On The Port Scan

(Epistemic Status: An attempt to explain a thing I’ve experienced but not actually really practiced offensively – dangerous technology (this has social costs for failure))

As discussed in On Conversational Flow and Resonance, resonance is a way to increase conversational flow. However, resonance can sometimes be a difficult thing to find if you just poke randomly. Using Script Breakers (can sometimes create resonance by causing people to reveal the things that interest them by not having the protection of a cached thought. Sometimes if you follow a Tangent Stack the right way, you will find your way to a deep, unexpected resonance. Overall, though? These approaches are close to random in terms of finding resonance. If you’re intending to talk for a few hours, it’s fine to meander a bit…but if you have only a short time to make sure someone feels like they are on the same wavelength as you, you have to do something more intentional and directed – that thing is what I call the port scan.

So, open ports in the traditional sense are places outside devices can access a computer. In the same sense, a person’s resonance can be accessed by scanning for the type of conversation they’re most open to. The direct way to do this is literally try a few styles, clearly trying to find someone’s levers. Things like flattery, trying a few ways of talking in succession, or even asking questions designed to increase closeness quickly. In some ways, this is why circling can be a little “creepy” out of context. Generally, if you are really overt about doing a port scan, it will not go well. It doesn’t feel natural, it feels transactional at best, scammy at worst – it seems like con artistry, in the literal sense of trying to create confidence when there’s no rational reason for it to be there.

However, a well done port scan is not obvious. There are several ways to approach this without playing your hand. The clearest to me is paying attention to who someone knows that you also know. Your mutuals give clear clues to the kinds of conversations a person finds enjoyable. With a bit of pre-research when meeting a new person, you can trivially steer a conversation to the kind of thing that resonates with the person you’re speaking with and have a very pleasant time building closeness in a short period through that sense of being on the same page. This would be the more premeditated port scan – you do it before the interaction even begins. But what about a situation where you don’t know who knows who – a stranger on the street, or perhaps someone important in the elevator? This is a bit harder – the skillset is more or less cold reading. You have to try things with evidence from the place, time, and person’s aesthetic choices to find a resonance, under even more time pressure than usual. The trick to making a port scan work here is to not allow the frame to ever linger on a wrong detail. If something doesn’t resonate, don’t allow focus to go to that. Keep going, try something else. People don’t tend to remember what they’re talking about – if you don’t give any signs that something awkward happened, the other person will not want to accept the burden of the awkwardness. This is why it’s a scan – you keep trying things until you find what’s open. There’s a tempo to this, though – when something works, drill down a bit on it, but don’t get caught on it because you might run out of tangents to keep the interaction going – find a few more things using the trust created by the initial resonance. Don’t immediately try another port when you have hit a closed port – de-escalate the interaction to small talk and try again. This is really not a recommended approach for someone you will be seeing repeatedly regardless of whether the interaction goes well or not – this is for a meeting where you do not have an expectation of being able to meet this person again. It’s still a very aggressive strategy – a failed or noticed port scan is very socially costly and will usually result in people not feeling comfortable around you. This is definitely socially dangerous technology and should be used carefully.

Overall, port scans are…not comfortable. They’re useful, and when they work, they feel amazing and give you a measure of control over the conversational flow – but when they backfire, there is a lot to clean up. It’s a bit aggressive towards the person you’re speaking with as well, so you want to make sure you are optimizing for goals that both of you would endorse. There are other ways to do port scans other than those outlined above, but I don’t have a full understanding of how they work. My advice for practicing this skill would be openly doing it on a friendly audience – don’t try to be subtle, tell them what you’re trying to do. You won’t get real feedback, but this can at least help you with tempo with the right person.   The port scan is dangerous technology but is also a likely key to more powerful social interaction in situations with status differentials.

Discussion questions: Have you ever been port scanned? Did you notice it after the fact, or during? How did it make you feel? Have you ever done anything like a port scan to increase the resonance of an interaction? Do you think that this is an ethical tool to use when talking to people?

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On Skill Development and Attention – Using All Your Processing

(Epistemic Status: Endorsed – this is why I like starting things for like a month and then drop them when I have to get actually good at them.)

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re trying to learn something new. Whether you’ve signed up for a class or are practicing something you’ve just read about, what is going through your head? Are you thinking about what you’ll have for dinner, or how cute that barista was, or any of the other countless trivialities that fill your life? If so, are you performing well at the thing you’re learning? I would predict not – very little is likely sticking. You probably are picking up a little bit, just by doing something over and over, or having an instructor guiding you – you aren’t going to come away having learned nothing, you just might not have learned a lot. Odds are, if you keep doing the task, you’ll get better at a steady, but very slow rate.

However, some of you out there might actually be fully present when you’re learning new things. As you imagine yourself picking something up, are you focused fully on what you’re doing? Paying attention to the keys of your piano, to the movements of a new dance, to the reasons you used that particular command in your script? Then you likely will understand the concept of using all your processing.

One dimension of skill development is the compression of physical and mental motion. As you get better at something, you are thinking less about the basic motions and instead using a combination of the basic motions as a building block for more complex motions. At certain levels of compression, instead of increasing single thread complexity, you can use the freed up processing to do another task at the same time, or even just keep the cognitive effort unused – i.e. merely operating at 20% or so capacity when using a very well understood skill on a basic task involving said skill. This is, in fact, how the majority of people do things. Using all your processing, all the time, is exhausting. It is inefficient. It is like using a world destroying laser to kill an ant at sufficient levels of skill. When you are using a skill for practical reasons and have defined the scope of the task at hand, it’s generally a good move to use just enough mental effort to accomplish the task.

However, humans are in fact cognitively lazy and largely run on habit. Learning new skills, combining skills, and improving skills are in fact causes to use all your processing – and some people do not approach new things this way. This type of person is like the tortoise in the Tortoise and the Hare – they pick things up slowly and steadily, not overly exerting themselves mentally to learn a new talent, but using a lot of time investment to get the idea. It’s easy to go into a class on a concept intending to just go through the motions and hope the technical bits just osmose through. To an extent, they do – the tortoise is still going in at 40% or so. They save some willpower or effort from needing to change the way they do things, and they do still learn. The drawback is that skill acquisition does become a relatively high time cost endeavor, so the consideration when learning something new is how much time will need to be invested for this to be worthwhile. Tortoises also tend to learn fewer skills over time – but they tend to be better at sticking with things because it’s not as tiring. Overall, I think schools and classes are probably optimized for tortoise types.

