On Sequencing Mode Versus Fluid Mode

(Meta note:  Not to be confused with fluid mode that Meaningness refers to – though to make things more confusing it is related.)

(Epistemic status: Recent realization, it is possible there are more modalities and there’s a lot of subtlety I haven’t explored yet)

Part of the Retrocausal Engineering Sequence

So it turns out both the hippies and the optimizers were right, at the same time.

In the rationalist community, there’s a deep emphasis on productivity tools, optimization, and frontloading thought about how to execute. From the perspective of the typical rationalist, most of the world’s ills come from a lack of thought, lack of planning, lack of countering bias, and lack of considering actual probability. The idea that the narratives we tell are not the territory, but a map of varying quality is a deeply important one and one I grudgingly accept as not to be discarded. However, in the process of fighting for truth, the rationality community has forgotten other valuable aspects of living in a complex society. Some of these aspects are so deeply anti-inductive and illegible that the optimization drive cannot interface with them easily.

On the other hand, we have the hippy stereotype. The fundamental oneness of humanity and all life. The realization that everything is perfect and ok, and that’s the only way it can be by definition. The desire to melt into art, bohemian expression, chaotic flow from moment to moment. The basic trust that things will happen the way they will, and there’s so, so much world out there to explore and play with and realize is there, that modern society has beaten out of us. The lack of a real job and ability to actualize anything except the occasional drug trip and universal love that leads to excess boundary pushing. If they’d just plan a bit better, they could spread their message so much further and build the utopia they might be experiencing in their life – right? But fundamental okayness is not exactly the most memetically virulent message – it prevents its own spread. I unfortunately don’t have as much direct experience of the hippy way of being, so it is harder to give a deeper insight into the workings of their modality – but it is heart to rationality’s mind, a flip side to the seeker modality that marks the rationalist, while being another seeker modality in itself.

It is a bit trite to do this comparison and contrast – every insight porn writer in these communities in the past 5 or so years has already figured it out and written about it at length. What I would like to illustrate, those, is how these ways of being translate to modalities that can reconcile the seeming tension between flow and optimization, and how both are necessary to approach a much better, more actualized life that can open up the way to actual impact on the world – and how the things you are trying to do benefit from the realization of which mode is more natural at a given time.

Sequencing mode is about todo lists, goal orientation, calendars, pomodoros, structure. It is about how every action implies the next action, and doing the things you are supposed to, in a detail oriented way. It is not about what you want to do, it is about what needs to be done, and how doing those things can make it easier to do more things. It is about legibility, timing, skill, systems, and the ability to do what you say you will do, when you say you will do it. Even if you are sovereign enough to decide everything you do, this mode is the cog in cognition. This is not a bad thing – there is a lot of joy and simplicity in being able to design and enter a system to determine what’s next. It is something humans are good at, and at the bleeding edge of optimization, the world becomes easy.

However, sequencing mode has its limits. The main thing is that it is about linearity. There is some ability to do concurrency and multitasking, but the pattern that repeats itself is essentially putting events/tasks in the right order and having the right things at the right time to make them happen. It is a mode that runs on if-then-else blocks. It fills in a lot of the gaps and has an easy momentum to it, but it restricts the action space to do this and blocks threads. This is the mode of opportunity cost – if you do X, you cannot do Y. Past a certain point, it cannot manage the complexity of a human life.

The fluid mode, on the other hand, is about art and pattern and impulse. Being in the fluid mode is doing nothing, very very very well. This is how the long term gets executed – by abstracting out the details and just allowing direction and movement and desire to lead the way. The little actions you take when you have nothing to do – the default mode network gathering unconscious information. Everything is asynchronous and parallel – you aren’t trying to do anything, you’re seeing what your experiential data unpacks into without telling it what it is. The fluid mode is the basis of Retrocausal Engineering – the part of it where the past is a resource because no matter what happened in it, there was data there that influences the patterns that arise today. The fluid mode is the abstraction of a free form dance – the threads of intention and context interweave to build something greater. The point isn’t reaching a goal, the point is what is happening, right now, along the way to every possible instance of yourself. It’s the unreaching of goals – the refusal of constraint except insofar as the pattern itself is causing constraint. In less flowery terms, this is the mode you enter when you have nothing to do, and rather than say “I’m bored” and stare at social media or play video games, you decide to walk outside, talk to strangers, and allow spontaneous interactions to complete rather than suppressing them to stay on task. This is the mode in which a small social gathering can suddenly start singing without any sheet music, where improvisation can thrive, where creative solutions to hard problems present themselves.

