcoholism reduces sign interpretation due to the chemical properties of ethanol.

Alcoholism damages and simplifies the brain’s capacity to entertain multiple interpretations of signs. This is the core reason why so many alcoholics display narcissistic behaviors.

Somewhat similarly, small children can be functionally “narcissistic” because their brains are not developed. Like an alcoholic on the other side of life, a small child simply does not have the brain complexity to entertain multiple interpretations.

Narcissism is a simple and very basic operating system. This is why it is a normal option for both undeveloped and alcoholic brains.

The cure for narcissism is help the narcissist see multiple interpretations.

I believe that most if not all psychological analyses of individuals should be applicable to groups of people and vice versa.

Thus, a group with a reduced interpretation of signs will probably be a narcissistic group.

Groups that insist on a single interpretation of the past or the present are examples of this.

first posted JUNE 14, 2017

End-user cultural consumption as narcissism

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I don’t really like the term narcissism because it is vague and in important ways can be applied to almost anyone.

The concept does have value though in that it is widely recognized and understood and does seem to point to something real.

Narcissism basically means being excessively selfish, self-centered, or vain. We can imagine a narcissist as someone who is trapped in a hall of mirrors, or trapped in their own imagination. Being trapped by your own imagination sounds paradoxical. But we can indeed become trapped when the terms, elements, or substance of our imagination is trapped in something else. Just as our bodies can be trapped in a prison cell, so our minds can be trapped within limited concepts, a limited sense of our options.

I contend that end-users of culture (virtually all of us) are trapped. A better term than end-user might be retail consumer. In this sense, we could say that retail consumers of culture are trapped by what they are consuming. I avoided the word retail above because it implies buying things with money. What I mean is accepting cultural norms as real or complete or good enough when they are not.

Rather than define narcissism in the usual ways, let me now define it based on signaling. A narcissist is someone who exhibits “unnecessarily reduced signaling.”

What does that mean?

Unnecessarily in this context means it doesn’t have to be that way. Reduced means there could be much more. Signaling means any and all communicative signals—words, expressions, gestures, actions, etc., but especially words.

A retail consumer of a culture, thus, unnecessarily accepts reduced signaling. To put it another way, end-users of culture are trapped  by what they have consumed or “bought.”

Retail implies wholesale while end-user implies that the thing used was made or designed by someone else. For cultures, this implication is exactly right. Very few people make culture, though culture most definitely is made by some people.

Why are end-users or retail consumers of cultures narcissists?

They are narcissists because they are trapped within the reduced signaling of the culture they have “bought.” The wholesalers of culture, those who have made it, don’t think the signals are “unnecessarily” reduced; they want them to be that way. They want end-users to accept their ideas and do what they say, which is what most people do.

Most end-users have no idea they are trapped and do not consider themselves narcissists. But they are narcissists because they are completely stuck at the retail level. They have little or no control over how they understand things. And they have almost no control over how they speak to other end-users or how they hear other end-users.

How do I know this? One way is this: people almost everywhere are capable of complex understanding, be it tying flies for fishing, knitting, doing engineering, designing a home, etc. Nearly everyone exhibits complex understanding of at least a few things.

But almost no one exhibits a complex use of communicative signals. This is so because communicative signals move quickly and usually move through sound (speech).

Without training, it is very difficult to isolate and analyze communicative signaling in real-time. And if you don’t do it in real-time, there is no other way to do it. Even if you have a tape and a video of a communicative exchange, it is impossible to be sure of your analysis after the fact.

Real-time signaling is quick and complex. A single mistake can change the course of a conversation in one person’s mind without changing it in the other person’s mind. From that point on, mistakes will multiply.

What all of us normally do almost all of the time to correct for this problem or difficulty is we reduce our signaling.

