On The Nature of Hypnosis

(Epistemic status: Endorsed – this is how I model hypnosis and therefore approach innovation in my approach)

What comes to mind when you think of hypnosis? Perhaps it’s a flashily dressed showman waving around a pocketwatch and soothingly telling you how sleepy you’re getting. Maybe it’s some excessively attractive woman with a silky voice telling you how good you are to listen to her voice and her suggestions. Maybe it’s even something more mundane, a therapist having you interact with your smoking habit a different way. The commonality between all these things is simple – it’s focus.

My model of hypnosis is very simple, and very broad as a result – hypnosis is a focus hijack. You are taking all of someone’s attention and directing it in one direction, which leaves a lot of openings for suggestions to take hold. The showman is using the pocketwatch to draw the subject’s focus to one point – the woman is using her voice and body – the therapist is using the space and their voice. This actually gets broader than traditional interpretations of hypnosis – I argue that computers and phones, particularly social media and video games, are also a form of hypnosis. They are designed to monopolize your attention so you keep clicking and scrolling. This view opens up a lot of possibility in terms of how to set the space for hypnosis, how to create an induction, and how to awaken.

Inductions start before you even tell someone to relax. Inductions start before you’re even talking about hypnosis. A good induction starts from your subject being comfortable with you and open to being put into trance and the key to that is being someone that a person can be comfortable around. The reason for this is any hesitance on the part of the subject is stealing your focus. They won’t be paying attention only to you, they’ll be paying attention to you and that uneasy feeling. So when you do want to hypnotize someone, there needs to be trust between the two of you to allow for focus to be yielded fully. Once the hypnosis conversation starts, you add a bit more suggestion and talk about the future state of trance to build the structure of being put into trance in their mind – this is where you start aiming their focus as you talk about what you’re going to be doing. You want to be clear, honest, and tell them everything – though adjust to what the subject interacts best with; sometimes an overbuilt structure can get in the way depending on how the subject interacts with information.   You want to also make sure you’re helping them be physically comfortable in their space – this also starts before the induction so it takes a minimum of movement to get into the best position. The actual induction is more or less trivial, you’re actively managing their focus – giving them something to concentrate on like breath or imagery and reinforcing natural bodily responses as being a response to your suggestions.

Awakeners are pretty much the opposite of this. You’re releasing someone’s attention, allowing it to become theirs again. This is why I consider meditation to be the opposite of hypnosis – it’s about the locus of control. Meditation is explicitly controlling your focus – hypnosis is outsourcing your focus. A good awakener is gentle, slowly rising much like the subject should be rising from trance. The subject has largely been out of touch with their body, more focused on their inner world during the trance, and you want them to start feeling themselves again – their body, then their eyes, then their focus, then their full awareness. You want them to feel refreshed and alert, back in control of their attention. This is also why an awakener works well to break a screen trance – you are returning control of the subject’s attention and focus to them.

Focus management and attention is a surprisingly high amount of cognitive work – aiming your focus is much more difficult when you are tired or low on calories. It’s hard to meditate while you are tired – it is much easier to let someone take you into trance because you are outsourcing the cognitive work of where to place your attention. The model of hypnosis as a focus hijack allows deeper exploration of what exactly attention is and how it acts as a resource in modern society.

Overall, trance and hypnosis are fairly simple to experiment with; rather than modeling it as an esoteric skill that relies heavily on word choice, scripting, and doing things exactly right, the abstract concept of “I want to guide this person’s focus and direct it towards a mutually beneficial end” often frees up a lot of creative space and makes you a better hypnotist. The goal becomes maintaining that attention and not making suggestions that increase uneasiness – when you make the subject uncomfortable, that is a distraction. Inductions are meant to narrow focus and allow the subject to outsource attention – awakeners are meant to diffuse focus and give the subject back their attention . Creating a space where focus more smoothly can be directed where you need it to is the other vital ingredient. With these principles, you should be able to make up a decent hypnosis script.

Discussion questions: How much does the focus hijack model resonate with your hypnotic experiences? If you have been a subject, do these ideas align with the feeling of trance? If you are a hypnotist, does this explain some conscious and subconscious choices you make during a session? What are your models of hypnosis, either as hypnotist or subject? What are the gaps and flaws in the focus hijack model?

On Cognitive Credit Lines

(Epistemic Status: Speculative, leaning towards endorsed – it’s a model more than something actionable)

When you take out a credit line, you provide yourself with a lot of liquid capital.  This capital must be paid back, but generally resources now are more useful than resources later – present resources create significant flexibility and ability to respond to trends appropriately.   Present resources also allow you to make more bets at the same time – while the point is obviously maximizing your future resources, present resources are better than any future valuation.  This is a very long winded way of saying it takes money to make money.  My proposal is less catchy – it takes mental resources to make mental resources.

I feel as if we have a cognitive credit line of sorts in terms of how we live our lives.  The things that draw on this resource tend to include baseline mental management (reducing or maintaining your prickliness, controlling your narrative), ongoing projects, upcoming commitments, and marginal activities.  What is left is what you have to deal with unexpected events or crises (this is Slack).  It is much easier to do things when you have a fairly high cognitive credit limit and aren’t using too much of it.  It’s a lightness that lends itself to being able to allocate additional resources to all of your projects, or weather a crisis with equanimity.  Unfortunately, it is very easy to notice this lightness and be a cognitive spendthrift – taking on too many commitments, keeping too many ongoing projects in memory, or trying too many new mindhacks.  You get heavy very, very quickly and suddenly anything that seemed like a minor annoyance before becomes almost a full blown crisis – you’ve run out of cognitive credit and have to make costly choices to maintain any executive function; you also often start finding your cognitive credit ceiling lowers over time as you overspend and have difficulty paying off the cognitive debts.

