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.

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 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.

Psychology as fundamentally signals

I propose that we largely discard all other paradigms for human psychology and replace them with one based on signals. Humans are semiotic entities who signal constantly internally and externally. No need for personality or self.

Signals are objective, measurable, quantifiable, and analyzable. And they are at the heart of everything we call “psychology.”

The most basic psychological paradigm still current today is personality. This concept should be greatly demoted, relegated to broad-brushing some genetic tendencies or matters involving personas.

Signals cover all psychological territory without exception, including everything we can now say based on personality. Bodies signal, brains signal, organs of perception receive signals, thoughts are signals, language is signals, biology signals, as does everything in physics.

No matter how you look at psychology, you will find signals. Using signals to describe psychology is almost always clearer, more succinct, and more precise.

Another basic paradigm for describing/explaining psychology is matter; psychology comes from the brain and the brain is matter. But then you get mind-matter problems, problems with top-down behaviors, loss of spirituality as an actual probability, and many problems with scale or behavior. Besides all matter signals!

So much simpler to describe how biological signals lead to thought and behavior. Or how top-down psychological signals affect biology.

Instead of “personality disorders” being vaguely defined and understood as ghostlike ephemera that seem to inhabit sufferers, we can define them as signal malfunctions that have arisen due to previous signal malfunctions, either biological, experiential, or semiotic.

A signal-based paradigm of human psychology would view individual psychology as a complex of signals, a semiology unique to each individual.

Narcissism has been discussed in this way. A signal-based analysis of other disorders can similarly make our understanding clearer and more efficient.

Borderline personality disorder, for example, can be viewed as a poorly integrated internal signaling system, a poorly functioning individual semiology. Due to the centrality of signals to all aspects of human psychology, we can expect borderline people to search frantically among others for the cohesion they lack in themselves.

If we understand psychology as a complex of signals, it becomes easier to categorize problems and discover treatments. It also becomes obvious that we can and should optimize this system even in healthy individuals by clearing up confused signals while removing bad ones.

Narcissism redefined (yet again)

A new study on narcissism, which selfishly lies behind a paywall, claims to have answered “three key, inter-related problems that have plagued narcissism scholarship for more than a century.”

These three problems are described in the abstract (which is publicly available) as:

…(a) What are the key features of narcissism? (b) How are they organized and related to each other? and (c) Why are they organized that way, that is, what accounts for their relationships? (The Narcissism Spectrum Model: A Synthetic View of Narcissistic Personality)

The study seems to have been well-summarized in 3 Core Facets of Narcissism, from Malignant to Adaptive:

This new way of understanding the narcissistic personality places self-centeredness front and center, providing a useful way to characterize narcissism’s two underlying dimensions. When you’re dealing with the most narcissistic of all individuals, the grandiosity you see isn’t masking any deep-seated insecurity. The narcissistically vulnerable, who becomes enraged when deprived of status and attention, conversely, is driven by feelings of insecurity, and insecurity alone.

My problem with the study is it is based on ephemeral “personality” traits rather than signals, which are much easier to quantify, analyze, and observe.

A semiotic or signal-based interpretation of narcissism allows us to base analysis on its most prominent feature—simplicity.

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. (Narcissism, a semiotic interpretation)

This definition explains why a wide range of humans display narcissistic traits, including small children, old people, alcoholics, those with brain injuries, dementia, and in many ways all of us to some degree at one time or another.

Narcissism forms and persists because it is a simple semiology that works. Drunks use it, angry people use it, advertising uses it, cultures all use it, even religions use it.

If we understand that narcissism is characterized by a “narrow or reduced interpretation(s) of psychological signs,” we can expect to find relief from it by widening and augmenting the sufferer’s use of psychological signs.

As for the three problems described in the study, these can be answered in this way:

Q: What are the key features of narcissism?

A: Simple semiology, me first

Q: How are they organized and related to each other?

A: Zero-sum, one-way street, malice, impression management

Q: Why are they organized that way, that is, what accounts for their relationships?

A: The narcissistic system (me first) works better than any other the person knows of. It is organized to be efficient and easy to use. See Zero-sum, one-way street, malice, impression management for more on this.


Can’t see the trees for the forest

Examples of not seeing the trees for the forest are flyover assessments of sociological  regions or general assessments of human psychology.

