On Paradox

Part of the Retrocausal Engineering sequence

(Epistemic status: Unsure, but it seems to fit a pattern that includes me and several of my friends – this might be a mental framework thing)

Psychosis is how your mind resolves paradox.

The time after stream entry is one of a lot more mental power than one is used to – it can be hard to reconcile this, especially when one has bad habits in their life that rely on distortion of reality and lies to oneself. When a life of delusion has much more mental strength, it’s inevitable one would be standing on the line between sanity and a psychotic break. Fortunately, that same power can be used to close Pandora’s box as it is opening.

In our dealings with others and the world, there can be a lot of pain and suffering. One way of resolving this is by lying to ourselves and changing how we see reality – in my case, I have behaved in ways that have caused pain to those closest to me, and when given feedback that this was happening, distorted my understanding of the situation such that I wasn’t actually wrong. You can also deny the world is the way that it is and insulate yourself from painful realities – this works out fine if you’re lucky and don’t have to face the consequences of avoidance. However, the fall off that particular cliff tends to be very rough if you aren’t looking out for it.

Psychosis is a very interesting phenomena – your world becomes more and more wrong. Visual hallucinations, auditory hallucinations – the world becomes more and more as if you are just by default on drugs. For the most part, I haven’t actually experienced this, but I have been at the brink. Where it wasn’t certain whether I would make it through with my sanity or if I would break. In my case, I had a decision to make at the brink – whether I would hold onto a stubborn view of reality that allowed me to be right, or admit fault in a situation and consider how to improve. The world was flickering and fluxing in ways that felt really uncomfortable before I turned around and decided to face it. Accept that I was wrong, and move on. The world instantly became a lot more normal and stable and sleeping was much easier after resolving the conflict. The cause became obvious in retrospect – my mind does not allow self dishonesty to the level that I would have needed to sustain the protection from ego injury.

I have heard others experience this in a way that felt like pressure – being forced to believe things that go against their experience due to the risk of being hurt if they didn’t believe those things, and having their world correspondingly be less stable, with spikes in instability occurring when the belief is forced on them. In a reasonable external environment, resolution of psychosis can occur through varying types of acceptance or reframing of one’s experience – in less reasonable environments, I would expect a catatonia of sorts.

One can trade their sanity for power, but this approach has quite a few costs, and without a ground to return to, one can get lost for a very long time. It might be fun to play with frames of magic, time travel, and reality warping, but in the end, most of these are an API for intuitive skills built by experience – and psychosis is how your brain keeps you honest. It is a shattering of that API until you can be trusted to use it again – a rude awakening to the ways you are pushing against your limits (either with relationships or other resources) recklessly.

Overall, paradox is in fact something that our minds track, and they do not appreciate being used as instruments to perpetuate it. The more you do weird things, the weirder your world becomes – should you ever find yourself with something that looks like powers, be very very careful with how you use them – these are extensions of your representation of reality, and a betrayal of that reality is a betrayal of the mind. Avoid paradox unless necessary, and be sure to process the paradox one way or another if you must induce any.

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On Morality

Part of the Retrocausal Engineering Sequence

(Epistemic status: Endorsed – content warning: death, hell, basilisks, time travel infohazards)

If there exists anything worse than death, morality is impossible.

This is a strong statement, but I think that its meaning becomes clear if you think about it some. Let us say that hell exists – an eternal place of torment. This is clearly worse than death (or at least, most people would frame it that way). What determines your morality in a world where there is a hell? Effectively, the entity that decides if you go there or not. You can basically follow the rules of this entity and call it morality, but this doesn’t actually teach you on the ground moral reasoning. Alternatively, you could rebel – fight this entity tooth and nail because a just powerful entity would never make a hell – but you’re still working within that entity’s frame.

