On the difference between meditation and hypnosis

(Epistemic status:  Anecdote, states of consciousness, generally feel like I’m onto something and would like more testing)

Hypnosis and meditation are both relaxed states that are shrouded in a bit of mystique for the average person.  Good hypnosis in particular is less accessible than meditation because of how reliant hypnosis is on finding another person capable of using it that is also very aware of how you express your mental states through nonverbal communication.  Having finally gotten to experience both and prompted by a conversation I had after meditating last, I feel like there are key differences between these quiet states, both experientially and in terms of goal direction.

So, I’ve been doing secular meditation on Tuesdays for the past couple weeks.  It’s been a really delightful experience and I’ve felt novel things afterwards.  The first time I meditated, I actually felt something akin to TRANSCENDANT JOY afterward.  There was this feeling of connectedness with everyone and everything.  The next time, I briefly experienced that connectedness through the sense of sound, which was likely because the meditation was an ambient sound meditation.  Generally, the feeling when my meditative state breaks (and it is much more fragile, I presume due to less practice), is just wanting to try it again and resetting from the start.  It’s gentle, I suppose.  Overall, meditation tends to feel like a very connected, lowered self membrane experience.

I have been doing hypnosis, both receiving and giving for a much longer time.  It is also a delightful experience and my suggestibility afterwards is a very intense, enjoyable experience.  The part I find most notable about the hypnotic state is I am complicit in every step.  It’s not as if I am unaware or unconscious, I just have this feeling that if I break the state, I will have a strong feeling of loss.  If my hypnotic state does break without an awakener despite this, my emotional state is usually upset.  This is a bit confounded by hypnosis being adjacent to my subspace mental state, so it’s entirely possible it’s more subdrop than intrinsic to a feeling of failed hypnosis.  It’s difficult to get me back under, regardless.  Hypnosis overall has a feeling of force, strong guidance, feeling more bound by the self membrane.

There are, I think, three fundamental differences between the conscious experience of hypnosis and of meditation.  The first is one that I’ve explicitly stated; the self membrane is weakened under meditation and strengthened under hypnosis.  To explore this a bit more, it’s an interesting paradox because meditation can be (and usually benefits from) being a solitary experience.  Hypnosis, on the other hand, is an experience for two, a strong thread binding you to someone else…yet it feels fundamentally isolating, confining you to within your head, so to speak.  The hypnotizer is a jailer, in a way.  Meditation…my thoughts are free to wander.  I’m focused on various stimuli but I am fundamentally connecting with the world outside my head because those are the stimuli I am focusing on.  My breathing, the noise around me, how my body feels in a space, it’s a relaxed yet alert state.  With hypnosis, my thoughts are being slowly wrapped around a singular concept.  With meditation, I don’t cycle on a thought, I only have to rein myself in sometimes to not lose focus on the state.  It’s quiet, slow, my mind feels more expansive.  With hypnosis, my mind is repeating.  It’s rapid, any words it is throwing are the words given me by the hypnotist.  I’m relaxed, but there’s a quiet franticness in terms of making sure that the only thoughts I have are the thoughts I am allowed to have.  So, that is why I feel the self/other barrier is stronger in hypnosis and weaker in meditation.

The second thing is that meditation is an agency increasing state, and hypnosis is an agency decreasing state.  With meditation, you are firmly placing your locus of control within yourself.  While your state is open acceptance of the stimuli around you or of the things your body naturally does or even thought processes, there’s a sense of also deciding how you want to feel about it.  It’s an active open acceptance, not a passive open acceptance.  You are making the choice to accept what is, rather than let your mind autopilot to the narrative level.  Hypnosis is an agency decreasing state, which is a bit paradoxical because of how complicit you are in your own chance.  You are, however, fundamentally surrendering power.  You are openly accepting only what you are told to accept.  Your locus of control is external.  In a way, that’s the entire point.  “It’s ok to act this way because I’ve been told it’s ok.”  You are not accepting responsibility for the suggestions you accept, you are accepting the power of the other person’s words over you; even that acceptance is somewhat coerced.  Ericksonian hypnosis in particular uses misdirection and confusion a lot to maintain compliance and trance.  From start to finish, you are putting yourself in a place where you do not have agency.  Both of these are very, very valuable tools to have.  Agency often seems like the most important thing to exercise and create, but I personally feel it is important to balance between agency and lack of agency, to accept how both these things feel and the tension is not “I do not have agency when I want it” but “The wisdom of yielding agency and taking agency.”  I’ll explore this more in a future post because I  don’t think I can do the concept credit as an aside.

