On Experiential Infohazards

Content warning: Drugs, religion, abuse mention

(Epistemic status: Endorsed – lived it and seen it happen, though calling it a hazard might be overdramatic.)

Meta note: The Retrocausal Engineering Sequence isn’t over, this thought just struck me and I wanted to get it out there this week.

As I’m sure most of my readership is aware, I consider myself at least somewhat a part of the rationalist community – at the least, rationalist adjacent. This is relevant because there’s a lot of emphasis on combating biases and thinking more clearly. The question I rarely see asked (perhaps because I haven’t looked hard enough) is the one of how these biases even form, and why does thinking about them really hard seem to have such dismal results at best, and occasionally makes bias worse due to something akin to moral hazard. The answer is experience, and experiential processing is a different skill than solely the dry legible thought about patterns. The good news is experiential learning is a good way to rearrange bad patterns – the bad news is it’s also a great way to install really pernicious bad patterns. At the extremes, however, we face the possibility of experiential infohazards – the sorts of experiences that just completely blow apart your ontological frameworks and leave the experience in the vacuum left over.

Experiential infohazards are often easy to avoid at the sacrifice of some openness – drugs are the most obvious case. Some types of mental practice (meditation) are also experiential infohazards that are a little less obvious in advance without some reading – it turns out training your mind to reconceptualize suffering has some downstream effects for your value structures, which are likely to largely be built on experiences of suffering. Religious experiences can also have this quality – rituals are designed to instill a full embodied experience of the framework being engaged in, to utilize social closeness to reify sets of principles in ways that merely thinking about them will not. Experiential infohazards can also take a darker turn – abuse and trauma which tend to be less clearly signposted can lead to deeply felt experiences that alter value structure and behavior in ways that may not be endorsed.

There are multiple levels to look out for when processing experiences that are experiential infohazards – the first is obviously who has control of the experience and what do they want you to believe. Deeply ontologically violating experiences are like a much more deeply felt script breaker – you end up freezing and will take whatever lifeline you can get; the mind abhors confusion and nonsense. The next thing is what message the experience itself carries – if most people that have had a drug experience settle on universal love, then perhaps consider whether that is compatible with your long term value structure before enjoying being folded into a universal grid of souls or whatever. The third thing is, who is helping you process and what is their agenda? This one is a little less risky because in the aftermath of an experiential hazard, you’re shifting things up to the conceptual level which makes it a little easier to notice subversion. As a side note, sometimes parts of the experience will get repressed as being too far out of frame – more intense/short time frame experiential infohazards can have this quality. In this case, try to have people close to you notice behavioral distortions and connect up what you can.

In terms of generalized defenses against experiential infohazards, I don’t strictly have anything to offer. I suspect that there’s a point where you can expand the class of intense experience to which you can say “ok, had this before, it’s not that meaningful”, but I think that there will always be black swans at the edge of your experiential dataset that act as a higher class of experiential infohazard. The best I can think of from my current perspective is to develop the ability to compress experience into patterns and use this as a shield against ontologically destructive experiences that are likely to change you in unendorsed ways. Acceptance of the experience as it is can also be helpful – it makes it less of a scary, totalizing “Oh my gosh how could THAT have happened to me” thing and more into a “that was then, this is now” thing. Still, my confidence in this advice is low moderate – I haven’t gone into the experiential wilderness enough to have solid heuristics on how to maintain a value structure, or to add precision to the ways in which ontology might be altered.

Overall, experiential infohazards are usually more of an epistemic/ontological hazard than a physical “information that will kill you” hazard – though of course, there are experiences that will in fact just kill you (quite a few really!) . I suspect there are even experiential hazards that will literally kill you without causing any direct physical harm to the body – sensory data encoded in ways that turn the mind against itself. Still, occasionally going into hazardous territory can get you out of a local maxima in ways that allow you to grow – the main point is to be mindful of what you are trading for that growth, and what you are leaving behind. The you that has already had the experience will invariably consider it worth it – will the you facing the decision to have the experience think so beforehand?

Discussion questions – What are types of experiential infohazards you’ve experienced in your life? How transformative were they? What are other possible downstream effects of experiential hazards? What are some other examples?

