This is why you need FIML

FIML not only accesses individual word maps but also the maps of all communicative signs.

Here is the brain model of semantic maps.

And here is the study: Natural speech reveals the semantic maps that tile human cerebral cortex.

Here is a brief article about the study: Scans Show ‘Brain Dictionary’ Groups Words By Meaning. From this article:

Gallant says the findings contradict two beliefs nonscientists commonly have about the brain. First, that only the left hemisphere handles language. Second, that the brain has localized regions that handle specific tasks.

Edit: When you frequently access your word maps with the help of your FIML partner, both of you will become much more conscious of how these maps are structured and how they function during acts of communication.

This allows partners to make conscious meta-decisions to change and improve these maps in any way they want.

The meaning held in semantic maps (or semiotic maps) is the very meaning of your life as you understand it.

Not only do your maps form the basis of your communication with others, they also form the basis of how you understand yourself. How you communicate with yourself.

Gaining access to these maps is extremely liberating because it allows a degree of control over your own mind that few of us ever experience.

When we say that FIML has no content, no required beliefs, this can be understood as meaning that FIML gives us access to our own maps and control over them.

What you do with this access is entirely up to you and your partner.

first posted APRIL 28, 2016

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

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

VAERS is screaming safety signals but has no REACH because it is being deliberately ignored

VAERS is an example of free speech with no reach. VAERS was made to be an early warning system. It is screaming vaccine injury but the-powers-that-be are entirely ignoring it. Elon, do you see the danger of using word games to limit free speech?

direct link

A note to the mentally challenged: yes, you can’t yell fire or threaten people. What needs to be free is topics. Science, virology, history, religion, culture, race, psychology, AGW, socialism, etc—no topic can be excluded from our God-given right, or natural right if you prefer, to speak our minds. And no opinion on any topic can be excluded. Wrong views and stupid ideas will fall away on their own. We saw that happen beautifully within the banned and censored covid-science community, which has been a million times better than the official pure shit pseudoscience spewed by CDC, FDA, NIAID, NIH, and all of MSM. Their “curated” garbage had all the reach in the world and produced an unmitigated disaster. ABN

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

Personality disorders and signaling

In my opinion, “personality disorders” are more easily understood as signaling problems.

All types of personality disorder involve dysfunctional signaling with other people. Signals are both sent and received in ways that result in suffering.

As currently defined, personality disorders “develop early, are inflexible, and are associated with significant distress or disability.”

Thus, if there are no significant brain injuries or other biological problems, all personality disorders (PD) develop through experience.

This means that during childhood the PD sufferer has received many bad signals (and/or interpreted many signals badly) resulting in their failing to form a coherent well-functioning internal signaling system.

The way to fix this is work with the signals. And the best way to do this is FIML practice. A professional psychotherapist cannot possibly provide this level of treatment.

This brings me to a second point: is there anyone who would not benefit from improving their signaling?

Why do we view psychotherapy as treatment designed merely to make us look and feel “average”? Why don’t we instead work to optimize our psychologies every day?

The Buddha said we are all crazy. We are. We all need to work on our signaling—our personality disorders—all the time.

The distinctions between one PD and another and those who have PDs and those who don’t are vague. This is because all PD problems (absent significant biological deficits, which may include intelligence) are idiosyncratic varieties of signaling malfunctions.

If signaling is the core problem, it should follow that all acquired PD will be classifiable as some kind of signaling malfunction. And that is precisely what we see.

Narcissism is a too simple signaling system. Borderline is an unstable signaling system. Compulsive, passive aggressive, histrionic, avoidant, and so on all are variations of a poorly formed internal signaling system.

The way to study this is through interpersonal semiotics; that is interpersonal semiotic analysis of real-time, real-world communicative signs and symbols.

All people need to do this to optimize their psychologies (their internal signaling systems). Why would anyone not want to do this? Maybe not wanting to do this is the surest sign of PD there is.