Now, so far, this sounds less like a credit line and more a pool of resources – the reason I call it cognitive credit, however, is that there’s some level of elasticity as well as interest payments.  Cognitive interest payments are simple – as you hold onto a project for a longer time, especially if you are having trouble making headway, it starts costing you more cognitively.  Your thoughts start shaping more around this mental object – that’s your interest payment.  The more things you commit to, the more mental overhead they take up as you think about how busy you are or perhaps how much you dread an upcoming party or meeting – that’s your interest payment.  Mental management is a little different – in a way it’s just a fixed cost; that said, making changes to mental architecture does often impose increased ongoing balance until it becomes baseline, and that increased cost is part interest, part principle.

The elasticity of the cognitive credit line is more interesting – when you complete a project successfully or manage to clear a commitment from your stack, you frequently get a minor (or sometimes major) boost in cognitive credit.  Not only have you paid off your cognitive debt, but a success often increases the ceiling for cognitive expenditure – you can spend more resources because you have a memory of having succeeded.  Part of this is compression, but another part is the fact that the cognitive expenditure was an investment with positive yield, justifying a belief in going further.  On the flip side, failures often damage your cognitive credit line, sometimes permanently. It becomes much harder to start new projects or make new commitments when you’ve failed recently, or had to take a project off the stack because you couldn’t afford the upkeep or interest payments – this is a risk of running your cognitive credit line to the limit.  Your cognitive bank doesn’t trust that it’s worth the extra expenditure to extend you further credit.  Depending on how lasting the effect is, this is often how success spirals and failure spirals work – it’s a cognitive credit problem.

Maxing out the cognitive credit line is generally a really bad idea.  The costs of ongoing draws often increase over time unless you are able to pay off some of the principle. Further, you’re left with less room for crisis management.  Worse still, you often start cutting mental management unless you are free to drop an ongoing project – so your tradeoff is either handle your prickliness worse, which increases stress, which imposes additional future costs, or you drop a project early, get your credit line reduced by a sense of failure, and have to rebuild cognitive resources to handle future issues.  Much like how managing your credit score can involve not using more than 30% of your available credit, you should likely not exceed 40%-60% of your available cognitive credit (this is a guess, this is likely high variance based on neurotype).

There are several ways to gain additional cognitive credit – as mentioned before, success at a venture funded through cognitive credit will often increase the limit, at least for a little bit.  Medication (usually stimulants for a general increase, though often specific medications treating various conditions will increase cognitive credit purely by lowering the mental management draw on the resource) is often used, as is self care, and various weirder mindhacks.  Medication and mindhacks are often the highest variance, risks in their own right in terms of managing your cognitive credit line.

Overall, the cognitive credit line is one model of many for managing mental overhead and optimizing productivity – I’m unsure how much of this is actionable, but I find it’s a helpful model when I’m very down on how well I’m keeping up with my life.  It allows me to go from “I am an idiot who never should have thought she was capable of anything” to “I think I might be overdrawing my cognitive credit line and should consider if I can complete or drop any projects.”  This model does have some similarity to spoon theory, though rather than being on a day by day basis, this is more longitudinal cognitive overhead and how costs of ongoing projects can increase.  I think it’s worth playing with and improving and exploring extensions to see if actionable moves can be made within this model.

Discussion questions: How well does the cognitive credit line concept resonate with you? If it resonates, how often have you found yourself overdrawn and how did you handle it? How capable are you of managing your cognitive expenditures? If this doesn’t resonate, what seems to fall short? Are there any parts that seem incomplete or absolutely wrong? How do you model your longitudinal resource management?

On Space and Spirit

(Epistemic Status: Endorsed, but kind of difficult to apply – if your brain works at all like mine, doing something intentionally to break a down frame will often just cause the down to spread)

I’m going to ask you to do something. When I have completed these instructions, you will stop reading this post for 5 minutes.

For the first minute – consider your mood – are you feeling good, bad, indifferent? Don’t make a value judgment of your emotions, just…feel them, acknowledge them.

For the second minute – I want you to get up, stretch for a bit. Do wrist circles, ankle circles, shoulder circles – or perhaps another stretch that appeals to you. While you are doing this, consider how much space you take up; think about what is around you, what you are avoiding with your stretches. Maybe you can’t lean all the way over because you would bump into your desk, or you can’t stretch your arm all the way out because there is a wall. Notice these things, consider them – see your space with fresh eyes as you move in it.

For the third minute – I want you to move to another part of your room. Explore it, become in tune with how it looks, how it sounds, how it smells…touch it a little. I won’t ask you to taste the space, that might be weird.

For the fourth minute – consider how you feel again – has your mood changed? See how your relationship with your mood and your space has shifted.

For the fifth minute – leave your space entirely. Go on a walk – focus on the sensation of walking. It doesn’t strictly have to be one minute, but go for an amount of time that feels like a minute to you. When you come back, before you sit down, consider how you feel one last time.

Do this ritual now.

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Does it feel the same way as when you started, or do you feel differently? How did this ritual affect how you felt? What went through your mind as you changed your space – first a short distance change, and then a longer distance change? Did you find the flow of your thoughts changing?