The Wheel

(Epistemic status:  Poetry.  Apparently I can write that now)

The first step is always the best. You’re alive, you’re awake, you’re there. You’ve made it. You’re flying.

Then you start remembering there’s something you forgot. You know things could be better, but you don’t know how…and you want to

So you chase and chase and chase the knowing and pick up a few useful things along the way

The best part is when you realize you can hack the reward system by knowing it’s a reward system

But that’s hollow, because you also remember what’s next, weighed down by your knowledge

“And then you’re full of pleasure and think you’re ready to face the pain – but you’re not, you always think that, it’s hilarious”

It’s too much to carry, knowing what’s there, knowing about the suffering paid to keep you in the air

And with that knowledge, you face the other side of the coin.

Where things aren’t so good.

Where you’re drowning under the weight of the world.

Paying for another cycle, because for every peak high there’s also a deep low.

Toiling, suffering, paying the price – but you go deeper than the others, because fundamentally you’re exploring.

And then you get to the points where you just don’t know if you make it through

You exhale. You stop.

You inhale.

And then you’re alive, you’re awake, but you still have to get back.

The thing is, you don’t know what happened in the middle. And the thing in the middle is what you’re chasing every cycle.

And sometimes… Sometimes it’s about something real like needing some water

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?

On Emotional Processing

(Epistemic status: This is probably one of the most powerful tools I’ve discovered for regulating my reactions to the world around me and quite frankly, making me a better person.)

How often are things just not right in your life? How often does something impossibly frustrating, or impossibly depressing, or anything in that space of emotional pain, happen to you? And how often is your first response to vent about it or otherwise unload about it with your friends? How often do you want your story heard, your emotions validated, and to know that you are safe within the tribe, no matter how bad it seems? For me, personally, this happens a lot. I’ve been under more stress than I imagined I ever would be over the past few months, and this has worn on me.

Unfortunately, it has also on others that care about me – I think that it is a natural drive to have help with emotional processing, to get it out of your head. I don’t think the drive itself is even wrong, or bad. I don’t think one should feel guilty for externalizing their emotional world, especially if their friends are prepared for it. What I suggest instead, is that this process can be optimized.

A lot of the problem I have when I am in emotional pain is that I lack clarity on what the nature of the problem is. I hide a lot of information from myself, especially when I am in a social situation where, to some extent, I feel obligated to make my pain “pretty”. There are additional incentive structures inhibiting my expression – I want to stay in the painful state to continue getting attention. I want to make whoever is helping me prove themselves worthy. I want the costs of the emotional labor to have been “worth it”. This leads to things where the goalposts of what I want keep moving around, and reassurances get invalidated in increasingly absurd ways. Eventually, I find myself getting frustrated and shutting down (or worse, lashing out). The process is not one that often helps, though occasionally I learn things after I reach the point of regretting my actions. However, this isn’t sustainable, nor is it fair to those around me – so I decided to find a better way to do things.

The key things that help actually make progress on emotional problems are specificity, proper scoping, and actionability. Specificity means – you know specifically what is hurting. Being able to define the bounds of why something hurts makes it much easier to interact with the pain where it is and possibly have the need met. Rather than “Everything hurts and I don’t want to exist,” or similarly broad statements, you can bring it down to “I feel like I’m forcing myself to do things I don’t believe in, and chastising myself whenever I lose motivation.” Proper scoping means that you aren’t letting the pain color everything you are thinking about or talking about – a thing that happens with me is that the emotion acts as a contagion – I might have initially been upset about failing at a specific task (say, writing some code), I ask for reassurance about my code and get it, but because I’m still in this self chastising emotional state, I start questioning the reassurance and coming up with reasons it’s not true. When pain is scoped, it means you can step out of it, knowing that the problem isn’t with all of you. Lastly, actionability means that, when all is said and done, you have an idea of what you could do differently to interact with the pain in a way that is better for you. It doesn’t strictly mean avoiding the pain, or salving it, or solving the problem stemming from it – it really varies based on the stimuli, and sometimes it’s hard. It’s much better to say “Well, I wrote that code poorly, so I’ll practice writing more code of this type until I get it” than to say “Well, I wrote that code poorly so I guess I’ll get better at coding somehow”. The reason I bring up these keys is that you don’t actually need other people to find these qualities of a given problem. Given that you are the one living your life, you have access to a lot of information other people don’t – but a lot of it is hidden when you are in pain. My solution to this has been to write everything down when I’m in these states.