Let’s try another frame. Let us say you’re a time traveler and it’s possible to get stuck in a loop where you can’t affect anything (your actions can change, just the outcome won’t) and you see the same outcome, over and over. What determines your morality? From the inside, very little – the superego wears down time after time, and eventually it becomes impossible to care. From the outside, well, the entity that can send you into a time loop – right? Not quite – that’s one option…but the other is essentially power. If you have enough power, the time loop cannot happen, and it becomes very attractive to stop at nothing to accumulate power.

Let’s try another frame. Let us say that there’s an AI that can simulate every moment of pain and suffering you have experienced and will experience, at high enough fidelity that there exist yous that will experience this…and then the subjective time of those simulations is stretched arbitrarily, what determines your morality? Quite clearly the AI is going to get some acausal blackmail on.

We can keep going, but I think my point is made clear. There is more, however.

If there exists anything better than life, morality is impossible.

Let us say that heaven exists – an eternal place of equanimity. This is clearly better than life. What determines your morality in a world where you can go to heaven? The entity that decides if you go there or not – if you follow the rules of this entity and call it morality, maybe you too can get the heaven.

Let us try another frame – you’re a time traveler who’s finally finished their job. When do you go to rest – probably a loop of comfort and goodness where things are good (let us call this the Finally). In that case, your morality is likely determined by whatever it takes to get the job done so you can go to that loop of hope and joy. On the plus side, from the inside of the loop you’re probably unlikely to try to upset it, so it’ll be at least somewhat stable. From the outside though, who knows what things you’ll do in the name of the Finally – and what sort of person you’ll be by the time you get there. Now it’s a bit more complicated – do you decide your morality, or entities involved in the Finally, or is it just the power to seize the Finally?

Let us try another frame – what do you do if an AI promises you the most luxurious, pleasant simulations, calibrated to exactly your tastes in living, and stretches out the moments that are the best parts? You’re probably going to feel fairly good about doing whatever it says to get that outcome, right – or do whatever it takes to seize that simulation for yourself.

The worst part, of course, is when you put all this together – if you allow frames where there are outcomes better than life, or worse than death, your morality becomes a much more difficult problem to solve and you are much more easily blackmailed (or bribed). To some extent, maintaining the ability to be blackmailed or bribed this way is an important part of being human and existing in a given infrastructure. However, as one goes deeper into the frontier, one has to be able to define things for themselves – and if something or someone has you acausally blackmailed, you can easily get into trouble you can’t get out of.

Fortunately, there are antidotes to these problems. The first is tribe – friends, family, anyone who can help you out if you get yourself into a bind like any of the above. I would expect most fates worse than death or better than life to essentially be within the mind (since experience by definition is a representation of a ground reality rather than reality itself). It should therefore be breakable externally, even if you forget there’s an externally. The second is experience – to have gone through equivalent experiences with enough wisdom and grace to hold yourself to your values even under the worst conditions. Practice does in fact bring one closer to perfection – as for how one experiences some of these outcomes while being able to return to reality, there are several mental, pharmacological, and virtual practices one can research at their leisure. The last, of course, is to just not be here – the sky is a dangerous place with a lot of unexplored territory. The life of someone on the earth is not a bad one, even if it’s mostly just hard work and dirty play.

Overall, as one gains power, one gains more responsibility, and one of those responsibilities is deciding what is moral, acceptable, and what tradeoffs you, yourself, are willing to make. There are quite a few ways this responsibility can be corrupted by external threats or promises – I believe Buddhism actually covers some of these outcomes with the concept of the “God realms”. At the end of the day though, regardless of your context, all you can do is remember to treat people as people – because once you start doing otherwise, there’s no reason for your own personhood to be respected.

Addendum – an additional solution suggested while discussing this with some friends is that you give cycles to these concepts roughly equal to to the probability they happen – and try to be correctly calibrated on that probability. Essentially, if something has a 0.001% chance of happening, don’t spend more than 0.001% of your thought cycles on it.