 

There’s a phenomenon where we store some of our memory and processing in the space we are in. You perhaps have noticed that having a conversation while walking is a little more disconnected, or perhaps that when you shift spaces, it’s difficult to recall the previous threads of conversation; you might even need to completely restart conversational flow. Less obvious, however, is the fact that mood is often influenced by space – I often find that my mood can vary wildly based on where I am…and often I will come up with completely unrelated reasons as to why I feel worse or better. When I am at home on my computer, I often require significantly more activation energy to do important tasks – my room isn’t exactly good mood place for me because it often means I failed to make plans for the night, so I often feel a little worse than usual without being sure why, taking a little bit to rediscover that I do in fact have really high social needs. In a coffee shop, particularly ones I frequent, I often feel more conversationally witty, creative, and capable – I’m fun to be around and feel conversational flow keenly. I often also feel very happy and up, things feel very real. When I am at work, I often feel…dull, drained. It’s not exactly sadness, it’s a lack of spark. Being at my desk often causes me to ruminate more and be more sensitive to the status structure of the office, in ways that are not beneficial to me. However, when I note these things, I often can alter my mood by moving to a different space, at least briefly. When I change my space, I change my spirits.

The drawback of this approach is that you aren’t always in situations where you can change your space freely – considering it this way in a situation where you are already down may actually make the effect (and the affect) stronger if you cannot get out of it. Another drawback is that, at least for me, knowing I am doing something for the sake of altering how I feel can sometimes spread that feeling to wherever I go – the relationship between mood and space is not one way. Still, if one is able to move to a new place, it is usually easier to use a distraction to shift frames due to not having the weight of spatial context adding to mood management difficulties.

Overall, space is an easy to ignore aspect of mental motion, especially in today’s world where most of our focus is monopolized digitally, where space is less real. While space impacts mood and memory, it also impacts a variety of other things in ways that can sometimes be difficult to understand – a lot of self help focuses on this aspect because it is so easy to neglect. While self care often focuses on things like food, drink, and medication, I think it is also important to consider the trends of how you relate to space and how you can use these to improve your life.

Discussion questions: How has your use of space impacted your mood? Are there spaces that are “good” for you? What about “bad” for you? Do you think you can change the valence of a space through applied mindfulness? Did the ritual have any effect on how you related to the space you are reading this from?

On Saying Things That Are Wrong

(Epistemic – semi-endorsed, switching back to being truth-aligned has done gross things to my spark; dangerous technology – very close to actually drinking the Kool-aid and should probably be used judiciously; also probably dark arts)

I.

A long time ago, two factions were fighting over a territory. It was an island with a valuable canal – whichever faction held the canal had rights to the toll generated by this canal. After many a year of incessant fighting, these two factions settled on agreeing to have a war every four years and ceding the canal to the winner of that war, until next time. Now, while this was often better for all involved, the victorious faction from the previous war would often have a lot of trouble raising an army to defend their claim to the tolls for the next war. Often, the winning side would have to tell their members things that were verifiably wrong, or at least technically not correct. Sometimes it would be overstating the benefits from the tolls, or perhaps threats of famine from losing the toll income – other times it would be a more direct attack on the other faction, claiming that they would not stop at winning the war, but try to expand their claims if they won this time. Occasionally a particularly notable or odious member of the other faction would come to the attention of the victorious faction and be gratuitously scapegoated for the sake of raising numbers. Most of the times, the faction members would either not realize these things were untrue, or they would, and allow these inaccuracies to pass – they knew that the canal was a big part of their quality of life. Sometimes, however, a benign but somewhat clueless individual would try to correct the story, or clarify the statements that were wrong. It turned out this was unpopular, and this individual would be lowered in status, trusted less, and often overrun by authorities in the faction. It turns out that things that are wrong are actually a staple of human interaction, organization, and status.

II.

Several things are going on in this story. We will begin with the most boring aspect – the people who are saying/believing things that are wrong, installing it in their own memeplex. These are the other faction members playing along. Often facts have nuance, but this is less important than the sense of ingroupness and protection of resources. This has been written about many a time – a lot of people favor the status quo over the most accurate facts. Slightly more interestingly, the wrong belief does benefit the faction’s populace – they get their army, probably even joining themselves. The canal gets a proper defense – more of the populace is likely to live as well even if they are involved in the fighting, because they have both increased numbers and a stronger sense of trust for each other. The faction army doesn’t really want the clueless person at their back – if they don’t get what’s going on, how can they be trusted to be situationally aware on the field? Worse still, what if this attack on social cohesion is intentional, under the veil of just wanting the facts? It’s too dangerous to leave this sort of thing unchecked, so it has to be punished. Believing wrong things often has protective functions and can draw out additional internal and external reserves.

A less ingroup dynamic case of this is the concept of chaos magick – often it is layering a narrative of ritual over various desires and actions to add associations, triggers, and draw out extra reserves. These beliefs may also be wrong, but often pay dividends in outcomes.

III.

The more interesting part of this story is the clueless individual. She’s not all that clueless, actually – she sees what’s going on and has decided to reject it. However, she can do better than that. She already has the requisite skills, but she needs to frame them differently. The faction likely has a lot of people just nodding along, with very little to add. They hear about Odious Oliveri of the Other Faction and basically provide a chorus of “Fuck that guy”s. Our clueless individual might say “There were mitigating circumstances though, Odious Oliveri actually isn’t that bad, Pathetic Phillio is actually way worse, why does he get a pass because he’s on our side?” Predictably, she gets shunned and punished. Instead, she might consider approaching it like this “Odious Oliveri truly is horrible, failing to cross the road at the designated crossing and inconveniencing the carriages in a most odious way – what you might not have heard is that this fiend Oliveri has also been shaving the yaks in the common –“ A pause for effect “And blaming our absentminded scholar, Phillio, for it!” What this accomplishes is twofold – it increases the memetic strength of the claims made by the faction authorities, as well as signals to them that our not-so-clueless friend is both in on the story and willing to play ball.