A more detailed example of this pertaining to psychology might be the following description of Borderline Personality Disorder:

People with borderline personality disorder are unstable in several areas, including interpersonal relationships, behavior, mood, and self-image. Abrupt and extreme mood changes, stormy interpersonal relationships, an unstable and fluctuating self-image, unpredictable and self-destructive actions characterize the person with borderline personality disorder. These individuals generally have great difficulty with their own sense of identity. They often experience the world in extremes, viewing others as either “all good” or “all bad.” A person with borderline personality may form an intense personal attachment with someone only to quickly dissolve it over a perceived slight. Fears of abandonment may lead to an excessive dependency on others. Self-multilation or recurrent suicidal gestures may be used to get attention or manipulate others. Impulsive actions, chronic feelings of boredom or emptiness, and bouts of intense inappropriate anger are other traits of this disorder, which is more common among females. (Source)

I have no doubt that this general description of the “forest” of BPD is somewhat useful as a flyover take on a psychic region that seems to have its own reality within American culture. The same link concludes that “there is hope” for personality disorders if we come to “understand that they are illnesses.”

Thus, a general remedy is assigned to a general “illness”; a semiotic contortion is assigned to the category “hope.”

TBH, as a Buddhist  I must say you really should “have difficulty with your own sense of identity” because there is no such thing. Sentience in all its guises is dynamic and ever-changing.

You actually do not need a “self-image” at all. So if the one(s) you keep trying for are “unstable and fluctuating,” you are probably seeing reality more clearly than people whose “self-images” are stable and not fluctuating!

The fundamental problem with BPD and Narcissistic Personality Disorder, two of the most difficult disorders to cure, is in the trees. It is good to see the forest and know where it lies within the terrain of the sufferer’s culture, but the problem of any individual suffering from either of these disorders is always going to be in their trees.

So what are the trees? They are the actual signals received by the person, sent out by the person, and used internally by the person.

Those are the units that best describe what a sentient being is and does. If you can’t fix the trees or treat the trees, the forest will never be healthy.

Seeing negative input where there is none

When people perceive something positive or neutral as negative, bad things usually result.

In a deep sense narcissism can be defined as the strong tendency or habit of perceiving positive input from others negatively.

Narcissistic parents, for example, are infamous for their malignant habit of often seeing one or more of their children in a negative light.

In my view, true narcissism is defined as having malignant output. This output, of course, is based on the negative way the narcissist perceives the other, whether a child, a “friend,” or someone else.

Depression can also be understood as negative input where there is none.

The flip side of all of this is seeing positive input where there is none. An example of this might be a child who perceives a narcissistic parent’s malignant behaviors in a positive light. Such a child might learn to see a scowl as honest or cruel speech as normal, even affectionate.

Downstream, children raised that way will often tend to make friends with narcissists after they leave the home. They will view narcissistic traits as signs of friendship or genuineness when they are anything but.

For their part, narcissists are drawn to people who see their bad behaviors in a positive way.

Poor precision in communication distorts motives

And distorted motives warp human interactions, which in turn degrade individual psychology.

There is no way around it—the ways almost all people communicate are much cruder than their brains are capable of.

And that is the cause of most of what we now call (non-biological) “mental health” problems.

Here is an example: I want to say something very complex to my primary care doctor. I can give her the gist in a minute or two but I do not want to have that go on my medical record.

So I ask her if I can start a discussion that she will promise to keep off my record.

She says, “I’ll think about it.”

A week later I get a letter from her nurse saying she is not willing to do what I asked.

No reason why was given. Do rules prevent her from doing that? I have heard of doctors allowing patients to keep some concerns off the record, but who knows what the reality is? Do you?

If I insist, will that go on my record? Did what I asked in the first place go on my record? My doctor is trapped within or is voluntarily following some guideline that is most decidedly not in my best interests.

This same sort of thing can happen interpersonally. If I raise a topic that is psychologically important to me with even a close friend, I have to wonder will they understand? Will they allow me to expand the subject over a few weeks or months or longer? Will my initial statements change our friendship?

The basic problem is how do you discuss complex psychological subjects with others?

One of my friends works in alternative health care. She knows what I want to bring up with my doctor and admits that even in her professional setting where patients have an hour to open up, there is not enough time.

Back to my primary care doctor. I saw her again a year later and she asked if I remembered her. I said, “Of course I remember you.” She said no more and neither of us raised the off-the-record topic. An intern was with her.

I wonder what she thinks of me. Did she interpret my slightly nervous behavior when I first asked as a “sign” of something? Does she think I am volatile or bipolar or just nuts? (I am not.)

I am 100% sure that she cannot possibly know what I wanted to bring up with her. In this case, I have all of the information and I want to give it to her but she cannot or will not allow that unless my initial fumblings toward a complex subject are made public.

Even a  close friend could find themselves in a similar position. And I wonder if I have done that myself to someone. Most people most of the time are not able to scale those walls that divide us.

On either side of the wall is a complex person capable of complex understanding, but one or both persons cannot scale the wall. My doctor is smart enough to have become an MD and yet I cannot tell her about a complex medical condition that is of great importance to me.

I know that I do not want to open the subject and risk a shallow public label (a common hindrance to many potential communications). I honestly do not know what my doctor is thinking. Maybe I will try again the next time I see her.