The hardest part about doing FIML is finding a willing and able partner. To me, this shows how pervasive bad signaling is. Most people will do almost anything but examine their own signaling with the help of another person.

first posted

General analyses of signaling systems illuminate fundamentals of psychology

Individual psychology is a locus or node within a larger social system.

More precisely, individual psychologies are particular signaling systems within larger social signaling systems.

It is valuable to see this because general analyses of signaling systems—even those having nothing to do with human psychology—can shed light on human signaling systems, including both individual psychology and many aspects of sociology.

When human psychology is viewed as a signaling system, we can readily see that narcissism is bound to occur because narcissism is fundamentally a simplistic signal system.  (See Narcissism redefined (yet again) for more.)

When human sociology is viewed as a signaling system, we can similarly see that parasitism is bound to occur because the exploitation of one system by another is a fairly simple matter.  (See Social parasitism in ants and humans for more.)

In like manner, we can see that social hierarchies importantly have evolved because they are simple and decently efficient signal (communication) systems.

We can also see why hierarchical system often are overthrown and why they often do not arise in systems where they are not needed.  For example, no hierarchy is needed for a language system once the basics have been established.  A parasitic or authoritarian group might impose a hierarchy on a language system, but that’s a different animal.

When individual psychology is viewed as a signaling system, we can see that a great deal of what we consider “disordered” or “ill” within that system is fundamentally a problem of the signal system itself and not the “personality” we have mistakenly abstracted out of that system.

Indeed, most of what we think of as personality is nothing more than an individual signal system attempting to conform to its understanding of the larger social system within which it exists.  When science is applied to “personality” erroneously conceived, we arrive at the many psychometric tautologies on personality traits we now have.  Psychometrics have limited value for describing societies, but are frequently misleading, even damaging, when applied to individuals.  In this, they resemble BMI data which originally was used as a marker for the health of whole populations, not individuals, and which can be misleading when applied to individuals.

When we view individuals as signaling systems rather than personalities, we can immediately see that these systems can and should be optimized for better communication.  Indeed, this is the real job of psychology—optimizing individual signaling systems. Not just treating “personality” disorders.

first posted

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

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

Trump’s defense secretary Mark Esper says military recruitment is DYING because of obesity, drug use, health problems and the dwindling pool of Americans who want to serve their country

  • ‘The U.S. military’s all-volunteer force (AVF) is slowly dying,’ Esper wrote in an op-ed for Fox News
  • ‘The armed services are struggling to meet their recruiting goals like rarely before,’ Esper added
  • Esper, former secretary of the Army, noted that branch will be most affected – falling short by up to 15,000 soldiers this year 
  • ‘Worse, of the 3.5 million young Americans remaining, only 9% (~320,000) have a proclivity to serve’ 

This is interesting because it is a strong signal. I think most of us can see it’s a signal of lack of faith in the US government due to how awful it is. A similar strong signal is being sent by parents who are refusing the covid vax for babies and toddlers. Minus the social pressure of school-based peer groups, parents of preschoolers are making the decision not to vax much more on their own, thus showing what they really think. I doubt the elite will respond to these signals in a way that benefits the people of this country. Instead, they will offer more pay for the military, more advertisements for service, and use more mercenaries. As for the terrible failed vaxxes, all government is doing in response is backing off, lying, pretending, running away. ABN

The Five Skandhas

The Buddha’s explanation of the five skandhas is intended to help us understand the emptiness of the self. It is a short explanation aimed at his most intelligent students.

The Sanskrit word skandha means “heap” or “aggregate” in English. Sometimes the Buddha compared the skandhas to heaps of rice. They are the “heaps” of psycho-perceptual data that comprise the “contents” of our minds. The five skandhas are conditioned dharmas (literally, “conditioned things”), which is to say that they are impermanent and empty, and when improperly understood lead to delusive attachments characterized by greed, anger, and ignorance. The purpose of the Buddha’s five skandha explanation is to help us see through the skandhas, or disentangle ourselves from them. In some Buddhist texts the five skandhas are called the “five covers” because they cover our minds and prevent us from seeing deep levels of reality. In others they are called the “five yin (versus yang)” because they cloud the mind and hide the truth from us. I will discuss each of the five skandhas in the sections below.

