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 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 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?

On Save States

(Epistemic Status: Speculative but testable, fun experiments to try at home, mind hacking, cw hypnosis)
There is an experiment I wish to try in the future (and has been tried by a couple of my friends with positive results).  The point will be to facilitate access to past mental/emotional states at will through invoking flashbulb memory and tying to hypnotic recall.

The concept is rather simple. The first step is to acquire several scented sprays (perfumes, ideally) and carry them around with you. Make sure they are clearly labelled or at the least that you are able to tell them apart. When you have an experience/emotional state you would like to “save”, immediately spray the perfume under your nose while being as mindful as possible about the experience. Focus on the scent, as well as what you are hearing, feeling, tasting, and seeing in that moment. Overall, the goal is to invoke a flashbulb memory experience, or at least a very strong memory.

The next step is to record the memory. Write it down, talk about it, add redundancy to reliving the experience and give it more narrative body. What lead up to it, what happened, and how it felt.

After this, create a hypnotic script to recall this memory. I favor using your writings to tell a story and from there have someone hypnotically induct you and use your notes as a story to tie the hypnosis to a trigger word. Use the perfume during the hypnosis to reinforce the connection of the emotion to the smell (this may actually associate it with being hypnotized, so this is a possible failure mode). Once you have that trigger word, make sure it’s explicitly self triggerable and also written on the perfume.

To recall the Save State, spray the perfume and invoke the trigger word and note how much of the emotional/experiential state comes back and reapplies itself to the new situation. If this actually works, it should be possible to generalize the association a bit and cause a self reinforcing loop where you use the save state, save state the save state, and reinforce the trigger repeatedly in broader contexts. If the state does not recall the first time, I would advise being more specific and trying to match the previous scenario as closely as possible and making each save state drift a bit more to broaden applicable circumstances.

Discussion: What would you do with save states? What other approaches would you take to solidify the memory or facilitate recall? If you try something like this, please share your experience; I am happy to do the hypnosis for you if that is your barrier to entry and I am available.

On Weird Things I Do For Reasons

(Epistemic Status: Anecdote and storytelling – this is more or less a list of stuff and the closest thing I have to an explanation of the benefits)

I’ve been noticing lately that I do some nonstandard things even in relation to my reference class. I feel like it might be interesting to list a few and explain why I do them – individually they wouldn’t really make much of a post, but together they might form a bigger picture of how I think. Generally, I’m at some level optimizing for my brain to work in a socially present way; I’m also trying to

  • Recording Ideas – If I’m in a conversation and something important comes up, I will stop, ask the person for a moment, and record the thing I think is important. If I have an idea while I’m on my own, I make sure I get my phone out to record it. I find this helps me keep things together – I don’t actually listen to the recordings frequently. The act of recording in the first place increases the salience of the idea.
  • Random Parkour – This is essentially the “interacting with the environment in an unusual manner” thing, but I find it’s really helpful for breaking negative feedback loops and diffusing my focus. This is less great if I need to talk or think about a specific thing, but if I’m just being anxious, it’s a good reset and lets me move on productively. Also useful for changing the topic if I don’t like what’s going on.
  • No Phone Zone – I don’t keep my phone near me at parties. I will sometimes grab it if I find someone who’s saying a lot of things that inspire me for recording reasons, but otherwise I keep that thing as far away from me as possible. Usually it makes for better conversations.
  • Holding Ground – I think about space a lot – I will 95% of the time not defer to someone walking the other way down a sidewalk, especially if they’re “in my lane”. This is part confidence building but also a situational awareness thing. It forces me to engage my environment such that I can project the level of “don’t fuck with me” necessary to cause someone to get out of my way.
  • Look at the Eyes – I try to pay attention to where people’s eyes are going. If there’s a singular focus and it’s unclear why, that’s interesting data about the environment. If someone else is scanning eyes the same way I am, that tells me they’re interesting. There are a few other things but eyes are interesting overall.
  • Do It Right Away – I’ve accepted that when people ask me to do things, I either need to do it right then, or ask them to tell me to do it at a time that I can do it right then. I mean, I can also set my own reminder but usually, by asking them to remind me I get some data on whether they really need me to do the thing (if it’s not clear from the nature of the thing).

I’m sure I do other weird stuff but this was what mostly came to mind at first.

Discussion Questions: What sorts of weird things do you do for optimization reasons? Do you think you can afford to do more weird things in your life? What do you stop yourself from doing because it’s kind of weird and you think it will go socially poorly, but might be really beneficial?

