Social Skills – Language – Dangers

by pre., Friday, January 22nd, 2010.

Last week we discussed the way a language’s meaning encodes the experience of masses of generations of people into a format suitable for moulding the mind of a person living in a culture, and allowing those who share that language to edit each other’s brains.

This is, of course, incredibly powerful, but it also has dangers.


Most of the advice you receive is useful, most of the stories you hear have useful lessons even if they’re fictional, most of the programming your brain will get will be well intentioned. However, some of it won’t be.


As soon as there is a way to program your brain, there will be people who wish to program it for their own ends. To manipulate you. To take advantage of you. People prepared to give you false or otherwise misleading information. To provoke in you unnecessary fear in order to scare you into doing something.


In the modern world you are exposed to an absolutely incredible amount of advertising. Messages designed to sell work best if they first evoke the emotion of wanting or needing. If they make you feel a lack of the thing they want to you buy.

These messages, these programs for your brain, aren’t helpful to anyone other than the advertiser. They can lower your confidence, and so your social status, if you start to feel incomplete, as though you need the Advertiser’s {X} to be whole.

Self Flagellation

Negative messages which repeat over and over don’t all come from advertisers. Indeed, the ones you hear most and probably believe the most, are the ones coming from your own internal monologue. The voice in your head repeating the phrases people used when they tell you you’re a failure, you’re dumb, you’re slow, you’re unsophisticated.

As we mentioned last week, linguistic programming can be more effective than reality. Rather than just experiencing a single failure, you can find yourself pondering many times a day not just that you failed, but that you are that failure. This is common, and incredibly self destructive.

Pseudo Science

Language can program your brain with the collected experience of your culture, it can teach you valuable lessons about things you have not yet encountered, it can teach you things about the world you could never learn alone. But not everything it can teach you is true, not every story describes a real experience not every emotional unfolding represents an accurate response.

When your mind is limited to the experiences it actually has, to things it actually sees and hears and feels, it can of course fall for illusions. But when your mind is also constructed from the instruction of others, when it can be built from second hand experience, it can be lied to. Either deliberately or by well intended mistake.

Rules, laws, theories and intuitions about the world which are simply mistaken can be given the emotional force of events actually witnessed.

It can feel right to assume these things are true, even when those feelings are just regurgitated copies for things someone else had you simulate by expressing.

Pseudo-science, folk-law and urban myths are born of our abilities to communicate. Obviously believing things which are not true can be detrimental to your understanding of the world, can lead to unprofitable behaviours, to mistaken conclusions, to wasted effort.


Language can be used to bind a whole lot of ideas together into a whole. To package up many concepts and give them one name, make them feel like one thing. When those packages are part-true, part-false, it can be hard to separate out which is which.

The religions do this well. Don’t believe God hates homosexuals? Then clearly you reject all of religion and are therefore a morally suspect outcast.

While statements like this are evidently nonsense, there are some who believe them, in one form or another. Believe that giving up their religion will mean they burn in hell. Believe that their belief in God is keeping them moral.

Religions can’t exist without language, without a mechanism to spread these complex abstract conglomerates of ideas from one brain to the next. A monkey could perhaps teach another monkey to do a ritual before a hunt, but it could never express the purpose of that ritual or the understanding of a parent-figure watching and judging.

That some aspects of religions are true, and that some of them feel good helps both the religion and likely those who hold it. However, trying to insist that there is no mistake in any doctrine of a religion, and insisting it must be swallowed wholesale, is certainly not beneficial to your well-being, to your path to true transcendence.

What can you do about it?

How does your brain determine which messages to repeat to itself? Which to believe and which to discount?

The messages from the churches, pseudo-scientists, advertisers, salesmen, manipulators and even from your own brain, which are repeated, are not necessarily those which are best for you. They are instead those that are best at getting themselves repeated.

This may sound trivial, but is in fact vital to understand. The content of your inner monologue, your sense of truthiness, the messages which others repeat to you, are not determined by correlation to the truth, but by correlation to the stuff already in your head. By how well it matches a pattern.