The issue, of course, is that the fluid mode is doing nothing, very very well. If you’re in fluid mode all day, it becomes increasingly difficult to relate legibly what you are doing. It can become more difficult to synchronize with task oriented aspects of the world. Things can slide because they aren’t things you directly care about. The fluid mode doesn’t scale, except when it does – but the unpredictability makes it harder to “use”. And trying to use the fluid mode is missing the point anyway. The point of the fluid mode is largely metaprogramming and increasing optionality, and taking illegible steps in a direction – but it is in some ways making a deal with the fae. It’s self trust, but the well of self goes deep – and the parts of you that had a life plan may not like some of the ways the fluid mode operates. In my opinion, this isn’t really a drawback, but I can see how people would interact with it in that fashion. Fundamentally, it’s filling in the gaps you don’t notice, the way that the sequencing mode fills in the gaps you do notice.

The point of having conceptual handles on these two modes is to give a finer grained understanding of what aspects of living respond to sequencing better and what aspects respond to fluidity better. Existing only in one mode is often a special kind of hell, even if it might not be obvious from the inside. Having both modes coexist, intermingle, and ideally nest in each other creates a much deeper well of unique(ish) resources to actualize impact on the world – or even just impact on yourself, and those you love. It gives you much more freedom to decide at what scale you wish to act, rather than infinitely striving to not be where you are.

There are some key ways to increase the likelihood of these modes flowing in and out of each other in a positive fashion. The primary one is giving yourself slack. It is very, very difficult to leave the sequencing mode if your world is constantly falling apart but for the application of todo lists. If you build in slack to your scheduling and task flow, it becomes much easier to notice opportunities for fluidity and accept them, rather than push them aside to stay on task. Another way is having multiple scales of plan, with some flexibility to shift those around. The seductive part of the fluid mode that can get in the way of growth is not going into it with at least some intentionality in your headspace. While pure openness and acceptance is a good mode to visit sometimes, living there can lead to a deeper unfulfillment that seems impossible to relieve – after all, shouldn’t you just accept that too? Having free floating ideas of shapes you admire, patterns you want to see more of, aesthetics – these things help give a very gentle, soft directionality to the fluid mode that allows you notice the places where you want to drop into a more control based sequence. With Retrocausal Engineering, I know roughly that I want to absorb information about math, information theory, quantum mechanics, consciousness, memory, temporal reasoning, etc. The scale of plan here is very long term and at the size of plan is self, and the ambiguity of what it means to be a retrocausal engineer works well for exploration. My fluid mode gravitates towards these things, even if I don’t have a good plan or idea on how it all connects – but there’s a comfort in knowing that there is an outer frame. Another example is the drive towards infrastructure – I have noticed that I can be in the fluid mode more when I have basic trust that the things I need already exist and do not require my attention or agency – the scale of plan here is mid term, and the size of the plan is house/tribe and eventually society. There are other methods to increase the efficacy of one mode versus the other and my experience of this is that it is both a delicate but self correcting balance, if one allows it to be.

Overall, having an understanding of sequencing mode as a valuable way of being rather than feeling only the pain of optimization and forcing continuity has been very useful for me to increase my efficacy. Having and understanding of fluid mode as a valuable way of being rather than feeling only the pain of ambiguity and illegibility and uncertainty has been very useful for me to increase my internal alignment and ability to see a more nuanced world. Having an understanding that these modes are not actually in opposition has shown me a path towards being much more actualized, healthy, and competent, even if I am very early in my exploration of these concepts – and that feeling is a breath of fresh air.

Discussion questions: What mode do you find yourself in most frequently? What mode feels most natural to you? What are you experiences with the interplay between these two modes? Have you noticed other modes that fit the shape of these modes? What other examples of these modes have you experienced in your life?

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On Salience Field Manipulation

(Epistemic status: Endorsed but difficult to express how to do it well – similar to the salience journals concept except broader)

Part of the Retrocausal Engineering Sequence

Nothing we do actually involves us making choices.

This statement is fairly strong – but consider it for a few minutes. If choices don’t lead to the things we do, what does?

You likely came up with several things, but what I’m going to zoom in on is context and salience fields. We exist in environments that have stuff in them (also technically not true, but that’s an entirely different point). That stuff often informs the action space we perceive ourselves as having. By the time anything reaches this conscious illusion of a choice, the action space has been very thoroughly winnowed by unconscious processes. The stuff we find in our environments, as well as how we define stuff, is what I call a salience field.

