On Space and Spirit

(Epistemic Status: Endorsed, but kind of difficult to apply – if your brain works at all like mine, doing something intentionally to break a down frame will often just cause the down to spread)

I’m going to ask you to do something. When I have completed these instructions, you will stop reading this post for 5 minutes.

For the first minute – consider your mood – are you feeling good, bad, indifferent? Don’t make a value judgment of your emotions, just…feel them, acknowledge them.

For the second minute – I want you to get up, stretch for a bit. Do wrist circles, ankle circles, shoulder circles – or perhaps another stretch that appeals to you. While you are doing this, consider how much space you take up; think about what is around you, what you are avoiding with your stretches. Maybe you can’t lean all the way over because you would bump into your desk, or you can’t stretch your arm all the way out because there is a wall. Notice these things, consider them – see your space with fresh eyes as you move in it.

For the third minute – I want you to move to another part of your room. Explore it, become in tune with how it looks, how it sounds, how it smells…touch it a little. I won’t ask you to taste the space, that might be weird.

For the fourth minute – consider how you feel again – has your mood changed? See how your relationship with your mood and your space has shifted.

For the fifth minute – leave your space entirely. Go on a walk – focus on the sensation of walking. It doesn’t strictly have to be one minute, but go for an amount of time that feels like a minute to you. When you come back, before you sit down, consider how you feel one last time.

Do this ritual now.

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Does it feel the same way as when you started, or do you feel differently? How did this ritual affect how you felt? What went through your mind as you changed your space – first a short distance change, and then a longer distance change? Did you find the flow of your thoughts changing?

 

There’s a phenomenon where we store some of our memory and processing in the space we are in. You perhaps have noticed that having a conversation while walking is a little more disconnected, or perhaps that when you shift spaces, it’s difficult to recall the previous threads of conversation; you might even need to completely restart conversational flow. Less obvious, however, is the fact that mood is often influenced by space – I often find that my mood can vary wildly based on where I am…and often I will come up with completely unrelated reasons as to why I feel worse or better. When I am at home on my computer, I often require significantly more activation energy to do important tasks – my room isn’t exactly good mood place for me because it often means I failed to make plans for the night, so I often feel a little worse than usual without being sure why, taking a little bit to rediscover that I do in fact have really high social needs. In a coffee shop, particularly ones I frequent, I often feel more conversationally witty, creative, and capable – I’m fun to be around and feel conversational flow keenly. I often also feel very happy and up, things feel very real. When I am at work, I often feel…dull, drained. It’s not exactly sadness, it’s a lack of spark. Being at my desk often causes me to ruminate more and be more sensitive to the status structure of the office, in ways that are not beneficial to me. However, when I note these things, I often can alter my mood by moving to a different space, at least briefly. When I change my space, I change my spirits.

The drawback of this approach is that you aren’t always in situations where you can change your space freely – considering it this way in a situation where you are already down may actually make the effect (and the affect) stronger if you cannot get out of it. Another drawback is that, at least for me, knowing I am doing something for the sake of altering how I feel can sometimes spread that feeling to wherever I go – the relationship between mood and space is not one way. Still, if one is able to move to a new place, it is usually easier to use a distraction to shift frames due to not having the weight of spatial context adding to mood management difficulties.

Overall, space is an easy to ignore aspect of mental motion, especially in today’s world where most of our focus is monopolized digitally, where space is less real. While space impacts mood and memory, it also impacts a variety of other things in ways that can sometimes be difficult to understand – a lot of self help focuses on this aspect because it is so easy to neglect. While self care often focuses on things like food, drink, and medication, I think it is also important to consider the trends of how you relate to space and how you can use these to improve your life.

Discussion questions: How has your use of space impacted your mood? Are there spaces that are “good” for you? What about “bad” for you? Do you think you can change the valence of a space through applied mindfulness? Did the ritual have any effect on how you related to the space you are reading this from?

On Saying Things That Are Wrong

(Epistemic – semi-endorsed, switching back to being truth-aligned has done gross things to my spark; dangerous technology – very close to actually drinking the Kool-aid and should probably be used judiciously; also probably dark arts)

I.

