On Mental Frameworks

(Epistemic Status:  Subjective internal experience with lack of clarity on the internal experiences of others.  Generated from a conversation with Olivia, who I credit as being invaluable in exploring things in this category)

I have recently come to suspect that my mind works a little differently than other people I know.  Of course, this is trivially true for anyone – the specific way in which it works differently, however, applies to a subset of people such that certain insights can be expressed in this frame.  I have a certain flexibility when it comes to self-definition, readily accepting arguments in favor of self-inconsistency across time, adopting subagent models, considering all states in the “category of me” to be mutable, etc.  I also tend to skirt the edges of stability frequently, experimenting with ideas that fundamentally question my perception of reality, pushing for peak experiences, actively using pathologies to achieve my goals, etc.  This flexibility is based on the ability to dissociate – to push “self” completely out of the way while still maintaining a loose idea of being a “self”.  To use the oft-criticized model of brains as biological computers, the dissociative framework is an OS that trades stability for flexibility, allowing for a wider but less safe action space.

To go up a level, mental frameworks are how mind types frame the world as well as the mind’s relation to the world.  Ways of reconciling and narrativizing experiences such that they feel ego syntonic.  I speculate that other frameworks might include a singleton framework, in which one has a perception of a completely consistent self, with a restricted action space trading for stability – they likely don’t handle out of frame experiences well, but they have strong, reliable heuristics for experiences within frame.  They don’t need to waste a lot of cognitive effort figuring out why or how, it just integrates quickly and they move on.  This kind of person is very easy to acausally trade with.  They tend to have developed deep skill at things within their frame because of the level of constancy they bring to the table.

Another plausible mental framework is one of no-self framework – the oft sought enlightenment idea where frames are not used at all – the mind is not relating to the world, it is of the world and of the same salience as the experience.  I don’t have a good model of the advantages or disadvantages of this hypothetical framework – I suspect it’s both high flexibility and high stability – the cognitive load is reduced by not running contextualization of experience all the time and optimizing for just being.

For one last example, there’s a mental framework in which connection is optimized – the distributed processing framework.  In some ways, well blended couples (or even polycules) have this, as well as deeply connected small groups.  In this framework, other people in the collective are part of the mind map to a degree that almost feels like telepathy.   You know the strengths and weaknesses of every member of the unit, and are able to transfer information with minimal bits.  This has medium flexibility, medium stability, and extremely high efficacy in the world, but takes a lot of time, effort, and luck to build.  I suspect that this framework risks codependence and difficulty accessing oneself as an individual – it is unclear whether this is a drawback.

Going back to the dissociative framework, this one is extremely dangerous technology.  The other frameworks I described are higher stability, and trading off stability can cost you years of your life on dead ends, insanity, or worse.  However, with any high-risk investment, the rewards also tend to be fairly high – the dissociative framework is probably the easiest in which to model other people while still optimizing for individuality.  Modeling other people is one of the building blocks of mastery of social reality – being able to predict behavior and combinations of behavior is a rare skill.  Another advantage of the dissociative framework is being able to break down your personality into modular units and replace parts as needed – the introspective access here is very high, which is a large part of the risk.  The ability to self-modify does take a lot of work even with a default predisposition to dissociation – I personally don’t have it down perfectly at all, but this is effectively how things like internal monologue modification work.   The dissociative framework also makes it easier to dissociate from a predominant social reality, which can provide discernment into the cracks in the narrative – when personality and self are mutable, roles become much less sticky.  The dissociative framework also tends to increase hypnotic susceptibility – this is likely due to the general experience of having a wider action space and adeptness at unusual states.  There are other advantages to the framework, but they become less legible as we go deeper.

The disadvantages to the dissociative framework are also numerous – the first is the reduced ability to make acausal trades.  Due to the high inconsistency in the framework, it’s difficult to place expectations on future versions of yourself without stronger commitment mechanisms.  It’s also difficult to access preferences – as with everything else, these are mutable as well, so it’s hard to have a core “want” when it’s merely another switch to toggle.  The difficulty of accessing preferences also can lead to stagnation and slower development because the wide action space pulls you in multiple directions.  Strong internal access also tends to create optimization loops for things that may not be worth optimizing to infinity (the wireheading problem, for example).  I suspect that the dissociative framework also makes emotions bigger, because they are one of the few S1 signals that can get past firm internal control, if only for a short time.  Another disadvantage is weaker sense of self, which can make one weaker to cults of personality, or even charisma in general.  The dissociative framework also is often cognitively expensive – more choices are made on a more minute level, which is fatiguing.  There are other disadvantages, but they also get less legible as we go deeper.

