Category Archives: folk psychology

As If, a yoga of the practice of irony in a cosmos of contingency

A leading moral and political philosopher, Kwame Anthony Appiah is Professor of Philosophy and Law at New York University. He explores the ideas of the philosopher Hans Vahinger, who argued that our theories of the world involved understanding things “as if” what is in fact false were true.



I had begun this article with reference to Hans Vaihinger’s examination of the two simple words, as-if, which he posits as a fictive device. Until I read his book I was completely unaware that I used them in daily life. Once I did, I couldn’t get as-if out of my mind. Not only that, I found it was fascinating to observe how other people used these words. When I asked if they were aware of the fact, invariably the answer was no. Nevertheless, once they did, they were delighted at finding a treasure right under their noses. From these observations I gathered that the various ways we employ as-if reflects a desire to step outside the routine of daily life, the easiest way being to entertain fanciful thoughts. Such thoughts aren’t to be dismissed outright as a waste of time. If we were asked about them, we’d respond that they constitute an important part of our lives, indeed, are essential to our psychic health. At the same time these thoughts have basis in reality–they arise from experiences in real life–and can reflect our deepest desires. excerpt Some Reflections on Hans Vaihinger (Richard McCambley)

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PSA: Bias


For my own purposes I make the following differentiations netween operational modalities of ordinary language argument.

Fallacies 18x12

(1) OBJECTIVE arguments based in facts and positive propositions and deduction
(2) ABDUCTIVE arguments based in explanation drawn from repeated experiences and inductions from these experiences
(3) IDEOLOGICAL arguments based in alignment or misalignment with first principles
(4) PERFORMATIVE arguments based in attracting and persuading support, without reference to objectivity or explanatory abductions

Explanation, or description may be substituted for argument. There can be formal or informal mixtures of the four modalities.

Cognitive Bias Codex 2016


None of the above help with a Performative Argument. A Performative Argument is insulated from the deconstructive power posed by an evaluation of its biases, deficits of logic, and its loose couplings to the ideological/abductive/objective.

From this, it follows that a lie is best rendered in a performative argument because this setting gives the lie the best chance to be optimally convincing. The hallmark of performative argument is its implicit perception management.

All conspiracy theories which propose, and are contingent on, successful hidden structures, secret coordination, and occulted intent, are always performative theories. I don’t know of any exceptions.

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Pure Experience

Organized Detritus (2017) Stephen Calhoun

What is left of experience if from it are erased feeling it, thinking it, feeling about it, thinking about it?

I’ve been reflecting on the paradox of mindfulness. Mindfulness, over the last several years, is among the hottest trends in management and organizational “self-improvement.”

It seem to me partly counter-intuitive in that mindfulness’s site is individual consciousness, whereas both managers and organizations tend to strongly focus their collective consciousness on some master plan given by holistic “master” assumptions.

Yet, there is the lower level paradox found in the second/third order appreciation of mindfulness, which is: to speak of it is not to be it.

Carl Manchester reads Chapter 2 A World of Pure Experience, from:

William James: Essays In Radical Empiricism (download via

Pure experience is the centerpiece of a larger, radical empiricism, one that rejects the assumptions that created the epistemic gap between experience and reality in the first place. This gap is predicated on “an artificial conception of the relations between knower and known,” James says, and this fake problem is his first target. The history of philosophy has shown that all sort of theories have been invented to overcome this gap, he says. Some theories put a mental representation into the gap, common-sense theories left the gap untouched, believing that our minds could just make the leap and, he tells us, and the Transcendentalists brought their Absolute in to perform this epic task. James and Pirsig, on the other hand, say that subjects and objects are not the conditions that make experience possible. Instead, they have been carved out. As James puts it, inner and outer are just names for the way we sort experience. They are linguistic affairs, products of reflection, concepts derived from experience. To supposed that these terms mirror Nature’s own divisions or otherwise correspond to pre-existing ontological categories is to reify these concepts. Under our radical empiricists, subjects and objects are stripped of their metaphysical, ontological status and otherwise demoted to the rank of mere concept – thereby eliminating Cartesian dualism and replacing it with an experiential monism. For the radical empiricist, experience and reality amount to the same thing. This is the context in which James and Pirsig make their claims about pure experience or the pre-intellectual cutting edge of experience. Pure Experience and Dynamic Quality February 16, 2012 by David Buchanan

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End of History Illusion

This idea upends a cognitive bias that may well have been valuable 100,000 years ago.

Add the actuality of contingency and the fragility of the appearance of stability of the personality is obvious.

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Thick Over Thin, Beyond the Need to Know, Deep Digging

Stephen Calhoun artist

twitter meme series via @sq1learning aiming to cause thinking/feeling

If one wants to get to the absolute bottom of something, presumably for many kinds of human somethings, the journey to reach the bottom will:

(1) take time
(Rule of thumb: if it seems like it will take too much time, you’re at the start of the right path)

[paradoxical dialectic #1]
(2) demand suspension of reactions
(3) cause encounters which elicit antipathy and sympathy

(4) require configuration of viable abductions at ‘ripe’ waystations (during the journey)

[paradoxical dialectic #2]
(5) be advantaged by one feeling through one’s self feeling through the subject
(6) be advantaged by enacted agency removed from the subject’s ideology/personal culture

(7) be advantaged by researcher’s understanding of the imposition provided by their own ideology

(8) be completed by the invocation and instantiation of negative capability

These dispositional elements support deliberate knowing (learning) and stand against the varieties of thin approaches, each of which is anchored in a singular routine to obtain, ‘not really needing to know much more than I can easily know without spending more time, and certainly not challenging myself to learn more–beyond where I habitually like to stop learning.’

(Substitute satisfyingly for habitually to capture the reflexive certainty, “know enough already, thank you!” Enough is equivalent to knowing all one needs to know.

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Forced Choice


In sixty seconds,

(1) Pick your favorite.

(2) Pick your least favorite.