To bring this more abstract, if an authority is telling you a story and you feel compelled to truth, you should consider how to turn this to your advantage. If you just state facts that break up their narrative, you are either malevolently or bumblingly attacking them socially – they have to assume you have intent and punish you accordingly. The right answer is to support the authority’s narrative, but in ways that signal you understand that it is a narrative. Don’t just agree – either reinforce in a broad sense, or even identify someone who is hesitating on accepting the story and restate the point in a way that gets that person on board. The more you do this, the more you increase trust; not just into your insight, but also into your judgment. If you can identify and accept wrong things, then you can convert this into status.

 

IV.

The most interesting part of this dynamic is the authority themselves. The not-so-clueless version of our heroine is very much a precursor to an authority in the structure – the authorities themselves are a little more difficult to class, however. In some cases, they will in fact be very much in on what’s going on and intentionally propagating it. They are the ones that see this as a problem of “we need an army for the canal defense war – how can we get the public on board.” Perhaps in modern times, this is the person saying “We need to increase our sales – how do we get our line on board.” They are crafting the narrative intentionally – they likely are buying it a little. This authority is a bit of a blend between the average faction member and our heroine; their status depends on the belief being accepted.

The other kind of authority is one who truly believes the stories and has the rhetoric to fire up the populace in this vein. They have no special insight, but their conviction is compelling beyond words. They are not just saying “yeah, fuck that guy”, they are going to Odious Oliveri’s house and painting it in horse dung on his door. These are the kind of people you use to accelerate a narrative – but doing this is playing with fire. When someone is a true believer, you do not actually have control over their actions or how they will use your story. Frequently, they will go in unexpected directions because it is not about the pragmatic aspects of your faction’s plight, it is almost entirely about ingroup. This part of the story is one side of why this mental technology is dangerous. It can be used to promote your interests, but in the process, you might cause collateral damage if you’re a bit too clever.

V.

Overall, none of these principles are new – there’s a mix of the Gervais Principle, Toxoplasma of Rage, and other assorted writings. What I am pointing at is how all these structures can be utilized to one’s advantage rather than fought – and how they can end up leading to one’s detriment. If you install wrong beliefs personally and don’t compartmentalize properly, you will likely end up with externalities you don’t actually desire (such as joining a faction’s army in a stupid economic war). If you argue against wrong beliefs too strenuously, you will lose status and be impotent. If you go along with the beliefs while angling for promotion, you’ll likely move up – but in turn you might create some monsters who don’t get the joke. Be careful with wrong things…but never dismiss them entirely.

Discussion Questions: Have you ever noticed in an office or a classroom how people react to things that are blatant lies? How does the reaction change when the manager is there and when they are not? Which reactions get encouraged and rewarded, and which ones get punished? How often do you do this to yourself to eke out a little bit more, or to allow for more flexible responses?

On Emotional Armor

(Epistemic status: Endorsed, involves frames, may be a weird bipolar thing)

In day to day life, things often go well, poorly, or unnotably. At least, they largely feel that way – in reality, such as it is, everything is a neutral event; it just is. As such, the real factor in a good day or a bad day is the perception wetware behind your eyes – how you frame events mentally. This is not to say you have control over it, most of our mental subroutines run too fast to do that. However, there is a useful thing I have noticed in relation to how we interact with our affect – the concept of emotional armor. This is adjacent to, but not the same concept as Slack (https://www.lesserwrong.com/posts/yLLkWMDbC9ZNKbjDG/slack is a post about the initial Facebook post; the idea as far as I can tell is Brent Dill’s.) Slack involves external and internal components – emotional armor is the internal only part. Emotional armor is how much bullshit you can take before you are vulnerable and emotionally high variance.

Emotional armor is a form of composure that relies on frame agility, how quickly you spin the valence of an event. Let us suppose the train is late and you will not make it to work on time – it’s easy to become upset and start being more annoyed by other things you might have taken in stride. Maybe you’re more annoyed at the beggar in the terminal. Maybe you’re sick of waiting for the old man to get his walker through the doors. Maybe you’re shoving through people with much less regard than usual – you let things get worse because you’re already taking emotional damage from an unprotected vector. You have framed things as Bad. Emotional armor is the ability to see the train delayed, give a hapless shrug, commiserate about the transit service with the old man next to you, who you patiently helped onto the train because you weren’t fussed and still maintain a pleasant morning despite the stress. While none of the external events really changed, the way you related to them did. Emotional armor often increases your opportunities to Choose Otherwise.

How much emotional armor you have going into a day can vary wildly based on physical, mental, and baseline factors. The type of person you are generally places the range on your emotional armor capacity. How well rested and fed you are, how balanced your nutrients are, whether you’ve had medication or not, all these things can also affect your emotional armor. Mentally, how much is already on your mind can increase or decrease emotional armor – to elaborate, I find that the more of my processing is tied up, the further my emotional armor decreases at a surprisingly rapid pace. Even if the thing taking my processing isn’t Bad, it’s the fact that I lack the extra room to engage in frame agility that decreases this value. Having had positive experiences or fulfilling interactions can often increase emotional armor – so can the anticipation of such things.

Overall, emotional armor is the kind of thing that seems difficult to hack in unusual ways – doing basic self care is the most consistent way to increase it. Emotional armor also isn’t a cure for bad situations – it often can internally improve your life and leave you more open to alternatives, but it’s not going to prevent you from getting fired if you’re one late train away from termination, no matter how good you feel about the moderate delays in service (however, it might make getting the termination news easier to weather and increase recovery time for finding another job.)   The biggest benefit to having emotional armor as a concept is the possibility of using it to break downcycles and “put the emotional armor back on” to restore a certain presence of mind.

Discussion: How has emotional armor improved your relation to events in your life? Have you experienced the sensation of knowing something “should” be bad but having been sufficiently insulated that it surprises you? How do you personally increase your emotional armor levels?