This is a complicated function of how emotionally arousing it is, how well it matches with current belief, how much those around you seem to believe it. This complex function will determine who you are, what you believe, your place in society, the worries and concerns you have, the pride and confidence you feel.

Which would all be impossible to change except for one aspect of that list which we haven’t mentioned yet. This complicated function is also determined by your conscious evaluation. You can change which messages you repeat to ourself, how much you discount those others repeat to you.

We’ll talk more about the study of the way messages get passed around and repeated in human society in the final lap when we discuss memes, but for now there is one essential message to take on board.

You have the power to make a conscious decision to change that function. To determine not to repeat or listen to the negative or untrue messages you hear. To determine to encourage the messages most positive to your life and discourage those which have adverse effects.

By just saying the right things to yourself, and saying them in emotionally impressive ways, with words which evoke strong visual imagery, you can take control and gradually be more and more responsible for programming your own brain.

The meditation this month will help you to learn that.

Social Skills – Language – Consciousness

by pre., Friday, January 29th, 2010.

As previously explained, language lets us program each others brains. It allows one human being to simulate the experience of another human being just by listening to the coded string of phonemes that the other speaks.

It can do more than simply allow one person to describe the physical events that they experienced. More than allow them to describe the tiger approaching. By using metaphors and similes based on shared experience in the outside world and common emotional responses, it can also describe and provoke actual mental states. In fact this is what you do, all the time, with every conversation you have. Transfer brain states between you.

This has tremendous implications for the very structure of human consciousness. If you doubt it, ponder this:

Imagine trying to teach a monkey how to meditate.

How would you even begin?

Every single day of your life people have been asking you questions like “How do you feel?” or “What do you think about this?” or “Would you like to do that?

We’ve talked a lot over the last few months about how a brain responds to practice.

What do you think the effect of practising asking and answering questions about your mental state dozens of times every day will have on those mental states themselves?

We suspect that a rat spends very little time looking at a painting and asking itself how it feels about that painting. Is it even possible to prompt yourself to ask how something feels without a language with which to do it?

This is the function of music, of paintings, of drama, of art in general. To provoke an emotional response and simultaneously the question “how do I feel about this response?” It practices the neural systems for self-consciousness. It fires, and strengthens the pathways which build the parts of the brain which monitor itself. It likely encourages neurons to grow feedback systems into all your systems for perception, emotion, even thought itself.

All this complicated self-aware mind machinery grew more and more practised as language evolved. Emotional states become more distinct as the words used to describe and provoke and practice them were developed. Each generation’s language improving and refining their very states of mind, their very consciousness.

Meditation is a very powerful force. The more you meditate on yourself, the more conscious of yourself you will become. But the very ability to teach meditation, to explain how it’s done, is built from a process with even more power. The process which taught you how to direct and use your brain in that versatile maner in the first place. The conciousness built by language.

And language does more than even this, because once a person learns how to talk, they internalise the process and then almost never stop doing it!

Stream Of Consciousness

Most people, it seems, have a more or less continuous stream of words running through their heads. Almost all the time. A running commentary on their life, always questioning, always tuning their brain states, pushing them towards the common well-worn and self-aware emotional states.

Since they have no language, this is something an animal simply can’t do. They can’t even tell themselves “come on, focus, concentrate on the task in hand.” How can you learn to do something difficult without the self-control to keep your attention on it? How can you learn to meditate without hearing the instruction to cast aside all thoughts and concentrate on the mantra? Without the ability to re-tell yourself that every time a distraction came along, it would surely be completely impossible.

Human being’s emotional states, their awareness, their very consciousness is channelled and directed and structured by their language in the same way a flow of water is contained and channeled by a system of canals. A person with a whole spectrum of words to describe their emotional states will have a more fine grained awareness, consciousness, of those emotional states.

Add a couple of million years worth of only those who are able to do this best surviving, a Darwinian evolution pushing our species towards better language skills, towards better consciousness, and you have the recipe for the difference between human and animal consciousness.

We have evolved to be able to learn to do it well, but we must still, to some extent, learn.

Knowing this, you can take it further!

The Meditation

We present a guided lucid dream designed to help you improve your use of language, and better direct that skill towards increased consciousness. Increased self awareness, confidence, and self control.

