(Meta note: Not to be confused with fluid mode that Meaningness refers to – though to make things more confusing it is related.)
(Epistemic status: Recent realization, it is possible there are more modalities and there’s a lot of subtlety I haven’t explored yet)
Part of the Retrocausal Engineering Sequence
So it turns out both the hippies and the optimizers were right, at the same time.
In the rationalist community, there’s a deep emphasis on productivity tools, optimization, and frontloading thought about how to execute. From the perspective of the typical rationalist, most of the world’s ills come from a lack of thought, lack of planning, lack of countering bias, and lack of considering actual probability. The idea that the narratives we tell are not the territory, but a map of varying quality is a deeply important one and one I grudgingly accept as not to be discarded. However, in the process of fighting for truth, the rationality community has forgotten other valuable aspects of living in a complex society. Some of these aspects are so deeply anti-inductive and illegible that the optimization drive cannot interface with them easily.
On the other hand, we have the hippy stereotype. The fundamental oneness of humanity and all life. The realization that everything is perfect and ok, and that’s the only way it can be by definition. The desire to melt into art, bohemian expression, chaotic flow from moment to moment. The basic trust that things will happen the way they will, and there’s so, so much world out there to explore and play with and realize is there, that modern society has beaten out of us. The lack of a real job and ability to actualize anything except the occasional drug trip and universal love that leads to excess boundary pushing. If they’d just plan a bit better, they could spread their message so much further and build the utopia they might be experiencing in their life – right? But fundamental okayness is not exactly the most memetically virulent message – it prevents its own spread. I unfortunately don’t have as much direct experience of the hippy way of being, so it is harder to give a deeper insight into the workings of their modality – but it is heart to rationality’s mind, a flip side to the seeker modality that marks the rationalist, while being another seeker modality in itself.
It is a bit trite to do this comparison and contrast – every insight porn writer in these communities in the past 5 or so years has already figured it out and written about it at length. What I would like to illustrate, those, is how these ways of being translate to modalities that can reconcile the seeming tension between flow and optimization, and how both are necessary to approach a much better, more actualized life that can open up the way to actual impact on the world – and how the things you are trying to do benefit from the realization of which mode is more natural at a given time.
Sequencing mode is about todo lists, goal orientation, calendars, pomodoros, structure. It is about how every action implies the next action, and doing the things you are supposed to, in a detail oriented way. It is not about what you want to do, it is about what needs to be done, and how doing those things can make it easier to do more things. It is about legibility, timing, skill, systems, and the ability to do what you say you will do, when you say you will do it. Even if you are sovereign enough to decide everything you do, this mode is the cog in cognition. This is not a bad thing – there is a lot of joy and simplicity in being able to design and enter a system to determine what’s next. It is something humans are good at, and at the bleeding edge of optimization, the world becomes easy.
However, sequencing mode has its limits. The main thing is that it is about linearity. There is some ability to do concurrency and multitasking, but the pattern that repeats itself is essentially putting events/tasks in the right order and having the right things at the right time to make them happen. It is a mode that runs on if-then-else blocks. It fills in a lot of the gaps and has an easy momentum to it, but it restricts the action space to do this and blocks threads. This is the mode of opportunity cost – if you do X, you cannot do Y. Past a certain point, it cannot manage the complexity of a human life.
The fluid mode, on the other hand, is about art and pattern and impulse. Being in the fluid mode is doing nothing, very very very well. This is how the long term gets executed – by abstracting out the details and just allowing direction and movement and desire to lead the way. The little actions you take when you have nothing to do – the default mode network gathering unconscious information. Everything is asynchronous and parallel – you aren’t trying to do anything, you’re seeing what your experiential data unpacks into without telling it what it is. The fluid mode is the basis of Retrocausal Engineering – the part of it where the past is a resource because no matter what happened in it, there was data there that influences the patterns that arise today. The fluid mode is the abstraction of a free form dance – the threads of intention and context interweave to build something greater. The point isn’t reaching a goal, the point is what is happening, right now, along the way to every possible instance of yourself. It’s the unreaching of goals – the refusal of constraint except insofar as the pattern itself is causing constraint. In less flowery terms, this is the mode you enter when you have nothing to do, and rather than say “I’m bored” and stare at social media or play video games, you decide to walk outside, talk to strangers, and allow spontaneous interactions to complete rather than suppressing them to stay on task. This is the mode in which a small social gathering can suddenly start singing without any sheet music, where improvisation can thrive, where creative solutions to hard problems present themselves.