Experiential Learning:
Fourth Annual Experiential Learning Conference June 16-17, 2016

Hunting and Gathering In the Cleveland Art Museum
(Thursday June 16, 1:45pm) facilitated by Stephen Calhoun, squareONE:experiential toolmakers

Hunting and Gathering sets eager learners to the playful of task of exploring and
discovering consequential relationships between their personal learning goal and novel data able to be hunted down and gathered in the galleries or environs of the Cleveland Art Museum. This experiential tool blends a model of collaborative experiential learning with a framework for deliberately animating a learning space.

Here listed are several aspects of experience and learning I am fascinated by, and, drawn to theorize about, in a most informal way. Other times, I rope in subjects and do experiments!

One–entanglements of contexts and their contextualizations; abductive contextualizing
Two–personal culture and the geneaology of individualized knowledge
Three–hidden contingencies, webs of uncertainty, biosemiotic fragility
Four–novelties, serendipities, oracles, synchrons

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Buzzing Pareidolia Part One

Caged Bird (2014) Stephen Calhoun 7x5"

Caged Bird (2014) Stephen Calhoun 7×5″

Today, my research is centered on creating images which evoke pareidolia, and, secondarily, on the understanding of serendipity in adult experience and development.

Pareidolia is not a well-known term despite one expert’s calling it a buzzword. But, pareidolia doesn’t even attach itself to a normative definition. Nor does it attach to a definition stripped of question-begging. Yet, from the vagaries of its treatment arise estimations of why there is pareidolia.

Google: definition | pareidolia

Pareidolia (/pær??do?li?/ parr-i-DOH-lee-?) is a psychological phenomenon involving a stimulus (an image or a sound) wherein the mind perceives a familiar pattern of something where none actually exists.

perceives a familiar pattern of something Really, how much more vague and circular can you get?

the imagined perception of a pattern or meaning where it does not actually exist, as in considering the moon to have human features This goes right into the weeds. (Weeds may suggest a familiar pattern of something–pay this no mind!)


is a psychological phenomenon involving a stimulus (an image or a sound) wherein the mind perceives a familiar pattern of something where none actually exists Question begged here through the roping of psychological phenomenon in to the mix.

Rorschach ink blot

Rorschach ink blot

The Rational Wiki is droll, and, its revealing point of emphasis is highlighted.

Pareidolia is the phenomenon of recognizing patterns, shapes, and familiar objects in a vague and sometimes random stimulus. It’s the result of your brain trying to “make sense” of input that really has no sense to find in it. This is seen often in inkblot tests, where random splatters of ink suggest different images to different people (look, it’s a conspiracy: they’re all deliberately made to look like vaginas!) but also in cases of people seeing visions, ghosts, and other likenesses in what are actually just random patterns that happen to look like those things.

Read this again, and address the follow-up question.

result of your brain trying to “make sense” of input that really has no sense to find in it

Where is making sense located?

Ironically, given the source, result of your brain trying to “make sense” of input that really has no sense to find in it, locates the answer to the question in two places at once. Contradiction!

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Yet, We Converse With Each Other

Hexagram 44
Your name or your person,
Which is dearer?
Your person or your goods,
Which is worth more?
Gain or loss,
Which is a greater bane?
That is why excessive meanness
Is sure to lead to great expense;
Too much store
Is sure to end in immense loss.
Know contentment
And you will suffer no disgrace;
Know when to stop
And you will meet with no danger.
You can then endure.


What is your personal ideology, and, how does it track back to its source in your personal culture?

Do we not construct somewhat congruent collections of best explanations?

Everybody lives in their own subjective world, or, not?


Every individual is dedicated in explicable and inexplicable ways to their favorite: dispositions, habits of thinking and feeling, heuristic tools, automatic responses, etc..

Individual comprehension of what are apparently objective features of the world are: variable, often warrantless, and, these comprehensions are, finally, usually subjective..

The common ground is not itself beyond the intersubjective field.

Each person over time develops, tests, refines, and deploys, their unique folk psychological ideology and toolset.

Often this bundle of suppositions and provisional abductions about, for example, how one’s own mind and other mind’s work, is utilized as the first->second order means to understand another person. It is deployed as if it is comprehensive and commensurate to the task of understanding this other person.

This normal attitude and approach is used by many people who are innocent of its origins (from within their personal culture, subjectivity.)

As a practical matter, eventually meeting the challenge posed by hoping to develop accurate interpersonal and intrapersonal construal requires the negotiation of each other’s self conception, self conception in contexts, language, concepts, suppositions, and, linkages and intrinsic networks, and, all the other potential features of subjective deep beingness. Hey, these considerations are truly, mine alone!

Hexagram 44. Don’t negate me bro for the sake of flattening me so that I may tumble along in your own 2D world. If I wanted to be in your world, I’d have to have been you.

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Hey, I Felt That!

23 Emotions People Feel But Can't Explain

At first, I didn’t check out the origins of this list. It is, for me, a curious collection of folk psychological notions. It includes radically non-normative associations between a conjured term, and, several varieties of explanatory material. I looked up the last term and discovered the source, a literary project roosting on Tumblr.

The definitions include many that are aspirational, and this echoes Antonio Damasio below, when he says: “…exercising that prerogative” and goes on to describe the focal consciousness of concentrated human performance.

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Friendship: Meta All of the Above, and Combinatorial Experience

Stephen Calhoun, fine artist

The Old Alchemist, (S.Calhoun 2012)

John M. Reisman wrote an amusing, and sometimes edifying, book about friendship, Anatomy of Friendship (1979.) At the beginning he provides a survey of luminaries, all men, with something to say about friendship. Reisman’s luminaries are: Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Montaigne, Emerson, James, Freud, Adler, Sullivan, Erikson, Lecky. The men of this list wander around friendship like the blind men hope to grasp the real elephant.

For friendship is nothing else than an accord in all things, human and divine, conjoined with mutual goodwill and affection, and I am inclined to think that, with the exception of wisdom, no better thing has been given to man by the immortal gods. Some prefer riches, some good health, some power, some public honours, and many even prefer sensual pleasures. This last is the highest aim of brutes; the others are fleeting and unstable things and dependent less upon human foresight than upon the fickleness of fortune. Again, there are those who place the “chief good” in virtue and that is really a noble view; but this very virtue is the parent and preserver of friendship and without virtue friendship cannot exist at all.
Laelius de_Amicitia – Cicero

(Even if I sustain Reisman’s masculinist prejudice, I could reel off a bunch of additional luminaries, guys such as Rumi & Shams, Shakespeare, Kant, Levinas, Jung, Carl Rogers, and contemporary thinkers such as Tversky and Kahneman and Christopher Bollas.)