As usual, set this to quietly invade your consciousness first thing in the morning, ten minutes before you have to get out of bed. Let it influence your dreams. Learn the process so that when you find yourself lucid dreaming without the track’s help, you can still remember to do it without aid.

In the dream you will improve your use of language by dreaming that it’s improved, you’ll see yourself describing things with a wider and more precise language than usual. You’ll dream you’re using a greater number of more emotionally provocative superlatives. The dream will be loaded with suggestions that these things are growing in your waking life too, that you’re getting better at them.

As your vocabulary becomes wider, and your descriptions of things more vivid, your consciousness of things will inevitably increase.

You will also dream that your running stream of consciousness if changing, becoming more positive. That you are being less hard on yourself, praising yourself more often. You will find your constant running commentary on your life becomes more questioning, that you ponder your own awareness, your own consciousness, more often.

This will help you to become more aware of your emotional states, more conscious of your self, and your perceptions, your emotions, your thoughts and the world around you.

Guided Meditation File 24 – Language – Consciousness
Backing Music “Unchanged Lines” By Screw Jay
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Social Skills – Integration – Social Perception

by pre., Friday, October 1st, 2010.

Our seventh step around the spiral each lap has been on Social Skills, and in the first lap we tackled social perception.

You will remember that we talked about seeing the way people are thinking in the way they move their body. How by concentrating on the eyes, hands, feet, shoulders, mirroring behaviour and tone of voice of a person as you speak you will learn, just by the power of attention and practice, to better understand the signals being sent to you through someone’s gestures and posture.

We also discussed social hierarchies, the pecking-order of dominance that exists wherever two or more people are together, and how those same signals that you are looking for to understand body language will also help you gauge the relationships between others.

When exaggerated from merely a handful of people to an entire party full, these effects sum and average out to produce a “vibe”, a general guage of the mood of the room, encoded and judged entirely by the people in it, and the subconscious signals they are constantly sending each other.

No doubt over the time since we discussed these things, assuming you have remembered to pay attention to those signals, gone over them again and again in your mind, you will have improved noticeably and be far more likely than before to be able to judge a crowd’s mood, the relationships between individuals, and the intent and emotions of your conversational partners. You’ll have seen the improvement this has given your social skills, but how has it affected the other skills in the spiral? How has it been affected by them?

As mentioned, focusing your awareness on these signals is essentially how your social perception is built in the first place. There are a million different things you could associate with the emotional states of your friends. The colour of the carpet, the clouds in the sky, the direction of the wind, the time of day, the smells wafting from the next room. Most of these signals are useless in predicting the behaviour of your friends, and your awareness, your attention, is how you instruct your brain which things are likely to be important so that it can narrow down the range of things to try and find patterns in.

And as you become more aware of the unconscious social signals from those around you, your awareness will benefit from their awareness. You will tend to look where they look, notice things they notice. These clues help make your awareness more keen, teach it better to find the relevent parts of the world.

Your memory is the system which you use to learn the patterns of social signals from your compatriots over time. Your memory lets you see how often a smile is associated with good mood or a frown with social tension. Without memory, none of the spiral skills could work at all.

As you became more aware of the social signals from others, your own awareness of the signals you are sending out will have inevitably increased. Awareness of how you yourself feel when smiling or frowning or crossing your legs in just that way, awareness of your body, improves social perception by informing it as it learns.

Your ability to think, your cognition skill, learns much of what it learns by mimicking others, by understanding the thinking processes they go through. Would a child alone learn to use a door? Perhaps. But certainly his awareness of the people around him, his willingness to copy them, leads him much more quickly to learn to turn the door knob.

Finally of course your ethics rely on understanding what other people do and don’t like. If you think they’re likely to enjoy being beaten and robbed then it’s much easier to do these things to them. However, your social skills let you see when you are upsetting someone, when you are hurting your relationship with them. An ethical system simply must be informed by these kinds of variables.

Social Skills – Integration – Social Signalling

by pre., Friday, October 8th, 2010.