A long time ago, two factions were fighting over a territory. It was an island with a valuable canal – whichever faction held the canal had rights to the toll generated by this canal. After many a year of incessant fighting, these two factions settled on agreeing to have a war every four years and ceding the canal to the winner of that war, until next time. Now, while this was often better for all involved, the victorious faction from the previous war would often have a lot of trouble raising an army to defend their claim to the tolls for the next war. Often, the winning side would have to tell their members things that were verifiably wrong, or at least technically not correct. Sometimes it would be overstating the benefits from the tolls, or perhaps threats of famine from losing the toll income – other times it would be a more direct attack on the other faction, claiming that they would not stop at winning the war, but try to expand their claims if they won this time. Occasionally a particularly notable or odious member of the other faction would come to the attention of the victorious faction and be gratuitously scapegoated for the sake of raising numbers. Most of the times, the faction members would either not realize these things were untrue, or they would, and allow these inaccuracies to pass – they knew that the canal was a big part of their quality of life. Sometimes, however, a benign but somewhat clueless individual would try to correct the story, or clarify the statements that were wrong. It turned out this was unpopular, and this individual would be lowered in status, trusted less, and often overrun by authorities in the faction. It turns out that things that are wrong are actually a staple of human interaction, organization, and status.

II.

Several things are going on in this story. We will begin with the most boring aspect – the people who are saying/believing things that are wrong, installing it in their own memeplex. These are the other faction members playing along. Often facts have nuance, but this is less important than the sense of ingroupness and protection of resources. This has been written about many a time – a lot of people favor the status quo over the most accurate facts. Slightly more interestingly, the wrong belief does benefit the faction’s populace – they get their army, probably even joining themselves. The canal gets a proper defense – more of the populace is likely to live as well even if they are involved in the fighting, because they have both increased numbers and a stronger sense of trust for each other. The faction army doesn’t really want the clueless person at their back – if they don’t get what’s going on, how can they be trusted to be situationally aware on the field? Worse still, what if this attack on social cohesion is intentional, under the veil of just wanting the facts? It’s too dangerous to leave this sort of thing unchecked, so it has to be punished. Believing wrong things often has protective functions and can draw out additional internal and external reserves.

A less ingroup dynamic case of this is the concept of chaos magick – often it is layering a narrative of ritual over various desires and actions to add associations, triggers, and draw out extra reserves. These beliefs may also be wrong, but often pay dividends in outcomes.

III.

The more interesting part of this story is the clueless individual. She’s not all that clueless, actually – she sees what’s going on and has decided to reject it. However, she can do better than that. She already has the requisite skills, but she needs to frame them differently. The faction likely has a lot of people just nodding along, with very little to add. They hear about Odious Oliveri of the Other Faction and basically provide a chorus of “Fuck that guy”s. Our clueless individual might say “There were mitigating circumstances though, Odious Oliveri actually isn’t that bad, Pathetic Phillio is actually way worse, why does he get a pass because he’s on our side?” Predictably, she gets shunned and punished. Instead, she might consider approaching it like this “Odious Oliveri truly is horrible, failing to cross the road at the designated crossing and inconveniencing the carriages in a most odious way – what you might not have heard is that this fiend Oliveri has also been shaving the yaks in the common –“ A pause for effect “And blaming our absentminded scholar, Phillio, for it!” What this accomplishes is twofold – it increases the memetic strength of the claims made by the faction authorities, as well as signals to them that our not-so-clueless friend is both in on the story and willing to play ball.

To bring this more abstract, if an authority is telling you a story and you feel compelled to truth, you should consider how to turn this to your advantage. If you just state facts that break up their narrative, you are either malevolently or bumblingly attacking them socially – they have to assume you have intent and punish you accordingly. The right answer is to support the authority’s narrative, but in ways that signal you understand that it is a narrative. Don’t just agree – either reinforce in a broad sense, or even identify someone who is hesitating on accepting the story and restate the point in a way that gets that person on board. The more you do this, the more you increase trust; not just into your insight, but also into your judgment. If you can identify and accept wrong things, then you can convert this into status.

 

IV.