On Addiction and Hypnosis

(Epistemic Status:  Theoretical – I haven’t tested this but this post is intended to provide a tool for breaking unwanted addictions)

CONTENT WARNING: This post contains a hypnotic script – the intended effect is to install an unpleasant nausea sensation when doing a physical motion associated with an addiction that you no longer wish to have.  If this is not an effect you desire, please Ctrl-F to “End”

EDIT:  Added warning – this is probably bad for people with scrupulosity issues.  If you tend to already feel pretty bad about your use of time, this isn’t for you)

Begin

(Read this as slowly as you need to in order to let your focus rest on my words)

Hello there.

I hope you are doing well.

Today, I would like to help you with something.

Would you like my help? Say yes or no aloud.

Yes? Very good.

Before we start, I want you to focus on your breathing. Notice how you are breathing in and out.

Keep your rate steady…breathing in

Breathing out

Breathing in

Breathing out

Keep focusing on your breathing…

Notice your body. Notice the tension

In your back, in your legs, in your shoulders

Wherever that tension might be

Focus on your breathing

Slowly release the tension from these areas

Start with your legs

Focus on your breathing

Let yourself relax deeper and deeper as you untense your body

Feel them unwind, your legs untensing as you focus on your screen

Focus on your breathing

Move your attention upward, feel the tension in your hips

Let that tension go

Focus on your breathing

Let yourself relax deeper and deeper as you untense your body

Move your attention upward, feel the tension in your back and stomach

Focus on your breathing

Unclench your stomach, relax your lower back

Let yourself relax deeper and deeper as you untense your body

Move your attention upward, feel the tension in your chest and shoulders

Focus on your breathing

Relax your chest, let your shoulders fall

Let yourself relax deeper and deeper as you untense your body

Move your attention upwards, feel the tension in your upper back and neck

Focus on your breathing

Allow your shoulderblades to fall, let your neck droop

Let yourself relax deeper and deeper as you untense your body

Move your attention upwards, to your head

Focus on your breathing

You might feel tension in your head, around your temples or forehead

Release that tension – it has no place here

You feel very good and relaxed

Let yourself relax deeper and deeper as you untense your body

Focus on your breathing

You might be feeling your eyes droop – that’s ok, you only need to be able to read the text

I’m going to bring you into trance now that you’re feeling relaxed

I’ll be counting up to 10

Ready?

1 – You feel relaxed, focused on these words

2 – You feel more deeply relaxed

3 – You feel yourself falling deeper and deeper into trance

4 – You feel so relaxed and entranced right now

5 – You feel even more deeply entranced

6 – You feel yourself falling deeper and deeper and deeper into trance

7 – You feel relaxed, entranced, and focused on your screen

8 – You feel even more deeply rested and relaxed

9 – You feel yourself falling deeper and deeper and deeper into trance

10 – You are in a state of trance

Now, you asked me for some help with something earlier – do you know what you want help with?

Say yes or no aloud.

Yes? Focus in on what you’d like help with – you will be thinking of an addiction that you no longer wish to have – a behavior that you engage in habitually that you do not want. It might be something like smoking or drinking. It might be something like videos games or television. If might be something other than this – and that’s ok.

I want you to think about what you do when engaging this behavior. Visualize yourself doing this activity. I want you to physically make the motion of doing this activity. If smoking is your vice, I want you bring your fingers to your lips, like you are taking a drag of a cigarette. If it is a game you want to no longer play, I want you to go through the clicks or gestures it takes to open the application.

Now, I want you focus on what you are feeling from that experience.

I want you to focus on how the motions of your addiction make you feel.

I want you to pay attention to all of your feelings – the expectation, the joy, the guilt, anything you might have felt.

Hold that feeling.

You can take some time to hold this feeling.

Do you understand how it feels? Say yes or no aloud.

Yes?

I want you to imagine a new feeling

This feeling is a physical sensation

Think about a time you’ve felt nauseous

Feel the rolling of your stomach, the queasiness at your core

Feel the dizziness, dazedness of that nausea

Feel that sensation of being on the edge of throwing up

Do you understand how it feels? Say yes or no aloud.

Yes?

Now add that feeling to what you feel when you start your addiction – do the same physical motion you did before

Hold the feelings from before

Add that nauseous feeling you just felt

Now, I want you to do that again

Do the same physical motion you did before

Hold the feelings from before

Add that nauseous feeling you just felt

Now, I want you to do that again

Do the same physical motion you did before

Hold the feelings from before

Add that nauseous feeling you just felt

Now, I want you to do that again

Do the same physical motion you did before

Hold the feelings from before

Add that nauseous feeling you just felt

Now, I want you to do that again

Do the same physical motion you did before

Hold the feelings from before

Add that nauseous feeling you just felt

Do you understand how this feels? Say yes or no aloud.