1) The first skandha is form. Form, in this case, means anything that leads to, or is capable of leading to, the next skandha. Forms can be visual, auditory, or sensory. They can be dreams, memories, feelings, or moods. Forms are often described as being “obstructions” because, though they may lead to complex thought and activity, they are also hindrances to mental clarity since the activity they lead to is essentially delusive. It is important to remember that the five skandha explanation is an explanation of the deluded mind and its thought processes.

The Abhidharma-mahavibhasa Shastra categorizes the skandha of form into three types:

a) Visible forms with a referent in the outer world such as color, size, length, position, shape, and so on.

b) Invisible forms with a referent in the outer world that are associated with the other sensory organs such as sounds, smells, tastes, and the sensations arising from physical contact.

c) Invisible forms with no referent in the outer world such as dreams, memories, thoughts, feelings, and so on. Though a dream may be “visible” to the dreamer, it is called “invisible” here because no one else can see it. This last category of forms is associated with what the Buddha called “mental dharmas.”

2) The second skandha is sensation. Following the appearance of a form, the mind reacts to it with a sensation that is either positive, negative, or neutral. We either like it, don’t like it, or are neutral about it. Though it is possible to become conscious of this skandha, most of us most of the time are not.

Sensations are generally categorized into two types:

a) Sensations of the body coming from the outside world through any of the sensory organs, such as sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and so on.

b) Sensations of the mind which may or may not come from the outside world. These include moods, feelings, memories, dreams, thoughts, ideas, and so on.

Both kinds of sensation are, of course, based on the prior appearance of a form. Greed and anger have their roots in the skandha of sensation, for if we enjoy a positive sensation we are liable to become greedy about it, while if we do not enjoy it, we are liable to become “angry” or irritable concerning it. The deep meaning of greed is “excessive attraction” to a sensation that we deem to be agreeable or positive, while the deep meaning of anger (or hatred) is “excessive aversion” to a sensation that we deem disagreeable or negative. Neutral sensations often are the result of our ignorance or lack of understanding, though as we progress in Buddhist practice they may be the result of wisdom.

Positive and negative sensations associated with the body are generally considered to be weaker than those associated with the mind, though both types of sensations often are interrelated. An example of this mixture and distinction might be a light slap in the face. While the physical sensation is only mildly unpleasant, the mental sensation will be quite strong in most cases. And yet both are interrelated.

3) The third skandha is perception. This skandha refers to the deepening of a sensation. It is the point where the mind begins to latch onto its sensations. At this point conscious recognition of form and sensation normally begins. It is possible to become conscious of the first and second skandhas as they are occurring, but most of us generally are not. During the skandha of perception we begin making conscious distinctions among things.

4) The fourth skandha is mental activity. This skandha refers to the complex mental activity that often follows upon the skandha of perception. Once we have identified (perceived) something, long trains of mental associations become active. Our bodies may also begin to move and behave during this skandha. For example, the simple perception of a travel poster may set in motion a great deal of mental activity. We may begin recalling an old trip or begin fantasizing about a new one. If we are photographers, we may admire the composition of the photo, step closer to it, make an effort to remember it, and so on. All of these behaviors belong to the skandha of mental activity.

5) The fifth skandha is individual consciousness. It is a product of the first four skandhas and is completely conditioned by them. This is what we normally, more or less, think of as being our “self.” The Buddha taught the five skandhas primarily to help us understand that this “self” or consciousness is empty since it is entirely based on the conditions found in the first four skandhas.

The Ekkotarika-agama explains this point very well. It says, “The Buddha said that the skandha of form is like foam, the skandha of sensation is like a bubble, the skandha of perception is like a wild horse, the skandha of mental activity is like a banana tree, and thus the skandha of individual consciousness is nothing more than an illusion.” The trunk of a banana tree is made of leaves curled together. From the outside, it may look substantial, but if we examine it closely we will find that one leaf pulls away from the next, leaving ultimately nothing behind. The trunk looks substantial, but in truth it is “empty.” In just this way, our individual consciousness may look substantial to us, but if we peel it apart, we find that there is no self within—it is empty.