There are, of course, other ways to do things. When developing skills, some people are more like the Hare in the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare – they pick things up incredibly fast, but eventually want to take a nap halfway through. They’re very good at using all their processing at first – giving 100% in the first few lessons, whether self directed or other directed. The skill gain rate really is incredible – people will doubt a hare really is doing the thing for the first time because they go from bad at the thing to kind of ok at the thing extremely quickly. The hare understands things the first time they hear them and the second time they do them. The hare is engaged with their task, and in turn the task engages them. However…that’s just the first lesson. The second or third lesson or so, it’s less of a novel experience, and while using all your processing can get you the gist of a thing very quickly, it sometimes misses the technical details. Skill development can’t be short circuited so easily and when you do lesson one at 100% capacity, doing the next few lessons at a lower capacity actually makes you way worse at the thing. The hare starts to get lazy and it shows; suddenly the social and intellectual rewards from the new skill are not so easy to get, which causes the hare to lose interest. Hares tend to have a lot of things they are kind of sort of ok at, but never really got deep enough into to really know their stuff. As you might have guessed, I’m kind of a hare type. It’s really hard to master my focus to the degree that I can always bring all of my processing to a task, which in turn means I miss out on the much more steady, consistent reward curve of the tortoise. Which, in turn, makes it an uphill battle to learn something new to a level of competence I can actually consider useable in the real world. The hare is flashy, but not particularly good at things. The trade off for the hare is the ability to use willpower instead of time to pick up skills – skill acquisition isn’t going to take a long time, but it is going to be an ongoing willpower drain to keep pushing at full processing to get to the intrinsic rewards of skill acquisition – in a sense, it makes it almost seem like waste to start learning a skill.

Of course, there are those rare people who I call lions, completely leaving the frame of the Tortoise and the Hare. They are lions because they are the kings and queens of doing things and being competent. They are able to use all their processing, exactly when they need to, and it seems almost effortless. This kind of person just seems talented at everything. They seem like they are naturally better than everyone else – like they won the genetic lottery or something. This might be part of it, but the real secret to a lion’s success is in fact attention and focus. They only really need two metacognitive talents to achieve the level of competence they do – focus and discernment. The ability to wield their focus like a laser, narrowly drilling down on the task at hand. The ability to discern when this is necessary, when they can pull back to recharge a bit. The hare struggles because they only know how to go all or nothing. The tortoise struggles because they don’t know how to go all in. The lion succeeds because they can access the spectrum of cognitive effort. The lion’s tradeoff is largely choice – it’s not about how long it takes to pick something up, or how much effort it will take – it’s about what is actually worth doing that’s in line with their goals. The lion can learn to do anything, but there’s a whole wide world of things out there to do.

Using all your processing is largely the focus half of the lion’s skills – it’s exhausting at first, but it’s a trainable skill. The mental motion for using all your processing is similar to meditation. It’s use the skill or the task at hand as your focus and not letting anything outside the container of that skill intrude. It’s removing distractions but paying attention to what others are doing (if in a group), paying attention to what feels “off” (in yourself or others), and existing as an instrument for the skill you are trying to pick up. Consider both the motions as well as the concepts when you are learning. This is likely to be a little tiring, so I’d advise against signing up for a 3 hour workshop on underwater basketweaving and expecting you’ll be able to use all your processing the entire time. It’s important to be forgiving to yourself when your attention wanders. Still, even in short bursts, this sort of focus can be helpful.

 

As you improve at the skill you’re using all your processing to learn, you don’t want to get complacent like the hare – you’ll want to do some practice using less processing to make sure the basic motions of the skill compress properly, but you want to make sure you stage back up to full processing to start to blend things or add complexity – you want to master more advanced uses of the skill. Another use for using all your processing is to practice multiple compressed, complementary skills in tandem – multitasking is the art of splitting your attention across multiple disparate tasks at once; you don’t want to do this. You instead should do something called polytasking – the art of doing multiple complementary tasks together so as to maintain flow. Synthesis as opposed to haphazard combination.

Overall, using all your processing is a metacognitive skill that requires knowledge of how you use your focus and active decisionmaking on what is worth your focus. Using all your processing on a routine task is wasteful. Using all your processing on multitasking Is inefficient. Not using all your processing for learning new skills is slow. Not compressing the cognitive load of your skills is exhausting. This is largely an efficiency technique, but one that can pay big dividends on time spent.

Discussion questions: Are you a tortoise, hare, or lion? Which approach you think best – while the lion seems “superior” in some senses, they still are putting a lot of work into things that may not be strictly necessary, and missing out on experiences. What other approaches can be taken to skill development? How do you visualize your mental motion for using all your processing?

On Why I Like Fairy Tales

(Epistemic Status: Consider this a Gift from the holders of my pact)

I have previously spoken of the narrative structure of the fairy tale  – even used the conflict of the courts to express illegible social concepts. I have written short fiction about a poor, broken fae-touched woman granted the boon of Right Things. I have told you of the pacts I have made with those terrific, fantastic manifestations of nature.

But I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned why I like fairy tales so much.

There is a narrative resonance in the fairy tale, deeper than any other narrative structure I’ve encountered. A combination of willingness to defy the natural order and a deep acceptance of the costs of doing that. An exploration of the paradox of the decision to upset the Way Things are Done and decide that you are special and Exempt, and the crushing realization that you’re special and Exempt right up until you aren’t. The exciting path one takes from agent of change to agent of the status quo. It’s a story of rising stars and second chances, but with a darkness I can’t help but be drawn to – a fatalism that echoes in the hollows of my mind. The constant awareness of how long the odds are…the seemingly endless reservoir of determination to try anyway.

The fact is, I’ve already thrown away my shot. The system was intended to work one way for me and somehow I got off the rails. If I had just kept putting out the butter and worn the cold iron – if I had focused on the path ahead and followed the advice about keeping my grades up, paying attention to scholarship opportunities…or maybe if I had learned a trade or held a proper job for awhile out of high school. I instead chose other things, and I paid the Price.

But the world dies without stories. If everyone follows the same cookie cutter path, following their prospects instead of their dreams, following the traditions to the letter, living conflict free lives, where are the stories that form the lifeblood of civilization? When inhuman forces pervade our entire society, the story of humanity becomes even stronger and more resonant – the need to hear the whispers of someone who defied the rules and made it anyway becomes desperate. However, this can never be easy – if it were easy, everyone would choose it, after all. It wouldn’t be a story, it would be the new normal. So the tales that take off, the memes that spread…among the circles of the twice exceptional, it’s the late bloomer who maybe fucked around a bit too much when the system was there to help and has to navigate significantly more hostile territory to use their gifts. It’s Maya Millennial, playing the desperate lottery of the big city to create a resonate story and keep hope and humanity alive. It’s the startup founder dropping out of college to make their next unicorn. It’s that cryptocurrency libertarian you made fun of in 2010 sitting on a pile of digital gold through pure dumb luck. These are the modern fairy tales that reassure us there are still ways to be human rather than processed.