The issue, of course, is that the fluid mode is doing nothing, very very well. If you’re in fluid mode all day, it becomes increasingly difficult to relate legibly what you are doing. It can become more difficult to synchronize with task oriented aspects of the world. Things can slide because they aren’t things you directly care about. The fluid mode doesn’t scale, except when it does – but the unpredictability makes it harder to “use”. And trying to use the fluid mode is missing the point anyway. The point of the fluid mode is largely metaprogramming and increasing optionality, and taking illegible steps in a direction – but it is in some ways making a deal with the fae. It’s self trust, but the well of self goes deep – and the parts of you that had a life plan may not like some of the ways the fluid mode operates. In my opinion, this isn’t really a drawback, but I can see how people would interact with it in that fashion. Fundamentally, it’s filling in the gaps you don’t notice, the way that the sequencing mode fills in the gaps you do notice.
The point of having conceptual handles on these two modes is to give a finer grained understanding of what aspects of living respond to sequencing better and what aspects respond to fluidity better. Existing only in one mode is often a special kind of hell, even if it might not be obvious from the inside. Having both modes coexist, intermingle, and ideally nest in each other creates a much deeper well of unique(ish) resources to actualize impact on the world – or even just impact on yourself, and those you love. It gives you much more freedom to decide at what scale you wish to act, rather than infinitely striving to not be where you are.
There are some key ways to increase the likelihood of these modes flowing in and out of each other in a positive fashion. The primary one is giving yourself slack. It is very, very difficult to leave the sequencing mode if your world is constantly falling apart but for the application of todo lists. If you build in slack to your scheduling and task flow, it becomes much easier to notice opportunities for fluidity and accept them, rather than push them aside to stay on task. Another way is having multiple scales of plan, with some flexibility to shift those around. The seductive part of the fluid mode that can get in the way of growth is not going into it with at least some intentionality in your headspace. While pure openness and acceptance is a good mode to visit sometimes, living there can lead to a deeper unfulfillment that seems impossible to relieve – after all, shouldn’t you just accept that too? Having free floating ideas of shapes you admire, patterns you want to see more of, aesthetics – these things help give a very gentle, soft directionality to the fluid mode that allows you notice the places where you want to drop into a more control based sequence. With Retrocausal Engineering, I know roughly that I want to absorb information about math, information theory, quantum mechanics, consciousness, memory, temporal reasoning, etc. The scale of plan here is very long term and at the size of plan is self, and the ambiguity of what it means to be a retrocausal engineer works well for exploration. My fluid mode gravitates towards these things, even if I don’t have a good plan or idea on how it all connects – but there’s a comfort in knowing that there is an outer frame. Another example is the drive towards infrastructure – I have noticed that I can be in the fluid mode more when I have basic trust that the things I need already exist and do not require my attention or agency – the scale of plan here is mid term, and the size of the plan is house/tribe and eventually society. There are other methods to increase the efficacy of one mode versus the other and my experience of this is that it is both a delicate but self correcting balance, if one allows it to be.
Overall, having an understanding of sequencing mode as a valuable way of being rather than feeling only the pain of optimization and forcing continuity has been very useful for me to increase my efficacy. Having and understanding of fluid mode as a valuable way of being rather than feeling only the pain of ambiguity and illegibility and uncertainty has been very useful for me to increase my internal alignment and ability to see a more nuanced world. Having an understanding that these modes are not actually in opposition has shown me a path towards being much more actualized, healthy, and competent, even if I am very early in my exploration of these concepts – and that feeling is a breath of fresh air.
Discussion questions: What mode do you find yourself in most frequently? What mode feels most natural to you? What are you experiences with the interplay between these two modes? Have you noticed other modes that fit the shape of these modes? What other examples of these modes have you experienced in your life?