Thanks for the suggestions, Greg. I've got about 50 books on Buddhism, centered around Gelugpa Mahayana and emptiness teachings. I've got four versions of Mind in Tibetan Buddhism, (Guenther, Rabten, Lati, Kelsang) and there are Abhidharma materials in Komito's "Seventy Stanzas" and in sections of other books. "Grasping" is is a very good suggestion for a place to start, however, these texts don't seem to provide a lot of detail about "how that works".
I'm wondering if there isn't a whole other level of detail in Abhidharma that I've never encountered? Or whether the Abhidharma was never driven down to that level of detail. I have outlined a model of why "imputing inherent existence" is a conventionally useful function, why it might have evolved, how it is constructed from more elemental concepts, etc. It's not that complicated. Basically, it's very useful in a practical sense in everyday life in to make the assumption that things will persist for a while and don't change for no grossly apparent reason. Mammals would have a difficult time surviving if they did not automatically assume that. I think there may be some psycho-therapeutic opportunities in that analysis, and it seems to provide me with a little bit of leverage in becoming more mindful of emptiness. It's difficult to grasp if you're contemplating the mechanisms of grasping.
If on the other hand such analysis is actually NOT part of the Dharma, that would be interesting by itself, because it would imply that a) that particular Dharma has not yet been explicated (Dharmas are, after all, boundless), b) it was looked at and found to be not particularly beneficial (or maybe even harmful), c) Nagarjuna's basic approach is so short and powerful that it would only be a distraction, d) the Abhidharma only looks at fairly coarse mental functions, just enough to get you into shunyata, which is the next point of departure, e) the literature was written for monks seeking the shortest path possible for enlightenment, and they weren't thinking about generally exploring every possible way to reduce suffering, f) they never thought about it or g) hunh?
The other thought is that the categories in the Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way are aimed at both a logical refutation of inherent existence AND and an undermining of the psychological components of the function of imputing inherent existence. But I've never seen it described that way.
I don't believe they didn't think about it, didn't explore it, etc. But now I'm even more curious about why I can't find more in the literature about it!
And, just in case this comes up, I appreciate that we're supposed to be transcending conceptualization, however, I've signed up with Tsongkapa, not Ha-sang, and as Milarepa said, we want spontaneous insight, but if we can't have it, we definitely want analytic understanding.
Still looking, then...
I haven't read this book, so I don't know if it is any good or how related it is, but I suspect it may be: Reasoning Into Reality: A System Cybernetics Model and Therapeutic Interpretation of Buddhist Middle Path Analysis
by Peter Fenner