And what do we reduce it to? We reduce it to cultural norms. Like narcissists, we assume that other end-users think like us, speak like us, and hear things in roughly the same way we do. If there is any confusion, most of us run quickly toward the nearest retail cultural artifact, thus blurring the real exchange and permanently trapping ourselves in end-user culture.

The mores, taboos, and preferences of culture become what we think we are. And that is a profoundly reduced package from what we are capable of. If you have any complex skill or understanding of anything, take a moment to compare it to how you conceive of your own mind during acts of communication. Or the minds of others during acts of communication.

I bet your understanding of how to take care of your tropical fish or do your favorite hobby is better and more detailed than how you conceive of your communication with others.This is the narcissism of the cultural end-user. It’s a small, made-by-others, prison of ideas within which the individual, maddeningly, resides.

If you do have a complex conception of communication, I bet it is strategical, designed to get you what you want and is thus narcissistic in that sense.

Rather than end on this depressing note, I can add the way to fix this problem. Do FIML or something very much like it. Once you can control, analyze, and fully understand real-time communication, you will be free of or have the means to get free of the reduced terms of retail culture.

____________________

Update 11/4/14: Another way to view end-user cultural narcissism is through the concept of “narcissistic supply,” which is “…a type of admiration, interpersonal support or sustenance drawn by an individual from his or her environment and essential to their self-esteem.”

Retail consumers of culture require narcissistic supply that validates their cultural consumption, admires it, praises it, agrees with it, and conforms to it. Retail culture is deeply characterized by fairly set patterns of mutual narcissistic supply that permit only slight deviation from whatever its norms are. My guess is scam artists and psychopaths learn how to work the patterns of narcissistic supply to get what they want. Scam artists often deflect moral judgement against themselves by saying that they were only able to fool people because those people wanted to believe. There is much truth in this defense though, of course, wanting to believe is not the same as wanting to be fooled or cheated. In a similar vein, retail cultural narcissists are capable of a sort of psychopathic behavior themselves in that they cannot bear to have their supply-values ignored or disrespected and will lash out, often with great vehemence, at anyone who does not comply with their need for supply.

first posted NOVEMBER 3, 2014

Semiotic valence

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In a previous post, I introduced the concept of semiotic wells. A semiotic well is like a space-time “gravitational well” within a semiotic network. By this, I mean that part of the semiotic network has some heavy things in it—primary semiotics that pull other nodes within the network toward them.

For example, someone with the view that they have some sort of personality will tend to associate many of their perceptions and thoughts with the features of that personality. Their belief in their personality type will tend to make them see and understand the world in those terms.

I doubt that “having” a personality is all that much different from having a hobby. And I bet most people can move from one personality type to another about as easily as they can move from one hobby to another.

Of course there are constraints and limitations in the development of hobbies just as there are in the development of personalities.

We can gain profitable understanding of the mind by conceiving of it as a network of semiotic units. It is a network because the semiotic elements of the mind are all interconnected. It does not take much imagination to connect any semiotic element in your mind to any other. Apple-red-communism. Or apple-pie-American.

By association we can connect anything in this way.

Every semiotic element in the mind has a valence. In different contexts, the valences for any element will differ, and oftentimes they are neutral, but they are there. A semiotic well organizes valences as well as meaning, intention, belief, value.

For some people, speech is used to socialize, to make friends, to gain and keep access to other people. The valence of major parts of their semiotic network is aimed at socializing with others. People of this type are pleasantly excited when others compliment or reciprocate their social valences.

In contrast, for some other people, speech is used to share ideas, to analyze, to teach and to learn. The valences of their semiotic networks are primarily aimed at sharing ideas. People of this type are pleasantly excited when others reciprocate these valences.

Many semiotic wells and semiotic valences are formed accidentally, randomly, arbitrarily. Once we take on any bit of meaning, even if only slightly, there is always a chance that it will snowball into a significant semiotic well.

The Beatles alluded to this when they sang Had it been another day/ I might have looked the other way/ And I’d have never been aware/ But as it is I dream of her tonight.