Yes?

Now, I want you to release all the earlier feelings

Let go of the nausea, the unpleasantness

Let go of the feelings from your addiction

I want you to hold a new feeling

Focus on your breathing

Relax.

Focus on your breathing

Relax.

Focus on your breathing

Relax.

Are you relaxed? Say yes or no aloud.

If the answer is no – reread the above and focus on your breathing

Relax.

If the answer is yes – Good.

I want you to feel relaxed, refreshed, and aware again

What you did just now will stay with you

If you engage in your addiction, you will feel nauseous

I will give you something else

When you choose not to engage in your addiction, you will feel relaxed and refreshed

When you choose not to engage in your addiction, you will feel relaxed and refreshed

When you choose not to engage in your addiction, you will feel relaxed and refreshed

Very good.

Our time is coming to a close

I’m going to count down from 5

You will be leaving trance

5 – You feel yourself floating upwards, less drawn to my words

4 – You feel a little more aware of your surroundings

3 – You feel able to move, to stretch

2 – You feel more awake, aware, refreshed

1 – You feel like you’re leaving trance

0 – You are awake, aware, refreshed, as if you’ve awoken from a nap

END

The above script is meant to address object level addictions. In particular, I expect it is a tool that can counter the habits that various games and electronic media install, if you wish. You can use it for other habits – in a sense, it is installing an ugh field around an activity you’ve lost control of via simple conditioning. On the meta level, this is meant to illustrate a certain concept about human behavior.

Humans will do the thing that is easiest for them to do.

“Easiest” sometimes manages to stretch over a longer timescale, which is related to “willpower,” but most frequently, people’s speed of consciousness choices are made based on an extremely limited possibility space that is mostly directed by affect and effort. The hypnosis script above makes it harder to do an addictive thing, which makes relative costs of other actions cheaper/easier. As such –

You can make an action harder until it leaves possibility space.

The inverse is also true and possibly more interesting.

You can make an action easier until it enters possibility space.

The above statement how one creates an ugh field breaker.

 

Discussion questions: If you used the above hypnotic script, did it help you break an addiction? What other ways have you made undesired behaviors harder. How would you make desired behaviors easier? As a meta note, should I write more posts that use hypnosis to demonstrate concepts?

 

 

On The Port Scan

(Epistemic Status: An attempt to explain a thing I’ve experienced but not actually really practiced offensively – dangerous technology (this has social costs for failure))

As discussed in On Conversational Flow and Resonance, resonance is a way to increase conversational flow. However, resonance can sometimes be a difficult thing to find if you just poke randomly. Using Script Breakers (can sometimes create resonance by causing people to reveal the things that interest them by not having the protection of a cached thought. Sometimes if you follow a Tangent Stack the right way, you will find your way to a deep, unexpected resonance. Overall, though? These approaches are close to random in terms of finding resonance. If you’re intending to talk for a few hours, it’s fine to meander a bit…but if you have only a short time to make sure someone feels like they are on the same wavelength as you, you have to do something more intentional and directed – that thing is what I call the port scan.

So, open ports in the traditional sense are places outside devices can access a computer. In the same sense, a person’s resonance can be accessed by scanning for the type of conversation they’re most open to. The direct way to do this is literally try a few styles, clearly trying to find someone’s levers. Things like flattery, trying a few ways of talking in succession, or even asking questions designed to increase closeness quickly. In some ways, this is why circling can be a little “creepy” out of context. Generally, if you are really overt about doing a port scan, it will not go well. It doesn’t feel natural, it feels transactional at best, scammy at worst – it seems like con artistry, in the literal sense of trying to create confidence when there’s no rational reason for it to be there.