The third fundamental difference I notice is that meditation is a reality based state and hypnosis is a fantasy based state.  I will freely admit my assessment of the latter as fantasy based is partially related to the fact that my experiences have been mostly with Ericksonian hypnosis as well as using hypnosis in an erotic context.  Regardless of that caveat, even inductions are fantastical though, for me.  Hypnotizing me is about engaging my senses and making me visualize within my head.  Taking me down into places that aren’t real.  Telling me a story that isn’t real, but influences my behavior.  Taking me into a ritual space where it is ok to behave a certain way…but not a space that corresponds to my perception of reality.  It’s an extremely high imagination exercise, focused entirely on mind and framing.  Meditation is about connecting with the world around me, examining extant phenomena and reframing what is there in a focused, new light.  The state of open acceptance of what is.  I feel connected because I’ve decided to be mindful of where my body and senses are in relation to the world around me.

The way I’ve been casting things makes meditation seem like a superior state but that is not at all the intent of this essay.  The point is more to focus on what you are trying to do.  Connection is incredibly important but so is the ability to fantasize and curate your mental spaces.  Meditation is a good way to open your filter, to unfocus and appreciate the things that exist around you and possibly even lower your hedonic threshold so you don’t overdo the hedonic treadmill.  It makes novel experience much easier to attain and it frees you from the imprisonment selfness imposes on you sometimes.  It allows you to be a different way and overall, most importantly, to connect.  I have said connection a lot in this post without really exploring what that means; unfortunately, it’s difficult to capture the enormity and importance of being connected and in the world.  Briefly, a lot of bad emotional states tend to really set in through cycling.  It’s not just “I am sad right now,” it’s “I am sad right now, and I am sad because of this, this, and this, so now I’m sadder, now I want to do less things, I guess I better sit here and stare into space.  Ok, now I’m even sadder, I wish I weren’t such a sad, pathetic person.  I can’t possibly be with people like this, or even go out.  I’m just too sad.  I’m sadder now because I don’t DO anything.”  It continues like that.  Perhaps I am typical minding, but connection is the key to breaking that cycle.  Once you start isolating, your perception twists and self reinforces. 

Hypnosis binding you within your self is not intrinsically bad though.  I think part of the check on it is the fact you are very, very tightly bound to another person for at time, so you have a “spotter,” so to speak.  I think it’s also very helpful for making a mind more habitable.  Sometimes it isn’t possible to connect with others, so the hypnotic state allows you to create and landscape your mind.  You can clear out some of the clutter, create new routines and exist in safer places where cycling isn’t permitted.  Hypnosis allows you to execute new automatic subroutines when you don’t have the energy or emotional state to bring yourself into the world.  It’s a reset state, as opposed to an outreach state.  This is also very important.

In the end, both hypnosis and meditation have important roles in mental development and interaction with the world.  I don’t know how other people experience these states and would be really happy if people shared their experiences with meditation, hypnosis, or both so I have a check on my intuitive flight and more information to work with while exploring these concepts.

On Self, Time, and Space

(Epistemic status:  Completely ignores physical realities and also physics; mostly a framing device but also speculation)

There is a concept I have been trying to taste lately, that “Perception is everything, nothing is real.”  I can see some discrete steps on this path of varying levels of attainability.  This essay will first go over perception of time, perception of space, and possible effects of altering the perceptions of these things.