This doesn’t just happen with love but with many of our other interests. We form semiotic wells—sometimes very quickly—for what are often very trivial reasons or no reason at all.

Much of what we are comes about through accident or chance. This happens because semiotics and the ways valences become attached to them are frequently very simple. Once a semiotic well begins forming it often grows, and as it does it pulls in or rearranges elements from other parts of our semiotic network.

Once a well is formed or given to us, it can greatly determine how we perceive the world and what we value in it.

This is why propaganda succeeds so well, and is sort of easy to do if you have a lot of money and access to important public forums. All a propagandist has to do is start your mind in one direction and then add more information and more valence. Most people see the world in terms of simple dichotomies, so all the propagandist needs to do is decide what they want and contrast it favorably against what they don’t want.

Want war? Make the public perceive the enemy you want as an enemy, then add info while increasing valence. Columnists will write many thousands of words about the desired war, but the basic sociology of it for the general public is always very simple.

Of course sometimes the trick fails. With Syria the basic formula—terrorists/poison gas/war—failed, probably because the public had been fooled too many times before with similar formulas (Sadam/WMD/war).

If you can see past words and feelings to the core of the semiotic well, you will see that many things in this world are quite simple. It is no accident that people communicate largely in very simple terms.

first posted MARCH 20, 2014

FIML changes the personality and sense of group allegiance

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FIML practice changes your personality, your sense of self, because the basis of who you tell yourself you are changes. It changes from a static notion/story/semiology of a solid, if elusive, “me” to an active function. The active function, a process of understanding, happens because when you do FIML you interact with your partner on a truly active basis. This basis is mutually agreed upon and admits far more “objective”/external data into your core self-assessment than is possible without FIML. FIML teaches both partners the value of micromanaging their communication and being completely honest about every moment of communication, every “psychological morpheme” that transits between them.

FIML practice changes your sense of group allegiance by gradually allowing partners to shift their sense of allegiance away from the static ideals of an external group to the dynamic, functional processes of their mutual FIML practice, their honest and very accessible “interpersonality.”

For example, if both partners are “Buddhists,” they will gradually be able to shift their understanding of the Dharma from static, imitative notions of how to be to much richer conclusions based on honest interactive experience. They will grow away from their reliance on two-dimensional ideals toward a mutually understood experience of Buddhist truths. Nothing wrong with ideals in the right place and time, but individual Buddhists must advance beyond merely acting them out, pretending they feel ways they don’t. The core of the mind is accessed in FIML practice because FIML accesses core communication processes. An individual all alone can gain many insights, but without the help of a FIML partner how can they check their insights?

Buddhists who practice FIML will find their practice informed by Buddhism at almost every turn, but this is different from modelling a static personality on static Buddhist ideals. It is so radically different, I suspect it is much closer to what the Buddha actually meant and probably a major reason monks traveled in pairs for most of the year. How can you know yourself, your being, your reality, if you aren’t sure of what people are saying to you or how they are hearing you? Not only not sure, but wrong much of the time? The answer is you cannot. It’s not possible. FIML will wake you and your partner from that major aspect of the dream. As the Diamond Sutra says:

All conditioned dharmas
are like dreams, like illusions,
like bubbles, like shadows,
like dew, like lightning,
and all of them should be contemplated in this way.

Psychology recapitulates sociology, and the other way around is true, as well—sociology recapitulates psychology. Groups of people when they are bound by static ideals/beliefs are worse than individuals. Groups like that—and that is how almost all groups are—are sociopathic; that is, the group acts like a psychopath. Individuals within the group may be “nice” to other group members, but the group itself rarely will eschew all “callous disregard for” other groups, the very definition of a psychopath. Even Buddhist groups do this. The only ones that don’t are so small and weak, they dare not.

The same is true as much or more so for all other groups—religious, national, ethnic, gender-based, racial, psychological, whatever. This is because all groups are based on static ideals, which when internalized, reduce the functionality of the individual and corrupt their morality.

