Ambiguity in speech as the source of most psychology

Genes aside, I believe ambiguity in speech and its consequent cascades of error are at the root of virtually all human psychology, both good and bad.

And this goes back in time as far as we can imagine because the problem of ambiguity in speech was there for your parents, your grandparents, and everyone else who came before you. And the same is true for everyone else in the world.

All cultures everywhere are both burdened and determined by this problem.

(The only exceptions are specialist “cultures” that make a point of removing error from their communication systems, such as mathematics, hard sciences, engineering, some branches of linguistics, etc. The people in these cultures only avoid the problem while working or speaking within their specialist culture. When at home or off the job, their psychologies are the same as the rest of us. In fact, smart as many of those people are, I bet few of them have ever considered how inaccurate their common speech is or how error-ridden their listening is, to say nothing of how profoundly that messes up their psychologies.)

Ambiguity in speech comes from inaccurate words and phrases, our strong tendencies to want to keep the wrong parts of speaking too short, our fear of open, truthful speech, our hyper-focus on wording and typical refusal to allow people to take back or alter their words or our inability to see the need for that, our strong tendency to believe we know what others mean, our constant need to grab meaning on the fly, or extract it from gestures or tone of voice, the brevity of most speech acts, our fear of being wrong or saying the wrong thing (legitimate fears given the foregoing), our practical incapacity to describe our own subjectivity or even know it, our inability to get other people’s subjectivity from them because they also suck at this.

I could go on, but let’s just take one item from this loose list—our typical refusal to allow people to take back or alter their words or our inability to see the need for that.

Of course other people do this to us too. And when they do, we rarely know how to deal with it. Even when we try, it often turns out badly because our attempts are stereotypically taken as excuses or apologies.  Moreover, taking something back usually only involves glaring stuff that someone might have felt was “offensive” or that we believe reflects badly on us.

Even worse, let’s say you have taken something back successfully or rephrased it and explained everything perfectly to all parties’ satisfaction. When was the last time you did it? How often do you do it?

Not much, I bet. Because if you do do it often, almost everyone will think you have a loose screw.

How often should you rephrase something you said or allow another to do that?

The right answer is at least several times per hour of conversation.

When we don’t do that, ambiguity flourishes. Meanings are imagined. Guesswork replaces knowing. In response, everyone’s psychologies become confused or rigid. We act roles rather than life.

How can we claim to know anything about human psychology without acknowledging that almost anything with psychological import that anyone ever says to anyone is sure to be riddled with error and ambiguity?

And even when it’s not, 1) it’s very hard to know when that is and 2) the event is so rare it’s like a bird that stops flapping its wings and falls to the ground.


Our need to stimulate the brain stem by pushing through difficulties or challenging our senses

…Here’s the crucial part: This expectation is likely to extend the effects of stress-induced pain relief beyond immediate cold exposure. If such an expectation – “I confronted the cold and feel invigorated” – is fulfilled, it will lead to the release of additional opioids or cannabinoids from the periaqueductal gray. This release can affect the levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, further enhancing a feeling of overall well-being. This positive feedback loop is implicated in the well-known “placebo effect.”

More generally, techniques such as those Hof uses appear to exert positive effects on the body’s innate immune response as well. We expect them to also have positive effects on mood and anxiety because of the release of opioids and cannabinoids. Though these effects have not yet been well studied, by evoking a stress-induced analgesia reaction, we think that practitioners may assert “control” over key components of brain systems related to mood and anxiety.

At present, millions of people use drugs to help with feelings of depression and anxiety. Many of these drugs carry unwelcome side effects. Behavioral modification techniques that train users in ways to influence their brain’s homeostatic system could someday provide some patients with drug-free alternatives. Efforts to understand links between the brain’s physiology and its psychology may indeed hold the promise for a happier life. (Cold comfort: exposure to chilly temperatures may help fight anxiety)

This article describes a very interesting finding that seems to explain why some people like intense sports such as rock climbing, motorcycling, free diving, skiing, and so on.

It also seems to explain why toughing it out is often the best medicine for what ails us or the best method for moving forward with our lives.

Intense religious practices, chanting, long meditations, silence retreats also seem to be drawing on stimulating the periaqueductal gray area of the brain stem.

To some extent, FIML practice does something like this by stopping conditioned and instinctual responses as soon after they have arisen as possible. Doing this requires a mental toughness and perceptual acuity that frequently carries over to other activities.

Technology and human transformation

Most fundamental changes in human societies happen due to technological advances.