However, a well done port scan is not obvious. There are several ways to approach this without playing your hand. The clearest to me is paying attention to who someone knows that you also know. Your mutuals give clear clues to the kinds of conversations a person finds enjoyable. With a bit of pre-research when meeting a new person, you can trivially steer a conversation to the kind of thing that resonates with the person you’re speaking with and have a very pleasant time building closeness in a short period through that sense of being on the same page. This would be the more premeditated port scan – you do it before the interaction even begins. But what about a situation where you don’t know who knows who – a stranger on the street, or perhaps someone important in the elevator? This is a bit harder – the skillset is more or less cold reading. You have to try things with evidence from the place, time, and person’s aesthetic choices to find a resonance, under even more time pressure than usual. The trick to making a port scan work here is to not allow the frame to ever linger on a wrong detail. If something doesn’t resonate, don’t allow focus to go to that. Keep going, try something else. People don’t tend to remember what they’re talking about – if you don’t give any signs that something awkward happened, the other person will not want to accept the burden of the awkwardness. This is why it’s a scan – you keep trying things until you find what’s open. There’s a tempo to this, though – when something works, drill down a bit on it, but don’t get caught on it because you might run out of tangents to keep the interaction going – find a few more things using the trust created by the initial resonance. Don’t immediately try another port when you have hit a closed port – de-escalate the interaction to small talk and try again. This is really not a recommended approach for someone you will be seeing repeatedly regardless of whether the interaction goes well or not – this is for a meeting where you do not have an expectation of being able to meet this person again. It’s still a very aggressive strategy – a failed or noticed port scan is very socially costly and will usually result in people not feeling comfortable around you. This is definitely socially dangerous technology and should be used carefully.

Overall, port scans are…not comfortable. They’re useful, and when they work, they feel amazing and give you a measure of control over the conversational flow – but when they backfire, there is a lot to clean up. It’s a bit aggressive towards the person you’re speaking with as well, so you want to make sure you are optimizing for goals that both of you would endorse. There are other ways to do port scans other than those outlined above, but I don’t have a full understanding of how they work. My advice for practicing this skill would be openly doing it on a friendly audience – don’t try to be subtle, tell them what you’re trying to do. You won’t get real feedback, but this can at least help you with tempo with the right person.   The port scan is dangerous technology but is also a likely key to more powerful social interaction in situations with status differentials.

Discussion questions: Have you ever been port scanned? Did you notice it after the fact, or during? How did it make you feel? Have you ever done anything like a port scan to increase the resonance of an interaction? Do you think that this is an ethical tool to use when talking to people?

On Skill Development and Attention – Using All Your Processing

(Epistemic Status: Endorsed – this is why I like starting things for like a month and then drop them when I have to get actually good at them.)

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re trying to learn something new. Whether you’ve signed up for a class or are practicing something you’ve just read about, what is going through your head? Are you thinking about what you’ll have for dinner, or how cute that barista was, or any of the other countless trivialities that fill your life? If so, are you performing well at the thing you’re learning? I would predict not – very little is likely sticking. You probably are picking up a little bit, just by doing something over and over, or having an instructor guiding you – you aren’t going to come away having learned nothing, you just might not have learned a lot. Odds are, if you keep doing the task, you’ll get better at a steady, but very slow rate.

However, some of you out there might actually be fully present when you’re learning new things. As you imagine yourself picking something up, are you focused fully on what you’re doing? Paying attention to the keys of your piano, to the movements of a new dance, to the reasons you used that particular command in your script? Then you likely will understand the concept of using all your processing.

One dimension of skill development is the compression of physical and mental motion. As you get better at something, you are thinking less about the basic motions and instead using a combination of the basic motions as a building block for more complex motions. At certain levels of compression, instead of increasing single thread complexity, you can use the freed up processing to do another task at the same time, or even just keep the cognitive effort unused – i.e. merely operating at 20% or so capacity when using a very well understood skill on a basic task involving said skill. This is, in fact, how the majority of people do things. Using all your processing, all the time, is exhausting. It is inefficient. It is like using a world destroying laser to kill an ant at sufficient levels of skill. When you are using a skill for practical reasons and have defined the scope of the task at hand, it’s generally a good move to use just enough mental effort to accomplish the task.

However, humans are in fact cognitively lazy and largely run on habit. Learning new skills, combining skills, and improving skills are in fact causes to use all your processing – and some people do not approach new things this way. This type of person is like the tortoise in the Tortoise and the Hare – they pick things up slowly and steadily, not overly exerting themselves mentally to learn a new talent, but using a lot of time investment to get the idea. It’s easy to go into a class on a concept intending to just go through the motions and hope the technical bits just osmose through. To an extent, they do – the tortoise is still going in at 40% or so. They save some willpower or effort from needing to change the way they do things, and they do still learn. The drawback is that skill acquisition does become a relatively high time cost endeavor, so the consideration when learning something new is how much time will need to be invested for this to be worthwhile. Tortoises also tend to learn fewer skills over time – but they tend to be better at sticking with things because it’s not as tiring. Overall, I think schools and classes are probably optimized for tortoise types.