Now, writing a “processing journal” requires a certain amount of introspective ability, and your mileage may vary. It might be helpful to do this in a more auditory way on your own, or perhaps through art. Writing works best for me – the process I follow is just every I feel statement that seems true at the moment, regardless of the scope or specificity. I usually end up with a lot of broad statements about how bad I think life is – but as I go, I notice some things seem truer than others, and I start honing on those. I try to think about what triggered the shift in my mood, and how it relates to the I feel statements I’ve put down, and I start writing more about what I want and what those feelings are telling me. As I go, I start feeling a little less bad and more curious – I want to explore what parts of me are generating what feelings and why. I want to hear their concerns and figure out what about my life is arranged in a way that’s misaligned. What hurts starts to become more coherent and specific, and I start being able to think about what the problem is, and ways I’d want to approach solving it. Sometimes I end up with a list of things that aren’t easy, but seem much better than just despairing. Other times, I end up with super specific actions I can just take, and find that my life improves pretty quickly. The best part though, is that usually when I’ve finished a processing session like this, I still need some input from my friends…and it becomes so much easier for them to give it. I have specific questions, a list of the things that I’ve already thought about, and much more ability to communicate and stay in the problem solving zone. Instead of somewhat antisocial venting, I find myself in a situation where I can provide actual opportunities for those that care about me to help me, and get help that I am searching for. The problems start to evolve, rather than staying stuck in a loop. I’m still quite new to making this sort of thing work, but it already has given me traction on problems that have long seemed impossible.

Overall, emotional processing doesn’t have to be a group activity – the dividends from starting with yourself as a resource and putting some work in are huge. When it does become a group activity, it becomes much much easier for others to help you, to the point that sometimes rather than incurring social debt, you end up generating social capital. Additionally, by generating clearer models of your problems rather than giving yourself the runaround, it becomes that much easier to help others with their problems. Finally, I suspect that having a record of your past internal conflicts makes it easier to see patterns and deal with the abstractions rather than just the situation, from a healthier headspace.

Discussion questions: How do you regulate your emotions? What helps processing for you – words, art, or something else entirely? What is your relationship with emotional processing and sharing pain with those around you? If you have tried something like a processing journal before, what were the benefits and drawbacks of it?

On Salience Journals

(Meta note: I have several posts written in advance such that I should be able to recover my previous pace.  Additionally I feel like I’ve been entering new insight territory by taking several ideas seriously that I hadn’t been before – so, I do realize I’ve said I’m “back” before and faded back to hiatus, but in this case I feel pretty comfortable with my claims.  Enjoy!)

(Epistemic Status: Still testing, but slightly positive results)

I am sure most of you have heard the concept of a gratitude journal – however, for those unaware, the concept is that at the end of each day, you write down X things that you are grateful for. You don’t want to force it, you want to think about your day, and write about things that were genuinely good, that you appreciate having happened and are grateful for. Studies apparently show this has a pretty positive impact on happiness. Generally, however, when I read about things singing the praises of gratitude journals, there’s very little exploration of why these things would work. So, at the risk of pointing out something that is so obvious that it need not be mentioned, I believe I understand the secret, and it is salience.