To build the field of fields about friendship would tackle the odd structural contradictories: the masculine scholarship presents findings begun in ancient times, yet, because friendship is so able to be idealized and because it is almost the prototype for one-sided relationship–say, with respect to its good object relations–this same literature is–in the scheme of such bodies of work–modest, while friendship itself in important ways is a boring subject matter.

The latter point merely suggests middling aspects, friends are often taken for granted, and, friendships are often low risk relationships. As a subject friendship has been covered in philosophy as a subject of moral and ethical philosophy; in evolutionary biology as a subject attached to altruism; and within psychology, for example, there are instructive forays into a relational dyad’s journey from ‘Other’ to Forgiven.

Then there are the implications given by reflexive folk psychology. Indeed, how do we step back from a relationship for the sake of evaluating what really happens in the friendly meeting, engagement, and interpsychic penetration of minds?

Folk Psychology intrigues me because the mediation of minds provided by friendship is, theoretically speaking, worked out by the praxis implicated at some higher order in a theory theory, or simulation, or phenomenological reckoning; or, to bring this closer to my own sense, such a praxis embodies enaction that encompasses whatever works and plays in the relational moment of mediation.

Confucius said, “There are three friendships which are advantageous, and three which are injurious. Friendship with the uplight; friendship with the sincere; and friendship with the man of much observation:-these are advantageous. Friendship with the man of specious airs; friendship with the insinuatingly soft; and friendship with the glib-tongued:-these are injurious.” Analects 16

As I have come to view it, the most local intersubjectivity is that through which two persons share: the perception, the fact, the conceptual apprehension, the dream, the hope, and, the fear, the anger, the sorrowful. From these mutualized offerings, also, the two (now) subjects, may step back.

Additionally, as Ken and I came to together understand, this stepping back returns the single, or individual subject, into his or her home frameworks (Stephen,) or collection of lens (Ken.) For our local intersubjectivity, its meta-content was both object and action. We didn’t usually spend much time at all explaining our frameworks/lens.

Stephen Calhoun, fine artist, Cleveland Heights, Ohio

The Unity of Entanglement (S.Calhoun, 2015)

Our mutual receptivity was subtle.

Years ago, while networking at a meeting, I got into some matter at hand, and the first response from the person I was talking with, was:

What you have just told me is so abstract!

I replied.

What is abstract to you, is completely concrete to me.

This never came up in Ken and my dialogues. We never talked about why it was how easily we could access being in phase with each other. Although, I suspect in our conversations through which we came to put a lot of pressure on the overly-structural personality typology of C.G. Jung/John Beebe/J.L. Giannini, we touched upon possible reasons for subtle typological alignment, and, the varieties of (what I term) phase alignment that exemplified our not needing to explain background concepts and frames to each other.

We joined my social cybernetic classes with our deconstruction of Analytical typology, and with his astropsychology.

For example, we might analyze the entanglement (my term) or embeddedness (Ken’s term,) of the Nf (intuitive feeling,) and implicit thinking sensation of the “conceptually apprehending” or sorrowful mental function (my term,) and, likewise, “conceptually apprehending” or sorrowful consciousness, (his term.) The distinctions given by different mutual terms would be, in effect, translated once or twice

We seemed often over the last three years to be most of time in a sweet Emersonian spot.

Yet, there would be no reason to review the “masculinist” perspectives on friendship with a view toward differentiating and nailing down the particulars of our quest-filled friendship. Ken and my friendship was: all of the above. We would put our selves together, select our instrument, and then play.

What was most thrilling was the topline: Ken and I partnered so as to make exploratory investigations, and the principal alchemical property of our quests is easy to characterize:

Our intuitions–my ENF and his INF–came together in deeply compelling brushwork that was all about setting to the canvas of instantaneous learning our combinatorial intuiting, where we would discover insights both as discerning paired subjects, and, at the very same time, as a unified investigator.

Forward processing, on the other hand was very different for Ken and me. He journaled and took detailed notes and enthusiastically worked our findings over. Whereas I captured short notes and cues, and went onto to other external possibilities.

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Generating Paradox – Glimpsing Some Pre-work


Experiential Learning Cycle (David. A. Kolb et al)


Once again my generous colleagues in the Experiential Learning Community of Practice
(LinkedIn news and discussion feed) have invited me to present to members and anybody else who can find their way to quarterly virtual meeting. It takes place on March 12, 2015 at 4:00pm EST, but I don’t yet know the link that will provide access.

Here is the précis.

Generating Paradox. Overt and Covert Polarities in Kolb’s Learning Cycle

Given the theoretical-conceptual architecture of Kolb’s Learning Cycle, fascinating yet obscured conceptual relations subsist within the dynamic move from the organic systematic theory and its application as a theory-in-use and as an applied model. This presentation teases some of those relations out by leveraging both the explicit dialectical relations in the model-proper, and co-existing, yet tacit, polar relations.

In this peeling away of layer’s of the conceptual ‘onion,’ two gains are anticipated: one, the learner will experience reasons for de-reifying aspects of learning style, and, two, the learner may be inspired to expand the model’s practical reach.

This presentation is programmed to be experiential and interactive. Participants may maximize the experience by having at hand five pieces of blank paper, scissors, and a fine marker or bold pen.



My presentations to this particular group, and this will be my second one, are designed to be experiential, and in turn are by-design, applications for experiential learning both in the moment of the presentation and afterward.

Although I suppose I could just layout a bunch of philosophizing about the matters this program will be focused on, I prefer to do the philosophizing before the program. What I will layout is a process that results in an application participants can then use/re-use to explore the fascinating dichotomies hidden within the dynamics of the learning theory and model of David A. Kolb et al.

Concealed within the above summary is the promise of the application: the learner will have the means to de-reify aspects of learning style, and, have the means to expand the model’s practical reach. However, my goal is to point the participants in the direction of doing so, and, then giving them a tool to help them do so.