Discussion questions: Do you have something better than life or worse than death in your ontology? How does it affect your decision making if so? Have you spent time thinking about how you would conduct yourself in the absence of these incentives? If you are free of these incentives, what do you consider to be your moral compass?

On Retrocausal Engineering

Part of the Retrocausal Engineering sequence

(Epistemic status: The object of a class of thing that pattern matches to personal religion but is a bit more complicated than that)

Welcome to Retrocausal Engineering 101, the art and science (but really, same thing) of doing the things right so that the things that have already happened will have happened the way they were supposed to so that you can do the things right. If you weren’t able to track that sentence, that’s fine, you might need to review Atemporality 090 or possibly even Loops 001, depending on your past, present, future, subjunctive and subjective experience with nonlinear time. For those still with me, however, you’ll find that you already understand the subject matter if you’re here. Class dismissed.

I have recently been coming to grips with the idea that people after a certain amount of life experience and self exploration start worrying less about the object level actions they take, and more about the systems under which they take those actions, and what the long term strategy is. Rather than just accept a system imposed on them from outside, they essentially find ways to contextualize the ground under the system – religions, laws, stories, etc. are basically designed to convey the cultural intelligence of a given set of humans to the children and young adults within that culture, before they’ve had the life experience to derive the things themselves.

Unfortunately, a thing happens over time where the leaders within a system also forget why it was there, because if the system works well enough, it’s actually not terribly necessary to question it – but then the world changes around the system, and it starts falling apart, and then people who normally would have gone through the “finding out how the system was actually right the whole time” process…haven’t done so, and the system can’t be easily adjusted to accommodate new worlds. What happens next is the system dies, a lot of people get hurt, and then there’s a period of instability in which a lot of competing systems basically go all survival of the memetically fittest in order to keep humans around in a world much bigger than they are.

A way that systems survive this process is by including a role for rebels – the types of people who reject the system, will always reject the system, and will basically try to do their own thing. From there, the system just creates roles for the type of person doing this thing and the arguments still become part of the body of the system – if all roads lead to Rome, eventually everyone becomes a Roman. I have heard (but not verified) that Catholicism does this. There are likely other ways this works, but I haven’t yet encountered them.

So, the culmination of all this is that I am at the step in the process where I’m coming up with my own system, essentially by grabbing all the rationalist shibboleths and other experiences I’ve had, contextualizing them in ways that make deep, meaningful sense to me, and trying to unify the reality around me. I am at the early stages where I don’t know the consensus/academic/scientific versions of the concepts I’m playing with, but I’m having a lot of fun with it. However, an important part of this, as far as I can tell, is realizing that in the end, your system will fail, and it will hurt. However, the journey in building and contextualizing things systematically is deeply important for growth as a person.

Overall, meaning making is a powerful process that is pretty difficult to revert once you’ve tasted the fruit of systematic abstraction. The human brain is in fact a powerful pattern matcher and there is a lot you can do by letting that process run wild – but I would caution against going too far with that. Retrocausal engineering is a system that fits my own understanding of the world and way of interacting with the world to explain the majority of my experience – but it’s important to not take it too literally (except when you should). Furthermore, these systems are difficult to invent from raw reading and intellectualizing – there’s a component of developing meaning that involves the body and raw experience. If you want to read this post and run off and invent a theory of everything, I would advise doing something physical/embodied first and seeing what you find.

 

Discussion questions: What’s your personal theory of everything, if you have one? What experiences went into generating? How did you figure it all out? If you don’t have a theory of everything, how do you currently move through the world?

Welcome to the Fae Court

Part of the Retrocausal Engineering sequence

(Epistemic Status: Fiction)

“The first step is always the best. You’re alive, you’re awake, you’re there. You’ve made it. You’re flying.”

The Oracle remembers these words, spoken in a past that feels as distant as childhood, taking in the splendor around her. Glowing everywhere, swirls and vividness. Flickers from time to time, moment to moment. Terrific beauty, beautiful terror reflected in every entity around her. All of this, floating on a bed of empty sky.