The next big change in human psychology will come from inexpensive, very sensitive brain scans.

These scans will show millions people in real-time how their brains are actually behaving and reacting. Presently unnoticed or concealed twinges of emotion will become conspicuously visible on a screen or within a hologram that surrounds our heads.

People will be able to use this technology in the company of a computer program or with a human partner. A good AI program will use brain-scan information to reveal much about us. We will learn stuff about how we actually function that very few are aware of today.

Having this knowledge will change the way we understand ourselves and our interactions with others. Rather than work almost exclusively with the vague stories we tell ourselves, we will be able to see how our brains (and bodies) actually function in real time.

The difference between our stories and how we actually function is very great. Great enough to completely change the landscape of what we now think of as human psychology.

There already exist inexpensive EEG rigs that are sort of good at measuring moods and honesty. There are also expensive ones with more capacity. Within a decade or two, these devices will be much better. An accurate lie-detector will surely be included in the consumer package.

This technology will rewrite our understanding of human psychology and remake the ways we think of human society today. If you want to get a head start on the future, learn how to do FIML now.


First posted 4/30/18

Physicists discover surprisingly complex states emerging out of simple synchronized networks

…Synchronized oscillations were first noted as far back as the 1600s, when the Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens, known for discovering the Saturnian moon Titan, noted that two pendulum clocks hung from a common support would eventually come to tick in unison. Through the centuries, mathematicians and other scientists have come up with various ways to explain the strange phenomenon, seen also in heart and brain cells, fireflies, clouds of cold atoms, the circadian rhythms of animals, and many other systems.

Continue reading…

Something along these lines must be happening in human communications systems, from the smallest—a single human brain/body—to the largest, the entire planet.

Is there a universal morality or basis for morality?

Anthropologists from the University of Oxford believe there are seven components or rules of human morality that can be found in all societies.

…help you family, help your group, return favours, be brave, defer to superiors, divide resources fairly, and respect others’ property, were found in a survey of 60 cultures from all around the world.

An article about this study can be found here: Seven moral rules found all around the world.

The study itself can be found here: Is It Good to Cooperate? Testing the Theory of Morality-as-Cooperation in 60 Societies.

The study concludes that the universal basis of human morality is cooperation.

Among the seven rules, bravery is defined as a moral virtue in defense of one’s group, an ultimate form of cooperation that may result in death.

Deference to superiors seems to be a virtue that supports group hierarchy.

Both bravery and deference to superiors indicate that fighting within and between groups is common.

In today’s world, obviously, many people and most Americans do not live in tribes or stable neighborhoods, so our groups have become nebulous, abstract, bound more by belief and imagination than tribal and clan and familial bonds.

In this respect, the study shows why politics—and other subjects touching on group identity—can become so polarized and so difficult to discuss rationally.

Word order and word choice affect how and what we think

A new study shows that the word order of the language(s) we speak affects how we remember spoken information and perhaps more.

An article about the study can be found here: Word order predicts a native speakers’ working memory.

The main novelty of this study is that the link between language and thought might not be just confined to conceptual representations and semantic biases, but rather extend to syntax and its role in our way of processing sequential information. The language we speak affects the way we process, store and retrieve information.

The study can be found here (no paywall): The word order of languages predicts native speakers’ working memory.

Word choice can have even bigger effects on how we think and what we think about.

For example, using the term default mode network in place of unconscious mind or the Freudian Id yields a very different kind of understanding about what people are and how they function.

If you pay close attention to your default mode network, I am certain you will find yourself making judgements about other people. I am also certain that many of those judgements will have been repeated many times in the past and without intervention from your meta-self will be repeated many more times in future.

These judgements affect how you think and feel about many things; they tend to be fundamental to the workings of our psychologies.

Often our default mode judgements include our desired punishment for the offense we have just judged: “I hope that SOB falls in the river” or however you would put it.

A wonderful side of our minds is we can see that. We can see what we are doing and even figure out ways to act on what we see.

The next time you notice yourself wishing someone would fall in the river, stop and ask yourself if that is what you really want.

I am not saying get all moral with yourself and pray for the person. I am just saying ask yourself if that is what you really want. Do you really want them in the river?

I bet most of the time, if not all, you would much rather see them repent, reform, apologize, make amends, sin no more.

If you see that, you can see there is no spiritual need for revenge or punishment. What we need and want is the betterment of the person we have judged and the betterment of ourselves.

The way we think about our real-world minds and uses of language can be changed by how we think about them.