When you write things down every night about things you were grateful for during the day, you are self signaling that opportunities to show gratitude are important to you. As you do this more frequently, you start noticing more opportunities to be thankful, because you’ve told your brain “hey, I want to remember these moments”. This goes for things other than gratitude, though – back in 2017, when I was very into the concept of rewriting my stories and how I was perceived by others, I got very, very good at noticing how I could “storify” my experiences – the process was even more empowered by the fact that I was getting social reward for telling stories well. Another experience I’ve related, the concept of the downcycle, is somewhat similar. I start focusing on what is bad about my experience, and this increases the salience of bad things about my experience. The deeper I get into the habit of doing that, the more likely I am to think that my general experience of the world is bad. Most of the world is filtered by what experience has told us to pay attention to. If taking risks has often paid off, and you realize that this is related to taking risks, you will find risks that might pay off more salient. That second step is very important – we can sometimes find things salient that aren’t directly related to the outcomes we were trying to reinforce – trauma in particular does this, creating avoidance associations in our salience fields that may close off vast fields of experience from us. You can have this go the other way, though that way also lies danger – an upcycle sometimes works like this, where success is tied to things that in retrospect were fairly arbitrary, and you notice more opportunities that involve the arbitrary thing you’ve anchored on. A recent example of this in my life is that I made a decision to “treat my anger problems seriously”, and suddenly had a lot of success with the problem. I anchored on “treating problems actually seriously solves them”, but this was somewhat arbitrary – there were other factors that lead to the successes I saw, but they weren’t as salient. Since “treating problems seriously” was what I started looking for more opportunities to explore, I started to lose traction on the concept because some problems were not solveable in that particular fashion.

Now, the question is, if salience is the key to how gratitude journals work, what are other things that are valuable to make more salient in your day to day life? A lot of that depends on what you value – if you value self improvement, it’s good to track opportunities you took to improve an aspect of your life. If you value learning, it can be valuable to track what you’ve learned that day. There’s a lot of things you can make salient if you know what experiences you want more of. In my own case, I keep several journals – a basic diary to keep track of what experiences I had each day, an achievement log to keep track of things that I value having done, that feel like accomplishments, a quest log, which I use to keep track of “ongoing quests” in my life and factional standings, and a gratitude journal (because I could do with more of noticing the good things in my world). I have only been using these for about a week, but I do feel like I’ve noticed things being shaped more like quests and noticing more opportunity to further the quests I’ve noted so far. I think currently the achievement log is the weakest in terms of increasing my perception of my achievements, but this might be confounded by having a bit of depression recently.

Overall, I want to experiment more with salience and salience journals, and see what spaces of experience could stand out more. I also want to figure out what non-intuitive categories of salience I could increase to expand my action space in relation to the world.

Discussion questions: What sorts of salience journals would you enjoy having? If you’ve done gratitude journals, was your experience of the world influenced by them? If you’ve kept diaries, does the stance you take in the diary carry over to the stance you approach life with?

On the Year in Review, Redux

When I wrote On the Year in Review last year, the intention was to have a tradition where I “reviewed” the next year as if it had already happened. Unfortunately, 2018 as a year feels like one that bears an actual review, rather than a relentlessly optimistic analysis of the stories that could have happened, the posts I could have written, and the world I hoped I would live in.

To start with the obvious, my best 5 posts this year were certainly not the ones I thought they would be. My social and psychological development went in a very different direction than I was expecting, and I’m honestly not sure if it was the direction I wanted to go. Regardless, I did write some good content:

On Why I Like Fairy Tales – I think this one still captures the fundamental fatalism I feel when I consider my life path. As it turns out, I did lose that particular gambit. I was not Special or Exempt. Now I’m trying something else – I’ve learned to do web development and hopefully I can find my place in the bizarre court that built the Bay Area. We shall see what lies beyond the precipice.

On Internal Monologue Modification – So this is a post I would have done well to remember in a lot of the hardest parts of this year. I didn’t question my internal monologue in ways that were at all conducive to thriving in rough circumstances. I left curiosity behind and sought power and cynicism – my internal monologues often revolved around how bad my circumstances were (in practice, they might have been stressful but they were far from bad). This post is a reminder to me of what I can do, and I am glad I have it to review.

On Social Harmony, Truth, and Building a Culture – I don’t necessarily fully agree with this anymore – but I do think something is lost when people are scared to tell the truth. I find myself returning to some facets of it as a more correct way to do things – largely, the parts about surrounding yourself with people who will pull you towards excellence is probably the most useful heuristic, but we have that one fairly deeply in the water supply. It can be useful to honestly assess who you’re surrounding yourself with though. The parts about how harmonizing processes slow down thought also seem true – I’m less sure what to do about this at this point.