How to Understand the Five Skandhas

Though most of us are not normally aware of the first two skandhas it is possible to become aware of them through meditation and mindfulness practices. Though it is easier to begin understanding the five skandhas by thinking of them as being separate and distinct, it is important to realize that any of the last four skandhas can give rise to the skandha of form. Mental activity itself, for example, can generate whole new trains of forms, sensations, and perceptions.

Another important thing to understand about the five skandhas is that our minds move very quickly from one to the next. The five skandhas produce a snow storm of impressions and mentation, upon which rests our unstable conscious world. When we become overly attached to this snow storm or to the consciousness built upon it, we generate the karma that ultimately fuels the five skandhas in the first place.

The Explanation of Mahayana Terms (en 1212) says that the skandhas can be understood as being either good, bad, or neutral. The goodness mentioned in this explanation should be understood as being a relative goodness that arises within the phenomenal world—though it is “good,” it is not the same as an enlightened vision that completely sees through the five skandhas. For this reason, we will use the word “positive” in place of “goodness” in this discussion. The Explanation says that positive activation of the five skandhas can be of three types: activation by a positive form, such as a Buddhist image; activation by skillful means, such as a desire to help someone; and activation within a pure-minded person. The Explanation says that the three bad or negative types of activation of the five skandhas result from: simple badness within them, as may have derived from low motives or moodiness; contaminations within them, such as selfishness during an act of kindness; and negativity that is simply the result of bad karma. The Explanation says that the three neutral types of activation are: formal activations that result from the performance of rituals; activations resulting from the practice of a skill; and neutral changes among the skandhas themselves.

How to Contemplate the Five Skandhas

The second noble truth of Buddhism is the cause of suffering. Generally, this cause is explained as clinging to a false self. By contemplating the five skandhas, we learn to understand both that the self is empty and why it is empty. This contemplation appeals to the rational mind for it allows us to use reason to convince ourselves that the “self” we call our own is, in truth, an illusion.

In contemplating the five skandhas we should be mindful that we begin to generate karma during the skandha of perception. At the same time, it is important to realize that the very forms we see and the sensations that result from them are heavily conditioned by our past actions, by the accumulation of karmic “seeds” or influences that are already stored in our minds. Two people may see exactly the same form, but have very different responses to it because their karma is not the same. Since their karma is different, their sensations and perceptions, and especially their mental activity and consciousness will be very different.

The Numerical Teachings of Great Ming Dynasty Tripitaka says (en 1213) that the most important way to understand the five skandhas is to realize that each of them is empty. As we become familiar with the five skandhas, we will find it easier to identify each one and contemplate its emptiness. We can think about them from first to last or from last to first.

If we choose to think of them from last to first, our contemplation will consist of a series of questions, whose answers should be considered deeply. We begin by asking ourselves what the skandha of individual consciousness is based upon. The answer is the roiling mentation of the skandha of mental activity. The skandha of mental activity becomes apparent as soon as we sit down to meditate. Having identified this skandha and appreciated its fundamental emptiness, we can ask ourselves what it is based upon. The answer is the skandha of perception. First the mind seizes one of its impressions (the skandha of perception), then a long train of thought and emotion follows (the skandha of mental activity). Having appreciated this process, we then ask ourselves what the skandha of perception is based upon. The answer is sensation—of the many forms and feelings passing through our minds, one of them gave rise to either a positive or negative sensation (neutral sensations are usually ignored by the mind). It is this sensation that led to the skandha of perception. If we can appreciate this, then we can ask what the skandha of sensation is based upon. The answer is form—either an outer or inner form. Were it not for this form, none of the other skandhas would have arisen.