Science in many ways is an exception because as a group “science” is objective, rational, parsimonious, evidence-based. In practice of course, the sociology of how science is actually done can be fraught with delusion. Science works very well at a high level of abstraction, but many individual scientists will feel low-grade sociological pressures and many of them will belong to groups that are based on ideals that are very different from science and that are sociopathic.

Yes, I believe all large groups are dangerous and will lead individuals to make serious ethical mistakes. And yet, we have to belong somewhere. It is torture to be all alone. This is where FIML can help greatly. You can fulfill many of your group needs by identifying your core group as you and your partner. FIML partners must continue to be deeply informed by other groups—science, Buddhism, good politics, your friends and neighbors, etc.—but they need not take in the sociopathic ideals of those groups. Go to your temples, enjoy them, do the meditations, participate, but don’t be a damn fool about it. With the help of your partner, you will be able to separate out the dreams, illusions, shadows, and lightning of the Dharma from the profound reality of your actual lives as you are actually living them. You will discover, with the help of the Dharma, the suchness of your actual being, not someone else’s.

first posted DECEMBER 4, 2012

The sexualization of women in China

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In the West, the term sexualization is normally used in the negative. It is normally considered a bad thing to sexualize women, children, and I suppose men or animals when that happens.

Westerners see sexualization as a form of “objectifying” or “pornifying” people, reducing whole persons with complex psychologies to little more than objects of sexual pleasure.

I have no argument against the term when used that way in the right context.

Sexualization in China, however, (as an idea not the term) has a very different context than in the West, particularly the sexualization of women.

In the West, women benefited from various long traditions that worshiped them, Romanticized them, restricted men to one wife (not the case in China), prevented cousin-marriage, and sexualized them in the sense that they were and are considered beautiful and desirable by most men.

This is not the case in China. In traditional China, women were treated more as chattel, as son-makers, as workers, slaves, servants, or prostitutes. Few were deeply appreciated and openly admired for their physical beauty. There was no concept of Romantic love or deep pair-bonding between a man and a woman as in the West.

So if you come across a story about a Chinese pageant that sees models compete for best cleavage as I did today, it is best to understand it in a different context than you would in the West, for these pageants have a different purpose than they do in the West, at least in part.

Of course, some aspects of the Chinese pageant may be even raunchier than in the West, but at least one aspect has the purpose of overcoming Chinese cultural features that have for centuries deeply under-appreciated women by what are now modern standards.

There has been an effort for some time in China to raise the level of appreciation Chinese men have for women by portraying women as beautiful and desirable through media exposure and beauty pageants. Less than thirty-five years ago all women in China wore the same Mao clothes and before that dress was mostly traditional staid clothing that covered and de-emphasized female physical beauty. Confucius was not a sensualist.

The sexualization of women—even through cleavage contests—is serving to raise the standards of the whole society for when women are desired they will be valued and not be so much abused.

The above comments can be disputed in many ways, but the gist is correct. My information on the propaganda of creating a “modern” sense of the beauty of women comes from discussions in China many years ago with people who I believe knew what they were talking about. These efforts began in the 1980s and 90s with the new policies that opened China to the world.

I am sure the pageants mostly run on their own steam now, but the need is still there. To this day many women in China and Southeast Asia are kidnapped to feed the amazingly large industry of bride-selling in China. Buying a kidnapped “bride” and chaining her to a bed so she can produce a son, obviously, is not based on appreciating her beauty. That whole villages support the practice shows that it is deeply entrenched in the culture.