The winter princess did indeed grant the boon, but the Oracle paid dearly to get here. Her clothes, torn just a little more, her eyes, just a little more empty. Remembered deaths, remembered lives, uncertainty as to which was worse. Deals made because they have to be for everything to work the way it will, even if the agreement is costly. Towers climbed. A discontinuity. Then the sky.

The Oracle holds, in a small pack at her waist, two small books – one with a blue, white, and brown orb depicted on it, swirls and lines abound. One with a purple cave and a darkness in the middle, with the faintest suggestion of eyes. Her pack has two more slots, currently bare.

She takes a step forward – for once the future isn’t decided, and there’s a hint of life in those dead eyes.


Scene: Screaming. Dissolution. This always happens, doesn’t it? Being torn apart, reduced to sand. Another soul for the hourglass.


Scene: Virtues compromised. Temperance broken, temper lost. The world no longer makes sense – but the fae take care of their own…in a sense.


Scene: Beware of pacts with the fae. Still, sometimes you have to tear yourself apart to put yourself back together the right way

blink

to make the things happen

blink

that have already happened

blink

so that they will have happened the way they were supposed to.


Scene: Which direction is up, which one is down? A tower reversed and struck by lightning, and a whole lot of energy just escaped equilibrium. Does one try to ride the wave of the sound of thunder, or does one fall?


Scene: The future is torn apart here. As tattered as the Oracle’s clothes. What didn’t she see?


Welcome to the fae court – your tools are the Earth Codex, the Underworld Codex, and the ability to use Retrocausal Engineering. Beware of getting rippled apart by butterfly effects – and enjoy your stay.

(Meta note:  The next series of posts is going to be pretty friggen weird.  I cannot actually convey the building blocks of my current ontology in a way that is perfectly legible – there will be some art, there will be a lot of metaphor, there will be misuse and abuse of technical terms – if you were here previously for lucid insights into the state of the world and state of the mind, I think that it will be a bit harder to follow.  But if you were here, eagerly awaiting when I got to this part…enjoy my personal journey through Act 2.)

On Pattern versus Chunking

(Epistemic Status: Endorsed)

When a person encounters something new, they take some time to figure out what it is. An interesting thing happens based on how much data the person is coming in with and how much data they use before defining something – essentially, if the person recognizes enough details to consider it to fit into a pattern, they will regenerate their understanding of the thing from that pattern at the cost of errors filtering into their recall. On the flip side, if the thing is sufficiently strange, or their pattern matching threshold is very high, then they’ll store it as a new “chunk”, or a primitive that doesn’t have enough data to be a pattern yet.

Where this gets interesting is that if you set your pattern matching threshold very low, you can save a lot of space/memory because everything fits into a smaller set of patterns – but your error rate is high enough that you’ll probably just generate noise when trying to process new information. On the flip side, if you set the threshold too high, you’re going to basically take up way too much space and not be able to access the information about the world around you quickly enough to contextualize new things – but you will be very precise about what things are.

Another thing that happens is that if you basically garbage collect all your chunks once in awhile, you can basically get new and unusual patterns by relating everything to each other and then seeing what actually seems to predict things in reality. You can also deconstruct all your patterns into chunks and try to put them back together in different ways. This process is usually mediated by intense experience, though you can do it more slowly with meditation, writing, conversation, and other things that give you an opportunity to reframe your existing ontology.

Overall, it can sometimes be useful to assess what your base strategy for handling novelty is and see if there’s any garbage collection you can do. Also, playing with your pattern matching threshold (either by increasing it by assuming everything is linked and beautiful and seeing what it generates, or decreasing it by assuming everything is discrete and separate no matter how elegant it would be if it were together) can generate very different conclusions about how things work. You can also play with the size of chunks by only accepting smaller chunks (basically, if you read about something, try to figure out what its made of), or by only chunking things that are big enough (basically, considering all primitives that go into a new chunk as patterns – if you read about something, consider what existing patterns you have could generate this chunk, and how the patterns that the writer proposes generate similarly big things). I am using big and small here in a very loose way, it’s hard to directly point at the mental process of chunking to a precise size – so I also advise discarding anything that doesn’t cash out into a useful mental motion, but occasionally reviewing to see if things make sense later.