On Idealist Sociopathy

(Epistemic Status: Inspired by https://www.facebook.com/gdiego.vichutilitarian/posts/1474383972645395?pnref=story, somewhat endorsed, fairly heavy framing)

The human mind is not a particularly truth-seeking agent. The illusion of consciousness is largely a function of increasing reproductive fitness via self preservation. It is not the truth that spurs a person to action but an emotional resonance. Geigo’s post explores the political implications of this combined with the terrifyingly easy emotional access various ideological blocs have due to social media – however, there is something even more frightening in between those lines. There are some that have adapted to these brainwashing tactics; however, that immunity is socially costly. I propose that the increasing sociopathy of heavy internet users is a self preservative measure against emotional hijacks via superstimulus.

There are so many stories out there these days, anecdotes of cruelty, horror, and despair from all forces, natural, manmade, ideological, political, random, etc. No matter what you believe is true, you can find something confirming it. Your story is valid. On the first level, most people just keep sharing the same stories, over and over, with different actors each time. The horror never ends, nor does the work. The outrage cannot stop. On the second level, you try to think a bit more, you fact check a bit, but things still seem bad – Ideology of Choice is still clearly Correct because it understands the horrors that take place every day. On the third level, you have a diverse enough bubble that you realize that all the stories are the same, not just the stories within one bubble or another – they just have different frames. It becomes harder and harder to get outraged, harder and harder to pay attention because it all blends together. You get desensitized – the Ideologies of Choice do not like this much and will often build in calls to outrage and shame this desensitization. Level three is very heavily targeted by level one and it’s a dark place.

But then there’s level four. You realize it’s all just attention hijacking and you may be desensitize but you’re still not above it…but maybe you could be. Maybe you can just knock the entire system out that is responding to level one’s shaming of your lack of outrage, and level two’s assumption that you might be going a bit too lowkey. This is where things get interesting – you harden yourself against the brainwashing and refuse to allow any Ideology of Choice to really fully stick…and suddenly it’s much harder to relate to people. It’s difficult to perform the right affect when they tell you of a tragedy, even when it’s in real life. It’s difficult to know what to say because part of you – maybe it’s a small part, maybe it’s a big one, sees the scaffolding of the stories, the ones used to hurt you and manipulate you and hijack your attention. It’s not that you want to be a sociopath…everyone really is manipulating you and it’s so much harder to just let it happen. The defenses kick in too fast for conscious thought. You have been inducted to the Ideology of Sociopathy.

The twist here is that, level four isn’t actually an immunity, it’s emotional damage – worse still, it has it’s own ways to be hooked. Instead of using a direct emotional appeal, a would be brainwasher of a sociopath appeals to the sense of superiority, the sense of being In On The Secret to extract attention. The worldview of deep cynicism gets confirmed, over and over. No longer is outrage being harvested but ruthlessness – the sociopath is weaponized in a way that an outraged person cannot be. This was realized well before the political machine got a hold of social media. The wild days of the internet, the late 90s early aughts were a case study in screen time sociopathy. One only need look at the old days of 4chan, when everything was reduced to the value of the lulz.

There is no win condition with social media – our emotional systems are so thoroughly co-opted that we cannot use them for guidance, but nor can we try to damage them beyond repair. We cannot exit the rat race and hope to still be connected to those around us. We cannot be outraged all the time to connect to others. We are trapped in a high speed attention market and the trade floor never closes.

Discussion questions: Have you noticed you or others around you becoming more emotionally detached as things get more out of control? Have you found another way to cope with the social media news cycle? Can the human brain rise above this trend?

 

 

 

On Being The Most Interesting Person in the World; or Narrativizing Your Life

(Epistemic Status: Works with a cost, practical advice, dangerous technology. This method can alter the way you relate to your memories.)

Let me tell you a story. It’s about the time I hypnotized a pickup artist.

There once was a time when I was accosted by a pickup artist on the train. He tried a few times to start a conversation and eventually I bit. We proceeded to talk awhile and without really realizing what happened, I gave him my phone number. It took me a couple stops but I eventually realized that that was, in fact, literally pickup and I analyzed the hell out of it. Shortly after, I got a text from my new, ah, friend. So now I had to decide what I wanted to do; being a novelty seeker, I decided to roll with it. So we go on a first date (after some wrestling over time and place). Now, see, I am a novelty seeker and I enjoy trying things that others might not, but I’m not stupid. I took some…precautions against game being used on me. The first was, of course, knowing he’d show up 5 minutes late; I showed up 15 minutes late in response. The second was opening the situation with the filter of the Demon Queen. I made myself big, powerful, and generally controlled the conversational flow. Anything he said was responded to slowly, carefully. I only gave him what I fully consciously wanted to give. The third was, of course, a conscious decision that this was absolutely not ending in sex. All three of these preparations were useful but it turned out only the first was necessary.

When I showed up 15 minutes late, it was clear he was disoriented. He did a weak power play by having his drink already but I just mostly ignored that fact. Conversation was fairly anemic at first as he tried to find a thing I gave a damn about. It was like a cat playing with a mouse. Eventually I relented and actually allowed a conversation flow to form. The piece de resistance was later though, when I finally outright called him out on his behavior in our initial meeting. It went a little like this:

“So, I know what you did Thursday.”

And dude is looking a bit embarrassed, like he’s been caught, but tries “Well, before I tell you what I did, why don’t you tell me what you think I did?”

Since I’m a sucker for a good monologue, I do exactly that. In exacting, precise detail. At first the dude has this kinda horrified expression but as I keep talking, it’s almost this perverse pride as I change from a target into something that almost looks like a “colleague”. So the rest of the date is spent talking about this stuff. This is all set up for the real story, the second date.