To me it seems a bit odd that the beauty of Chinese women is promoted by using Western lingerie and other styles, but it is easiest to import something and that is the state of a lot of world culture today.

first posted AUGUST 31, 2015

the fundamental underlying problem of problems is the chaos of interpersonal ambiguity

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race, racism, identity politics, the majority of psychological diagnoses and personality types, all culture, all religions, all sects, all regionalism, nationalism, styles, gangs, gender identities, fads, etc.; all of it grows out of the boiling cauldron of ineluctable interpersonal ambiguity
cast your eyes across the world and its histories, no matter how big or small, no matter which corner of the globe; all of it grows or has grown out of the boiling cauldron of ineluctable interpersonal ambiguity

individual humans, with rare exception, need the external signs and symbols of “culture” (semiologies) to provide the unifying markers and coordinates that (appear) to save them from the fear and angst and madness of being naked in the boiling cauldron of ineluctable interpersonal ambiguity
that’s just how it is. period. no exceptions


the only other option different from all of the above, the only option that will actually save you from the boiling cauldron is FIML practice. did you expect more signs and symbols at this point? more abstract ideas? political solutions? new identities? not gonna happen because none of that works
FIML is a dynamic method that must be used to bear fruit. if you are smart you probably can figure out how to do it from reading enough posts on this website


it does bother me that there is no other way out, no other real hope. yet I am also heartened to know that FIML is not very hard to do once you understand it. if enough people do it, more will follow because the results are extremely good. and from that the fundamental problem of problems will gradually clear up and go away

a note to Buddhists: FIML is perfectly compatible with all Buddhist teachings. you could think of FIML as an addon that catalyzes traditional methods and makes them work faster. FIML sharpens mindfulness and provides profound insight into the deep meaning of non-attachment, no-self, and karma

Games as semiotic focus

Define a game as “a set of rules that focuses and directs thought, feeling, intention.”

Most human games are overwhelmingly involved with human semiotics. Human feeling, thought, and intention overwhelmingly operate within and are defined by human semiotics.

Humans are semiotic animals who live within semiologies as much or more than their natural environments. Few of us can even comprehend our natural environments save through a semiotic system.

A semiology is a signal system, a system of signals. Humans need and want their signal systems to be organized; from this arises culture and psychology.

From this arises the many games of human semiotic organization. Humans crave meaning—a synonym for semiotic organization and focus—and thus play games (as defined above) with their intentions, thoughts, emotions, behaviors, instincts, perceptions, desires, and so on. Without meaning, focus, purposive semiotic organization, life is dismal and many humans destroy themselves and others for this alone.

Human semiotic organization can be beneficially reorganized in two basic ways:

  • Through general thought, which mainly changes how we focus and what we focus on. This region of organization includes all culture and science, including mainstream psychology and its treatments.
  • Through analysis of the most basic elements of semiotic organization, individual semiotics and semiologies. To do this at the individual level, two individuals are needed because you cannot successfully analyze your own semiotics by yourself. This is so because a great number of human semiotics are fundamental to both psychology and communication. They do not exist independently.

The goal of reorganizing individual semiologies is to optimize them. As individual semiologies optimize, individual psychologies inevitably optimize apace. Much is possible at this level that is not possible at the general level of psychological theory.

Reorganization at this level is done through individual semiotics, the actual signals of individual communication and psychology alike. To play this game—the game of semio-psychological reorganization and optimization—you have to have rules. Here they are.

first posted APRIL 12, 2018

The limits of general semiotic analyses as applied to human psychology

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Much of the work done in human semiotics involves analyses of semiotic codes.

Semiotics and semiotic codes are often treated like language or languages for which a grammar can be found.

One obvious problem with this sort of approach is semiotics indicates a set that is much broader than language. Stated another way, language is a subset of semiotics.

Human semiotics also include music, imagery, gesture, facial expression, emotion, and anything else that can communicate either within one mind or between two or more minds.

It is very helpful to analyze semiotic codes and it is very helpful to try to figure out how cultures, groups, and individuals use them. We can compare the semiotics of heroism in Chinese culture to that of French culture. Or the semiotics of gift-giving in American culture to that of Mexican culture. We can analyze movies, literature, science, and even engineering based on semiotic codes we have abstracted out of them.