On Save States – This, by far, is the pinnacle of my mindhacking exploration. Save states not only work, but they capture effects that should only be achievable given substances. There seem to be limitations on them based on what parameters you’re optimizing and what state you’re currently in – in some ways, they are susceptible to the same limitations as mood modification through musical resonance. Either way, I highly endorse getting a few scents and trying this one out.

On the Ouroboros of Bullshit – Obviously, I saved the best for last. The ouroboros of bullshit is still a problem structure I haven’t fully integrated. As I reread this I see how the ouroboros has eaten the original ideas I had about the ouroboros itself, and how I’ve continued to storify my experiences and rarely learn anything. I don’t know how to solve ouroboros problems, and as I caution the reader, solving is probably the wrong frame. Still…I think I’ve been slowly been getting better. I think a component of it is having a thing where reality is the bearer of the news whether something is working or not – computers do not care how impressive or interesting I am, they only care that I wrote the write algorithm in the right way to accomplish the task I am telling the computer to do. But, that’s just a guess, overall.

Next is the part where I would tell stories about how my year actually went – it feels a little crass to narrativize my life, after all I’ve been through this year. Still…this year had stories. Just in a brief review – I finished applying to several elite colleges, got rejected from all of them. I found and lost love, on multiple occasions. I quit my soul crushing job. I learned to program and got accepted to App Academy. I moved from Boston to the Bay Area. I broke my pacts with the fae and paid dearly for it. I met so many interesting people in a variety of contexts. I’ve started seriously thinking about the world, societal collapse, and the future we might face. I lost most of my powers. I’ve seen, heard, and experienced so much this year, it’s hard to pick the best stories. So, I’ll tell y’all what. I’ve given a basic overview of my life this past year – I want people to vote on the top 3 stories they want to actually read, either in the comments or through other communication channels – here’s a list of actual narratives I have on my list:

The Elite College Debacle

How I Stopped Committing Banal Acts of Evil as an Agent of the Bureaucracy

How I Went From Zero to Bootcamp (Acceptance) in Fifteen Days

The Road To The West (my 7 day car trip to California from Boston)

The Social Dynamics of the Bay (less a story, more an observation of the rationalist community)

How I Lost my Powers and Dimmed my Spark

Breaking the Pacts

What Happens When Our Broken Systems Fail (also not a story, so much as a topic I’ve talked about a lot lately)

Encounters With Wizards (there are several of these, some I can discuss more than others)

How I Became a Campaign Manager for Three Days

So where do I go from here? I don’t know – that’s the beauty and the horror of it. A couple weeks ago, I had my self concept pulled out from under me. There’s a much bigger world than the one I was allowing myself to live in. It’s scary, it’s exciting, but it’s so uncertain. I feel like I’ve found an expansive desert that holds so many secrets, but is so vast you are never guaranteed to find them. I’m returning to my role as a seeker, in hopes that I find those answers. I also hope to catalog my journey once again. Maybe I will find other fae to make deals with – or perhaps I will find kinder egregores on my journey. Maybe I’m just alone out here after all, and I’ll discover that. Regardless of anything, after I discard the metaphorical level…I’ll probably be writing about programming more. To the death of 2018, who I never liked anyway, and to the hope of 2019, who will hopefully be better.

Discussion Questions: Hey, I said I had a bunch of stories to tell – vote on your favorites and I’ll update this post!

What does your 2018 in review look like? What story did this year tell?

On Color Qualia

(Epistemic status: Extremely subjective experience, mostly a thing to play with rather than amazing insight.)

Recently, I’ve found things like qualia to have a conceptual color to them.  There seem to be three obvious axes that I focus on when thinking of the color of an experience – red-blue, yellow-green, and white-black.  I think there is also a light and dark, but I’ve felt less of that dimension.