I like to lead people to where he or she might drink the water.

social-cybernetic stack

[Background] This schema depicts one of the versions of a human systems stack. This is a heuristic tool I use to get a handle of the dependencies in an environmental situation of learning. Its classes are general and presumed to be global, discoverable as layers in all situations of learning.

(Socio-psyche is my shorthand for the particularized social psychological and cultural context.)

From this I next contemplate the critical aspects which may require a two-fold differential description, or what I term a critical pair. The schema itself marks and makes explicit many such pairs: learner/environment, leaner/context, learner/opportunity, and, in this set also fall more subtle pairs, such as: environment/opportunity.

The stack reflects that the dependencies are inclusive from above and below.

The gist of my interest in these discoverable pairs, is inflected with a very ironic aspect. I use Kolb’s model procedurally, whereas almost all the practitioners I know use the model instrumentally–as the anchor to assessment (of learning style) and development of management of style. So, going into my exploration, I already know, for example, where there is assessment, there are paradoxes of assessment!

Plus: there is much more of great interest to me. After all, I’m using my procedural model, drawn directly from the Kolbian Cycle, to enactively–by virtue of my first person contemplation–interrogate the normative developmental model as a matter of how it the model is used!

Of great interest to me is the processing of the individual assessment between the practitioner and their assessed subject. My interest here is in how experience is shaped in the encounter with the practitioner and her theory/model-in-use with the assessed subject and his own folk psychological theories/models-in-use.

In this, for example, I’ve long wondered about the practical mediation of attribution at the point at which an assessment in a direct sense delivers a description and warrants (for its attribution,) to an assessed subject. Even if the delivery is naive, nevertheless, behind the mediation are the practitioner’s choices, and, in front of the mediation, are lots of embodied features of the assessed subject, including the aforementioned personally-grasped theories and models.

The encounter between practitioner and subject is complicated. Our of this typical flux spill out all kinds of pairs, dichotomies, polarities, dialectics, and paradoxes.

In my musing about the practical use of Kolb’s model, for the sake of smoking out compelling pairs, I made four circumambulations; first was about the above problem of assessment.

(1) Problem of the Theory-In-Use – the paradox of the difference between the infinite theory and the truncated applied theory. (By infinite theory I mean the unending theory applicable to all future situations of experiential learning; following here the suggestion of C.S. Peirce, or Von Foerster, that this prospect is illimitable and so the organismic theory is itself subject to, in effect, unlearning and relearning its own theoretical ‘self.’ )

(2) Problem of Assessment – the assessed subject, and the operation and mediation between the practicing system and the learner-system.

qnd #2 is coupled to:

(3) Problem of Reification – reflexive determinations linked to the subject’s sense of identity, self-attribution, and aspiration given the developmental context of the KLSI (Kolb Experiential Learning Style Inventory)

and #3 is coupled to:

(4) Problem of Actual Dynamics – how are explicit conflicts, synergistic transactions, adaptations, knowledge creation, implicit knowledge destruction, actual dialectical operations, given to the the learner’s phenomenological knowing and self-sensemaking?

I left alone a fifth move, that of the particular context-for-learning. In contemplating the above fields, my goal was to first deepen my understanding of their instance in the system of (Kolbian) experiential learning, and, second to figure out what were the pairs right ‘at hand.’

The program does not get into any of this in any significant way at all! The program is designed to reveal some of the pairs, pairs which are the distillate of my wandering around these five fields of interest.

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The Precarity of the Estimate

Free Play Aug 4

This week, with the game on the line in the top of the last inning, the visiting team smartly aimed their offense at a weak spot in the infield and ended up with one single, one runner on base by error, and three successfully fielded ground balls. Outlier!

Then, needing a run to win with two outs in the bottom of the last inning, and bases loaded, this same fielder came up with his bust-to-boom hitting approach and pumped a pitch 300 feet for the walk-off win.

One run  game. Ideal obtained!


A simple example will show the nature of this difficulty. Consider some ball game played by a few people of approximately equal skill. If we knew a few particular facts in addition to our general knowledge of the ability of the individual players, such as their state of attention, their perceptions and the state of their hearts, lungs, muscles etc. at each moment of the game, we could probably predict the outcome. Indeed, if we were familiar both with the game and the teams we should probably have a fairly shrewd idea on what the outcome will depend. But we shall of course not be able to ascertain those facts and in consequence the result of the game will be outside the range of the scientifically predictable, however well we may know what effects particular events would have on the result of the game. This does not mean that we can make no predictions at all about the course of such a game. If we know the rules of the different games we shall, in watching one, very soon know which game is being played and what kinds of actions we can expect and what kind not. But our capacity to predict will be confined to such general characteristics of the events to be expected and not include the capacity of predicting particular individual events. Friedrich August Von Hayek

As the Free Play Softball handicapper for ten years, social systems/human cybernetic theories provide me with critical perspectives, none of which impact my ability to obtain the ideal of handicapping: a close game. Such perspectives are meta-related (second order in a cybernetic sense,) to the game at-hand. They allow me to not only be a participant/observer, but also to be informal analyst/ethnographer. Crucially, at least for my peace of mind, I can step back and consider the interplay of domains in the game but not of the game. Another consequence of how I view my role is: I make out line-ups knowing beforehand that any line-up possesses characteristics of some kinds,and, doesn’t possess characteristics of other kinds.

For example, line-ups do not possess the characteristic of embedding the eventual outcome of the game within their flux of estimations and generalizations.

They do reflect an on-the-spot generalization of a quick reconnaissance of performative variables. However, I know going into the exercise that the actual dynamic interplay of many player’s regression-to-the-Mean with the outlying performances of a handful of players is enough to falsify any hope for a close game, and realization of a game that objectifies actual parity. I make a very informed effort to design a close game and yet close games, decided by three or fewer runs, are comparatively rare.

(I have had occasion to point out to a few of the several players who monitor my handicapping track record that outlying negative performance of the better players and exceptional performances of the mediocre players tends to be more decisive than the mean performance of mediocre players.)