Our second lap around the spiral on Social Skills was about social signalling. While the first lap aimed to improve your ability to receive social signals, to read people and relationships, the second lap was about improving your abilities to send social socials, to project your personality, your ideas, into other people’s impression of you.

Of course, the two skills are intimately related and all the things we said last week about social perception could pretty much be said again about Social Signalling.

On social signalling in particular though, we noted that people gain a great deal of information about others through their body posture, their gait, the way they talk and are dressed. All things which you can change through increased body awareness and body control. Gaining more body control will lead directly to an increase in your ability to tune and alter the moods and image which you project.

This information is digested and internalized by others who then treat you accordingly, reflecting their opinions of you in the way they behave. We have previously noted that a person treated like a thief is more likely to become a thief, and in a similar fashion the ideas and emotions projected out to others come back to influence you in the way that they treat you. Your self awareness being moulded indirectly towards whatever you are using your increasing social signalling skills to project.

We also noted during the second lap that there are similar feedback systems within your own body, that posture does not just reflect mood, it interacts with it. Faking confident or happy social signals will force you to form a happy or confident posture, and that in turn will affect your mood. Your very consciousness is affected, boosted, by Social Signalling and tends of course to exaggerate it right back.

Of course changing the signals you are unconsciously sending the world while you think about it is one thing, but changing them automatically, habitually, requires being able to work on changing your very way of thinking. Of bio-programming your own mind to actually take up the actions you decide to take up.

With great control of the social signals which you are sending, ethical questions of course arise. If this increased control allows you to manipulate people, you will need a full understanding of the reasons for not attempting these kinds of undertakings. Understanding that the social world you live in, and your own social status, depends upon doing the right thing in these kinds of situations. Using your powers for good.

The ultimate social signal is language of course, and we’ll review that topic next week.

Social Skills – Integration – Language

by pre., Friday, October 15th, 2010.

In January of this year, we examined language.

We examined the way language evolved thanks to the undeniable evolutionary benefit it gives to those who speak it. The ability to pass on learned knowledge to your offspring, the ability to learn from those around you and of course to influence them in return. This is the benefit which language gives which enabled us to evolve such a highly complex and structured way to serialize and pass on the very content of our minds. We evolved language.

We talked about how making the words you use more vivid, more expressive and evocative, helps you to capture the attention of those you talk to and increase the efficiency of your communication. We had you practice that, in your sleep, to encourage you to pay more attention to it, and so to learn to do it better.

You also learned how language allows humans to program not only each other’s brains, but also their own. How they can time bind, to learn from experiences which are long gone and pass on our knowledge to generations to come. That this process, over time, leads to an exponential growth of human culture and knowledge.

We even talked about the way learning a language alters your very consciousness, affects the very structure of your mind itself. How learning a language enables us to do things like teach each other how to meditate, showing the absurdity of trying to teach a monkey to do it.

Your very awareness is trained and developed during the course of you learning language by the way people direct it as they talk to you. Every time a person points out another thing, your awareness gets another little boost, another little practice at directing and focusing your mind. Language actually reshapes your mind, builds and improves your ability to focus and concentrate.

When we talked of memory, we considered chunking, the ability to encode memories in a different way in order to learn them more efficiently. Language skills help here immensely, every new word you learn is another chunk to use when storing memories.

Your body awareness is likewise enhanced, with a mental ability to chop up your body into discrete units. Where does that pain hurt? You certainly couldn’t describe it without words but those words themselves also provide a useful handle for locating a position on your body. Not only do you feel that pain just below the elbow, you conceive of it there, a hypnotist can make you feel it there using nothing but words even if your elbow is actually just fine.

Your language affects every one of the spiral skills since your language is the very tool you use to think about those skills. It’s through language that you know what words like awareness,
memory, consciousness, body, cognition, bio-programming, social skills and ethics actually mean.

You lean what each of these skills is, how it works, by talking about it with your family and friends. By learning which words others use in association with those skills, building an associative and semantic network of words which link to each other in ways which define what you mean by those words.

Finally, language also allows the transmission of memes, and we’ll do a special memes article to discuss how that changes your brain and improves all your mental powers next week.

Social Skills – Integration – Memes Special!

by pre., Friday, October 22nd, 2010.