Red-blue seems largely to be about projection outward versus projection inward.  Red is an experience that involves how much of the world you are acting upon.  A lot of details get blurred because you are acting on your perspective, and pushing outward.  The experience isn’t about rumination or getting caught in loops, it’s about action, playing with the world from one’s own perspective lens, imposing one’s context on the surroundings.  Blue is the opposite – blue is being a receiver for the context and considering what it means – at worst, ruminating on it.  Letting things go into you – paying attention mostly to the external qualia and how your internal state is affected by it.  Paying attention to how the context changes you and how your response changes the context – more the former than the latter, but basically intense introspective, sensitive experiences – awareness of the world, but not in control of it.  The middle part of this axis is purple – a sense in which your internal experience is an important part of the context, but you are not in control of the context.  It’s effortful to get too lost in yourself, but also effortful to impose your self on the world around you.  It’s a state of being, but with effort – but usually the effort is worthwhile.

Yellow-green seems to be somewhat related to bigness, but not quite.  Yellow experiences tend to be vivid, energetic, almost comical.  They’re big, larger than life.  Everything feels alive.  Green experiences tend to be a lot slower, a lot more serious.  Green is pressure, green is the struggle of mundanity.  Green is when you wake up with a hangover, or after taking an antihistamine – everything is harder and slower, but it still seems mundane – you’re tired, but it’ll pass.  It’s…being ok with things being hard, rather than needing to make something larger than life to interact with it.  The light-dark axis is most notable here – dark green tends to be mundanity combined with a pessimistic outlook – the outside view and it hates you; I imagine dark yellow is sickly, like everything is bigger than you and you are too mortal to handle it.

White-black seems to be a rare sort of qualia.  White is an intensely pure experience – it doesn’t strictly mean it’s a good experience, but it tends to be the kind of experience where something beyond yourself was formed – a vow, a piece of the puzzle of your place in the world just fitting, a responsibility fulfilled in a deep way.  It feels like a milestone, done right for the shape of the thing you are.  Black is…the opposite of this.  Black is the deepest sort of corruption and out of placeness.  Black qualia are the darkest moments, the darkest choices – the ones where you wonder if you can really justify the thing you are.  The ones where there is no ground, no sky, nothing except a rejection of your core and how you deal with that.  I don’t think black qualia can ever be good in the moment, but I think that they can be valuable when contextualized by other qualia.

Overall, I feel like this is a very vague map that is pointing at something, but not in nearly high enough resolution to be useful – dichotomies rarely are good for that.  I would like to explore my experiences in this framework more in the future but think that holding it lightly is likely wise – it doesn’t cover all experience by a longshot, but maybe it can be useful for predicting what sorts of things are best to do when your setting imposes a certain “color”.

Discussion Questions:  What sorts of qualia taxonomies are your gotos?  Do colors of qualia resonate with you at all, even if the colors are different?  What are your thoughts on classing experience in systems like these?

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?

On Leveling Up

On Leveling Up

(Epistemic Status:  Endorsed – Somewhat vague/abstract)

Last year, I made a decision.  I was going to get good at “the social.”  I would meet with people, talk with them, figure out what this extroversion thing was like.  This so happened to coincide with me getting invited to more parties, noticing that I didn’t seem to be very good at parties but other people were, and still going to them despite this.  This actually worked fairly well – I made an effort to actually try at parties, I’d meet interesting people, I’d talk to them one on one, I got better at conversations, things were great.  So I started optimizing more and more, putting a lot of pressure on myself to “get good at social,” kept post morteming and creating nice subjective lists of whether things were Good or Bad, and increasingly my life was about “being that weird girl obsessed with meta social things.”

Naturally I got way worse at social, people started considering me kind of manipulative, and I had to take a step back – instead of leveling up, I leveled down.  Had a kind of miserable fall and winter and moved on to other things.

A curious thing happened when I moved onto other things.  The object level thing of Get Good At Social became way less important, I had tasks that I needed to do.  I needed funding to change my life. I had to learn to program.  I had to get housing things done.  I had to strategize about having a good life and think about the future – and suddenly all that social grinding became useful because it wasn’t aimed at the object level “get good at social,” it was aimed at the object level “if I miss these steps, I will fail.