There’s a feeling I have sometimes, a sensation that I am drifting towards actions my future self would take, or perhaps having a strong feeling about the course of events, with specific milestones built up by models of previous experience.  This plays into a narrative I have about mental states and time being looser than the external expression of time as a thing.  I feel like I can go further with this, in a sense, and reject the concept of linear time in the sense of the self entirely.  This ties a bit into Timeless Decision Theory where if you are the kind of person who does X now, you are the kind of person who will do X in the future.  The concept which I feel expands on this is that if you are the kind of person who does X in the future and you can model that self, you have all the ingredients necessary to become that person now.  This doesn’t actually follow in a strict logical fashion from the above but it does follow intuitively.  As such, I posit the following:  Any predictable, modelable future self can be your current self, regardless of what time you are currently experiencing.

This is the weakest form of uncoupling perception from time and within reason for someone with sufficient cognitoflexibility and mindfulness.  What it comes down to is that, even if you can’t physically be the person you will be six months from now, a year from now, five years from now, your model likely includes the (hopefully desirable) habits that they have developed to become that person, and you can be absorbed into those habits.  I think it is also possible to slip into a past self to benefit from a certain state of mind and impose it on your current situation.  That’s probably even more trivial than modeling a proper future self.  In the end, though this entire concept is a framing device.

The next question, however, is what if it doesn’t just have to be a framing device.  While you might be able to gain the habits of a future self, you can’t gain their memories, the privileged information gained by experiencing linearly.  I think the natural next step in breaking time perception is being able to simulate those memories in high fidelity.  I personally think that would be rather difficult, so another approach would be to put yourself in a situation where all your memories for the foreseeable time frame that you want to skip towards are predictable to a high degree of accuracy.  Perhaps others have more fun ideas about this but to create such a static reality would probably require a high degree of isolation, routine, and minimal interaction with novelty.  This begins to sound similar to pop culture depictions of monastic, Spartan lifestyles.  I suspect that at a certain meditative, routine level, time starts to slip backwards and forwards and the self one is experiencing isn’t always clearly in a given time frame.  Unfortunately, for the purposes of someone who would like to gain something practical from temporal fluidity, this is not really a particularly practical approach (though I will note that someone in such an existence likely has a perspective that is getting value, likely spiritual, from this experience.)  At this level of perceptual disconnect, there seem to be dangers from such a high level of isolation.  Even if one, perhaps, has a virtual reality machine that can compress years of predicted experience into a short time frame and then one goes out and has these experiences, the way one views reality is so distorted that it becomes increasingly impossible to model accurately.  I don’t know what steps are between the weak form of temporal fluidity and this ultimate form of temporal fluidity.

Another thing I am considering is the possibility of uncoupling one’s perception from space.  The weak form of this would be vividly withdrawing from liminal spaces.  If you don’t experience a train ride, then you’ve effectively teleported from one place to another.  If you’ve also broken time perception, you didn’t even spend any time doing this.  Perhaps observers state that time and space did pass, and you moved through them, but can it said to be true?  I feel like there’s a sufficiently broken mental framework that would allow someone to feel as if having the ability to get to someplace means they’re already there if they want to be.  If that narrative gains power and observers can be convinced that this is what is happening, it seems like it becomes an exceptionally strong, higher level interaction with the world.  This is…a very difficult concept for me to approach because temporal fluidity is not that hard for me to model, as time is mostly a construct.  Spatial fluidity seems absolutely insane though, and I can’t begin to model that.  I think the key once again falls to avoiding observers.  The image of masterful spatial fluidity I have is someone more or less catatonic in a bare room, unobserved, wherever they want to be.  Combined with temporal fluidity, I feel as if this person is either in a lotus eater machine of their own making or they have cracked reality in such a way that they are subtly interacting with it in more or less impossible ways.

The above is more or less incoherent.  These aren’t concepts I have words for and I think attempting to follow these conceptual spaces to their natural conclusion is likely to lead to high levels of dissociation, psychosis, and self-imprisonment.  I begin to understand why the concept of the lotus-eater machine exists as a danger of only partial detachment from reality and why the rejection of desire is also an important part of Buddhist belief (…I think, please feel free to call me on that because I don’t really have direct exposure to those systems.)  The concept of the power inherent to not experiencing time or space is the sort of thing that would lead one to generate vivid fantasies of potency while being completely impotent and wasting away.  To not experience time and space and not have any desire to…use that experience to an end seems inherent to a strange sort of peace.  My conclusion is that experiments in this direction cannot be undergone safely without a more detached self in the first place and I think I will stop at the framing device level of this concept.  If other people have experience with or intuitions about temporal or spatial fluidity, please tell me about it.