We can do something similar for human psychology.

Analyses of this type are, in my view, general in that they involve schema or paradigms or grammars that say general things about how semiotic systems work or how individuals (or semiotic signs themselves) fit into those systems.

This is all good and general analyses of this sort can be indispensable aids to understanding.

General semiotic analyses are limited, however, in their application to human psychology because such analyses cannot effectively grasp the semiotic codes of the individual. Indeed general analyses are liable to conceal individual codes and interpretations more than usefully reveal them.

This is so because all individuals are always complex repositories of many general semiotic codes as well as many individual ones. And these codes are always changing, responding, being conditioned by new circumstances and many kinds of feedback.

Individuals as repositories of many codes, both external and internal, are complex and always changing and there is no general analysis that will ever fully capture that complexity.

For somewhat similar reasons, no individual acting alone can possibly perform a self-analysis that captures the full complexity of the many and always-changing semiotic codes that exist within them.

Self-analysis is far too subject to selection bias, memory, and even delusion to be considered accurate or objective. The individual is also far too complex for the individual to grasp alone. How can an individual possibly stand outside itself and see itself as it is? Where would the extra brain-space come from?

How can a system of complex semiotic codes use yet another code to successfully analyze itself?

Clearly, no individual human semiotic system can ever fully know itself.

To recap, 1) there is no general semiotic analysis that will ever capture the complexity of individual psychology, and 2) no individual acting alone can ever capture the complexity of the semiotic codes that exist within them.

Concerning point two, we could just as well say that no individual acting alone can ever capture the complexity of their own psychology.

We are thus prevented from finding a complex analysis of human psychology through a general analysis of semiotics and also through an individual’s self-analysis when acting alone.

This suggests, however, that two individuals acting together might be able to glimpse, if not grasp, how their complex semiotic codes are actually functioning when they interact with each other. If two individuals working together can honestly observe and discuss moments of dynamic real-time semiotic interaction between them, they should be able to begin to understand how their immensely complex and always-changing psycho-semiotic codes are actually functioning.

An approach of this type ought to work better for psychological understanding of the individuals involved than any mix of general semiotic analyses applied to them. Indeed, prefabricated, general semiotic analyses will tend to conceal the actual functioning of the idiosyncratic semiotics and semiotic codes used by those individuals.

The FIML method does not apply a general semiotic analysis to human psychology. Rather it uses a method or technique to allow two individuals working together to see and understand how their semiotics and semiotic codes are actually functioning.

first posted APRIL 16, 2015

How information is really handled

I have never watched Crowder so I have nothing to say about the show, But I tend to believe the quotation below. I have experienced similar and worse stalking and interference in my own life. Many groups use spies (and assassins) for many reasons, chief among them: you are a threat or a potential threat; or you are useful or potentially useful. War for internal control of USA is a multitrillion dollar activity with many parties vying for control or to keep control. Add to that many foreign actors.

Crowder is getting Conspiracized, as after his voter fraud episode last week where they tracked down bogus voter addresses, suddenly he mysteriously lost his power for no reason. Then people began saying they fact-checked his show, and the bogus addresses he attributed to people were wrong. So he checked, and it turns out after his show, somebody went into the state voter roles, and changed a lot of the addresses he looked, at right after his show. But the new addresses were provably fake as well, so it was just to make it look like he was sloppy. If I told you he has his own dedicated intelligence team, watching his show and looking to discredit it, and with access to go in and alter state voter roll databases in the middle of the night, running surveillance on everyone of his employees, and that maybe even an employee or two are informants either sent in by that intelligence operation, or blackmailed and turned by it, it would sound nuts. But that is the world we live in. Do you think you could go in and alter the state voter rolls anon? This is a high-level intelligence operation.

Games as semiotic focus

Define a game as “a set of rules that focuses and directs thought, feeling, intention.”