There’s a failure mode where people want to be good at something – something is usually underspecified, and the details are difficult to pin down.  More frequently, this happens with social skills like “being good to talk to” or “being able to lead people” or “being able to get dates and sex”.  This sometimes happens with things that look “cool”, like being fit, or being good at dancing.  Regardless of the type of thing, you can usually get as far as generating some way to practice; however, you often end up grinding things that might correlate with the thing you want, or just make you good at a certain subset of thing while ignoring the supporting skills.  I tried to get good at social, and the skill I ended up developing was being able to frame things in my life as interesting and direct conversational flow such that I could talk about things that I liked talking about.  It’s a useful skill, but it’s not All Social Skills Ever, and overuse of the thing I was good at made me weaker.

Leveling up is rarely about directly trying to access the thing you want to be good at – usually it takes working on projects that require the skill and being able to accept failure.  I’ve been taking courses on programming, but when it comes to trying to implement projects to make my life easier?  It’s hard to know where to start – I have to work with people and end up in a lot of dead ends, because I mostly wireheaded “being good at programming courses”.  On the flip side, I’ve had to do a lot of illegible networking things lately to do things like “create group house” or “have money to survive switching career paths.”  A lot of the social stuff I’ve done has been helpful, but if I approached this as “Oh I guess I need to Network and Have Lunches”, I’d still be at square one.  By just Doing The Things, I’ve gained a lot of valuable S1 knowledge on social dynamics that I’m still working on S2 parsing out, and in turn have accidentally gotten notably better at other social skills besides “directing conversational flow.”

Several people I know would like to go on dates and have sex.  Several other people I know want to be better at mindhacking and fix all their EF problems.  Others I know want to save the world.  They work on these things and talk a lot about the failure modes and the things they’ve done – it’s honestly impressive.  But…somehow, 6 months to a year down the line, they still haven’t succeeded (at least, to their satisfaction) at the task they set out to do.  In some ways, they’ve become worse – the potential never actuated.  For awhile I wasn’t sure why this was happening – in the same way I wasn’t really sure why I seemed to be stagnating socially and not actually accomplishing anything anymore.  I suspect this is why – the thing in and of itself is not a reasonable goal – it’s unbounded.  Suddenly, though, when concrete things need to be accomplished that require a set of skills, those skills start to come to the fore – and if you’re missing something, you realize what you’re missing in a hurry because your approach is not working.  This post is partially to the people I notice getting stuck in undesireable loops – it’s also partially to me.  I feel like I got way more powerful at the things I wanted to be good at over the past month or two – and it wasn’t by thinking about “ok I gotta do the thing to be better at leadership/social/conversation.”  It was by having problems that I needed to solve or else.  I realize not everyone can get into a situation like that, and it’s hard to let go of the optimization value. However…

True levelling up doesn’t come from directly going at a Thing – it comes from doing a variety of things that aren’t strictly connected to your Thing and discovering in retrospect that all your training suggested routes that are unique to you and provides a lot of real world training data on your skills and what you want to do.

Overall, I think it’s good to want to become stronger.  However, I think wanting to get stronger becomes a shibboleth in many people – they do train and do things that sorta work for improvement, but they end up in a state of constant striving because the things they’re doing aren’t aligned with running headfirst into reality.  The goal of becoming stronger caps your potential and leveling up resumes mostly when doing stuff becomes the priority – not just doing stuff because “becoming stronger” is the incorrect way to become stronger – doing stuff because you need that money or your plan falls apart.  Not just doing stuff to “level up”, doing stuff because you are there and the stuff needs doing.  Not just doing stuff because you’re “supposed to” – doing stuff because you have actual goals besides “getting good at Thing.”  Realizing your potential is scary and hard – figure out how your world is inconvenient and fix that instead.

Discussion questions – Have you noticed this pattern in your life at all?  Have you ever gotten caught building a skill for the sake of having skills and having trouble implementing it?  Do you think this is just limited to social things, or does it extend to anything that has a form of “get good at X”?  Several concepts kind of intermix in this post – how would you split them out to apply the advice to your life best?

On Internal Monologue Modification

(Epistemic Status:  Endorsed, lightly tested, light kink cw)

My thoughts are most frequently words.  When I think about thinking, I see a stream of descriptions, explanations, sentence fragments, etc.  I ask my internal monologue how I feel about things.  Words are an extremely natural filter for me to see the world through.  It turns out, I can change that filter to some extent.