Other players theorize the line-ups. Player’s folk theorizing doesn’t bother me because I understand the double framework of the performative system: the Meta-system is focused by its norms and heuristics–a line-up is a heuristic–while the phenomenal system instantiates the precarity of performance. The latter system cannot ratify idealized estimations. Idealized estimations are heuristic; what players actually do to implement the five skills (hit, catch, throw, run, remember where they bat in the lineup,) is part of the phenomenal–enacted by experience–system.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Free Play Softball League for me, the inveterate researcher, is that I assume most players think meta-thoughts about the game and these in turn refer at least loosely to their cognition within their own contextualizing of their individual Free Play experience. I don’t know anybody else’s detailed specific system-making, but I do know how I contextualize the game. Players may regard the heuristics, regard their phenomenal experience of the game, and reflect upon and make connections between the two fields in completely different ways. There is something of the black box in this, but also, the line-up–which after all is a quasi-economic object too–is established to be the main totem of anticipation of outcome.

The line-up is a charismatic object, and along with this come, at times, a projection onto the handicapper which holds that in some direct way the result of the game is embedded by me (!) in the line-up. No, most times my estimations and generalizations, aimed to achieve parity, are falsified.

What allows me to put up with line-up related guff is my understanding something about the math of precarity in human systems.

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A Knotty Issue of Development

men and women iconized into bias

If you were asked, ‘How do you reduce prejudice, prejudicial behavior, bias?’ how would you respond?

Just the other day I was asked this same question by a good friend who has been charged with teaching college sophomores something useful about how to, as she put it, think, feel and behave, in a diverse social environment.

It strikes me as a difficult and complex problem, and, also, one that is itself prone to being addressed in unreasonable and biased folk-psychological estimations of how, in effect, prejudice and bias can be said to operate.

Is the mitigation of prejudice against the opposite gender simply a matter of unlearning a pattern of response, or simply a matter of replacing this same pattern with a new behavior? My friend and I discussed empathy in terms of being the kind of ‘simulation’ that could serve this simple ‘replacement’ formula.


We moved onto consider bias being partly a consequence of inaccurate evaluation; with this possibly being a crucial aspect of a biased learned response. This seems, to me, closer to the developmental knot of bias, in that inaccuracies of evaluation often are straight-forward threads of such a knot.

This also allows for experiential approaches to revealing the evaluative aspects of how people experience different, other persons.

The following formula summarizes our intuition.

presence + ignorance + humility
= (more accurate evaluation)
increased potential to reduce biases in evaluation



presence: intentional focusing of external (object) awareness, while also being reflective and introspectively sensitive to emergent internal content (Note-Presence constitutes an active, vigilant behavior with respect to sub-conscious and automatic, or otherwise habitual, upwellings of inaccurate evaluation.)

ignorance: knowing ahead of time what you don’t know (Note-Ignorance contextualized by: knowing how one might both choicelessly and choicefully fill in the blanks with: prior knowledge; stereotypical knowledge; ad hoc knowledge; sub-conscious intuitions: prejudicial knowledge

humility: willing submission to being attentive without prior knowledge (Note-Submission is equivalent to also being willing and able to entertain an experiment through which one closely observes the nature of their own participation in their own experience of instantiating inaccurate evaluation.)



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Folk You Psychology

Paul-ChurchlandPhilosopher Paul Churchland

How to put this, ummm, lightly, and not glom too much of your time? I am challenged to do this. I need to defer from providing way too much context. This is hard because, although the subject matter is straight forward, attached to this is a bunch of strange and impossible to resolve problems. I guess I won’t go “there.”

I can put it simply. Let’s configure an experiment. You get to assemble a team of psychological experts. You tell them that they will have made available to them a research subject, and, they will be able to each make their own expert inquiry into this subject. This will take place at the entry way to a grocery store. What you deliver as this expert group’s charge is this: find out what you need to know to predict what the subject will do in the first five minutes after he or she is released to go shopping in the grocery store.

The team’s goal is to make predictions. Your goal is to assemble the right team, hoping then that they end up making dependable predictions. Assume (correctly) that you will need to vet candidates for this team by gathering information about potential candidates, and, this effort itself echoes the lesser charge. In other words, your own effort is itself directed to approximately predict that your team will be good predictors.

The central problem given by the field of psychology, as far as I’m concerned, is the awesome difficulty posed by the problem of predicting what an average, and on average, normal subject, will do, literally, next. If this experiment was actually rolled out, one of its fascinating aspects would be revealed by analyzing the data gathering implicit in the various different approaches used to predict this single subject’s possible next actions, after they are released to fulfill or dash the predictions. I intuiting by this suggestion the difficulty supposed by aiming the inquiry into the subject at: some layer, level, part of their human system.

There could be two basic classes of inquiry, first the psychological, and, second, everything else. The obvious question a certain kind of inquiry might deploy would be: what are you going to do next; and next; and next? Are such questions dropped in the class of psychology? If you tell me so, I would ask you, “How so?”

Okay. I make two broadly brushed distinctions when I am pursuing my learning and investigation of, what’s termed, folk psychology. Call the first a kind of terrain. Within its boundaries are all practical undisciplined, non-technical, manifestations of cognition, mind, informal theorizing, (etc.) that are innocent of Folk Psychology “proper.” This used to be termed everyday psychology, yet the differentiation I’m focusing on is rooted to wondering about how the folk psychologize when the folk don’t know anything at all about the technical, model-ordinated, problems incurred by supposing that there are difficulties in making assumptions about how one’s own mind works, and, how other person’s minds work.

One thinks about their own mind’s workings, and that of others, and the signal quality of this is: this is not really problematic.

Why it is, or why it should be, lands in the terrain of Folk Psychology Proper. The actuality of ‘psychology’ in the first terrain is that close to 100% of humanity spends 100% of its mindful time in it. This time is taken up with predictions, estimations, and every sort of seemingly reasonable act of surmising what is to happen next, most of it predicated on–in the scheme of such things–gathering hardly any, or at least, paltry amounts of positive information. Yet, and this is not surprising, all this time is mostly ‘navigationally’ effective. Think about it; we don’t give much of a second thought to the vast taken-for-granted conceptions we use, basically, automatically in figuring out out intentions or the intentions of others. And, somewhat surprising, a team of psychological experts does not provide a very sturdy purchase upon any plane of dependable prediction with respect to the normal, conventional “case” subject and their next activity.