Overall, I find mental frameworks to be a useful way to class efficacy of interventions – I am likely to start speculating on whether the dissociative framework is necessary for a given mindhack in the future.  If I have written about anything in the past hasn’t resonated, this might be part of it.  Over the next few weeks, I will be going into specific tools the dissociative framework gives access to – if you don’t consider yourself able to run the dissociative framework and have success with these tools, it would be helpful data for my theorizing.  The dissociative framework is very powerful when the drawbacks are corrected for, but very dangerous when used carelessly – without constant vigilance or guidance, a slip can easily undo years of effort.  I don’t know if baseline mental frameworks can be reconfigured – I suspect they are based on childhood experience and genetic predisposition, but if they can, I would recommend avoiding this configuration.

Discussion Questions – Do you feel like any of the mental frameworks described above fit you?  If so, which ones?  If not, what would you describe yours as, and what are the advantages and disadvantages?  Have you experienced issues where I’ve posted about a mindhack and it just didn’t make sense – if so, do you suspect this is one of the causes?  What would be the traits of an optimal mental framework?

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3 thoughts on “On Mental Frameworks

  1. sorry.. this post is a bit thorny and hard to parse.. will have to tackle another time (also will have to refresh my memory on what acasual trades are, your not the only rationalist to use the concept recently.)

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  2. This was really interesting to read, because of the frameworks you laid out the dissociative one was by far the one that best fit me, but then when I got to the paragraph on downsides my response was “wait, what? none of those sound like problems I have at all!” As far as I can tell, what’s happening is that, while I’m fundamentally running on a dissociative framework, I’ve got some self-sustaining feedback loops running which give me a gigantic boost to stability, thus letting me avoid many of the framework’s instability-related weaknesses.

    Looking back, I’m pretty sure that the Past Me of about five years ago was running on a much more unrestrained dissociative framework, and plausibly suffered some of the downsides you listed, although my model of her isn’t good enough for me to confirm that part directly. However, at some point not long past that (I think between four-and-a-half and four years, although I don’t remember the timeline precisely and might be a bit off), she started wondering: okay, so I can be all these different people, but how should I decide who to be at a given time?

    And the answer she arrived at was that she should be whoever was best-suited to advancing her goals at a given time. Which meant no messing with her terminal goals outside of the rare circumstance wherein changing terminal goals was the optimal way to achieve her preexisting goals (which has come up exactly once in the time since I had this internal dialogue, and which I don’t expect to ever come up again).

    That formed the foundation of a very strong sense of self even as everything else about my personality continued to shift around it, neatly cutting off the susceptibility-to-excessive-charisma problem. I don’t have trouble acausally trading with myself, because “good at respecting my past selves’ commitments” is a personality trait which is useful to achieving my goals the vast majority of the time such that I never really have any reason to remove it. And I don’t think I ever had the difficulty-of-accessing-preferences problem even prior to my goal-stabilization, because while it’s true that my preferences could easily shift over time, any given me’s preferences were still well-defined in the moment.

    And then I just kind of… haven’t noticed any of the other downsides you’ve listed ever being a problem for me, for reasons which I don’t think are related to any of the stuff I talked about above.

    In terms of downsides to my configuration relative to a more unrestrained dissociative framework… I think the main one I can think of is that it shrinks the space of people I can become. I can make a subagent whose terminal goals are unlike mine and let them run my behavior for a while, sure, but there’s always going to be an overlay above them ready to take back over if they’re set to do something counterproductive, and that’s not really the same thing as genuinely having those goals myself.

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    1. Yeah, I would expect the dissociative framework to be the best at ameliorating the downsides – there’s such a thing as too much flexibility. My main issue is that every terminal goal I’ve had so far has been shit. I’m a little leery of locking into one when all past attempts have mostly just been really poor choices. Additionally, my past selves have made some incredibly poor choices in terms of commitments – I usually have to stick to a much stricter definition of agreements I’m willing to honor (generally, if it involves money, I consider it incredibly important to uphold, but beyond that, I think my past selves have been too quick to commit to various things).

      Still, it’s cool that you’ve sort of had this experience but found a workable solution to some of the downsides – I appreciate you sharing.

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