On The Lotus Eater Trap

(Epistemic status: Adjacent to the introspection illusion/may just be restating it; actual issue my neurotype experiences; practical advice)

In the Odyssey, we are told of how Odysseus finds himself and his men blown off course to the shores of a land with benign inhabitants. These islanders share food from the lotus plan with Odysseus and his men. This food was incredibly delicious…so delicious that some of his men did not want to leave the island. This part of the tale concludes with Odysseus forcing the afflicted men back onto the ship, over their strenuous protests.

I’m going to tell you of one of the risks associated with mindhacking. As you might have guessed, I call it the lotus eater trap. In the past, meaning and action were often directly tied together for humans. You either fulfilled your place, your role in life…or you broke tradition and suffered for something Important. There’s a lot more there but the main point here is you used your body to do things, a thing happened, your mind rewards you for having caused a thing.

So, let’s skip to the modern era. A lot of meaning is a mental feedback loop. Think, do something through your magic focus, think some more. Our access to our reward button is a bit more direct. To further complicate things, introspection is carelessly touted as a life improvement tool without limit. Worse still, some people get very good at introspection without realizing the addictive potential. Overall, it tends to improve outcomes right up until they forget the entire reason they took it up in the first place.

Now, the reason it’s easy to lose your way is because introspective exercises generally feel good and/or meaningful. In particular, you generally find a lot of personal insights, repeatedly. It’s very easy to have this incredible sense of progress, of problem solving…without testing any of it outside your mind’s eye. Soon, it becomes habit and you spend less and less time in the real world. Eventually, you don’t really care about reality; you sacrifice everything to a religion of your mind. This is the lotus eater trap: creating such an amazing mental world that you are apathetic about impacting the external world with your “wisdom”.

My best advice for avoiding the lotus eater trap is simple. Embodying and testing. Embodying, as in occasionally spend time being a body; it reminds you that there is splendor outside of your mind. Testing, as in running your ontology into another mind and iterate it. Try to be predictive of what a belief does for you and for others. If you’re already too far gone to find your way back to Odysseus’ ship, then I hope you have a good friend to drag you back even if you cry and wail.

Discussion: Have you ever felt introspective meaning? Have your introspections ever truly changed your life? Have you ever seen people fall into the lotus eater trap?


5 thoughts on “On The Lotus Eater Trap

  1. Have the three most coherent thoughts I could pull out out of my emotional response to this.

    I feel like I could possibly be stuck in a loop like this; it just feels like being content in what life is now. That feels like the same failure mode; where one must trade off between happiness and effective striving. I’m not sure what the appropriate trade-off to be made there is. It probably requires serious thought about what ones actual objectives are.

    This seems to tap into the constant lesson that people want to say; that good things are intrinsically hard and painful, so if someone is happy, they must not be doing a good thing. This seems like a decent heuristic, but a terrible absolute law.

    I feel the simplest way to put your argument is “Stop thinking introspection is a end, and think of it as means – if you aren’t using it to get stuff done, you’re basically engaging in mental masturbation”. Is there more to it than that?


    1. To be honest, I think that’s a fairly good summary. I don’t think that good things are intrinsically hard and painful, but I do think that “Insight of the Week” behavior tends to lead people down really abstract paths that end up not leading anywhere useful.


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