If we choose to contemplate from the first skandha to the last, we may choose a form and then carefully watch how our minds process it. We will see that form leads to sensation, then to perception, then to mental activity, and lastly to individual consciousness—a state of mind deeply colored by the skandhas below it. Bear in mind that when the five skandhas are simply happening of themselves and no one is watching them, we are normally unconscious of the activity of the first two skandhas. Before most of us are even aware of what we are perceiving, we have begun to react to it. It requires some skill to see that forms give rise to positive, negative, or neutral sensations before they give rise to the skandha of perception, but this is the case in a normally active mind.

The quotation cited previously from the Ekkotarika-agama can also be used as a very fine contemplation. The agama said, “The Buddha said that the skandha of form is like foam, the skandha of sensation is like a bubble, the skandha of perception is like a wild horse, the skandha of mental activity is like a banana tree, and thus the skandha of individual consciousness is nothing more than an illusion.” The skandha of form is like foam in a stream—at any moment scores of forms contend for our attention. The skandha of sensation is like a bubble—suddenly we react to a single bubble within the foam. The skandha of perception is like a wild horse—we can never be sure which way our mind will turn at this point. The skandha of mental activity is like a banana tree—it consists of many things wrapped together. And thus, the skandha individual consciousness is empty, an illusion.


UPDATE: FIML practice can be understood in terms of the five skandhas in this way: A FIML query begins at or interrupts the skandha of mental activity. Through training and prior agreement, partners learn to identify a fraught psychological response at the third skandha–perception–and thereby shift away from habitual mental activity to FIML mental activity. The FIML query at this points implicitly asks is my habitual perception based on fact? The FIML query should be made in as neutral a tone as possible to avoid influencing your partner. Your partner’s reply will either confirm or refute your habitual perception. FIML is a dynamic and very powerful form of mindfulness that allows partners to be much more objective about the granular workings of their minds. After hundreds of FIML queries, partners will establish a database of objective insight into their own (and each other’s) psychology that is much more accurate than what can be done alone or through general discussion with anyone. ABN

Manifesto: New axioms of linguistics, philosophy, and psychology are much needed

The sciences or fields of inquiry mentioned in the headline above need companions based on different premises. These companions might be called speechology, thinkology, and beology.

Speechology would be founded on the axioms that we speak and that the proximate impetus and deep impetus of almost all speech acts are profoundly important, complex, consequential, revealing, and even enlightening. In scientific terms, they are profoundly satisfying to observe and understand and much follows from observing and understanding them.

Something similar can be said about thinkology and beology or a fourth science of actology.

Moving these fields of inquiry away from the fields named in the headline above will give them a fresh start, allowing them to make new discoveries based on new observations, practices, insights, and conclusions.

For example, some of this work has already been done in speechology, the results of which include and inform the fields of thinkology and beology. In addition to the axioms that “we speak” and that “the impetus of speech acts is complex and revealing,” we also have the discovered and richly explored the axiom that “interpersonal speech acts often are seriously misunderstood and not corrected” thus leading to the axiom that touches upon thinkology and beology that “as a result, our thinking and acting are often profoundly in error leading to massive snowballing and suffering from then on.”

The above paragraph makes several nontrivial statements based on demonstrable facts derived from a copious study of speechology. This study has been done using FIML rules and procedures. The difficulty in sharing the knowledge gained through FIML practice is it is based on the interpersonal communications of two unique individuals. This does not make it less scientific. This makes it a precise tool, akin to a microscope or measuring device. Other individuals can use this same precise tool to see and measure their speechologies.

Virtually all people will initially understand a speechology inquiry such as FIML in terms of the linguistics, philosophy, and psychology they already know. This will hamper rapid understanding of what FIML is and what it does because real FIML data will all be fundamentally unique to the individuals doing it. Yes, many insights will be generalizable but the tendency to generalize will immediately lead away from the precision of the FIML tool, thus dulling its resolution and accuracy. This is a very important distinction. It is this distinction that gives FIML its power and that calls for a new name for this field of inquiry.