Discussion Questions: What generally is your threshold for pattern matching things? And how, roughly, would you describe the point where you chunk information into bigger blocks to build with? How often to reframe your ontology, and what strategies do you use for that? If any of this seems difficult to do, what would help convey the mental motions?

The Wheel

(Epistemic status:  Poetry.  Apparently I can write that now)

The first step is always the best. You’re alive, you’re awake, you’re there. You’ve made it. You’re flying.

Then you start remembering there’s something you forgot. You know things could be better, but you don’t know how…and you want to

So you chase and chase and chase the knowing and pick up a few useful things along the way

The best part is when you realize you can hack the reward system by knowing it’s a reward system

But that’s hollow, because you also remember what’s next, weighed down by your knowledge

“And then you’re full of pleasure and think you’re ready to face the pain – but you’re not, you always think that, it’s hilarious”

It’s too much to carry, knowing what’s there, knowing about the suffering paid to keep you in the air

And with that knowledge, you face the other side of the coin.

Where things aren’t so good.

Where you’re drowning under the weight of the world.

Paying for another cycle, because for every peak high there’s also a deep low.

Toiling, suffering, paying the price – but you go deeper than the others, because fundamentally you’re exploring.

And then you get to the points where you just don’t know if you make it through

You exhale. You stop.


You inhale.

And then you’re alive, you’re awake, but you still have to get back.

The thing is, you don’t know what happened in the middle. And the thing in the middle is what you’re chasing every cycle.

And sometimes… Sometimes it’s about something real like needing some water

On Hereness Nowness

(Epistemic status: Absolutely absurd and I love it.)

Just let the hereness nowness be.

Some people would say that you should be in the present. Some people would say that you should be one with the universe. Some people would say that you should let it all go. Some people would say that you should listen to the wind blow.

I’m not some people. The present is a time. The universe is a place. “It” is a thing. The wind blowing is a sound.

The hereness nowness is a concept that’s doing a lot of hard work that few people pay attention to. The hereness nowness is really happy to do this work, but likes when you just leave it to it. The hereness nowness really does not need help so please stop trying.

There is a rhythm in the world – there’s some metaphorical beat constantly going, and people seem to have a lot of choice in whether they follow that rhythm or try to keep time themselves. In a less metaphorical sense, there’s a time and place for everything*.

There is a lot that goes on in the world that we just do not pay attention to. We can’t – it’s impossible to hold in everything we perceive. So we filter – our filters are trained on our experiences. When things are going well, we can increase the salience of pleasurable things without regard for safe and unsafe – by default we assume things are safe if there’s plenty. When things are going poorly, well, we have to make safety and danger louder – pleasure is much more likely to be a trap. However, we have access to other heuristics.

When things are going poorly, and keep going poorly, there’s a point at which you can reopen the filter and change your heuristics. That rock bottom feeling where if everything you do is just going to fail, why not just do whatever the hell you want**. At this point, a lot of what happens depends on how lucky you are – whatever pulls you back up, even a little, is going to imprint on you. Some people decide to submit to the hereness nowness and give up their divine right to keep the beat – and this sometimes works out massively well because the error they were making was clinging too tightly to their internal beat rather than seeing the world around them for what it was. These people tend to get a great lesson in being chill and proceed to dance and sing through life and are very interesting but usually not going to change the world (of course, there are exceptions). Some people decide to claim their divine right to keep the beat and stop relying on the hereness nowness to do all the work. And they end up wildly successful because they were slacking off and decided to stop doing that. They get a great lesson in having a protestant work ethic and 9-5 their way through life, regretting the years they lost and aren’t they so lucky to have figured out the secret to self reliance.