The difference between the conscious sensation of choice/optionality and the totality of the stuff in our environments can be expressed as a difference between attention and awareness. Attention is the sort of thing that’s in the center of our focus – right now, writing these words is in my attention. Awareness is the everything else – we usually keep a soft focus on the world around us, even if we don’t consciously note it. We usually also keep a soft focus on our histories and futures – things we’ve previously experienced will be in awareness and shape what we see as existing. I’m current aware of music playing, a few things on my desk, a timer I’ve set on writing this post, etc. There are a lot of other things in my awareness that I’ve chosen not to note. Usually, things shift from awareness to attention when parts of our unconscious mind don’t have protocols for processing something that has changed or come up in awareness. This basic primer on how minds interact with things is very useful when considering how to optimize in a choiceless world.

Often, when we want to change our lives, we try to pay attention to the things we want to change, so at best small shifts are available – the possibility space is confined to a concept that we’ve noticed and are increasing the centrality of our focus on it. This mode works for some things, but there are other approaches to self optimization – one of those is salience field manipulation.

Manipulating the salience field involves giving your unconscious mind more freedom to express itself. This takes a lot longer, and doesn’t always seem to have direct ties to whatever you are trying to optimize – but once everything falls into place, your entire world can change. Even more interestingly, once you start making this a default action, everything falls into place constantly, with new exciting possibilities opening up each moment.

Now, how do we do this, especially if one accepts the proposition of choicelessness? The main trick to this is freedom. The productivity maximizing mindset often leads to a pattern of needing to schedule every possible moment and have it account for itself. To manipulate a salience field, however, one needs to give themselves unstructured space, unstructured time, and minimal expectation. You have to operate on the level of intention rather than causality – craft a desire (though leave it somewhat open), create a habit of explore time, show gratitude for things that seem to make fulfilling the desire easier.

The way Retrocausal Engineering fits into this is simple – the past is part of your salience field. Memories are a very compressed data structure that rarely are unpacked into the full depth of information they record. Affect is also part of your salience field. Accessing memories with different affects and intentions can cause different information about the event to arise. A retrocausal engineer utilizes these things to increase optionality for fulfilling wants and needs, and then metas this by making the option to do this always salient – this can be very helpful when one notices that they don’t like the current flow of cause and effect.

To ground the concept some and give an example of the process – one of the first things I noticed when I connected to the self system of Retrocausal Engineering was that infrastructure became significantly more salient. I started noticing how anxiety seemed to come up when I using difficult to replace resources. The things I would get angry at started becoming more about pattern and extrapolation (i.e., if someone always acts in the (set of ways) that the action they are taking suggests, then they will likely cause a weakening of infrastructure). My default actions became “clean something”, “do inventory”, “improve house”, “improve social interconnectedness”, etc. Additionally, I would spend more time in whatever context I was in noticing how things had to be set up in order for them to work the way they do – this in particular is a good example of having shifted the salience field. Memories of more operations focused experiences increased in salience as well, and I would get additional information from them in an “Oh that’s why they did that” way.

As I continued doing this, I began to notice ways in which I had things I needed which I previously could not have counted on (with some pain points – however, I largely can take it for granted that the kitchen has enough resources to support me cooking). I then started noticing ways in which knowing I had those things allowed for further infrastructure improvement – the ability to start building more fluid ways of interacting with task lists and time management rather than trying to frontload all of it – which in turn feeds back into infrastructure. The main thing here is I did not start with a specific structure or plan, I largely trusted my awareness to find ways to increase instances of my intentions towards infrastructure in the world around me.

Overall, salience field manipulation is a tool like any other. It shouldn’t be your only approach to reshaping the world to meet your needs and wants, but it is by far a powerful one and gives a much more organic approach to self actualization. Todo lists are often too detail oriented, even with the structure I proposed in the past – they can help manage one’s time tables, but they still rely on a lot of willpower to execute harder parts of the list. The basic structure is realizing that your environment, affect, and memories do the majority of the decisionmaking for you and that you can tweak what decisions you make automatically by tweaking these things – and then you can make the idea of tweaking these things an automatic decision through positive reinforcement – gratitude for structures, people, and events that bring you closer to the things you want is a very good tool.

Discussion questions – Have you utilized salience field manipulation in the past, and to what end? What is something that you would consider setting as an intention to change your salience field? What would you predict would change with that intention? If you’ve experienced changes from the advice in this post, what sorts of things did you experience? In your experience, what other ways does human behavior form besides choice/agency?