Last week we mentioned that language allows the easy transmission of memes from one person to another, but what exactly is a meme, are they made out of language? How do languages facilitate their transmission? What are the survival advantages of being a creature which can carry these memes, and what dangers might they pose?

We’ll try and answer a few of those questions this week.

What are memes?

The word meme, which rhymes with beam, was first coined by Richard Dawkins in his book “The Selfish Gene” in 1976. He was comparing the transmission of physical properties from parent to offspring through genes to the transmission of mental properties from person to person.

He suggested an analogy to Darwinian Natural Selection. In biology, genes which build bodies which are better able to reproduce become more common in the global gene pool. This is a simple mathematical fact: genes which replicate more efficiently come to outnumber genes which replicate less efficiently, and in surprisingly quick times.

Dawkins’ analogy pushed this idea further. Ideas which replicate more efficiently in human minds will, by a similar mathematical proof, quickly come to outnumber ideas which are less efficient at replicating themselves.

For example, the idea that you should tell everyone about your idea is likely to spread much more quickly in a population than an idea which insists you should keep that idea secret and tell nobody.

Dawkins wanted a word to represent a unit of cultural transmission in an analogous sense to the word “gene” referring to a unit of hereditary transmission, and chose “meme” from the same Greek root as “mimic”, to copy, and also to rhyme with “Gene”.

A meme then, is any cultural phenomena which can be copied, which is transferred from one person to another. Examples of memes include melodies, dances, catch-phrases, accounting, religious beliefs, clothing fashion, and the technology of building arches. In short, if one person observes another person doing something and copies them, that something is a meme.

How does language facilitate the transmission of memes?

First note that not all memes are words. Professor Dan Dennet has said that words are “memes that can be pronounced,” and certainly there are some memes which can’t be pronounced. The skipping gait of a dancer, the arching of an eyebrow, the melody of that pop song, all are memes for which there is no word.

Yet of course, I was still able to describe them with words. Still able to refer to the quizzical eyebrow of Mister Spock from Star Trek and have you know what I mean. It’s not always easy. To describe the silly walk of John Cleese in that Monty Python sketch the minister used the words “the right leg isn’t silly at all and the left leg merely does a forward aerial half turn every alternate step” and it wasn’t even all that silly a walk. You also would be unlikely to reproduce it the same way just from that description. You really need to see it.

However, you would, if given a few minutes to learn it, be able to reproduce that description exactly as I gave it to you. And it’s this which makes language so useful for enabling the transmission of memes.

Language effectively digitizes memes, gives them discrete names. Imagine trying to remember a recipe without having the words to describe each step. This not only helps to remember and recall the memes in question, it also abstracts them from physical reality and so enables us to describe them to each other.

I can teach you how to use a can opener without a can, or a can-opener in the room. This can even work if you’ve never seen either. With a good enough description of the implements and the process you’d be able to recognise a can, and a can-opening tool, just from the words which I’d previously given you. You’d know how to apply the blade from the can opener to the lip of the can, how to twist the handle so that it grips the can and rotates it under the blade. All of this information could, in theory, be given to you without you ever coming into contact with a can opener at all.

Doctor Susan Blackmore proposes in “The Meme Machine” that language evolved, at least party, precisely because it facilitates the digitisation, abstraction and transmission of memes from one person to another. Language evolved to do this due to the selection pressures both on the genes which enable it, and on the memes themselves which human brains transmit.


If this is true then language genes could only have evolved if the ability to be a carrier for memes conferred a survival advantage to the genes which build the brain which can perform this feat. Is there a survival advantage to being able to observe and then copy other people? To be able to pick up their ideas as easily as a sponge can hold water?

Of course! Being able to copy someone is a massive time-saver in learning how to behave in the world, how to survive and thrive. Rather than having to learn everything by yourself, by trial and error or else by difficult calculated planning, you can just find the most successful people in your community and copy what they do.

This is not a simple skill. You need to be able to use your mental filtering functions to determine which aspects of a person’s behaviour to copy. You need to be able to understand what a person is doing and then translate that into the actions you need to perform yourself in order to copy them. You need to be able to determine which people, which memes, are most useful to copy and, in the case of abstract digitized linguistic memes, be able to decode and speak a whole language.

