On The Year In Review

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changelog:

  • Added link to On the College Application Process

 

On The Gift of Narrative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On The Nature of Hypnosis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Cognitive Credit Lines

(Epistemic Status: Speculative, leaning towards endorsed – it’s a model more than something actionable)

When you take out a credit line, you provide yourself with a lot of liquid capital.  This capital must be paid back, but generally resources now are more useful than resources later – present resources create significant flexibility and ability to respond to trends appropriately.   Present resources also allow you to make more bets at the same time – while the point is obviously maximizing your future resources, present resources are better than any future valuation.  This is a very long winded way of saying it takes money to make money.  My proposal is less catchy – it takes mental resources to make mental resources.

I feel as if we have a cognitive credit line of sorts in terms of how we live our lives.  The things that draw on this resource tend to include baseline mental management (reducing or maintaining your prickliness, controlling your narrative), ongoing projects, upcoming commitments, and marginal activities.  What is left is what you have to deal with unexpected events or crises (this is Slack).  It is much easier to do things when you have a fairly high cognitive credit limit and aren’t using too much of it.  It’s a lightness that lends itself to being able to allocate additional resources to all of your projects, or weather a crisis with equanimity.  Unfortunately, it is very easy to notice this lightness and be a cognitive spendthrift – taking on too many commitments, keeping too many ongoing projects in memory, or trying too many new mindhacks.  You get heavy very, very quickly and suddenly anything that seemed like a minor annoyance before becomes almost a full blown crisis – you’ve run out of cognitive credit and have to make costly choices to maintain any executive function; you also often start finding your cognitive credit ceiling lowers over time as you overspend and have difficulty paying off the cognitive debts.

Now, so far, this sounds less like a credit line and more a pool of resources – the reason I call it cognitive credit, however, is that there’s some level of elasticity as well as interest payments.  Cognitive interest payments are simple – as you hold onto a project for a longer time, especially if you are having trouble making headway, it starts costing you more cognitively.  Your thoughts start shaping more around this mental object – that’s your interest payment.  The more things you commit to, the more mental overhead they take up as you think about how busy you are or perhaps how much you dread an upcoming party or meeting – that’s your interest payment.  Mental management is a little different – in a way it’s just a fixed cost; that said, making changes to mental architecture does often impose increased ongoing balance until it becomes baseline, and that increased cost is part interest, part principle.

The elasticity of the cognitive credit line is more interesting – when you complete a project successfully or manage to clear a commitment from your stack, you frequently get a minor (or sometimes major) boost in cognitive credit.  Not only have you paid off your cognitive debt, but a success often increases the ceiling for cognitive expenditure – you can spend more resources because you have a memory of having succeeded.  Part of this is compression, but another part is the fact that the cognitive expenditure was an investment with positive yield, justifying a belief in going further.  On the flip side, failures often damage your cognitive credit line, sometimes permanently. It becomes much harder to start new projects or make new commitments when you’ve failed recently, or had to take a project off the stack because you couldn’t afford the upkeep or interest payments – this is a risk of running your cognitive credit line to the limit.  Your cognitive bank doesn’t trust that it’s worth the extra expenditure to extend you further credit.  Depending on how lasting the effect is, this is often how success spirals and failure spirals work – it’s a cognitive credit problem.

Maxing out the cognitive credit line is generally a really bad idea.  The costs of ongoing draws often increase over time unless you are able to pay off some of the principle. Further, you’re left with less room for crisis management.  Worse still, you often start cutting mental management unless you are free to drop an ongoing project – so your tradeoff is either handle your prickliness worse, which increases stress, which imposes additional future costs, or you drop a project early, get your credit line reduced by a sense of failure, and have to rebuild cognitive resources to handle future issues.  Much like how managing your credit score can involve not using more than 30% of your available credit, you should likely not exceed 40%-60% of your available cognitive credit (this is a guess, this is likely high variance based on neurotype).

There are several ways to gain additional cognitive credit – as mentioned before, success at a venture funded through cognitive credit will often increase the limit, at least for a little bit.  Medication (usually stimulants for a general increase, though often specific medications treating various conditions will increase cognitive credit purely by lowering the mental management draw on the resource) is often used, as is self care, and various weirder mindhacks.  Medication and mindhacks are often the highest variance, risks in their own right in terms of managing your cognitive credit line.