So, second date. The initial plan is to see how pickup works (I mean, it would be novel – thankfully, this didn’t work out). It turns out that the night we chose is a poor night to try to find a nightlife. So we wander a bit and have actually decent conversation. I almost feel a bit bad at this point…but then we decide to stop somewhere for a drink, at his suggestion. It’s this bar, it’s got a good vibe and we get seated and get some menus. The guy lets me know that he tried doing the pickup thing with the waitress in the past. I’m like, well, ok, that seems kinda sketchy but whatever. Then we get…a different waitress to take our order. She checks his ID and only takes my debit card; she’s looking real close at that ID. A couple moments later, this big guy comes over, says “Excuse me sir, I’d like to speak with you” and this poor guy just, like, flees. I get my stuff back, cancel my order, and go after. This guy basically is dazed. You just don’t recover from being kicked out of a bar. We find another place to get a drink and he’s still not very communicative. I’m more or less laughing at him because, like, what else can you do and also I’m kind of Demon Queenish here.

So, at this point, I’m going to mention an interesting thing about hypnosis. Hypnosis can be used when someone is confused, it’s one of several ways to induce a state of trance. As you might have noticed, my date is just a bit confused and off his footing.

So, you know, I do what’s perfectly natural in a situation like this. I start a hypnotic induction. I am mildly surprised when it takes, but I keep my flow and I take him into trance; in a rare fit of kindness, I don’t make him do anything weird, and then take him out. He’s pretty much back in his stride after that and the date ends. At that point, I’m pretty satiated with the novelty seeking, so I basically tell him it was fun but, you know, we’re done. And that’s the story of how I got picked up, proceeded to outgame the pickup artist, and then hypnotized him when he made a critical social mistake.


I told this story to create an example of a concept I want to express. That concept is narrativizing your life. There are several key steps to turning any experience into a story. These are having a clear hook, context, a rhythm, a climax, and a conclusion.

The clear hook in my story is simply the first two sentences: “Let me tell you a story. It’s about the time I hypnotized a pickup artist.” I’m establishing an expectation, this is going to be a story, not wool gathering, not a memory, a story of an experience I had. The second sentence sets the tone and gives the listener the option to accept or refuse the hook (in spoken conversation, it’s usually with a bit more of a questioning tone, to let people know they have a choice.) I have a few stories with clear hooks like this, it’s usually just in the form of “the time I did X”. This concept does double duty, it doesn’t only cue the listener into knowing they are about to be told a narrative, but it also cues up your own memory of the storified experience.

Context is the next thing. A story that lacks context is not engaging. The reason I spend so many words on the first date is to establish the relationship I had created with this guy, as well as foreshadow future actions taken by me. It would be much faster to say “So I went on a date with a pickup artist. He got kicked out of a bar, so I ended up hypnotizing him.” It wouldn’t be a good story though. It’s very closed, it only invites a few questions. I also provide context for how hypnosis works later, further foreshadowing the very next scene. If you’re creating a story out of an experience, it is important to consider what context you have to include in the story to make it legible. Another related thing for context is leaving pauses. It’s not really conveyable in text but things that might not be understood (such as why I showed up 15 minutes late to counter his 5 minutes late) deserve a pause, to invite a question if one is there, or a minimal encourager if your conversation partner is following. Knowing what needs context is often the breakdown in trying to tell a story you haven’t told before about your life.

Rhythm is also very important, and very difficult to convey through text. It’s all about how you pace your words, how responsive you are to the back and forth of a conversation. I would be extremely droll if I just rapidly read aloud everything I wrote about; when I pause to invite questions, or throw in the occasional filler word to make it more relatable, it becomes much more of a back and forth, a game of catch where the story can change direction based on the feedback of the person you are speaking with. Even in text, though, you can see some of the rhythm. My paragraph breaks are points I want to draw attention to, my language is informal, each piece is a chronological shift, to a degree. Adding a rhythm to your experience can increase the engagement level because it keeps people hooked in the story.

Now, when telling a story, you need a climax. This should be alluded to in your hook, foreshadowed by the rising action before it, and then when you hit it, you have to go. You have to make it clear it’s the climax and that you are not to be interrupted. From “So, second date”, this is where I’m going to drop my tone a bit, be a bit more conspiratorial. This is the good stuff. I’ve placed most of the information for the punchline already and now I just have to pick up each piece and show you why it was important. This is the payoff. This is where I place the heaviest frames, because this is the part I want people to remember. The reason I explain that I’ve gotten this guy to see me as a “colleague” is so that it makes sense for him to tell me he used pickup on the waitress. The reason I mention my Demon Queen filter is to make it clear that I am being very zero-sum with this guy and the action of hypnotizing him makes sense despite me normally being a much nicer person. The reason I mention my dominant approach towards him is to set the state for you to expect him to be less smooth than I am, which makes the bar event almost, but not quite, predictable. The entire set up is all to foreshadow this climax. I think a lot of experiential stories fail because they weren’t really going anywhere, they were just This Thing That Happened, which isn’t bad, but it’s not as engaging.

Finally, the conclusion (and the aftermath). You have to close the loop. Letting a story hang is pretty uncomfortable. It can be used to great effect to hold someone’s attention for a bit but it won’t last indefinitely and eventually they’ll rationalize against your story; they didn’t want to hear the ending anyway, of course. So you explain how it ends, or explain that it’s still ongoing. You resolve the tension from the climax. When I finish with the hypnotism, I explain that the game is basically over and why. I give the satisfying conclusion that I no longer talk to this guy and to increase the impact, I refer right back to my hook, closing the space I’ve opened by telling this story.