On The Oracle State

(Epistemic Status:  Mad ravings.  Experiential experimentation.  Narrative.  Cw:  Taking mysticism too seriously as a brainhacking tool.)

The point of this post is to go over my mental state over the past couple weeks and offer some guidelines because it’s fun.  Also, people probably have other schemas very similar to this with different words, and I want to hear about them.

You may have recognized the concept of The Oracle from my short fiction that I haven’t really developed further.  It’s a useful shorthand for me in real life to define the state where I can write those stories, or at least see the concepts.  Narrative is valuable both for casual enjoyment, and as a framing device.  This post is about the framing device use of narrative.

I’ve developed The Oracle into a more full fledged state of consciousness as opposed to something out of my control that I get sometimes.  It’s related to but not exactly the thing I refer to when I say I am “sparkly” (which largely seems to mean “I have had modafinil today”).  It’s a space where I have a lot of preverbal intuition and a sense of Right Things.  Largely, The Oracle is dialing up my pattern matching and Sense of Meaningfulness, and lowering my noise filter.  It’s a state where I can believe I have a role in a narrative in terms of guiding principles, and overanalyze synchrinecities.  It also lets me believe my intuition even when I can’t explain the data that is going into it.  To be honest, any after the fact explanations are not necessarily true, just plausible/just so.

Actually getting in this state has become just a mental reflex when the setting seems appropriate, which is largely Not Work Not Home.  I can’t actually explain *how* I open my filter, or discretely raise Meaningfulness.  It’s just something I mentally decide to do, and it happens, and then I get to be the Oracle.

The Oracle state is way easier to use in online interaction because there’s a lot less noise by default, so opening up the filter is less processing intensive, and because there’s back reference.  I can cycle the same data more and more just while waiting for the next response.  In real life, a Right Thing is more likely to express as an impulsive action, rather than a profound insight.  Online it’s more how I figure out how someone is feeling or what they want.  It gives me new paths that aren’t obvious, in terms of the conversation.

The Oracle state makes me much more artistic and novelty seeking.  I feel more creative, able to write, I see more stories, I feel a much stronger draw to unused doors, or trying something I haven’t before.  I feel much freer, and more confident in that freedom.  It lacks the tentativeness that marks my analytical normal.  In a more practical sense, I am more consciously existing with my 5 senses and attempting to record these things.  I’m creating rituals to attempt to increase the novelty and retention in my life (these will be in another post).  I am using narrative to frame things and seeing where it leads (this is actually very tough to practice in the moment and I need to pin this down as a more concrete maneuver).  I am following through on impulses without thinking about them too much.

Another aspect of the Oracle state is glimpsing the future.  More precisely, believing the glimpses of the future.  It happens far more rarely.  Sometimes I’ll have an idea of how a relationship will go.  Sometimes it’s a simple scene that will come true acausally.  Sometimes it’s not meant to be a certain future, but the path lit by possibly taking an action.  It’s obviously just the basic modeling the future in the subjunctive that most people do, but the Oracle state lends it power, which may or may not be useful.  The annoying thing about this is when it happens, I usually want to make the future now because there’s a sense of “This has already happened, it’s just in the future a little bit, so why not get the payoff now”.  This is clearly maladaptive, and part of why I say I move fast when I should move slow, and move slow when I should move fast.  The latter is more referencing my default analytical state, where I will hesitate to take any action.  Overall, it feels like touching acausality and I want to develop it more if it actually predicts true things.

The drawback to the Oracle state is it is not grounded in reality.  Symbols are recursive, only having symbolic meanings.  Pinning things to rational things makes them less real or meaningful, and makes possibly useful insight less valuable.  This means there’s no real sanity check for telling wheat from chaff in terms of actionable life changes or viewpoints.  It’s all this mystical, convoluted perception that creates a whole new world and terminology for things to imbue them with Specialness.  The detachment from rationality also leads to reduced self control.  When the world you live in is wondrous, the drabness of the world you work in is much more pronounced.