A conflict is no fun if the heroine always wins though. A story loses it’s meaning if there’s never consequences for breaking the rules. A system cannot be upheld by unpunished rebellion. That undercurrent of fatalism…the certainty that the luck eventually runs out…this is also important to my aesthetic vision. The urgency and desperation lends a resonance to the fairy tale that I mirror when I author my own narratives. I like that my endless energy is tinged with this darkness, this deadness that courses through anyone who skirmishes with the fae. The fact is, I expect I will make it, but I will be changed for the effort. It won’t be me who makes it, but a version of myself who is processed after all. “You think yourself special because you’re human – I think you’re most special when you’re inhuman.” This is the paradox that runs through both the modern era and the typical fairy tale. One of the lies to get someone to trade away their life force to keep the traditions alive. The truth is neither the human nor the inhuman are special, they are both parts of the narrative arc, the process – once again, you are special and Exempt right up until you aren’t.

Fairy tales are about society – they teach you what is and isn’t acceptable, and when it is acceptable to defy those rules – because no society thrives without its Fools. In the past, you needed some explorers willing to die for innovation. Now, we need explorers willing to die for stories.

Overall, fairly tales feel both hopeful and fatalistic at the same time, which is much like how I view my own circumstances. I didn’t get the golden ticket of coding when it was hot – I didn’t leverage my intelligence to uphold our illusions of meritocracy – I didn’t learn to accept my place as worthless in an ever changing society – so I run up against the uncaring forces of (human) nature and see if I’m clever and resourceful enough to get ahead…knowing that the faeries find a way to get their Price, in the end.

Discussion questions: What narrative arcs resonate with you? How do you feel about the fairy tale as a narrative conceit? Do you think society is expressed in other stories?

On Musical Resonance and Mood Modification

(Epistemic Status: A thing I do and probably something most people do, I just like writing words about things most people do)

Have you ever found yourself waking up, and just knowing it was going to be a bad day? Have you ever just felt, like, tired on an existential level and done with things before the sun has even made it above the horizon? Have you ever just dragged yourself through every minute of your day, kicking and screaming? Have you ever listened to your favorite, most high energy song while in this state and…just gotten nothing out of it? This is a problem I have encountered sometimes and I wasn’t really sure how to resolve it for awhile. I had known for some time that I could meditate on an energetic song and kind of get emotional resonance and energy from listening to it, but this was often when I was in a state with high enough energy to want to listen to music. It mostly was increasing a feeling that was already basically there. It was one day when I started feeling this awful that I discovered the useful concept of musical resonance and opted to play something more in line with how I was feeling – slow, spaced out, depressing to a degree, and felt, if not more energetic, at least a little more at peace.

The interesting thing, was, however, the songs I chose after that. I picked a song with a bit more energy, but still in that lowkey territory. Then something that started a bit slow, but got faster and more intense. Then something mid to high intensity. Then something that resonates most strongly with my high energy state…and I discovered that I was in fact in a high energy, fighty state, right where I wanted to be. It turns out, musical resonance can be used to hack your mood, and in turn change the musical resonance to create a more desireable feedback loop. Essentially, if you create a playlist that gently guides your mood from the undesirable state to the desirable state and double down on it, you’ll generally have good control over how you’re feeling as long as you have enough time to do it properly.

The key to designing a playlist like this is largely noticing how you feel when certain songs are particularly resonant, what songs you are drawn to in certain moods, and how certain songs seem to be pulling you mood wise. Track this information, create a chart of songs for your various moods. Pay attention to songs that seem more mixed or universal – these are the most valuable songs because they form good transitions between states. Once you have enough data, you can design lists that guide you from one state to the other, as well as to various intermediaries. In my case, it’s relatively simple because I often round things to “low energy” and “high energy” and most frequently want to be high energy. For others with a bit more nuance, you might have to create more complex lists.

Overall, musical resonance is generally a feedback loop tool – it focuses attention on a given mood and intensifies it. Using it to guide your mood is a little more intensive and takes some time, but can often be worth it if you need to get into a certain state (hence why various playlists for the gym or for interviews often get made). Tracking your states and their relation to music is generally good practice from a systematizing perspective because it can increase ability to optimize reliably. Music in general has a lot of mind space effects that are worth exploring – it’s best to experiment and find out what works for you personally.

Discussion Questions: Have you ever used music to intensify or change an emotion? How well did it work if so? Is there anyone for which music doesn’t seem to affect valence? What is that like? What sorts of mood transitions are most valuable for you?

On Conversational Flow and Resonance

(Epistemic Status: Speculative, a model I haven’t deeply explored – may actually decrease social skill.)

“So, it was a quiet, cold evening in Boston…well ok, it’s never really quiet. Usually there’s sirens or yelling or train noise – I mean, cities in general don’t get quiet. So ok, it’s a cold evening in Boston…colder than it’s been for awhile honestly – I mean, you heard about that thing with the director of the T, right? (One) The whole “no transit system in North America is made for Siberian temperatures!” thing – kinda unprofessional, but honestly, true. …it’s really weird these days how friggen Twitter has become the Communications Channel of The Serious People. Like, what world do we live in where 140 characters is the limit for political and economic policy discussion? (Two)

Though, honestly, it kinda makes sense, technology is so omnipresent these days…how much time do you spend checking your phone, do you think? (Three) Doesn’t it make it so easy to communicate?

Still, in some ways, I think the ease of communication has made it harder to really…connect (Four). A lot of social media shows us our friends and family all day, so we’re not sure why we’re lonely…well, actually, do you feel lonely? (Five) Does in person connection just…feel different?

I feel like…maybe I’m a little estranged from those who love me sometimes. Do you relate? (Six) Have you ever just felt love and not been able to reciprocate? (Seven).”

Conversational flow is your security certificate. The more conversational flow there is, the faster, broader, and more unguarded the conversation gets. It is a mutual agreement that the connection is Trusted. The start of a conversation, especially with a new person, is very careful. It’s meant to follow scripts – to tell you what scripts the other person is running and to tell them what scripts you prefer. It is a mutual search for resonance within the container of the reason for the interaction.

