(Epistemic status: Endorsed but difficult to express how to do it well – similar to the salience journals concept except broader)
Part of the Retrocausal Engineering Sequence
Nothing we do actually involves us making choices.
This statement is fairly strong – but consider it for a few minutes. If choices don’t lead to the things we do, what does?
You likely came up with several things, but what I’m going to zoom in on is context and salience fields. We exist in environments that have stuff in them (also technically not true, but that’s an entirely different point). That stuff often informs the action space we perceive ourselves as having. By the time anything reaches this conscious illusion of a choice, the action space has been very thoroughly winnowed by unconscious processes. The stuff we find in our environments, as well as how we define stuff, is what I call a salience field.
The difference between the conscious sensation of choice/optionality and the totality of the stuff in our environments can be expressed as a difference between attention and awareness. Attention is the sort of thing that’s in the center of our focus – right now, writing these words is in my attention. Awareness is the everything else – we usually keep a soft focus on the world around us, even if we don’t consciously note it. We usually also keep a soft focus on our histories and futures – things we’ve previously experienced will be in awareness and shape what we see as existing. I’m current aware of music playing, a few things on my desk, a timer I’ve set on writing this post, etc. There are a lot of other things in my awareness that I’ve chosen not to note. Usually, things shift from awareness to attention when parts of our unconscious mind don’t have protocols for processing something that has changed or come up in awareness. This basic primer on how minds interact with things is very useful when considering how to optimize in a choiceless world.
Often, when we want to change our lives, we try to pay attention to the things we want to change, so at best small shifts are available – the possibility space is confined to a concept that we’ve noticed and are increasing the centrality of our focus on it. This mode works for some things, but there are other approaches to self optimization – one of those is salience field manipulation.
Manipulating the salience field involves giving your unconscious mind more freedom to express itself. This takes a lot longer, and doesn’t always seem to have direct ties to whatever you are trying to optimize – but once everything falls into place, your entire world can change. Even more interestingly, once you start making this a default action, everything falls into place constantly, with new exciting possibilities opening up each moment.
Now, how do we do this, especially if one accepts the proposition of choicelessness? The main trick to this is freedom. The productivity maximizing mindset often leads to a pattern of needing to schedule every possible moment and have it account for itself. To manipulate a salience field, however, one needs to give themselves unstructured space, unstructured time, and minimal expectation. You have to operate on the level of intention rather than causality – craft a desire (though leave it somewhat open), create a habit of explore time, show gratitude for things that seem to make fulfilling the desire easier.
The way Retrocausal Engineering fits into this is simple – the past is part of your salience field. Memories are a very compressed data structure that rarely are unpacked into the full depth of information they record. Affect is also part of your salience field. Accessing memories with different affects and intentions can cause different information about the event to arise. A retrocausal engineer utilizes these things to increase optionality for fulfilling wants and needs, and then metas this by making the option to do this always salient – this can be very helpful when one notices that they don’t like the current flow of cause and effect.
To ground the concept some and give an example of the process – one of the first things I noticed when I connected to the self system of Retrocausal Engineering was that infrastructure became significantly more salient. I started noticing how anxiety seemed to come up when I using difficult to replace resources. The things I would get angry at started becoming more about pattern and extrapolation (i.e., if someone always acts in the (set of ways) that the action they are taking suggests, then they will likely cause a weakening of infrastructure). My default actions became “clean something”, “do inventory”, “improve house”, “improve social interconnectedness”, etc. Additionally, I would spend more time in whatever context I was in noticing how things had to be set up in order for them to work the way they do – this in particular is a good example of having shifted the salience field. Memories of more operations focused experiences increased in salience as well, and I would get additional information from them in an “Oh that’s why they did that” way.
As I continued doing this, I began to notice ways in which I had things I needed which I previously could not have counted on (with some pain points – however, I largely can take it for granted that the kitchen has enough resources to support me cooking). I then started noticing ways in which knowing I had those things allowed for further infrastructure improvement – the ability to start building more fluid ways of interacting with task lists and time management rather than trying to frontload all of it – which in turn feeds back into infrastructure. The main thing here is I did not start with a specific structure or plan, I largely trusted my awareness to find ways to increase instances of my intentions towards infrastructure in the world around me.
Overall, salience field manipulation is a tool like any other. It shouldn’t be your only approach to reshaping the world to meet your needs and wants, but it is by far a powerful one and gives a much more organic approach to self actualization. Todo lists are often too detail oriented, even with the structure I proposed in the past – they can help manage one’s time tables, but they still rely on a lot of willpower to execute harder parts of the list. The basic structure is realizing that your environment, affect, and memories do the majority of the decisionmaking for you and that you can tweak what decisions you make automatically by tweaking these things – and then you can make the idea of tweaking these things an automatic decision through positive reinforcement – gratitude for structures, people, and events that bring you closer to the things you want is a very good tool.
Discussion questions – Have you utilized salience field manipulation in the past, and to what end? What is something that you would consider setting as an intention to change your salience field? What would you predict would change with that intention? If you’ve experienced changes from the advice in this post, what sorts of things did you experience? In your experience, what other ways does human behavior form besides choice/agency?