One night, I found myself looking at my partner – we were just chatting casually about something or other, but there was a sense in which she was positioning herself lower than me.  A lot of her body language was reading as wanting to move on to something that involved less talking.  Well, I wasn’t really in the mood – a lot of my internal monologue was thinking about the topic and about her as someone to look up to in terms of knowledge about the world.  Once I noticed this, I decided to try something – I switched my internal monologue to something more intimate.  I started cycling different words to describe her than I was before, as well as different words to describe myself.  Very shortly after, something strange happened – I started changing my position in my chair.  I seemed bigger, like I was taking up more physical and social space.  She got quieter, she found herself less able to look away from my eyes.  I felt myself getting more aligned with what she desired and my next actions started flowing much more smoothly.  Suffice it to say we had a very good night afterwards.

Now, this tool has uses outside the somewhat suggestive one above – essentially, any situation where you feel you’re not interacting with it in a way that serves your needs (or the needs of others), any situation that might feel uncomfortable, any situation that seems difficult can be changed depending on how you think about it.

The first step is deciding how you want the situation to be.  This is a fuzzy and difficult – the example was me wanting to respond in an aligned way to my partner and feel good about it.  However, sometimes it’s harder to tell – something going poorly makes it difficult get out of your internal perspective enough to see how a stance could change.  Essentially, it’s noticing that a situation would benefit from change and the thoughts that flow from there.

The second step is noticing your internal monologue – this might be nontrivial depending on how you think.  That’s ok.  For me, I ask myself what I’m thinking about a situation.  As I sit here writing, I’m hearing the words I’m typing in my head, but also rewriting and rephrasing, thinking about how the presentation looks (“Is this too personal?  Am I explaining the thing well?  Can this be adapted to people who don’t think like me?  Am I just reinventing NLP?”), thinking about how I feel about my blog (“I’ve kept this running for a year, huh.  I think my latest posts aren’t as good as some of my earlier posts.  I’m really happy people read the things I write.  I feel good right now”), etc.  That was slower than I would normally do it, so there’s some filtering going on, but that’s what you’re tapping into.

The third step is considering salient things to the situation.  Most frequently, this is a person you are with – it can also be an environment or an object.  Notice what you think about that object – an example of another time I used this technique was when I was extremely hungry and was completely impatient with everything, while in a restaurant.  I noticed both my hunger and the prospect of future food – I had a sense of anticipation for the food, but it had this entitlement attached to it.  The internal mantra was something like “I’m so hungry right now, why is this food taking so long, why is it so loud in here, why is this person talking about such stupid shit doesn’t she realize food should have happened a long time ago, ugh I can’t focus, I kind of hate everything.”  I’m sure this isn’t hard to emulate.

The fourth step is realizing the most natural way to shift the situation into something more desirable – in the case with the restaurant, the anticipation of food was important to keep; however, it could be treated positively.  Rather than “I’m so hungry it’s taking so long”, I could think “I ordered some really tasty food, I’m very curious about what it’s going to taste like.  I think they’re probably taking a lot of care in preparing it.”  Letting that line of thought perpetuate suddenly completely changed the mood at the table.  I was more interested in what my friend was saying, I felt a lot of compassion for the restaurant staff, I was just generally happy to be there.  In the first example with my partner, the shift to thinking about her in a way she wanted to be thought about echoed throughout my body language – my entire demeanor changed, naturally leading to a better situation for both of us.

Overall, changing the internal monologue in some senses is holding an intention to make things better on some metric – from emotions come thoughts, from thoughts come mannerism, from mannerism come behavior and script.  It’s something that is not only helpful to internally try to notice and apply, but to give to other people – sometimes being externally asked what your internal monologue is doing can be the trigger you need to shift into a mode that feels better.  I will caution that the point isn’t always to feel better though – sometimes, you want to change your internal monologue to create negative affect around something.  The point isn’t to be a Stepford wife happybot through system 2 coercion, the point is to make more options in action space available.  When the internal monologue becomes modifiable, so too does your level of abstraction from a situation.

Discussion questions:  Do you have an internal monologue?  Have you ever used the internal monologue to redefine a situation or your role in a situation?  What mental motions do the steps above suggest?  What other ways do you interact with your internal monologue?