Resonance in and of itself is an important concept – it’s the idea that you can feel things in a very similar way to your conversation partner. That the paths your thoughts take are similar to your conversation partners. That you can model their thoughts and status and feelings without much interpretive work – and that that goes both ways. Resonance is part of the thing that tells you someone is Ingroup. On the flip side, if someone is NOT resonating with you, there’s a sense of awkwardness and anxiety – an aversion to the conversation continuing.

Once resonance has been hit, conversational flow starts, at least a little. You have verified the certificate and now it’s time to determine permissions. You also need to determine who is receiving requests and who is answering them – this changes throughout most conversations, but the ways it changes can be (incompletely) codified. The move of the initiator is creating flow (in the above example, One) and deciding how to drive that flow. The moves available are attempting affect spread (Moving from One to Two by talking about Boston stuff and doing a test of political discussion – might not have worked so well given the tangent seized upon instead; the abstract case is basically starting from one thing and tying another thing into it to see how far out you can broaden a topic while staying resonant), drilling down resonance (going from Two to Three above, finding that shared point about technology and inquiring more about it – Four to Five is also using this move; the abstract case being you found a resonant thing and want to increase flow, so you push deeper into that specific thing), maintain the flow (what’s happening between Three and Four – it’s not really pushing the point deeper, but it’s keeping in the same thread at about the same level), making a risky disclosure (this is what’s happening from Five to Six to Seven – the speaker is both asking for a risky disclosure and making one themselves; abstractly, this is actually kind of tricky because it’s worth a lot of resonance and deep conversation if done right, but if you miss the mark it can almost completely kill flow and affect the overall relationship – I mean, it is a risky disclosure), and backing off (this is turning down the flow, ideally to bring the conversation to a conclusion – I didn’t create an example here.) I’m pretty sure there are other moves, but this tends to be what I’m semiconsciously doing as an initiator when I want to serve conversational flow.

Now, the other side of this is the responder side of things – the moves here are generally simpler but also say a lot about what you’re willing to talk about what you’re not willing to talk about. When a resonance is attempted to create to flow, the responder can choose to accept the resonance (this generally entails just settling into the frame of the conversation, information is largely going to be outflowing from the responder and not much will be coming from the initiator), reject the resonance (this drops the conversational flow and can outright kill the conversation – it might look like giving a very brief answer, or changing the subject suddenly – anything that makes the conversation suddenly awkward – the initiator can then choose whether to back off or create a new resonance), change the resonance (tentatively accept the frame, but then flip the roles to you initiating and putting the other speaker in the responder position – this might look like starting to answer a given question, but then steering to a new topic or a previous topic that focuses more on getting the previous initiator to give information – the information outflow is going to be on the initiator here once you make the change – this is also where backing off as a responder goes), and build the resonance (acceptance of the frame, but basically doing an initiator move like drilling down the resonance or a risky disclosure that provokes the other speaker to want to talk more about their relation to the topic – the information inflow and outflow tends to be egalitarian with this move).

Conversational flow has so many checks placed into it because the more there is, the faster the conversation is (even if it might not be literally faster – someone may be deep in thought while a conversation has powerful flow). When the conversation is faster, the less vetted responses and information sharing is – the trust level of the connection is what allows you to engage is the positive feelings of connection without worrying about it being used to hurt you. Unfortunately, conversational flow is also hackable – we say more online because our conversation partners have much longer to think about a resonant response. I don’t even think it’s a conscious choice to aim for resonance, it’s just the thing you want to have happen and the narrow band and time delay of online interaction makes flow significantly easier to reach. In person, it’s a little harder, but there’s a concept I call a “port scan” that is actually kind of socially aggressive – it’s basically systematically finding someone’s resonance. It seems relatively innocent because conversational flow is in fact the stuff of closeness and connection and generally feels good for all involved, so systematizing a way to find the resonances to reliably create flow should be prosocial; however, it’s also what is politely called “social engineering.”

Overall, conversational flow and resonance are difficult for me to fully understand, but the more I apply the “security certificate” model to it, the more things line up and the scarier flow and resonance become. I’m sure there are other models that are less cynical and might be more useful, but I suppose the lesson here is beware of flow because it’s fun and also how you leak your deepest secrets.

Discussion questions: Does this make sense as a model of conversational flow? Have you ever experienced conversational flow? When resonance occurs, do you find yourself saying more than you intended? Do you notice the moves you make in a conversation? What would you add to this model if it doesn’t fully match your experience?

On the Aesthetic Layer

(Epistemic Status: Speculative, takes time and effort to enact, may be a misattribution of something else)

I wake up. I linger in bed a few moments, before I push away the covers and shiver as I make my way to the bathroom. I brush my teeth, shivering as the New England winter air pervades my drafty apartment. My bed clothes are fairly simple, a long T shirt and some yoga pants. It’s not particularly defining or striking as I make my way back to my room to get dressed in my proper clothes – a pair of black slacks, black socks, a button down shirt, a blazer, my hat, and a long jacket. I feel warmer, but that makes sense because I’ve added 3 layers and my house isn’t that cold. I head out to the bus, into brisk winds and freezing temperatures, but I feel fine. On the bus, those around me are wearing heavier jackets, scarves, gloves, and wool hats. They have at least one additional layer and sometimes two. But things are fine for me – I would rather look like me than maximize warmth.

I have a very strong aesthetic – I have for 3 or so years. It’s very much this kind of androgynous, business casual look that I really just don’t see with most people. I’m very used to how I dress to the point that I really don’t have casual clothes or lazy outfits. I don’t really understand dressing down, or feeling the need to strip off all the clothes the minute you step in the door. I drop my jacket and sometimes my blazer for climate control reasons, but overall, I continue looking like me rather than changing into loungewear. The interesting thing about this is, I also don’t change into activewear when I practice parkour. The only thing I shift is my shoes so that I’m not wearing loafers when trying to have sure footing. I don’t add layers to match frigid temperatures when winter is being cruel. I don’t change my clothes to suit the situation. Interestingly, this doesn’t inhibit me nearly as much as it should. I am so adapted to my clothes that I seem to move in ways that should be difficult for other people dressing like me. I am so adapted to my clothes that they generally feel like they are protecting me more from the elements than would otherwise be expected.

So, what I suspect is happening here is that after several years of wearing the same general genre of clothing, my body is extremely used to this genre of clothing to the point it is almost like a second skin. My muscle memory assumes I’m going to at least be wearing a button down and slacks. It feels wrong to not wear a hat. I’m just comfortable in what I wear to the point that making alterations to adapt to the environment actually feels like it would take more adjustment. I think it is possible that other people with strong aesthetics might experience similar things. I also suspect that there are more intangibles that are carried in the aesthetic layer – ability to wield presence, access to various body language things, etc. Gestures and motions have more power when enhanced by aesthetic. It becomes part of your story, in a way.