On Experiential Infohazards

Content warning: Drugs, religion, abuse mention

(Epistemic status: Endorsed – lived it and seen it happen, though calling it a hazard might be overdramatic.)

Meta note: The Retrocausal Engineering Sequence isn’t over, this thought just struck me and I wanted to get it out there this week.

As I’m sure most of my readership is aware, I consider myself at least somewhat a part of the rationalist community – at the least, rationalist adjacent. This is relevant because there’s a lot of emphasis on combating biases and thinking more clearly. The question I rarely see asked (perhaps because I haven’t looked hard enough) is the one of how these biases even form, and why does thinking about them really hard seem to have such dismal results at best, and occasionally makes bias worse due to something akin to moral hazard. The answer is experience, and experiential processing is a different skill than solely the dry legible thought about patterns. The good news is experiential learning is a good way to rearrange bad patterns – the bad news is it’s also a great way to install really pernicious bad patterns. At the extremes, however, we face the possibility of experiential infohazards – the sorts of experiences that just completely blow apart your ontological frameworks and leave the experience in the vacuum left over.

Experiential infohazards are often easy to avoid at the sacrifice of some openness – drugs are the most obvious case. Some types of mental practice (meditation) are also experiential infohazards that are a little less obvious in advance without some reading – it turns out training your mind to reconceptualize suffering has some downstream effects for your value structures, which are likely to largely be built on experiences of suffering. Religious experiences can also have this quality – rituals are designed to instill a full embodied experience of the framework being engaged in, to utilize social closeness to reify sets of principles in ways that merely thinking about them will not. Experiential infohazards can also take a darker turn – abuse and trauma which tend to be less clearly signposted can lead to deeply felt experiences that alter value structure and behavior in ways that may not be endorsed.

There are multiple levels to look out for when processing experiences that are experiential infohazards – the first is obviously who has control of the experience and what do they want you to believe. Deeply ontologically violating experiences are like a much more deeply felt script breaker – you end up freezing and will take whatever lifeline you can get; the mind abhors confusion and nonsense. The next thing is what message the experience itself carries – if most people that have had a drug experience settle on universal love, then perhaps consider whether that is compatible with your long term value structure before enjoying being folded into a universal grid of souls or whatever. The third thing is, who is helping you process and what is their agenda? This one is a little less risky because in the aftermath of an experiential hazard, you’re shifting things up to the conceptual level which makes it a little easier to notice subversion. As a side note, sometimes parts of the experience will get repressed as being too far out of frame – more intense/short time frame experiential infohazards can have this quality. In this case, try to have people close to you notice behavioral distortions and connect up what you can.

In terms of generalized defenses against experiential infohazards, I don’t strictly have anything to offer. I suspect that there’s a point where you can expand the class of intense experience to which you can say “ok, had this before, it’s not that meaningful”, but I think that there will always be black swans at the edge of your experiential dataset that act as a higher class of experiential infohazard. The best I can think of from my current perspective is to develop the ability to compress experience into patterns and use this as a shield against ontologically destructive experiences that are likely to change you in unendorsed ways. Acceptance of the experience as it is can also be helpful – it makes it less of a scary, totalizing “Oh my gosh how could THAT have happened to me” thing and more into a “that was then, this is now” thing. Still, my confidence in this advice is low moderate – I haven’t gone into the experiential wilderness enough to have solid heuristics on how to maintain a value structure, or to add precision to the ways in which ontology might be altered.

Overall, experiential infohazards are usually more of an epistemic/ontological hazard than a physical “information that will kill you” hazard – though of course, there are experiences that will in fact just kill you (quite a few really!) . I suspect there are even experiential hazards that will literally kill you without causing any direct physical harm to the body – sensory data encoded in ways that turn the mind against itself. Still, occasionally going into hazardous territory can get you out of a local maxima in ways that allow you to grow – the main point is to be mindful of what you are trading for that growth, and what you are leaving behind. The you that has already had the experience will invariably consider it worth it – will the you facing the decision to have the experience think so beforehand?

Discussion questions – What are types of experiential infohazards you’ve experienced in your life? How transformative were they? What are other possible downstream effects of experiential hazards? What are some other examples?

On Reclaiming the Past and (Not) Burning the Future

(Epistemic Status: Endorsed – likely has some reasonable consensus correlates to various trauma therapies. Also might work less well if you already are well connected to your past)

Part of the Retrocausal Engineering Sequence

So, it turns out that thing where you have lived a life up til now is actually important rather than something you can just ignore.