This could be compared to the controversies inherent within Folk Psychology Proper. For my own part, the latter terrain is deliciously paradoxical, ponderable and imponderable all at once. Is cognition produced by operational formulations of representations and propositions (and other stuff!) or is it more like this:

The basic idea is that the brain represents the world by means of very high-dimensional activation vectors, that is, by a pattern of activation levels across a very large population of neurons. And the brain performs computations on those representations by effecting various complex vector-to-vector transformations from one neural population to another. This happens when an activation vector from one neural population is projected through a large matrix of synaptic connections to produce a new activation vector across a second population of nonlinear neurons. Mathematically, the process is an instance of multiplying a vector by a matrix and pushing the result through a nonlinear filter. This process is iterable through any number of successive neural populations and, with appropriate adjustment of the myriad synaptic weights that constitute the “coefficients” of these vast matrices, such an arrangement can compute, at least approximately, any computable function whatsoever. Such neural networks have been shown to be “universal approximators” (Hornik, Stinchcombe, and White 1989).

Such networks can also learn to approximate any desired function, from repeated presentation of its instances, by means of various auto­matic learning procedures that adjust the synaptic weights in response to various pressures induced by the specific input-output examples pre­sented to the network (Rumelhart, Hinton, and Williams 1986a, 1986b; Sejnowski, Kienker, and Hinton 1986; Hinton 1989). Trained networks are fast, functionally persistent, tolerant of input degradation, sensitive to diffuse similarities, and they display complex learned prototypes.

This was Paul Churchland, writing sometime–guessing–in the early nineteen nineties.

The lead-in paragraphs:

The real motive behind eliminative materialism is the worry that the “propositional” kinematics and “logical” dynamics of folk psychology constitute a radically false account of the cognitive activity of humans, and of the higher animals generally. The worry is that our folk con­ception of how cognitive creatures represent the world (by propositional attitudes) and perform computations over those representations (by drawing sundry forms of inference from one to another) is a thorough­ going misrepresentation of what really takes place inside us. The worry about propositional attitudes, in short, is not that they are too much like (the legitimately functional) tables and chairs, but that they are too much like (the avowedly nonexistent) phlogiston, caloric fluid, and the four principles of medieval alchemy.

These latter categories were eliminated from our serious ontology because of the many explanatory and predictive failures of the theories that embedded them, and because those theories were superseded in the relevant domains by more successful theories whose taxonomies bore no systematic explanatory or reductive relation to the taxonomies of their more feeble predecessors. In sum, eliminative materialism is not moti­vated by some fastidious metaphysical principle about common natures, but by some robustly factual and entirely corrigible assumptions about the failings of current folk psychology and the expected character of future cognitive theories. On the explanatory and predictive failings of folk psychology, enough has been said elsewhere (P. M. Churchland 1981). Let me here address very briefly the positive side of the issue: the case for a novel kinematics, dynamics, and semantics for cognitive activity. Though Putnam does not explicitly rule out this possibility, his book does not take it very seriously. At one point he describes it as “only a gleam in Churchland’s eye” (p. 110).

Definitely, I have a foot in the eliminativist terrain. I’m confidant that the talk is different than the walk. Ahh, but the other foot! I doubt the physical apparatus allows for walking the walk. I am not yet able to understand how the common talk could end being ‘faux’ like phlogiston. Nor can I yet comprehend the kind of grain that would come to the fore and allow one to predict that the subject’s next vector-to-vector translation is indubitably heading the subject toward the rack of tomatoes.

And, that we would have by then conjured a language to best frame a matching prediction seems to me not likely to be as robust as the language we use to make good and bad predictions.

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Reduced Bateson Set I. Set Up; Meta-heuristics


Gregory Bateson & Margaret Mead, Bajoeng-Gedé, Indonesia; photograph by Walter Spies

Sometime ago, yet late in my scatter shot intellectual development, I realized five problems fascinated me in psychology. One is the problem of how our brain instantiates and substantiates consciousness. Two is how it came to be that the equivalent of a William James doesn’t arrive much earlier so as to shift proto-psychology forward at an earlier stage in history. This problem wonders about the relationship between culture and contemporaneous psychological categories. The third problem, related to the second problem, is coded (for me) as the problem of introspection. The fourth problem is coded too, as the bundle of problems given by folk psychology at the level of meta-psychology; ie. philosophy of psychology.

And, finally, the fifth problem, very much related to the fourth problem, is the problem of: everyday behavior joined with how psychology’s different disciplines approach everyday behavior as its object of research. I am especially intrigued by how behaviors are named despite those same names being unnecessary to persons behaving in the way the name denotes.

I will seek to explain what I call The Reduced Bateson Set in a series of posts. The Reduced Bateson Set names a framework I utilize. Meanwhile, from an authoritative source:

For the moment, the set-up for this was evoked by my trying to figure out how to describe what is The Reduced Bateson Set. I was moved to look up the definition of heuristic–or rather a definition–in a standard reference book, because I thought this might be the best descriptive term. If so, I could simply say The Reduced Bateson Set is a heuristic I have come to use and favor.

I didn’t think the term was strikingly adequate, inasmuch as I had a deviant definition of heuristic in mind.

According to the now prevailing definition, heuristics are rather parsimonious and effortless, but often fallible and logically inadequate, ways of problem solving and information processing. A heuristic provides a simplifying routine or “rule of thumb” that leads to approximate solutions to many everyday problems. However, since the heuristic does not reflect a deeper understanding of the problem structure, it may lead to serious fallacies and shortcomings under certain conditions. Thus, in contrast to the positive connotations of the original term, the modern notion of cognitive heuristics has attained the negative quality of a mental shortcut that frees the individual of the necessity to process information completely and systematically. Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social Psychology

Okay, my definition turns out to be a bit too innovative! But at least it doesn’t imply a ridiculous optimal “problem solving.”

More precisely to the point here, is how rapidly I landed in a Batesonian moment. Unfolded in the encyclopedia entry is a long treatment of the term, yet, it’s not describing much about what I wish to also describe. And, the problem could be that it could not describe even what it seeks to describe–in a deep sense able to capture something very very common.