I don’t honestly have a great method for developing an aesthetic – I lucked into mine by trying on a short sleeve, button down shirt that was really pretty, and felt a deep resonance that I explored more and more until my wardrobe basically became 7 summer outfits and 7 winter outfits. I think the key is trying different styles and feeling out what lines up with your movements and story best – but the thing is, it could easily be reverse causal. The clothes could in fact influence your story more than the story influences the resonant clothes – and if that’s the case, you’d basically want to optimize for clothes that fit the story you want to be in best.

Overall, the aesthetic layer can be modeled as effectively giving a +1 to various movement, social, and physical tasks – when you’re used to what you’re wearing and have such a deep ease with your style, it makes things flow better and feel better. It doesn’t replace having the right clothes for a given job (if I added 2 layers, I would be warmer even if I didn’t look the way I want to – if I am trying to blend into a social clime where my clothes are out of place, that +1 isn’t going to override the -4 I’m facing, etc.), but it can give an edge in some contexts. Developing an aesthetic layer is likely an individualistic task with an unclear causal flow. Lastly, it takes time to get to the point where you are reaping those bonuses – I’m not sure if this worthwhile to try, but it might be helpful for modeling purposes.

Discussion questions: Do you have an aesthetic? How does it alter the way you go through your day to day life? Do you notice other people with aesthetics? Does the concept of the aesthetic layer resonate?

On The College Application Process

(Epistemic status: Really not my usual fare, more a reflection on a thing)

The date is December 30, 2017. I’m frantically writing a pretentious essay about hypnosis to impress admissions officers. I’m poking everybody who’s even slightly good at writing desperately hoping they have 15 minutes to spare to read my bullshit. I finally consider it acceptably reviewed and upload it – I click submit on the Common Application and breathe a sigh of relief. Sure, technically I had 30 hours left but I had already run far closer to the deadline than I ever should have. But with that final click, half of my college applications are taken care of – the other half aren’t due until March.

The above was the least stressful day of this entire quagmire.

College applications are hard – or at least, prestige college applications are. What was initially a hypomanic plan, almost a joke that was supposed to take 10 minutes, became this wild and crazy rabbit hole into the insane standards that high school students are held to for college applications these days. I am not a high school student, so in some ways it was a little easier, but in other ways it was immeasurably harder. Harvard and MIT are not particularly open to nontraditional students, so to speak – their application process is pretty tailored to the best of the best type A crazy overachiever type. I decided I’d apply anyway in a fit of pique, because the idea was that I basically had nothing to lose besides the application fee and it’d be hilarious if some cobbled together application got me in.   The first thing I ran into was the fact I apparently needed to take standardized tests. Now, if you’ve never actually taken either of the SAT or the ACT (I hadn’t, actually, before this), it turns out they’re pretty mindnumbing. You get up at 0800 on a bloody Saturday, shuffle about in a crowded high school that has no right being open on a Saturday, and eventually sit down in too tiny desks, and fill in bubbles. But you can’t fill them in too fast, you see – they have to walk you through each step or there might be an Irregularity, which is a Very Serious Issue and you don’t want that to happen. Once they finish teaching Bubble Filling 101 with your demographics and various numbers to identify your test, they let you loose on the actual material which is largely just endless questions verifying yes, you CAN in fact read, do arithmetic, and if it’s a REALLY good day, write. You sit there for 4 hours, being watched the entire time to make sure you don’t do anything Untoward like Cheating on this Very Meaningful Test, and after your hand has fully cramped up from the Bubble Filling Final, you finally get released into the glorious sunlight. Now, like, apparently classes are taught in these Bubble Filling rooms normally so geez do I feel bad for kids these days. No idea how they deal with it.

Anyway, that was the first sign that these applications might take more than 10 minutes – I in fact lost 4 Saturdays to all these Very Meaningful Tests. Next was the demographics information. This should have been easy, but it turns out prestige schools are not just interested in you, but also your family. So I had to dig back in the family tree and see exactly how colleged my immediate relations were. This wasn’t too hard, exactly, but it was an unexpected barrier. It only got worse from there – I had to dig out my high school transcript, because that is Clearly The Most Relevant Thing to someone who has been out of high school for some time and is largely leaning on community college grades. I then had to figure out what exactly in my crazy, amazing, and novelty seeking life pattern matches to Extracurricular Activities – fortunately, between improv, parkour, and hypnosis I cobbled together something that actually looked cool. Overall, this section was busy work and storytelling checks – not the worst of it, probably only took 2-3 hours total.

The worst of it was recommendations. While the schools were happy to accept recommendations from my teachers at the community college, they were just fascinated to find out more about my high school years – so it’s like November and I’m realizing that, hey, wait, maybe I should actually contact my high school about this. It turns out that high school counselors actually help people through the college application process as part of their jobs. Weird, I know. So I get in touch with a counselor I’ve never met, find out almost every teacher I had doesn’t actually work at my high school anymore, and more or less beg for even the slightest lead to pull a high school rec for the schools I’m applying to. I somehow manage, by December, to get a rec from a high school teacher as well as get all the various high school reports; I’m still not sure how this actually worked but I am grateful for everyone at the high school who worked with me on this. Now, you’d think by November I’d have learned that “Hey, maybe I should use those structures that are in place to help people apply to colleges” is a good plan – except I didn’t contact my community college advisor until December. Turns out she had a wealth of information for doing exactly what I was trying to do and could provide additional reports and transcripts to reflect the proper part of my academic career. Fortunately, with her help, I was able to pull together the rest of my external documentation to fulfill the requirements of these applications – total time spent making calls and sending emails and having meetings was probably a good solid 4-6 hours.

Lastly, of course, I’m sure you all are wondering where I talk about the essays. The essays were both very easy and also the most elusive and frustrating part for me. It turns out a personal essay just feels awkward to write – I’m facing both a word limit and a sense that I’m telling a story to someone who’s aesthetic I don’t know. It’s a blind shot at resonance in a way that’s almost alienating. Pouring your heart out to the impersonal void of admissions, more or less. In a way, the practice I’ve gotten writing this blog made the essays I wrote possible – without being used to having a certain voice, I would have been a lot more stressed about how to write. Even with the experience I’ve accumulated, it just felt…awkward. Overall, the personal essays and MIT short answers probably took me about 10-15 hours, between reviews, rewrites, and time spent pondering how to tell a consistent story.