A lot of people I know have spent a significant amount of effort reinventing themselves and changing their lives – leaving home, finding a new social web, figuring out how to be something completely different than what they were before. I’ve done the same thing – I certainly wasn’t good enough at social to be writing questionable advice about it back in my hometown, at the least. There are costs to this, however – costs that are almost impossible to see until they are rubbed in your face, over and over. When you’re challenged enough so that your short, invented history isn’t enough pure experience to make it through. And this is when it becomes important to reclaim and reconnect to the past, to realize you have much more life experience than you ever realized in a given time slice.

Retrocausal Engineering is the art of doing the things you’re supposed to so that the things that will happen will have already happened so that you can do the things you’re supposed to. Reclaiming the past is realizing that your past selves were by necessity already doing this, because if they weren’t, different things would have happened and you would not be you. This is sometimes hard to track, but if you spend some time considering it, it’s pretty much so true as to be tautological. Another way to model it is acausal trade. In the present, you are generating resources among the entire manifold of your “self” across time (and timelines, but that’s a bit more complex and perhaps a subject for a different post). However, the present self is getting resources from the past – the culmination of everything you’ve done so far, whether you honor it or not. More notably, the present self is getting resources from the future – prediction can be modeled as a memory of the future: the clarity with which a prediction presents is a representation of your mind’s model of what futures your current pattern will support, and the probability mass of selves that will manifest a given future given the current pattern. This is the resource that your future possible selves trade you (and occasionally some information can leak through if you pay really close attention – though of course, you can still only trust it insofar as you can trust your patterns ability to remember the future.)

An interesting thing that can happen is that ordering of choices and events can drastically change the vividness of a given future – every moment will shift the probability mass a little bit, and every moment that echoes further into the past will cause cascade shifts. Once the past is properly reclaimed, the order in which you remember it becomes part of the resource you can harvest from it. You can also harvest different associative grids with enough focused work, which can allow you to model entirely different futures. More directly, this can allow different solutions to occur to you regarding problems with more immediacy. As you might guess, since predictions are a type of memory of the future, you can do the same thing with those – reordering the futures you have been handed can sometimes affect the amount of vividness and information they carry. As a side note, this is most noticeable on the moment-to-moment level – notice what order your sensory data comes in, then rearrange it. With sufficient concentration (or certain substances), you realize that the picture of the world changes when you change the priorities and ordering of data coming in.

Now, these are positive uses of the reclaimed past and freely given future – as the title indicates, there’s less skillful use, especially of the future, that can lead to a lot of problems that take awhile to untangle (possibly 1d4 + 1 years). Burning the future is when you opt to try to harvest the benefits of a given future without having done the work. To some extent, even loans are a version of burning the future. Other examples include storytelling that overstates your skills, or rushing ahead with a half finished plan that you “know will work out”. It is not always bad to do this, but it is very easy to get into cycles where almost all desired futures become less and less vivid and a lot of less pleasant futures become more vivid. This in turn makes doing the things you’re supposed to in the present harder, because the outcomes you envision seem less and less worth it. This cycle can get very vicious and nigh unrecoverable without a lot of luck and good friends. Usually recovery entails picking up a significant amount of slack with willpower and focusing on not just doing the things right but also fixing the things that went wrong. It’s very easy to fall back to the old patterns, since after all, you spent awhile instantiating those patterns and the present self was created by those patterns. Of course, the present self is also trying to recover from burning the future, so there are still past selves that have contributed to this work in ways that are beneficial.

Even when you find yourself in a deep valley of burned future and broken dreams, it is imperative to not forget that your past selves have in fact done the things they were supposed to – trying to dissociate from your mistakes is very likely to cause you to repeat them. You are still the present instantiation of your pattern across the entire manifold of your time slices – honoring that will make the process easier in ways you won’t expect.

Overall, it’s very easy to get caught up in a linear telling of our life stories – the issue is, memories are not linear and futures happen and unhappen all the time. Additionally, abandonment of the past will frequently cost you a measure of your self and your alignment, which will make the flow of your life harder in some ways. Disrespect of the future’s impermanence is also a way to end up in a place where the flow of your life is working against you. Intelligent use of the entirety of your timelines is one of the core applications of Retrocausal Engineering. Take some time to remember who you were and how they have contributed to who you are – who you will be will thank you for it.

Discussion questions: Have you experienced the way the past, present, and future tangle with each other in the frame of a human life – if so, how? What are some examples of burning the future in your own life – or past rejections of the past? What is the story you tell yourself about how you got to here, now? How does it flow into your future?

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.

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