Now, you might be asking why I think this sort of thing is dangerous. It’s just basic storytelling, right? I mean, you’ve been taught this in high school English, how to write a good essay or analyze a work of literature. However, if you’ve been reading my blog, I think it’s pretty clear why this can be dangerous. You are rewriting your experiences by making them stories. You don’t really remember what actually happened, you remember the most compelling spin on what happened; the story that makes you look best. Worse still, storytelling is socially rewarded. It’s mildly addicting and it’s easy to start doing it to more and more of your experiences, iterating faster so you’re prepared for the next social interaction. Eventually, you start narrativizing your experiences while you are having them. At this point, you aren’t living a real life or learning lessons, you’re imposing frames on your experiences and closing yourself out of things outside your self image. From here, you become rapidly less interesting because you aren’t experiencing anymore. Everything becomes the expected story that you’ve told a million times, just with different context; it’s bland. So you have to strike a balance between experience and narrative if you want to maintain the social feedback loop. If you can manage this, though? You become a much more interesting person at parties, to say the least.

Overall, narrativizing your life is a useful social tool once in a while. You don’t need a story for everything, but having a few key notes that really express what kind of person you are, or can be, can be a useful tool for socializing and relating experience in an enjoyable way. The important thing to remember is that it is a tool, though, and one of many. Once you start narrativizing every experience, you’ve gone too far and are tracking truth/reality less and less; you stop learning and being interesting and start being samey and fixed because it’s about how you look. Striking a balance is key, but very rewarding.

Discussion questions: Can you think of an experience that you have narrativized thoroughly, i.e. a go-to life story for any party? Does your story follow an arc? Is it heavy on detail or very light? Does it invite questions and eventually dialogue? Can you make your story better?

 

 

On Integration, Narrative, and Rewriting Yourself and Others

(Epistemic status: Rephrasing a thing most people know to sound more sinister and sexy. Possibly actionable advice.)

There is a process that often takes place, especially after novel experiences, where we figure out how we relate to the new things we have felt and thought and sensed. This is a process some people refer to as processing, though others call it integration. When an experience is integrated, it is compressed to fit the current self-consistent narrative (which is a concept that deserves its own post, but roughly rounds to “the current story you think you’re living”) for the frame of the self that is accessing the memory of the experience. More plainly, integration rewrites the memory into words, packaging it into a story that fits the thing you think of yourself as, so that it can be delivered to others with the “right details” emphasized. This same process is accessed every time you tell a story; your experiences update into whatever frame you are recounting them from…and this process can be used by others, trivially.

Conversation is generally framed as a way of relating information to one another. What’s not mentioned is conversation is a way of changing the way two people not only see each other but themselves as well. Every time someone gets past the canned answers of small talk, they are accessing the other person’s experiences, their stories, and rewriting them into whatever frame the conversation is taking place it. If you ask someone to tell you about a fun experience at a party and they do so, the story they tell is going to emphasize aspects most relevant to you; the story I tell about the pick up artist has gone from emphasizing the specifics of his technique and my counter-technique to the overarching arc of the power struggle, mostly alluding to details I have repeated countlessly, because the frames I have been telling it in emphasize brevity. I don’t even really remember the specifics of the things I noticed. Were I asked to fill them in, I would likely start making up details that are close to what happened but optimized for the listener’s preferences. I’m sure most are aware of false memories; overall, most memories are false and become falser the more they are accessed. Interaction with people literally rewrites you, bit by bit.

One might be wondering how to defend against this, because people are generally attached to a certain version of themselves. The truth is, you don’t, it’s an inevitable result of being humans that use words to experience each other. It’s not actually a bad thing to change a little every time you talk to someone, but it is a good thing to be aware of which people you’re allowing to change you more. All this said, I consider professionalism and workplace distancing to be an expression of the desire/necessity of insulating oneself from being altered by outside forces (such as customers or coworkers). A lot of professionalism discourages things like risky disclosures or deviating from script. No one is really allowed to relate to each other in ways that are sociologically optimized for close/personal relationships, because this increases variance and favoritism in a place that is supposed to have the illusion of meritocracy and egalitarianism. Of course, what is really happening is the corporation is hijacking most of the rewriting and integration process to make you more like the corporation. Having so many of your experiences be Work, you can’t help but have it become your identity. Still, the techniques used to isolate you from those around you can provide some insulation from the rewrite process if you are very protective of your Self socially.

The question I find more interesting than defense is offense, of course. How can this be used aggressively to get people to be more like the way you want them. The answer is fairly simple; frame control. The experiences you guide people towards relating to you will change the valence of their relationship with you, as well as the memories of those experiences. The frame you use will determine whether it is a serious, dramatic disclosure that is difficult to share or perhaps if it is no big deal, or even comedic to the person sharing. Place context is also very key. A story shared in a public place about a very personal experience is going to lack a lot of detail and likely rub out some of those details in future retellings; if you are able to draw such a story out, it does create blanks you can then use priming to fill in later to change the relation of the experience. A story shared in a private place, with no time pressure, is likely to be more disjoint and detail rich. Here, the frame for the story is what will determine what aspects seem salient; some of this is controllable, such as the specific thing you ask for (an example would be, I like asking for stories in a genre sometimes, and that very heavy frame of genre means that the information I get is emphasized for hitting the notes common to the genre). Some of this is not controllable; a friend that has known you for years already knows which buttons to press when relating a deep experience. Someone you’ve met twice is going to tell the story to the glamour you’ve presented them with. Who you are to the person you’re speaking with is also a frame. If you consider all factors and aim, you have a possible chance of guiding someone in a very helpful (or hurtful, but seriously please don’t be like that) direction. Rewriting memory and experience is far from an exact science but it is more controllable than simple conversation would make it seem.