I intend to continue posting my experiences as the Oracle, sometimes in fiction like Ignore This, sometimes in analytical posts like this. I will tag them mad ravings, and set that epistemic status when I discuss this space.  I invite questions about the Oracle.  I’m going to be trying to notate Right Things and the glimpses of the future I get to see how accurately predictive my Oracle state is.  The first step was trusting the intuition, now I need to hold it accountable to make sure this is a useful conscious state besides the “I feel really good and in tune with things” way.

On Going Out For Coffee

(Epistemic status:  Trivial, anecodotal, possibly important/helpful if social intuitions are hard)

The purpose of this post is exploring a social tool and providing a possible explanation for why it works.  It is also to ask for advice on some aspects I am less talented at using well.  Lastly, it is an attempt to increase the memetic fitness of this tool so that more people do it.  That is a fancy way of saying invite me to coffee if you’re in Boston and/or I’m in your area.

So, there’s a trope in fiction, where if you are romantically interested in someone, you ask them out for coffee.  There are a lot of good reasons for this.  Coffee is a very low investment date, both monetarily and time wise.  It also leaves room for escalation, i.e. “Well, that was good, I’m a little hungry now, want to go to the restaurant place?”  It also allows for easy disengagement “Well, we’ve been here a bit, we should probably go…I have something after this, but good seeing you!”  So, it’s testing the waters in a nice way that allows for guess culture style gentle exits.

I personally am not a huge fan of the guess culture exit strategy, but I know I use it.  Sometimes I even escalate and then…stop.  Because being honest is scary in the moment, especially in the real world.  I’m hypocritical in that I prefer honesty, but rarely offer it (for unpleasant things, for pleasant things I am sincere.  If I say I like you, I mean it.  If I’m not really giving you an idea of my valence towards you, then I’m probably neutral or negative towards you).  I think I need to improve on this trait, but I still would prefer to spare feelings, because how people feel is important.  So is honesty and time allocation.  I don’t know how to solve this and would love advice, with the requirements being:  Is gentle on feelings, signals to the other person that they would be better of allocating their time on not me, and is honest in such a way that a person can get actionable feedback if they ask it, assuming I am able to provide it.  I’d rather not just be like “Well, I’m not really up for hanging out, sorry.” and then give them nothing to work with. 

The other aspect of inviting someone out to coffee I want to explore is the romantic valence.  I think this valence is unfortunate and limiting.  I want to invite all my friends out to coffee because I often find myself with not a lot of time, so it’s useful to have a low cost option like this.  As such, a thing I have been actively doing is inviting people, especially new friends, to coffee one on one (or sometimes small groups).  So far, this has been extremely successful and I feel like I’ve gotten a better feel for people and gotten good ideas from a different perspective, all fostered by the lowkey environment and luxury a good coffee shop provides.  It’s also been nice to be able to escalate to “Let’s walk” when I want to continue an idea thread or even just continue talking.

Related to this, coffee outings are a deepener that doesn’t require high logistical effort.  You meet a lot of people online, at parties, at conferences, all over.  And most of the time, you have that one, maybe two meetings, and they leave your life.  Sometimes you keep it going a little longer by talking online, but eventually that loses it’s novelty.  Online interaction also has an overdisclosure problem.  It often encourages oversharing and going deep into things that you normally wouldn’t, especially in reality, so you have a lot of deep interaction, some surface interaction, but none of the middle interaction that forms the core of a relationship. 

The coffee outing is a tool to resolve this, and one I am both optimistic an enthusiastic about, because it deepens friendships in an indefinable way, allowing you to fill in that middle ground that is so often neglected.  That place where, sure, you’re not sharing your deepest fears or most embarrassing desires, but you are creating a special kind of flow of spontaneity and lowkey interaction that is about something other than work, school, or the weather. 

In summary, the advantages of a coffee outing are:  Low time cost, low monetary cost, a very open end that allows for a lot of control over the direction of the relationship, both that day and overall, and filling in the middle ground of friendships.  The disadvantages are the valence possibly being romantic when you don’t wish this, and the tendency towards guess culture games.  Please feel free to tell me other advantages and disadvantages you observe, and/or your anecdotal experiences