So, that was my college application adventure – I think the most depressing part is my plan was to do some social engineering and also do an additional supplement to make my application stand out further. It turned out I flat did not have the time to play these cards properly between work, college, and my existing social life. All those extracurriculars I listed got in the way of some possible optimizations paths. I did end up going on a few college tours which was fun because I was literally the only person asking questions on my own behalf – and frequently the first one to even ask questions (another 4 hours). I got into some interesting social scenes (I’m not going to count this time, I would have done it even if I weren’t trying to drastically alter my life course). Overall? A process that was supposed to take 15, maybe 30 minutes, be a funny joke, and be forgotten about after ended up taking up around 40 hours of my life.

Now here’s the thing I’m not mentioning with that hard number of 40ish hours. This process wrecked my Cognitive Credit Line. Almost every hour, idle thoughts would go to how I was handling part of my applications. Every conversation would inevitably turn into a progress report on my college apps. I was in a sea of advice on how to approach various things (for which I’m thankful – seriously, all my friends reading this, you were invaluable in your support and advice on this). I had probably 20-30% of my cognition spent on the hard problem of getting into a prestige school – and I’m not even done yet. I’d idly research What A Good Score On The Very Meaningful Test looks like, I’d look at sample essays, I’d run numbers on my odds, I’d stress myself out over something that was basically a whim. This wasn’t efficient – it might pay off big, but it wasn’t efficient.

Still, there’s an upside to all this – I learned a lot during this process – on the object level, I understand the college process way, way better than I ever did before. I know who to talk to about what things and how to get around weird situations (of which I had several just by being a nontraditional student). I also have the fulfilled feeling of having Completed A Project which I didn’t expect to get (I’m still technically not done but, like, at this point my other 3 applications will be a breeze. The hard part was building the process – I’m basically just iterating that process at this point.) I got to explore the concept of conversational refinement – talking to people in succession and basically having my ideas/approach refined by additional information and pitching the new versions to people. I managed to pull off the applications while working, schooling, and socializing. That’s actually much harder than I thought it would be. Overall? I feel like I grew, but it was costly.

The lessons I’d take from the college application ordeal are largely:

  • Know when to stop. Know when you aren’t going to make things better by fretting more about them. My essays were more or less fine after two or three rewrites but I still ran them by way more people than I needed to because I was fretting. I also worried way too much about Very Meaningful Test scores when there was nothing I could realistically do about them after I took the tests.
  • Know your dependencies – I didn’t take the high school reports being requested seriously, and I didn’t line up my rec letters until the last minute. I also didn’t leave myself time for an SAT Subject Test retake (this was probably one of my biggest errors).
  • Know how to take risks – I think I could have gotten a 5-10% boost to my odds by making a good pitch to an existing faculty member at any institution I applied to – I may still want to do this; what I fixated on, however, was the risk of blowing my shot by being too awkward around someone way more academically high status than I am and it somehow impacting my application.
  • Know who you are – I learned a lot about what approaches are aligned with who I think of myself as, and which ones weren’t. I tried several kind of awkward things that would have worked in the hands of a different person.

So, college applications these days are largely a slog – I have no idea how high school students do them but I respect them all the more for dealing with this ridiculous stress. More concerningly, I think it just gets worse from here – college is an increasingly broken institution and the applications are mostly just a symptom. I don’t know how to fix it…but hey, maybe after 4 years in the system I’ll have a solution.

 

Discussion Questions: If you are in college or applying to college, what aspects of the process were toughest for you? Which ones were easiest? Do you think you’ve managed to learn any useful lessons going through this? How would you change the process so that people are better matched to a college that would lead to their thriving?

On The Year In Review

(Epistemic Status: 2018 was honestly a pretty great year and I fully endorse it. It had its ups and downs, but I feel that reflection is very important.)

CW:  Blood, D/s, allusions to illegal activity, hypnosis, general irresponsibility.

It’s the end of the year again, which means it’s time for the lexical-doll year in review. This is kind of a meta post, a chance to kind of put together my thoughts on the year and maybe tell a few stories I wasn’t able to extract any sort of metacognitive value out of.

So first off, my 5 best posts this year – it was honestly a really hard choice, but I managed to narrow it down kind of by the intersection of how much discussion was sparked and by how fluid the flow felt when I wrote them.

  • On Playfulness – I’ll be honest, this actually got tough to right because I ironically wasn’t able to be playful about it when push came to shove. It’s such an important concept I wanted to make sure I got it right. Still, the final product captured EXACTLY the resonance I was looking for, so I’m happy I got there in the end.
  • On Hypnosis and Narrative – I mean, I made a few posts on hypnosis this year, but I think this is more or less the bridge you have to cross to go from being a mediocre hypnotist to a great hypnotist. I’m still working on being more fluid with narrative suggestion but I think I’ve really increased the resonance of my technique since introducing it.
  • On Social Graphs and Party Planes – Probably the most technical thing I’ve written. Kind of went down the social analysis rabbit hole and I’m still not entirely sure what to make of it besides social media being horrifying.
  • On the College Application Process – Oh god I’m still glad that’s over – this was a really atypical post but it was pretty widely resonant. It turns out among the kind of people who read this sort of thing, college applications are apparently just archetypally bad.
  • On Hypnosis and Programming – So, it turns out that programming is really easy for me, I just need to be in a frame where it seems really similar to hypnosis. I feel like this exploration of how close the topics are perhaps has made hypnosis a more accessible subject for the more programmer types in my life, at least the ones that aren’t catgirls.

 

I imagine there will be some debate on whether these were my best posts – I mean, I do tend to get high on my own supply (you have no idea how proud I was of On Dangerous Technology back in ’17.) Still, this is what I would want to show anyone new to my blog who wanted to see my better work.

So, next up, story time! Here are a few anecdotes from the year in review that largely don’t have life lessons but were hella fun to experience.