Oh, but when you have those skills licked, when you can make yourself into a vessel for memes to live, the powers it gives you are incredible. It enables time binding or the Jumping Jesus Phenomenon, which we discussed back in Lap one. It lets parents program their offspring’s brain, allows teaching, learning and education. It enables a being to learn life or death lessons without risking death!

In a species which has been using memetic evolution for some time, the very ability to copy well also increases a person’s attractiveness to members of the opposite sex, enhancing reproductive capacity still further.

However, these memetic powers do come with a dark side.


As Dawkins pointed out, the ability of a meme to spread is not directly related to the benefit that meme has to an individual organism which carries the meme. Memes for self-harm, suicide, celibacy and trivial distraction all thrive in our modern society despite the disadvantage to the people who spread those memes. A meme will become more frequent in the memesphere not if it enhances the well being of those that carry it, but if it enhances the ability of that meme to spread.

As a species we have evolved some discrimination when it comes to memes, you do try to copy only those things which are advantageous to you, but the mechanisms are flawed and your ability to tell which memes are useful and which aren’t is likewise sub-optimal.

You have probably found yourself humming a tune which, even as you hum it, you find annoying and distracting to the point that it really begins to make you angry and yet still you keep humming. This earworm is buzzing around your head because its hook, its melody, is adapted to fit your neural hardware. It’s a tune which has evolved to fit the environment it lives in: human brains. It’s likely the only way you’ll dislodge it is by thinking of a tune which is even better adapted to being repeated endlessly by the firing of circuits in your head.

This is only the most trivial of examples. You will often in life find yourself copying others blindly, mindlessly, without thinking and often you’ll be doing things which are detrimental to your mental health, your well-being, your life and your plans.

The more transcended you manage to become, the more likely you are to be able to spot and control these instances, but no matter how skilled you become and handling your own brain there will still be unnoticed “mind viruses” lurking in your grey matter.

Look out for them. Eliminate them.

While memetics is, mostly, just a metaphor, we think that a memetic viewpoint on the world is often enlightening and educational. As such, our meditation this month will encourage your to look for memes in the world, to analyse them, see what it is that makes them spread through the social sphere, and to help control which memes you decide to pick up and transmit, and which you reject.

Social Skills – Integration – The Meditation

by pre., Friday, October 29th, 2010.

This week we present our seventh walking meditation. As with the previous six, it’s designed to be listened to while on a short walk, ten minutes or so of listening and thinking along as you stride around your environment. This week the meditation is designed to help you think about the influence of memes on your world and to understand exactly how they work.

While a memetics is, mostly, just a metaphor, we think that a memetic viewpoint on the world is often enlightening and educational. As such, our meditation this month will encourage your to look for memes in the world, to analyse them, see what it is that makes them spread through the social sphere, and to help control which memes you decide to pick up and transmit, and which you reject.

The Meditation

After an initial period of concentrating on your smile, your gait, becoming relaxed and happy and suggestible, the meditation will ask you to look around at your environment, the world through which you are walking.

You will pick some man-made object in your environment. Perhaps discarded packaging for some product, or a building, or a street-sign. If you’re in a less urban environment, perhaps a fence or a road or even a whole field full of crops.

Next you’ll think about the processes involved in making that object. There will be many. In the case of a fence, for example, all the required tree’s will have been found or grown. The trees will have been felled, the wood cut into appropriate shapes. Probably this was done with a band-saw which of course in turn had to be invented, built, operated.

Then you will think about each of these processes, these human skills, and try to imagine how each of them developed. What advantages does that skill bring to the person who is practising it. How does having learned that skill enhance and improve the life of the person who learned it.

Once you’ve thought for a while about how the skill benefits the human who possesses it, you’ll turn your mind around and think instead about how that skill, that meme, was passed on around the human population after it was developed. How it spread. How does this skill, this meme itself, benefit? What qualities about the idea help to encourage the idea to multiply by being copied from one brain to another.

Guided Meditation File 32 – Social Skills – Memes
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