The most interesting part of this dynamic is the authority themselves. The not-so-clueless version of our heroine is very much a precursor to an authority in the structure – the authorities themselves are a little more difficult to class, however. In some cases, they will in fact be very much in on what’s going on and intentionally propagating it. They are the ones that see this as a problem of “we need an army for the canal defense war – how can we get the public on board.” Perhaps in modern times, this is the person saying “We need to increase our sales – how do we get our line on board.” They are crafting the narrative intentionally – they likely are buying it a little. This authority is a bit of a blend between the average faction member and our heroine; their status depends on the belief being accepted.

The other kind of authority is one who truly believes the stories and has the rhetoric to fire up the populace in this vein. They have no special insight, but their conviction is compelling beyond words. They are not just saying “yeah, fuck that guy”, they are going to Odious Oliveri’s house and painting it in horse dung on his door. These are the kind of people you use to accelerate a narrative – but doing this is playing with fire. When someone is a true believer, you do not actually have control over their actions or how they will use your story. Frequently, they will go in unexpected directions because it is not about the pragmatic aspects of your faction’s plight, it is almost entirely about ingroup. This part of the story is one side of why this mental technology is dangerous. It can be used to promote your interests, but in the process, you might cause collateral damage if you’re a bit too clever.

V.

Overall, none of these principles are new – there’s a mix of the Gervais Principle, Toxoplasma of Rage, and other assorted writings. What I am pointing at is how all these structures can be utilized to one’s advantage rather than fought – and how they can end up leading to one’s detriment. If you install wrong beliefs personally and don’t compartmentalize properly, you will likely end up with externalities you don’t actually desire (such as joining a faction’s army in a stupid economic war). If you argue against wrong beliefs too strenuously, you will lose status and be impotent. If you go along with the beliefs while angling for promotion, you’ll likely move up – but in turn you might create some monsters who don’t get the joke. Be careful with wrong things…but never dismiss them entirely.

Discussion Questions: Have you ever noticed in an office or a classroom how people react to things that are blatant lies? How does the reaction change when the manager is there and when they are not? Which reactions get encouraged and rewarded, and which ones get punished? How often do you do this to yourself to eke out a little bit more, or to allow for more flexible responses?

On Screen Hypnosis and Awakeners

(Epistemic status: Endorsed af; trying to develop broader uses for this phenomena)

As some of you may know, I am a mediocre hypnotist. A couple months ago, I decided to practice my fundamentals with some basic trance techniques. I refined my induction, I figured out more of the flow of suggestion while the subject was in trance, and I practiced various axes of mental manipulation. The first session for each of my practice subjects was simple – I would install a trigger to bring them into trance, and a trigger to bring them out of trance (an awakener). Often, the approach I would take is compressing the induction into a mental object that can be accessed with the trance trigger word, and then I’d compress the awakener they were about to experience into a mental object that can be accessed – almost a future memory. From there I would wake the subject up.

There is a phenomenon I have noticed as of late – most people when they are out and about, or even with friends, will be extremely intent on their phones. It’s sometimes difficult for them to even hear you, so focused they are on their devices that all other stimuli is filtered out. This can also happen when someone is at home, on their computer, or perhaps playing a video game on a console. I call this phenomena “screen trance.” My model of hypnosis and trance is that of a focus hijack – you are effectively monopolizing someone’s focus on the sound of your voice when you are hypnotizing them. The thing with the pocket watch is another way of achieving a trance because it hijacks the person’s focus to that object. A common test for hypnotic susceptibility is also a focus hijack – you effectively have someone focus on their index fingers after having them arrange them in a position that naturally draws the tips towards each other. The subject focuses on this and you talk them through the process, seeing if they resist drawing their fingers together or if they accelerate the process as you tell them this is happening. The thing all these different approaches have in common is that intent focus on what is being used to hypnotize them. I propose that phones and computers do the same thing – and that this is an actionable framing.

To go back to my story about my practice of hypnosis fundamentals, an interesting thing happened during this time period. One of my subjects, being quite precocious and interested in how this sort of thing worked, used an awakener trigger without being in trance. They were surprised to note that for about 20-30 seconds, they had a spike of energy, alertness, awareness of their surroundings. This was extremely interesting to me, so I tried a couple experiments and noticed that if I used an awakener on a subject who was using their phone, they would be confused for a moment and sometimes task switch to something they had been putting off. The screen trance just completely broke long enough to prevent the device from inhibiting goal accomplishment.