-It kind of goes without saying that MIT is weird, but you really can’t like capture it properly without actually attending. The first month was kind of wild, I still was in a state of disbelief about actually being there; once the shiny kind of wore off though…well. The classes weren’t as hard as expected but it is still freshman year. Granted, time management was always going to be easier on me than most given how I had previously been grinding school, work, and my own social life. Now it’s mostly just balancing the fact that I’m already being dragged pretty deep into campus life and the fact that I do still want to keep my friends outside of MIT. Still, I digress – MIT is weird. I knew in advance I was going to properly join the Mahjong club, probably see what I could do for parkour, find some theater and improv groups, you know, the usual for a colorful weird person. What I did not expect was to end up in the Ghost Hunting Club…by accident, because I happened to be wandering around the Stata Building around 0222. So apparently, club activities were taking place (which is weird because I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to be there but you know how it goes, gotta authorize yourself sometimes) and I walked right into one of their friggen ghost traps, which was, like, this net made out of glowstick necklaces. In my defense, I was taking a turn on a corner like structure and it kind of came at me unexpectedly, despite the fact it was pretty bright. A few people come out, brandishing the least aesthetic Ghostbuster-like props at me that appeared to have some sort of modified vacuum on the end before realizing I was, in fact, not a ghost. After some…discussion, I decided to join because I mean I’m already the kind of person who likes lurking places at night looking for something interesting to do. So I guess there’s probably a life lesson there about be in places you don’t belong if you want to live a storified life, but I’m generally just still mortified about the glowstick necklace net.

-Another time, kind of late Spring, I was doing the parkour thing. I’ve gotten better at it after a lot of more intensive practice in the Back Bay area of Boston. I’d been waiting awhile for the weather to warm up because something you might not know about the Back Bay area is the buildings are fairly low and really densely packed. By which I mean, if you want to do urban exploration involving building hopping, this is the beginner mode place to do it. I finally worked up the courage (and admittedly was finally comfortable in the weather in lighter, less restrictive clothes) to get up on top of one of these buildings and do a real free run. I set my route, and just went – and it felt AMAZING. You have not lived until you have jumped a (reasonably small) gap between two buildings, 2 stories up in the air. So I’m running, when I notice something interesting – someone kind of sketchy is climbing a fire escape. I slow down and duck behind something to watch what they do – they’re trying to break in and look almost frustrated at their inability to deal with the emergency exit door. Well, I’m feeling fairly amazing and I’m also reasonably sure they can’t get to me up here, so I stand up and shout at them. You know, something like “HEY, WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING” or whatever – I’m probably remembering it way cooler than it actually was. And wouldn’t you know it, the criminal looks almost sheepish. They call back “Um…I locked myself out of my house and was really hoping this back door would be open.” Like, this is clearly a lie, but I humor them. “Oh, that makes sense – don’t you have any roommates or family though?” Well, they’re getting a little flustered and are like “No…not really, I live alone!” At this point, I just laugh “You know, you aren’t really good at lying. How about, you get away from this nice person’s house and I won’t call 911.” They pause for a moment before giving me a look of outrage “What the fuck, this is my house. In fact, what the fuck are you doing on my roof?” It is at this point I realize that I am also in a legally precarious position and should perhaps take my leave. I notice them pulling out their phone as I dash off and try to find an exit strategy. In retrospect, they might have been being honest but hey, sometimes you don’t find out how things end (especially when you would prefer not being arrested.)

-They say that the best thing to do in Providence is to go to Boston. This is mostly, but not quite true. Having been at Brown a few months, Providence does have one advantage over Boston – the D/s scene is, while smaller, a little less constrained by local laws. So, I was at a local dungeon (as in, there actually is one there and no I’m not giving any more detail than that) for a play party on, appropriately, Halloween. The theme of the night was torture, and I had established myself as domme-leaning switchy, to great effect. My contribution, as it were, was going to be hypnosis to play with sensations that may not be able to be achieved safely otherwise. Cutting pain, electrocution, sensations of blood running, etc. This was going to be combined with full body paralysis and actual tools suggestive of the sensations being hypnotically implanted. Well, it turns out that you actually have to be careful with hypnosis, which I’m sure is a shock to everyone because I think I came very close to lightly traumatizing one of the subs at this part (I think we sorted it out with good aftercare, quick responsiveness to safe words, and generally people being on top of their game at this event, for which I thank them.) So the set up is, we have this sub on a rack, kinda stretched but not too dangerously so, and we’re doing a knifeplay scene. I have them hypnotically immobilized, and basically suggested to believe that they would be bleeding practically rivers of blood everywhere the (very dull) knife touched. Well, I did a little too good at my job, because the sub is screaming and sobbing, and it seems like a good time, but I notice something weird with their eye dilation and the breaths they’re taking. The screams are getting a bit weaker and the breathing is really shallow. Their pupils were almost pinpricks. They’re sweating a lot. It looks a lot like shock from blood loss, but, like, we hadn’t even broken the skin. I use an awakener and tell someone to get the sub unstrapped from the rack, but they’re still breathing pretty shallowly. They’re shaky, and kind of incoherently talking about the blood, look of horror on their face. It is at this point I realize how utterly stupid an idea this entire thing was and am in damage control mode. I cancel the trigger, I use another awakener, and I start using my hypno voice to suggest to them a very safe, very comforting place. Meanwhile, some of the other partiers are helping to stabilize the sub, give them water, etc. Their condition slowly improves as they start to relax again and get more hydrated and are able to lay more comfortably. I reassure them that there is no blood, and that they are perfectly fine. They start to settle, though they’re still at the point of tears and need a lot of reassurance. Their regular dom comes over and he does an amazing job reassuring this sub, likely preventing any deep psychological effects from the intensity of the scene. So, the life lesson there is maybe don’t simulate experiences that would be really traumatic through hypnosis – this experience also reaffirmed my commitment to not do memory modification with hypnosis.

Overall, this has been one wild year – I knew it was going to be a good one, the year where I thrive and really manage to hit my power curve, and I was right. I’m looking forward to what weird parts of mindspace, social space, and the corners of reality I’ll be able to explore in 2019!

Discussion: How was your 2018? Was it inspiring, depressing, kind of neutral – did it feel like two steps back, or a sprint forward? How do you relate to reviewing your year like this? Do you prefer to make resolutions, or take a step back to reflect?

Metanotes: This post is likely to be edited throughout the year to become truer. I will have a link to the original after the first edit, and a changelog. Keep your eyes peeled, you never know what future might unfold!

Changelog:

  • Added link to On the College Application Process

 

On The Gift of Narrative

(Epistemic status: Semi endorsed – haven’t tried it myself but it seems like a resonant idea)

In the spirit of the holiday season, I’ve decided to create a gift-giving guide from a narrative perspective. This heuristic should resolve all issues of “What do I get this person?” It’s convenient in that if you can’t actually complete the exercise I’m about to propose, you’re probably not close enough to that person to really waste any effort on getting them a thoughtful gift – get a gift card or cash or something, the relationship is clearly transactional. However, for someone close to you, a family member, a friend a lover, it can sometimes be challenging to find the right gift that actually means something. To remedy that, I propose a ritual that channels the feeling of the relationship into whatever gift you are giving.