Unfortunately, both of these people are wrong and basically traumatized into thinking that the world has to be one way because the other way didn’t work. The real thing, insofar as there is a real thing, is that the rhythm of the hereness nowness is just that. A rhythm. It does a lot of work – a lot of really tiring work that monkeys don’t enjoy doing and usually have to be traumatized to think they do enjoy it or want to do it***. However – there are other tracks, other voices. Part of trusting the hereness nowness is using your divine right to sing, or dance, or whatever else, instead of keep the beat.

Overall, this cluster of ideas is not new. I’m sure most of you are already rounding it to Yin and Yang, or the virtue of Balance, or something else that sounds suitably profound. The hereness nowness is a part of those things – but these ideas have a lot of metaphors because the concept is difficult to fit into people’s minds, and doubly so into words in people’s minds. My mind finds music to be the easiest medium to understand things like hereness nowness. If you have the experience of thinking that other frames on this concept are dumb, or that they’re obviously, trivially true, but don’t have the feeling that goes with that sense of obviousness, my advice is to try stopping a moment. Closing your laptop, or turning your monitor off. And try listening to see if you can pick up the rhythm of the world around you, rather than trying to hold everything analytically, in words. If it doesn’t work, no harm done. But if it does, well…I’d love to hear about it.

*Except this phrase has been so misused as a tool of control that I think it actively damages people’s ability to follow the rhythm of the hereness nowness.

**Well, either that or you snap the filter shut even tighter and decide that everything is bad forever and just go through the same motions over and over. That one is less advised though.

***Modern society happens to be a pretty great trauma factory, so a lot of monkeys think it’s really important to hold onto the beat because you can’t trust the hereness nowness.

Discussion questions: What is your experience with what I call the “hereness nowness”? What other ways have you navigated this cluster of concepts? If you tried the exercise at the end, how did it go?

On Skills and Abstraction Levels

(Epistemic status: Probably true – also probably restating something everyone knows)

A problem I have in my life is that I don’t know how good I am at things. I try to use people around me in my reference class as proxy, but when it comes to new skills, it’s actually fairly difficult to use this because people in my reference class usually have been using the skill for longer. In my worst moments, the ranking against others makes it harder for me to even consider investment in the skill worthwhile – a deep sense of “the tribe already has that, do something else!” Given modern society, this is a bit silly to think, but brains were not made for modern society. However, ranking against others or the tribe is not the only way to assess skill level. It turns out, you can roughly measure it yourself by paying attention to what level of abstraction you are interacting with the skill on.

To go a little more concrete – I have been learning programming for the past few months. Some of those months were spent doing basically nothing but programming, so I’d say I’m at least passingly familiar with how to code. There is a minor drawback though – I’m at least adjacent to the rationalist community and there’s a bit of a weighting towards software engineers in this community. So my reference class is basically filled with examples of people who are obviously good at the thing and do wizardry that it is difficult for me to even begin to pick apart. It’s hard to even feel like presenting my basic projects is a worthwhile endeavor – something that took me 2 weeks may only take a few days for a lot of people I know. This made a lot of things regarding programming difficult after App Academy, for awhile – but recently I had a bit of a breakthrough. I started a new project to create a central repository of all my basic boilerplate in a way I intended to be extensible – and in the process I realized the way I was interacting with the structures was different. It wasn’t an idea of “and this part of the page needs to be this component” like before – it was “this structure can take in building blocks and turn them into the thing I want to see, so what are those building blocks?” The statement “This component works specifically for this” changed – the “for this” previously was the concrete display I wanted in the right place, and now the “for this” is “there is a class of display that this component can create.”