What is this something? It is that some large portion, possibly a majority portion, of human behavior is “heuristical.” Which is to suggest: it is likely a majority of human problem solving, leaarning, discovery, etc., everyday, (every darn day,) processes information incompletely and not systematically. Also, a corollary to this is: some large portion of human problem solving cannot access both a totality of pertinent information, or, have been the subject of a complete processing within, I suppose, a formal requirement for complete and systematic processing.

Wikipedia’s entry is not robust, but it is more satisfying.

Heuristic (pronounced /hj??r?st?k/) or heuristics (from the Greek “???????” for “find” or “discover”) refers to experience-based techniques for problem solving, learning, and discovery. Heuristic methods are used to come to an optimal solution as rapidly as possible. Part of this method is using a “rule of thumb”, an educated guess, an intuitive judgment, or common sense. A heuristic is a general way of solving a problem.

Except I will quarrel with it too. I don’t know the correct term for that which is a precise and focused heuristic way of solving particular everyday problems. Yet, I do understand the ‘human everyday’ presents a series of opportunities to problem solve, learn, and discover. Figuring out what you’re going wear is a particular problem, and a problem I’d suppose is solved in precise and focused ways.

(Perhaps a differentiation made among general, and, ‘problem-particular,’ methods is unnecessary.)

Among, (what I will term Batesonian,) distinctions found in definitions is this hot one. First, to develop a correct definition is itself a problem to be solved. Could it be demonstrated that any given normative (or authoritative) definition was created, subject to heuristics? Here of course I’m speaking of an example, the definition of heuristic. A second Batesonian distinction is implicit in speaking of the possible heuristics behind the term heuristic.

Here’s a doable experiment. Collect five of the foremost social psychologists together and have them each write out their definition of the term, heuristic. Assume there is a sound method for scoring to what degree the five definitions match up. For my argument here, let’s assume the result of this experiment shows a very high degree of matching.

The five world class experts are then asked to do the following: “How do you know your definition is the correct definition?” Score the answer.

Let’s do this same experiment and add the following parameter. Before either primary question is addressed, each group member is asked the following: “How many pages will you need to answer the question, How do you define heuristic?” Allow no limit in length for their written answers.

Hypotheses are to be entertained. I won’t offer these, yet I will suppose the results of this experiment will
demonstrate considerable disagreement on question number two, How do you know your definition is the correct definition, and this disagreement increases the longer any answer is to either question. So, the most disagreement would be found between the longest answers.

There’s a problem incurred by my supposing the answers could be scored. How would we score different points of emphasis? Those points could not be scored as only disagreements. Still, our scoring would have to resolve this problem in reckoning with matching points of emphasis and divergent points of emphasis.

My hunch that there would be found disagreement is, obviously, completely a matter of a decidedly intuitive and heuristic approach to thinking about the problem of defining a normative term. What I’m thinking about here is the human system able to develop useful definitions about its own features. The experiment might well defeat my hunch. But, what if the experiment proved the underlying hypotheses?

What then could be suggested by the results of this experiment about hypothesized deviations from agreement? What also could be suggested about how the problem of expert definition is approached by experts? Do these experts employ heuristics as an effective, or not effective, means?

Consider a countervailing–with respect to my hunch–supposition. That: in a description, where detail increases, deviations are reduced. (Speaking of building houses: we can all agree on the sharp nail and the straight board.) This suggests that as descriptions penetrate ‘down’ to more elemental levels of order in a system, deviations between descriptions are reduced.

My hunch asserts the opposite is possibly the experimental result. So: as experts expert in the same system propose descriptions of this system, as the level of detail increases in their descriptions, their descriptions will tend to diverge.

Again, a countervailing supposition might be rooted in the same idea given in the Blackwell encyclopedia: to define a system correctly, and so free the definition from any reliance on heuristic means, this definition must result from a complete and systematic process that reflects deep understanding. However, even if this is true as a matter of commonsense, it is also true that this brings with it the same problem. When we think about the means via which we could shape and amplify convergence, we’re still confronted with this move also opening up to the opportunity for divergence. Surely if you asked five experts in the same field how to promote greater agreement about the field’s conceptual fundamentals, in most fields their answers to this “how” question would prove to be very divergent.

When I walk this back to everyday circumstances in which terms/names/concepts and their concomitant definitions are facts of innersubjective assumption rather than innersubjective negotiation, I’d be even more confident that a similar experiment would verify my hunch.

Actually, I informally test this hunch all the time. The main paradox I’ve discovered in doing this is that people speak about shared concepts, (and these concepts implicate shared systems,) without really caring about whether they share the same definitions for these shared concepts. They likely do not share the same definitions! That this underlying disagreement hardly comes to matter is a fascinating element of ‘folk psychological’ behavior and of what could be called intersubjective heuristics.

Consider the beneficial efficiency gained from being able to talk about systems all the while disagreement about basic stuff is underfoot. Whenever I hear the word socialism in our contemporary political discourse, I’m reminded of this paradox of effectiveness.

The Reduced Bateson Set is a heuristic of the kind that are structured and demonstrably pragmatic. The Reduced Bateson Set is my private naming of a pragmatic structure for working through the experience of observing and participating in, learning, inquiry, and dialog. This structure is useful in other interactive circumstances. I’ve named it so because it is my appropriation of stuff reduced from the partial set of Bateson’s ideas I know.

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The Acid Test

Click for the large version and please come back…

Rummaging through old computer files, I came upon a series of slides about the Fundamental Attribution Error. Here’s the definition from the The Psychology Wiki.

In attribution theory, the fundamental attribution error (sometimes referred to as the actor-observer bias, correspondence bias or overattribution effect) is the tendency for people to over-emphasize dispositional, or personality-based, explanations for behaviors observed in others while under-emphasizing the role and power of situational influences on the same behavior.

When I created the slides a decade or so ago, my aim was to roll into a presentation of experiential learning theory some takings from cognitive psychology’s conceptions about cognitive bias. Whereas today I’m just going to fry the ‘FAT’ fish a bit.