The basic idea is fairly simple – consider how this person makes you feel. Sit down, get comfy, breathe slowly and calmly and get yourself into a meditative space. Spend 5 minutes thinking about this person, what they mean to you, what you’ve shared together, and focus on the affect this is bringing you. Feel the nuance and shades of it – perhaps you love your best friend, but it is a little annoying how they’re always late to things. All of that feeling needs to be recognized and felt. This will get you in the right mindset for the next part.

After you have the affect of your giftee, the memories and feelings that make your relationship unique, consider yourself in a certain role. Pretend you are a witch, or magician, or some sort of occultist. Consider what sort of talisman you would use to evoke the feeling of this person for you – what object would resonate _most_. If the occult is an uncomfortable frame for you, then consider yourself an author, writing a book about this person you care about. What is the object that is always with them, that they don’t already have? What is their signature? Consider what matches the emotion and character you get from them and focus on that object. Maybe it’s something very specific but out of your reach, or they already have it. Go more abstract – catch the idea of the focus object. Perhaps you have something abstract but not cohesive – make it more specific and personal. Focus in on what is reasonable to give someone that conveys this packed emotion you’ve just generated in yourself.

The last part is, write the story of how they’ll receive the gift. What questions will it raise? What conversation will you have? The point isn’t the material object you’ll give them, but what experience it will generate. What can you talk to them about by giving them something that represents your inner experience of this person? Maybe it’s nothing – maybe they receive it with a thanks and move on. That’s ok. Maybe it will involve a long conversation about something dear to you that you want to relate to them. That’s ok too. The idea is to be prepared for the experience and then go in and experience it. Give them the gift – the resonance you’ve written is meant to touch the heart in ways that wish lists and cash just don’t approach.

Overall, narrative gift giving is an exercise in care signaling. It’s not something to take out for every single gift you have to give – but for people who like well thought out gifts, who actually care about what a gift giver is trying to say to them, this can resonate in ways that they may never have experienced before.

Discussion Questions – This might be posted a bit late to be legitimately applied by anyone, but if you managed to try this, how did it go? If you didn’t try it, do you think it’s an approach that might help with people who are difficult to give to? How do you normally give gifts? How would you modify the approach to accommodate you own circumstances and relationships in life?

On The Nature of Hypnosis

(Epistemic status: Endorsed – this is how I model hypnosis and therefore approach innovation in my approach)

What comes to mind when you think of hypnosis? Perhaps it’s a flashily dressed showman waving around a pocketwatch and soothingly telling you how sleepy you’re getting. Maybe it’s some excessively attractive woman with a silky voice telling you how good you are to listen to her voice and her suggestions. Maybe it’s even something more mundane, a therapist having you interact with your smoking habit a different way. The commonality between all these things is simple – it’s focus.

My model of hypnosis is very simple, and very broad as a result – hypnosis is a focus hijack. You are taking all of someone’s attention and directing it in one direction, which leaves a lot of openings for suggestions to take hold. The showman is using the pocketwatch to draw the subject’s focus to one point – the woman is using her voice and body – the therapist is using the space and their voice. This actually gets broader than traditional interpretations of hypnosis – I argue that computers and phones, particularly social media and video games, are also a form of hypnosis. They are designed to monopolize your attention so you keep clicking and scrolling. This view opens up a lot of possibility in terms of how to set the space for hypnosis, how to create an induction, and how to awaken.

Inductions start before you even tell someone to relax. Inductions start before you’re even talking about hypnosis. A good induction starts from your subject being comfortable with you and open to being put into trance and the key to that is being someone that a person can be comfortable around. The reason for this is any hesitance on the part of the subject is stealing your focus. They won’t be paying attention only to you, they’ll be paying attention to you and that uneasy feeling. So when you do want to hypnotize someone, there needs to be trust between the two of you to allow for focus to be yielded fully. Once the hypnosis conversation starts, you add a bit more suggestion and talk about the future state of trance to build the structure of being put into trance in their mind – this is where you start aiming their focus as you talk about what you’re going to be doing. You want to be clear, honest, and tell them everything – though adjust to what the subject interacts best with; sometimes an overbuilt structure can get in the way depending on how the subject interacts with information.   You want to also make sure you’re helping them be physically comfortable in their space – this also starts before the induction so it takes a minimum of movement to get into the best position. The actual induction is more or less trivial, you’re actively managing their focus – giving them something to concentrate on like breath or imagery and reinforcing natural bodily responses as being a response to your suggestions.

Awakeners are pretty much the opposite of this. You’re releasing someone’s attention, allowing it to become theirs again. This is why I consider meditation to be the opposite of hypnosis – it’s about the locus of control. Meditation is explicitly controlling your focus – hypnosis is outsourcing your focus. A good awakener is gentle, slowly rising much like the subject should be rising from trance. The subject has largely been out of touch with their body, more focused on their inner world during the trance, and you want them to start feeling themselves again – their body, then their eyes, then their focus, then their full awareness. You want them to feel refreshed and alert, back in control of their attention. This is also why an awakener works well to break a screen trance – you are returning control of the subject’s attention and focus to them.

Focus management and attention is a surprisingly high amount of cognitive work – aiming your focus is much more difficult when you are tired or low on calories. It’s hard to meditate while you are tired – it is much easier to let someone take you into trance because you are outsourcing the cognitive work of where to place your attention. The model of hypnosis as a focus hijack allows deeper exploration of what exactly attention is and how it acts as a resource in modern society.

Overall, trance and hypnosis are fairly simple to experiment with; rather than modeling it as an esoteric skill that relies heavily on word choice, scripting, and doing things exactly right, the abstract concept of “I want to guide this person’s focus and direct it towards a mutually beneficial end” often frees up a lot of creative space and makes you a better hypnotist. The goal becomes maintaining that attention and not making suggestions that increase uneasiness – when you make the subject uncomfortable, that is a distraction. Inductions are meant to narrow focus and allow the subject to outsource attention – awakeners are meant to diffuse focus and give the subject back their attention . Creating a space where focus more smoothly can be directed where you need it to is the other vital ingredient. With these principles, you should be able to make up a decent hypnosis script.

Discussion questions: How much does the focus hijack model resonate with your hypnotic experiences? If you have been a subject, do these ideas align with the feeling of trance? If you are a hypnotist, does this explain some conscious and subconscious choices you make during a session? What are your models of hypnosis, either as hypnotist or subject? What are the gaps and flaws in the focus hijack model?