Overall, integration is an inevitable process; information and people will invoke the process by pure accident just by the very nature of words. Knowledge of this process allows you to screen, at least a little, who you allow you change you. Knowledge of this process also allows you to use it with intention, for good or ill.

Discussion: Is integration a process you have noticed in your life; is rewriting? Can you recall when a friend has accidentally rewritten the way you relate to an experience? In retrospect, do you think it was accidental? Can you think of a time you’ve rewritten others? Did it feel like it was for therapeutic purposes? Would it be helpful if I wrote a post more specifically on how a conversation with intentional rewriting might go?

On The Lotus Eater Trap

(Epistemic status: Adjacent to the introspection illusion/may just be restating it; actual issue my neurotype experiences; practical advice)

In the Odyssey, we are told of how Odysseus finds himself and his men blown off course to the shores of a land with benign inhabitants. These islanders share food from the lotus plan with Odysseus and his men. This food was incredibly delicious…so delicious that some of his men did not want to leave the island. This part of the tale concludes with Odysseus forcing the afflicted men back onto the ship, over their strenuous protests.

I’m going to tell you of one of the risks associated with mindhacking. As you might have guessed, I call it the lotus eater trap. In the past, meaning and action were often directly tied together for humans. You either fulfilled your place, your role in life…or you broke tradition and suffered for something Important. There’s a lot more there but the main point here is you used your body to do things, a thing happened, your mind rewards you for having caused a thing.

So, let’s skip to the modern era. A lot of meaning is a mental feedback loop. Think, do something through your magic focus, think some more. Our access to our reward button is a bit more direct. To further complicate things, introspection is carelessly touted as a life improvement tool without limit. Worse still, some people get very good at introspection without realizing the addictive potential. Overall, it tends to improve outcomes right up until they forget the entire reason they took it up in the first place.

Now, the reason it’s easy to lose your way is because introspective exercises generally feel good and/or meaningful. In particular, you generally find a lot of personal insights, repeatedly. It’s very easy to have this incredible sense of progress, of problem solving…without testing any of it outside your mind’s eye. Soon, it becomes habit and you spend less and less time in the real world. Eventually, you don’t really care about reality; you sacrifice everything to a religion of your mind. This is the lotus eater trap: creating such an amazing mental world that you are apathetic about impacting the external world with your “wisdom”.

My best advice for avoiding the lotus eater trap is simple. Embodying and testing. Embodying, as in occasionally spend time being a body; it reminds you that there is splendor outside of your mind. Testing, as in running your ontology into another mind and iterate it. Try to be predictive of what a belief does for you and for others. If you’re already too far gone to find your way back to Odysseus’ ship, then I hope you have a good friend to drag you back even if you cry and wail.

Discussion: Have you ever felt introspective meaning? Have your introspections ever truly changed your life? Have you ever seen people fall into the lotus eater trap?

 

On The Regulator

(Epistemic Status: HEY BITCHES I BET YOU THOUGHT YOU WERE DONE WITH ARCHETYPES. Slight dissociative risk, except this one is kinda meant to be anti dangerous.)

On the last post I made about archetypes, I thought I was down to five because I couldn’t figure out what The Analyst was for. I have since made several discoveries that have corrected this error. The first is the most mundane. I have Bipolar Disorder, Type II. It’s not terribly surprising, but I’ve basically been creating a lot of upper feedback loops, and didn’t think there could be any reason to go back down, so my tongue-in-cheek comments about how The Analyst is there to give me, “idk, anxiety or something” were an oversight of my dual nature. The second is that, things get weird when you get too up, and reality stops seeming really…real; right about that point is when something needs to intercede. The third is that, I have wonderful friends who are really looking out for me.

The Regulator is a specialized archetype that I don’t really aim outward. It is meant to be aimed inward, to break down the mental artifices I build up when they get too heavy. It’s the part of me that, when I start extrapolating competencies from a sample size of one asks “Really? And how, exactly, will that work?” It’s the part of me that stops a meaningfulness spiral by asking “But what, exactly, does this do?” It asks questions and brings me down when I’m starting to spiral away from reality, getting high on meaning, connection, and how amazing I am. I call the thing it does frame poison, because rather than completely breaking magical thinking frames such as “I’m a sparkly person!” it dissolves them step by step gently so I can rebuild the frame if it’s helpful in the future. The Regulator is basically why I haven’t had a psychotic break yet.

I realized the need for this archetype after a conversation where I distinctly changed because I got very excited about the discussion topic (postrationality). My speech became more pressured and circumstantial, my thoughts were more jumbled and loose, and my pupils were more dilated than usual. I was warned I might be at risk for going manic and should try to come down if I could and get sleep. I took this advice and thankfully did stay sane that week (though fairly anxious). During that process, I built The Regulator off of these grounding principles and the mental template I had for The Analyst.

Now, the weird trippy symbolic part is when I try to go to sleep while I’m really up. When there aren’t any stimuli to distract me. Before, I could feel like I was really close to unraveling and I’d kind of have a visualization of myself, coming to the fore of my mind very, very rapidly, like, flying up like a rocket towards my mental lens. That self would have wild eyes, disarrayed hair, and a crazy amount of energy. After I invented The Regulator, another actor would show up in this symbolic visualization, almost like a giant robot gatekeeper type thing, which would stop manic!me in her tracks.

Overall, this is another step in the balancing act of dangerous technology and trying to exploit what is, in the end, a mental illness. The Regulator is the thing that actually asks the real questions of how, rather than why and what. Previously this construct was overactive and inhibited action on my part but now it’s a much healthier part of my mindscape.

Discussion: Do you have your own personal Regulator? Do you have certain mindsets you would like to exploit more but might bring you to the edge of being less integrated in society?