My opinion is the Fundamental Attribution Error is an error so common as to suggest we’re wired to make it. It may even be advantageous to sometimes make it. Certainly, and much to my quiet amusement, I’ve observed its being made in ‘professional’ contexts over and over again. This is why I term it the acid test, especially as a validation of how much that social psychology 101 class sank in! I’m no longer amazed to observe the error being made, or even intentionally deployed, or otherwise witnessing various attributive terms being decontextualized and misused.

This happens whenever a description about a person, for example about a personality style or type, is assumed to portray an unqualified assessment of their disposition. Many times these kinds of attributions ‘globalize’ situational, or modular, behaviors. All sorts of attributions are errantly globalized and attached to stereotypes. Global attributions attached to, for example, some person identifying as a liberal or conservative, are not usually traits. Closer-to-home, I’ve identified something like qualities of my own situational dispositions using several assessment tools, yet, I’m not always being intuitive; learning via my primary ‘audiostyle;’ trying to influence others using my sociableness; or always being a cheery optimist.

At the same time, as I view human phenomena on a broader scale, (oh, and dig into the literature,) the FAT is itself a heuristic, thus is a short cut means to attribute a feature to another’s personality, and seems to work then as firstly a generalization subject to later refinement. This refinement would narrow the appropriate circumstance for making a correct attribution. In suggesting this, I am also mindful of the complexity of procedures for attribution and construal in the domain of ‘applied’ folk psychology. With respect to attribution–making attributions–those procedures don’t strike me as fitting very comfortably under the rubrics given by either simulation or theory-theory. …for what it’s worth.

My other abiding position on all this has to do with how attribution errors mix in with sensemaking of one’s own life-world. This is a complicated subject, so the matrix serves to prime a way of looking at this problem. To get at this, you can ask your self what assumptions do you make about everybody, what do you attribute to everybody?.

Although I haven’t beta tested the tool yet, it seems this would be a good question to fund an experiential exercise via which the learner comes to experience–reflect upon–their own process for answering this question. In any really determined effort to address the question, it turns out to be a very probing inquiry.

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Grey Area of Motivation, Alas

Looking through old drafts, I came across a long essay on motivation. The essay was the result of a research project I did several years ago. You don’t get to see it; it’s moment has passed. Nevertheless, motivation fascinates me as a subject matter. It’s complex, reaches into conundrums of meta-psychology, and remains a mildly controversial subject as a matter of research. As for the latter, motivation has long been one of the most written-about subjects in industrial and management psychology.

When I did my research, itself based in a partial literature review, I was drawn to the fundamental challenge for researchers studying a human phenomena where the dividing line between internal and external seems to go through linked developments: first is the external task–including the environment; second is the responsive internal activity; third is the responsive, now altered, externality–including the environment; fourth is the end result for the primary agent.

Asks the question: what is the status of the agent’s intentionality (each ‘step’ of the way?) Motivation begs some questions about attribution too.

Here’s another schema I discovered (somewhere!) that could be used to ontologically evaluate the answer to the question.

At the time of my original study, what I was gripped by was the difficulty of sorting out the nature of extrinsic motivation if the simple conception of intrinsic motivation was abandoned. This came up because this simple conception–defined as the agent being motivated to do a task for nothing more than the internal reward provided by doing the task–is sometimes abandoned when motivational theories are reconfigured to be the foundation of, for example, managerial practice. Then there are practices, many of which are informally derived and normative, which aren’t informed by anything more than ‘folk psychological’ sensemaking and hunches.

I found the following illustrative diagram.

In a reflexive, phenomenological exercise, I identified what for me are the ecological features of my being intrinsically motivated.


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John Perkins.

The categorical splitting between masculine/feminine; head/heart; thinking/feeling; (etc./etc.) is at least interesting for this splitting maneuver being long-standing. It sometimes says more about the splitter. It carries with it the appeal of heartfelt reductions. On the other hand, for me, a useful dichotomy or polarity–and they are a crucial structural aspect of some of my work–requires them to be the ground for a substantial and oft fuzzy and meaningful richness. What’s the overlap between head and heart? …for example.

In terms of favored investigations into the phenomenology of folk psychology, a dichotomy such a head/heart often turns out to be robustly reified in self reports.

However, casting backward upon indigenous peoples contemporary theories of mind as if these peoples were able to psychologize about themselves as moderns do is mistaken. This is an error of reflexivity: our self sense confirms a bias about other, olden selves.

In doing this it is possible to buffer away actual differences. And next to simplify; while at the same time dropping modern tools, tools which could come in very handy in integrating, as it were, head and heart.

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These are all scattered excerpts from Jung’s book “The Undiscovered Self: The Dilemma of the Individual In Modern Soceity.” Jung rarely talked about politics in his work. In fact I’m quite sure this was the only time he did, only in reference to his individualism (so for those of you looking for a book centered around politics, this isn’t it). DevilsAdvocate55 (YouTube)

Actually in the collection of essays, Jung Speaks, Dr. Jung is much of the time concerned in various ways with the problem of current events, unconsciousness and group psychology, thus with politics. Similar writings are found in other collections. Then, taking the analytic and main psychologically focused works in total, n those volumes often the problems of the personality are set against the problems of collective psychology, so their import may also be ramified in politics.

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For the past two years I have been researching with a colleague the following mouthful: informal, self-managed problem solving in dyadic interpersonal contexts. Okay? The research is informal and is driven by loosely coupled folk psychological theorizing about potentially productive heuristics. This means the theorizing is pragmatic but not formally disciplined. Although it could elaborate formal theorizing based in rational-emotive psychology, this isn’t its focus. Self-managed refers to intentional self-regulation. Obviously problem solving in a dyadic context simply means between two people. However, the experimental implementation is that of one of the pair of persons.

The foundational premise takes the form of a question: what kinds of intentional acts can be utilized to interrupt reactive cascades which normally result in a habitual response, and, due to this possible outcome, can be utilized to generate more, rather than fewer, options for problem navigation, negotiation, and, resolution.

Here are two schematic representations that integrate the pragmatic results of experiential experimentation on several vectors of self-management. One result is that the heuristics we’ve employed are apparently productive in the right circumstances.

control panel

A typical ‘high velocity’ cascade might lead to: heightened anxiety/heightened reactivity/habituated, non-productive response.

MDFI Matrix

Note that the (so-called) MDFI Matrix cannot schematize habitual flexibility.

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