Overall, the cognitive credit line is one model of many for managing mental overhead and optimizing productivity – I’m unsure how much of this is actionable, but I find it’s a helpful model when I’m very down on how well I’m keeping up with my life.  It allows me to go from “I am an idiot who never should have thought she was capable of anything” to “I think I might be overdrawing my cognitive credit line and should consider if I can complete or drop any projects.”  This model does have some similarity to spoon theory, though rather than being on a day by day basis, this is more longitudinal cognitive overhead and how costs of ongoing projects can increase.  I think it’s worth playing with and improving and exploring extensions to see if actionable moves can be made within this model.

Discussion questions: How well does the cognitive credit line concept resonate with you? If it resonates, how often have you found yourself overdrawn and how did you handle it? How capable are you of managing your cognitive expenditures? If this doesn’t resonate, what seems to fall short? Are there any parts that seem incomplete or absolutely wrong? How do you model your longitudinal resource management?

On Space and Simulation

(Epistemic status: Endorsed – basically a reframing of more traditional advice)

In certain communities, I often notice a tendency to frame tasks, thoughts, and ideas as objects. It seems working memory is frequently related to in this way, to explain how being able to hold more of these mental objects can lead to exponential increases in intellectual output, productivity, and ability to do things. This resonates with me – how much you can keep track of generally relates to how high your executive function is. When you start running out of room for objects, your ability to do things starts breaking down – things get dropped when other things are added, the concept of adding things feels more stressful, and general ability to work through problems that might have been easy on a clean slate seem almost impossible. I propose that there is a simple way to free up some mental objects as long as you are willing to accept some upfront costs – as your parents might have told you when you were younger, clean your room.

The mind often fills in gaps between spaces since you can only look at one thing at a time – what you are seeing in a given moment is often a reconstruction of things you saw fractions of a second ago. Your eyes are constantly scanning your entire view to give a complete picture so as not to leave confusing, attention draining gaps in your perception. In a way, what you are seeing in a given moment is a mental object; the size of that object can vary by the complexity, novelty, and frequency of that vision. Closing your eyes doesn’t necessarily help – you are still rendering everything so that you don’t collide with things or lose track of something that might be important. The brain doesn’t really turn off this in-the-moment simulation. My proposal is that having a cluttered, messy space increases the complexity of the vision your brain is storing in memory, and thusly increasing the size of the mental object that is the space you are in. When you open a space up and remove obstacles, the mind is doing a lot less background processing – with less complexity, there are less threat vectors. Additionally, there are less discrete objects to visualize in general, meaning less mental work in terms of processing shapes, colors, depth, etc. Cleaning your room cleans your mind of background noise that might get in the way of processing.

I will note, however, that I don’t have strong scientific backing for these claims. Anecdotally, I found my affect in my room changed a bit for the better when it was cleaner – I felt like I could think better and that I wasn’t getting distracted as much. I am reasonably sure I was sleeping better the last time I maintained a clean room – I had less anxiety about threat vectors in the dark. I also note that frequently productivity blogs and books will discuss the value of a clean room, though I’m unsure they delve into the theory of it. This is, however, a relatively low cost intervention with possibly large dividends in terms of memory saving.

An additional aspect to consider regarding how the mind processes space – if scheduled events and meetings are objects in a sense, I propose that the mind often has to render the meeting space before you’ve even started going there. I am less certain of this extrapolation, but I’m inclined to think a full schedule often feels stressful partially because of how much movement and space rendering is required. A full schedule that takes place in all one place is likely easier to bear than a full schedule that has you going all around town. Even if you have a public transit system that allows for downtime between destinations, you are still rendering the routes you need to take to get everywhere on time. There are quite a few simpler explanations for this, but I feel the metaphor of rendering spaces and clutter and having to deal with some level of unpredictability does contextualize how working memory can be taken up in an unproductive way. Ways to use this metaphor to reduce mental overhead are to arrange things such that you are rendering less – less complex spaces, less complex routes. Walking to a coworking space is less overhead than taking a bus to a train to a skyscraper. This also maps to relatively traditional advice – essentially, that you want as few points of failure as possible when making plans.

Overall, considering things in terms of objects in working memory, and how complex, novel, and frequent those objects are can be a useful, flexible tool. I mostly explored the relation of this concept to space and planning, but there are a variety of other uses in terms of efficient compression and use of abstraction to increase intellectual power and executive function. I invite everyone to play with how they relate to the space around them and how the concept of rendering impacts their day to day life.

Discussion Questions: How do you conceptualize working memory? How do plans impact this? How does your work space or your home space impact this? Do you notice it is more difficult or easier to think in spaces that are not well kept?