Most human games are overwhelmingly involved with human semiotics. Human feeling, thought, and intention overwhelmingly operate within and are defined by human semiotics.

Humans are semiotic animals who live within semiologies as much or more than their natural environments. Few of us can even comprehend our natural environments save through a semiotic system.

A semiology is a signal system, a system of signals. Humans need and want their signal systems to be organized; from this arises culture and psychology.

From this arises the many games of human semiotic organization. Humans crave meaning—a synonym for semiotic organization and focus—and thus play games (as defined above) with their intentions, thoughts, emotions, behaviors, instincts, perceptions, desires, and so on. Without meaning, focus, purposive semiotic organization, life is dismal and many humans destroy themselves and others for this alone.

Human semiotic organization can be beneficially reorganized in two basic ways:

  • Through general thought, which mainly changes how we focus and what we focus on. This region of organization includes all culture and science, including mainstream psychology and its treatments.
  • Through analysis of the most basic elements of semiotic organization, individual semiotics and semiologies. To do this at the individual level, two individuals are needed because you cannot successfully analyze your own semiotics by yourself. This is so because a great number of human semiotics are fundamental to both psychology and communication. They do not exist independently.

The goal of reorganizing individual semiologies is to optimize them. As individual semiologies optimize, individual psychologies inevitably optimize apace. Much is possible at this level that is not possible at the general level of psychological theory.

Reorganization at this level is done through individual semiotics, the actual signals of individual communication and psychology alike. To play this game—the game of semio-psychological reorganization and optimization—you have to have rules. Here they are.

____________

first posted APRIL 12, 2018

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 mostly do not even see the game you are playing.

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first posted SEPTEMBER 10, 2019

The cat-like nature of interpersonal conversation

Two people converse with each other.

Their thoughts, words, reasons for speaking and listening are like a small herd of cats, maybe 8-15 cats each.

Your cats sort of follow you and my cats sort of follow me. As we converse it’s like we are walking together; down a road or in a field, wherever you like.

Our cats sort of follow us.

Each impetus to speak and each impetus to listen in whatever manner is a cat. Your thought-cats and my thought-cats wander around and intermingle with each other.

Basically, all psychologically meaningful interpersonal conversations are like that: a couple of small cat herds milling around and sort of going in the same general direction sort of together.

The semi-disciplined, semi-aimless nature of interpersonal speech is one of its primary characteristics. Ambiguity, imprecision, misspeaking and mishearing are also primary characteristics of interpersonal speech.

Where your cats are coming from and how they came to be with you is almost always a mystery to me; and same for you about my cats. Even if we try to be specific about a particular cat (a small speech act), it can be hard to explain and hard to understand the explanation; hard for both of us to be sure we both are understanding the same things about just that one cat.

That is a major reason people typically don’t try to understand particular cats. Spend time on one cat, the rest may wander off or we all forget where we were going. Moreover, even if we try hard, we may never get to shared understanding about just that one cat. We might even become exasperated, even angry with each other because the task is so difficult.

That’s a major problem and it distorts everything we think, feel, and believe.

It happens because we can’t control our cats very well, nor do we know all that much about them; even our own cats are typically very mysterious even to us. What is your actual impetus to speak at any moments? And how did you understand what you just heard? How long can you remember either one of those? What is all that stuff in your mind and how can you possibly convey it to someone else?

The difficulty of answering those questions all but forces us to abstract our conversations and our selves. That is what all cultures do. All languages do that. Instead of appreciating how ambiguous and indeterminable our minds and conversations really are, we make up abstract roles for each other and our selves. And thus is born the illusion of human psychology. The illusion that we can know each other and our selves through abstractions while ignoring the realities of our herds of cats, which over time can become very large.

Say what you like, but when we stop conversing with each other, chances are that some of your cats will follow me and some of my cats will follow you. Also very likely is some of both of our cats will have wandered off and some new ones will have joined us.