The thing I wonder is if it’s possible to create a process for this that doesn’t strictly require an awakener trigger being installed. I feel like in some ways, some self help things follow this pattern – asking you to count for 30 seconds before getting out of bed or changing your task, to mentally prepare. My suggestion is to do a similar thing to oneself. When you notice that your focus on your screens is getting in the way of your goals, do a 5 count.

5 – I notice that this is not what I want to do, I feel drowsy.

4 – I feel my attention opening, I can see the things around me

3 – my eyes are opening, I’m looking around, I will stretch

2 – I feel more awake, I can get up from my current position

1 – I can move, feeling awake, refreshed, and able to do what I want to do

0 – I am awake, aware, and not in trance.

It might need to be tweaked for different neurotypes – hypnosis is often individual and this sort of anti-hypnosis is the same way. Still, if you do find yourself spending too much time mindlessly scrolling tumblr or playing too many video games, it might be worth a shot.

Discussion Questions – Have you ever been hypnotized? If so, does it feel anything like screen trance? Have you ever noticed a sense of drowsiness when you have gotten up from staring at your computer for awhile? If you decide to try the awakener I’ve provided, how well did it work?

On Emotional Armor

(Epistemic status: Endorsed, involves frames, may be a weird bipolar thing)

In day to day life, things often go well, poorly, or unnotably. At least, they largely feel that way – in reality, such as it is, everything is a neutral event; it just is. As such, the real factor in a good day or a bad day is the perception wetware behind your eyes – how you frame events mentally. This is not to say you have control over it, most of our mental subroutines run too fast to do that. However, there is a useful thing I have noticed in relation to how we interact with our affect – the concept of emotional armor. This is adjacent to, but not the same concept as Slack (https://www.lesserwrong.com/posts/yLLkWMDbC9ZNKbjDG/slack is a post about the initial Facebook post; the idea as far as I can tell is Brent Dill’s.) Slack involves external and internal components – emotional armor is the internal only part. Emotional armor is how much bullshit you can take before you are vulnerable and emotionally high variance.

Emotional armor is a form of composure that relies on frame agility, how quickly you spin the valence of an event. Let us suppose the train is late and you will not make it to work on time – it’s easy to become upset and start being more annoyed by other things you might have taken in stride. Maybe you’re more annoyed at the beggar in the terminal. Maybe you’re sick of waiting for the old man to get his walker through the doors. Maybe you’re shoving through people with much less regard than usual – you let things get worse because you’re already taking emotional damage from an unprotected vector. You have framed things as Bad. Emotional armor is the ability to see the train delayed, give a hapless shrug, commiserate about the transit service with the old man next to you, who you patiently helped onto the train because you weren’t fussed and still maintain a pleasant morning despite the stress. While none of the external events really changed, the way you related to them did. Emotional armor often increases your opportunities to Choose Otherwise.

How much emotional armor you have going into a day can vary wildly based on physical, mental, and baseline factors. The type of person you are generally places the range on your emotional armor capacity. How well rested and fed you are, how balanced your nutrients are, whether you’ve had medication or not, all these things can also affect your emotional armor. Mentally, how much is already on your mind can increase or decrease emotional armor – to elaborate, I find that the more of my processing is tied up, the further my emotional armor decreases at a surprisingly rapid pace. Even if the thing taking my processing isn’t Bad, it’s the fact that I lack the extra room to engage in frame agility that decreases this value. Having had positive experiences or fulfilling interactions can often increase emotional armor – so can the anticipation of such things.

Overall, emotional armor is the kind of thing that seems difficult to hack in unusual ways – doing basic self care is the most consistent way to increase it. Emotional armor also isn’t a cure for bad situations – it often can internally improve your life and leave you more open to alternatives, but it’s not going to prevent you from getting fired if you’re one late train away from termination, no matter how good you feel about the moderate delays in service (however, it might make getting the termination news easier to weather and increase recovery time for finding another job.)   The biggest benefit to having emotional armor as a concept is the possibility of using it to break downcycles and “put the emotional armor back on” to restore a certain presence of mind.

Discussion: How has emotional armor improved your relation to events in your life? Have you experienced the sensation of knowing something “should” be bad but having been sufficiently insulated that it surprises you? How do you personally increase your emotional armor levels?