There are, of course, other ways to do things. When developing skills, some people are more like the Hare in the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare – they pick things up incredibly fast, but eventually want to take a nap halfway through. They’re very good at using all their processing at first – giving 100% in the first few lessons, whether self directed or other directed. The skill gain rate really is incredible – people will doubt a hare really is doing the thing for the first time because they go from bad at the thing to kind of ok at the thing extremely quickly. The hare understands things the first time they hear them and the second time they do them. The hare is engaged with their task, and in turn the task engages them. However…that’s just the first lesson. The second or third lesson or so, it’s less of a novel experience, and while using all your processing can get you the gist of a thing very quickly, it sometimes misses the technical details. Skill development can’t be short circuited so easily and when you do lesson one at 100% capacity, doing the next few lessons at a lower capacity actually makes you way worse at the thing. The hare starts to get lazy and it shows; suddenly the social and intellectual rewards from the new skill are not so easy to get, which causes the hare to lose interest. Hares tend to have a lot of things they are kind of sort of ok at, but never really got deep enough into to really know their stuff. As you might have guessed, I’m kind of a hare type. It’s really hard to master my focus to the degree that I can always bring all of my processing to a task, which in turn means I miss out on the much more steady, consistent reward curve of the tortoise. Which, in turn, makes it an uphill battle to learn something new to a level of competence I can actually consider useable in the real world. The hare is flashy, but not particularly good at things. The trade off for the hare is the ability to use willpower instead of time to pick up skills – skill acquisition isn’t going to take a long time, but it is going to be an ongoing willpower drain to keep pushing at full processing to get to the intrinsic rewards of skill acquisition – in a sense, it makes it almost seem like waste to start learning a skill.

Of course, there are those rare people who I call lions, completely leaving the frame of the Tortoise and the Hare. They are lions because they are the kings and queens of doing things and being competent. They are able to use all their processing, exactly when they need to, and it seems almost effortless. This kind of person just seems talented at everything. They seem like they are naturally better than everyone else – like they won the genetic lottery or something. This might be part of it, but the real secret to a lion’s success is in fact attention and focus. They only really need two metacognitive talents to achieve the level of competence they do – focus and discernment. The ability to wield their focus like a laser, narrowly drilling down on the task at hand. The ability to discern when this is necessary, when they can pull back to recharge a bit. The hare struggles because they only know how to go all or nothing. The tortoise struggles because they don’t know how to go all in. The lion succeeds because they can access the spectrum of cognitive effort. The lion’s tradeoff is largely choice – it’s not about how long it takes to pick something up, or how much effort it will take – it’s about what is actually worth doing that’s in line with their goals. The lion can learn to do anything, but there’s a whole wide world of things out there to do.

Using all your processing is largely the focus half of the lion’s skills – it’s exhausting at first, but it’s a trainable skill. The mental motion for using all your processing is similar to meditation. It’s use the skill or the task at hand as your focus and not letting anything outside the container of that skill intrude. It’s removing distractions but paying attention to what others are doing (if in a group), paying attention to what feels “off” (in yourself or others), and existing as an instrument for the skill you are trying to pick up. Consider both the motions as well as the concepts when you are learning. This is likely to be a little tiring, so I’d advise against signing up for a 3 hour workshop on underwater basketweaving and expecting you’ll be able to use all your processing the entire time. It’s important to be forgiving to yourself when your attention wanders. Still, even in short bursts, this sort of focus can be helpful.

 

As you improve at the skill you’re using all your processing to learn, you don’t want to get complacent like the hare – you’ll want to do some practice using less processing to make sure the basic motions of the skill compress properly, but you want to make sure you stage back up to full processing to start to blend things or add complexity – you want to master more advanced uses of the skill. Another use for using all your processing is to practice multiple compressed, complementary skills in tandem – multitasking is the art of splitting your attention across multiple disparate tasks at once; you don’t want to do this. You instead should do something called polytasking – the art of doing multiple complementary tasks together so as to maintain flow. Synthesis as opposed to haphazard combination.

Overall, using all your processing is a metacognitive skill that requires knowledge of how you use your focus and active decisionmaking on what is worth your focus. Using all your processing on a routine task is wasteful. Using all your processing on multitasking Is inefficient. Not using all your processing for learning new skills is slow. Not compressing the cognitive load of your skills is exhausting. This is largely an efficiency technique, but one that can pay big dividends on time spent.

Discussion questions: Are you a tortoise, hare, or lion? Which approach you think best – while the lion seems “superior” in some senses, they still are putting a lot of work into things that may not be strictly necessary, and missing out on experiences. What other approaches can be taken to skill development? How do you visualize your mental motion for using all your processing?