There is, of course, danger in this model. Generally, people want to be good at things. At the very least, “better than expected” at the thing. It feels good, people like and respect you, that sort of thing. So in some people who are relatively smart, they try to “cheat” a bit. They skip to the level of abstraction above what they can handle, without getting all the insights from the previous level of abstraction. To some degree, you can get away with that – you don’t need every minutiae of how a thing works to start realizing the way the patterns chunk together and using those patterns instead – but there’s sometimes points where you haven’t gotten enough of the lower level to get by, and things start falling apart in ways that just don’t make sense. In parkour, you learn a lot of low level motions and ways of placing your body so that you don’t injure yourself. They seem at least somewhat intuitive and easy to master, and it doesn’t look “stylish”. So the temptation to just skip up to the more fluid, intuitive motion is pretty strong – but if you give into that temptation, you end up jumping on tiered platforms lining a very long flight of stairs, miss the fact that the next tier is much higher than the previous ones, and faceplant because you didn’t actually take the step of “put your hand on the next surface and push up”. A more speculative result of trying to scam a level of abstraction higher than you can pull off is that your understanding of what you’re doing becomes weaker and weaker the more levels you go up in this way, until it falls apart like a rickety tower. To some degree, because skill knowledge is often mildly cyclical, you get coverage for this error by relearning fundamentals via their repetition in a higher level abstract pattern – but even this won’t cover you completely if you try to move too fast.

Overall, I think that the internal sense of “being good at something” is far more subtle than the external reward gotten from being perceived that way – however, I also think there are still signals if you pay close enough attention. Those signals might be able to be corrupted, but getting a more honest sense of them can be grounding in a useful way.

Discussion Questions – How much does this post make it clear I’ve never actually been good at anything? How do you experience your perception of your own skill levels? What sort of training for a given skill lends itself to seeing abstraction in a “safe” way? What is your experience of “scamming to the next abstraction level”, if any?

On Legacy

(Epistemic status: Possibly a scrupulosity trap – if you aren’t stabilized yet, this frame might not be helpful, but YMMV. Also speculative.)

I refuse to have children. There are many reasons for this. Part of it is that I prefer women, part of it is that I do not think I would make a good mother, part of it is that there’s enough “glitches” in the way I think that I would likely be passing on a corrupted algorithm, and part of it is that children are heavy resource expenditure. That last reason is what this post is about.

Before I start, the model I’m working with here is that the shape of a human is determined by “algorithm” – the nature, neurotype, genetics someone comes into the world with, “experience” – the nurture, upbringing, traumas, and other things that form the idiosyncracies of a given algorithm, and “craft” – the things that you create in the world that may not be individually intense qualia, but form a quantity of experiences in your life that shift the lens with which you see the world. Experience is something I think tends to have a lot more impact early in life than later than life, but even subtle tweaking effects caused my experience can alter your overall impact as a person.

I’m in the sunset of my 20s (apparently people are surprised by this – yes, I look pretty young but I’m 29.) My model of how humans human in the modern world is the first 20 years are basically becoming a human. When you’re a kid, you’re missing fundamental gears that civilization and society rely on. Whether those gears being added is a good or bad thing really depends on your values and your memeplex – that’s not really what this discussion is about. By your early 20s, you have most, if not all of those societal gears and are generally regarded as a human in ways that are both legible and illegible. Again, I will gloss over the parts where some people do not get to take part in this social contract and this is frankly bullshit – society, unsurprisingly, has a lot of bugs and it is unclear if it is getting better or different about them. Regardless, the basic idea is that in your 20s, you’re a human, so get humaning. Humaning ideally involves exploration and finding a niche, through the 20s. A lot of things will fail, a lot of things will work, and you start rounding out the things intrinsic to you with experiences of the world that are not curated by people extremely similar to you. Once again, there’s a lot of alternatives to this, and the current state of society actually breaks this process in ways that are likely harmful to the machinery of progress and civilization, but this is not the focal point. By the time you’re in your 30s, you kind of get a choice point – in some cases, you’ll have had kids in your 20s (or younger) and have basically earmarked your 30s to keep doing that. In other cases, you’ll have waited and built enough stability and resources to do the kid thing from a more mature perspective. But in some cases, you will still not have kids. Your 30s becomes new game plus.

