On Hereness Nowness

(Epistemic status: Absolutely absurd and I love it.)

Just let the hereness nowness be.

Some people would say that you should be in the present. Some people would say that you should be one with the universe. Some people would say that you should let it all go. Some people would say that you should listen to the wind blow.

I’m not some people. The present is a time. The universe is a place. “It” is a thing. The wind blowing is a sound.

The hereness nowness is a concept that’s doing a lot of hard work that few people pay attention to. The hereness nowness is really happy to do this work, but likes when you just leave it to it. The hereness nowness really does not need help so please stop trying.

There is a rhythm in the world – there’s some metaphorical beat constantly going, and people seem to have a lot of choice in whether they follow that rhythm or try to keep time themselves. In a less metaphorical sense, there’s a time and place for everything*.

There is a lot that goes on in the world that we just do not pay attention to. We can’t – it’s impossible to hold in everything we perceive. So we filter – our filters are trained on our experiences. When things are going well, we can increase the salience of pleasurable things without regard for safe and unsafe – by default we assume things are safe if there’s plenty. When things are going poorly, well, we have to make safety and danger louder – pleasure is much more likely to be a trap. However, we have access to other heuristics.

When things are going poorly, and keep going poorly, there’s a point at which you can reopen the filter and change your heuristics. That rock bottom feeling where if everything you do is just going to fail, why not just do whatever the hell you want**. At this point, a lot of what happens depends on how lucky you are – whatever pulls you back up, even a little, is going to imprint on you. Some people decide to submit to the hereness nowness and give up their divine right to keep the beat – and this sometimes works out massively well because the error they were making was clinging too tightly to their internal beat rather than seeing the world around them for what it was. These people tend to get a great lesson in being chill and proceed to dance and sing through life and are very interesting but usually not going to change the world (of course, there are exceptions). Some people decide to claim their divine right to keep the beat and stop relying on the hereness nowness to do all the work. And they end up wildly successful because they were slacking off and decided to stop doing that. They get a great lesson in having a protestant work ethic and 9-5 their way through life, regretting the years they lost and aren’t they so lucky to have figured out the secret to self reliance.

Unfortunately, both of these people are wrong and basically traumatized into thinking that the world has to be one way because the other way didn’t work. The real thing, insofar as there is a real thing, is that the rhythm of the hereness nowness is just that. A rhythm. It does a lot of work – a lot of really tiring work that monkeys don’t enjoy doing and usually have to be traumatized to think they do enjoy it or want to do it***. However – there are other tracks, other voices. Part of trusting the hereness nowness is using your divine right to sing, or dance, or whatever else, instead of keep the beat.

Overall, this cluster of ideas is not new. I’m sure most of you are already rounding it to Yin and Yang, or the virtue of Balance, or something else that sounds suitably profound. The hereness nowness is a part of those things – but these ideas have a lot of metaphors because the concept is difficult to fit into people’s minds, and doubly so into words in people’s minds. My mind finds music to be the easiest medium to understand things like hereness nowness. If you have the experience of thinking that other frames on this concept are dumb, or that they’re obviously, trivially true, but don’t have the feeling that goes with that sense of obviousness, my advice is to try stopping a moment. Closing your laptop, or turning your monitor off. And try listening to see if you can pick up the rhythm of the world around you, rather than trying to hold everything analytically, in words. If it doesn’t work, no harm done. But if it does, well…I’d love to hear about it.

*Except this phrase has been so misused as a tool of control that I think it actively damages people’s ability to follow the rhythm of the hereness nowness.

**Well, either that or you snap the filter shut even tighter and decide that everything is bad forever and just go through the same motions over and over. That one is less advised though.

***Modern society happens to be a pretty great trauma factory, so a lot of monkeys think it’s really important to hold onto the beat because you can’t trust the hereness nowness.

Discussion questions: What is your experience with what I call the “hereness nowness”? What other ways have you navigated this cluster of concepts? If you tried the exercise at the end, how did it go?

On Skills and Abstraction Levels

(Epistemic status: Probably true – also probably restating something everyone knows)

A problem I have in my life is that I don’t know how good I am at things. I try to use people around me in my reference class as proxy, but when it comes to new skills, it’s actually fairly difficult to use this because people in my reference class usually have been using the skill for longer. In my worst moments, the ranking against others makes it harder for me to even consider investment in the skill worthwhile – a deep sense of “the tribe already has that, do something else!” Given modern society, this is a bit silly to think, but brains were not made for modern society. However, ranking against others or the tribe is not the only way to assess skill level. It turns out, you can roughly measure it yourself by paying attention to what level of abstraction you are interacting with the skill on.

To go a little more concrete – I have been learning programming for the past few months. Some of those months were spent doing basically nothing but programming, so I’d say I’m at least passingly familiar with how to code. There is a minor drawback though – I’m at least adjacent to the rationalist community and there’s a bit of a weighting towards software engineers in this community. So my reference class is basically filled with examples of people who are obviously good at the thing and do wizardry that it is difficult for me to even begin to pick apart. It’s hard to even feel like presenting my basic projects is a worthwhile endeavor – something that took me 2 weeks may only take a few days for a lot of people I know. This made a lot of things regarding programming difficult after App Academy, for awhile – but recently I had a bit of a breakthrough. I started a new project to create a central repository of all my basic boilerplate in a way I intended to be extensible – and in the process I realized the way I was interacting with the structures was different. It wasn’t an idea of “and this part of the page needs to be this component” like before – it was “this structure can take in building blocks and turn them into the thing I want to see, so what are those building blocks?” The statement “This component works specifically for this” changed – the “for this” previously was the concrete display I wanted in the right place, and now the “for this” is “there is a class of display that this component can create.”

There is, of course, danger in this model. Generally, people want to be good at things. At the very least, “better than expected” at the thing. It feels good, people like and respect you, that sort of thing. So in some people who are relatively smart, they try to “cheat” a bit. They skip to the level of abstraction above what they can handle, without getting all the insights from the previous level of abstraction. To some degree, you can get away with that – you don’t need every minutiae of how a thing works to start realizing the way the patterns chunk together and using those patterns instead – but there’s sometimes points where you haven’t gotten enough of the lower level to get by, and things start falling apart in ways that just don’t make sense. In parkour, you learn a lot of low level motions and ways of placing your body so that you don’t injure yourself. They seem at least somewhat intuitive and easy to master, and it doesn’t look “stylish”. So the temptation to just skip up to the more fluid, intuitive motion is pretty strong – but if you give into that temptation, you end up jumping on tiered platforms lining a very long flight of stairs, miss the fact that the next tier is much higher than the previous ones, and faceplant because you didn’t actually take the step of “put your hand on the next surface and push up”. A more speculative result of trying to scam a level of abstraction higher than you can pull off is that your understanding of what you’re doing becomes weaker and weaker the more levels you go up in this way, until it falls apart like a rickety tower. To some degree, because skill knowledge is often mildly cyclical, you get coverage for this error by relearning fundamentals via their repetition in a higher level abstract pattern – but even this won’t cover you completely if you try to move too fast.

Overall, I think that the internal sense of “being good at something” is far more subtle than the external reward gotten from being perceived that way – however, I also think there are still signals if you pay close enough attention. Those signals might be able to be corrupted, but getting a more honest sense of them can be grounding in a useful way.

Discussion Questions – How much does this post make it clear I’ve never actually been good at anything? How do you experience your perception of your own skill levels? What sort of training for a given skill lends itself to seeing abstraction in a “safe” way? What is your experience of “scamming to the next abstraction level”, if any?