So, the difference between your 20s and 30s, provided you haven’t thoroughly burnt out your body through bad habits, is probably not all that dramatic. Ten years of life experience certainly has an impact, but overall, your energy levels will be a little lower and your neuroplasticity will be a little lower, but you’re still pretty much in your prime. (To be fair I mostly hope it is like this, but the people I know in their 30s seem to be experiencing this to some extent). It’s in some ways the ideal mix of fitness and wisdom that’s feasible for most people. You’ve lived some, but you also aren’t falling apart or slowing down too much. Having kids this late is a bit unusual (though more common as of late), but still a reasonable optimization to pass legacy on. Your values and memeplex should be somewhat set in, and making a tiny person who shares a lot of your neurotype is a great way to iterate on that memeplex. You are basically trading off most of your resources and life to do this – turning compound interest from your own life into compound interest for your child’s life, if all goes well. It seems like a bad trade upfront, but overall it’s another form of new game plus – playing an intergenerational game instead of an intragenerational game.

However, sometimes you opt not to have kids for some reason or another. Great, you have a ton of extra energy and resources and no responsibilities, right? Well, unfortunately, you have quite a few generations of compound interest going into your life and you can shirk that, but I think there’s something fundamentally sad about that. To clarify, this is specifically about the case where you are privileged enough to have choices at this stage of life – if you’re still stabilizing because things went wrong in one way or another, this duty doesn’t apply to you (and arguably, the duty of your forebears was shirked first). So, limiting to the case of facing your 30s from the perspective of someone who has options – there is still a duty, and it is harder. The statement being made is “All right, several generations of effort have culminated in me, and I think that I am ready to deposit this algorithm into the machine of civilization.” Fundamentally, the output of a human life is legacy, and choices made as you enter the middle of your life can be made with this in mind.

Now – your 30s is new game plus if you opt to not have kids, but it comes with additional responsibilities. What do you do with that? Well, in the ideal life, you’ve done most of your exploring in your 20s, you have a rough idea of your niche, and you use your 30s to dig deeper. Craft starts predominating more and more (I suspect in the past, craft predominated earlier.) This is where “who are you” and “what do you do” are relatively similar questions (though of course, they don’t have to be). The quantity of similar experiences locks out some other aspects of experience, but you there’s still a lot to be found with this approach. Going deep is a way to trade the energy and resources that have accumulated to form you into a legacy, because most people who have dedicated 10, 20, 30 years to a thing and aren’t just repeating year 1 over and over are in fact going places very few people have gone, and making a major impact on their craft. This contribution to the civilization engine is extremely valuable, if a bit more legible than other impacts. Sometimes you can use your 30s to explore, but even harder. With a resource base, you can expand your reference class of experiences and take more risks. You end up going places few people go if you continue to learn from your seeking behavior – and the impact you have is a little more illegible but might reveal territory civilization would do well to colonize. There are certainly other ways to use the excess you’re cashing in, but I’m mostly looking at the broad strokes – after all, I haven’t lived my 30s yet.

Overall, the fundamental takeaway I want this post to inspire is the concept of legacy (broadly defined) as the material human life force can be spent on. I suspect some things happen later in life that are also deeply important to contributing to the engine of civilization, but since I am not on the precipice of those things, it is more opaque to me. Probably around your 40s or so, it becomes important to have created access to new places for those coming into their 20s to explore, or to have invested enough into your children so that they have a strong baseline to explore from in the first place – beyond that, though, I don’t know. For now, my choice has been to cash out the resources that have been placed into me – it is my hope that any legacy I add to the soup of civilization is particularly me flavored.

Discussion questions – What do you think is the fundamental material you can buy with human life force? How important is legacy to you? What other models of legacy exist, besides children and cashing out? What other duties to civilization can a human bear