On the Ouroboros of Bullshit

(Epistemic status:  It’s been a long month; sorta endorsed)

Introspection doesn’t solve problems.

I’ve written about different aspects of that before, but there are many more senses in which it is true.  Wrapping up your experiences in nice, well packaged, easily referred to insights is bullshit.  Thinking that if you do this One Weird Trick internally, you can just always do the “right thing” is bullshit.  Thinking that you can control every bit of the world around you by telling stories about it is bullshit (and dangerous).  Thinking that you need to control the world around you and that people are made for roles is bullshit.  Optimizing your experience for useful feelings is bullshit.  Almost everything that I have written, every little trick and tip, every scrap of insight…

…is a piece of the ouroboros of bullshit.

That’s not to say it’s valueless – there are changes in outcomes from doing some of the things linked above.  There are real shifts in one’s social web and social reality.  However, the focal points and intentions that are held by these things are not actually solutions to anything.  They are overcorrections to ego injuries I’ve faced in the past, and just come with a different set of problems, for which I overcorrect.  The ouroboros of bullshit is a recursive trap of introspective self-improvement – the assertion is that whatever part of yourself you are trying to improve is very unlikely to point at the actual underlying cause of the issue you’re trying to solve.  The ouroboros of bullshit rests on the idea that humans generally are resistant to ego dystonic changes to their personality, and the appearance of change can frequently feel much better than actual, deep lasting change.

My Personal Ouroboros

Ouroboros problems are hard – the frequent format is “I do this, so I’ll do this instead, except that also feels like just doing the same thing in a different way, so I’ll do another thing – except that also feels like it has the flavor of the initial problem.”  It’s often a feeling that nothing you generate is actually outside the scope of the problem you’re trying to solve.  My personal ouroboros is the intersection of narcissism and bipolar (and a few other things).  I like being hypomanic – I like optimizing for a self concept that is high energy.  A self concept that is optimized for mania is quite frequently full of itself – it does not see failure.  This can be good in moderation, but moderation means actually acknowledging mistakes, which are depressing and therefore not mania inducing.  So – what we have is “I like being manic, but sometimes it makes me distort reality and not see my errors.”  Well, eventually disaster strikes, things keep going wrong because I’m not actually receiving feedback, even if it’s given.  So I correct – “Well, I’ll question myself more.  I’ll, you know, be chill, do less things, listen to feeling overwhelmed.”  Suddenly it seems like every little thing I don’t want to do overwhelms me.  So busy busy busy, but also depressed to boot.  Whoops, guess I overcorrected.  “Well, hmm, I guess I could try being manic sometimes, but also being depressed other times”.  Sounds great, so I try that.  Why doesn’t anything seem to come together anymore?  I feel unlucky – I feel desynced.  I’m depressed when I really need to go hard.  I’m manic when I should really back off.  I’m unfocused and unclear on what I’m even trying to do.  “Ok, well, maybe I just need a goal.”  So I make up a few.  And the cycle continues.  All these little, iterative solutions that don’t address the fundamental problem.

Which is that I am trying to use a mental illness to be successful because it is a narcissistic injury for me not to be successful, and I want to be successful in Anything because I narcissistically want to be important.  The reason, however, that it is an ouroboros is that if I shift my focus to that problem, then I’m not paying attention to how my bipolar disorder might be distorting my utility function, or how correcting for narcissism might just also be narcissistic.  Every solution just feeds into a different part of the problem structure.

The Structure of the Snake and the Self:

Insight Packages

An ouroboros of bullshit consists of several common introspective patterns – the first involves insight packaging.  When you constrain insights into words, they become smaller.  They become cute APIs for interacting with your internal state.  As you compress them, the most difficult and ego dystonic parts of the insight are going to get washed away.  Memory highlights what you were paying attention to, and we usually pay attention to either things that are rewarding or things that avoid danger:  If you are laying on the floor but about to shift position,  you might suddenly feel a “tug” from your peripheral vision.  You notice a pair of scissors that were carelessly left right where you were about to shift.  You’re unlikely to remember much else from the experience besides the part where you avoided danger.  If your partner is acting in ways meant to draw your attention, you’re unlikely to remember what the display on the clock was, or where something on the bedside table was – the rewarding thing to perceive was your partner.

Insights are the same way – usually, we remember the things that felt good, things that helped us avoid a pitfall, or made our lives seem better.  Unfortunately, the process of self is often poorly calibrated on what danger is, so some of the gears of the insight are not exactly welcome.  As it turns out, ego injury is also parsed as a danger.  In the moment, an insight will usually be full force, solid, a deep, sometimes painful realization of what’s been causing you or others around you to suffer – and it will often include parts that you don’t strictly feel are “like you”.  As you get more distant from the insight, the parts that don’t feel “like you”, or even feel like “anti-you” will fade, and the insight will start working less well.  You start focusing on the parts that felt good and are puzzled when the insight seems less efficacious.  The real kicker though, is that the insight doesn’t completely stop working, it’s just a lot weaker.  It’s compressed, and as you call the memory, it will compress further.  The ouroboros of bullshit has tacked the insight onto the tail and started eating itself again.  In summary?  Whatever you think the focus of your introspective problems is, you’re wrong.  Pathologies don’t like being found and sorted out.

LARPing Understanding

Another way the ouroboros of bullshit gets you is LARPing understanding.  Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you knew all the words to a concept, could string them together in a way that passed for knowledge…but had no idea what it felt like to apply that concept to another problem?  That’s LARPing understanding.  It’s a skill – it’s very good at convincing people you get what they’re talking about if you can regurgitate their words back to them quickly enough, with enough sincerity.  Turns out we do this to ourselves too – we convince ourselves that we understand something by regurgitating the concept back to our verbal loop and feel like we’ve made progress.  We LARP internal understanding, and this provides strong armor against ego injury.  It becomes harder and harder to legitimately have the understanding that would help untangle a nest of personal problems.  To truly understand something and apply it in all applicable cases is hard work.  You iteratively realize where a concept is appropriate and where it is not, and ouroboros problems specifically hinder this process.  You misapply the parts of the insight that work, which makes the whole thing seem less salient.  You just flat aren’t able to use it when a problem where it applies comes up.  You get discouraged, worn down – because the true understanding was deflected and you’re trying to run self improvement on a buggy back end.

Persistence and Meta

It gets worse – LARPing understanding and packaging insights tend to corrupt every meta level you try to escape to.  You think you see the structure of how you’ve LARPed understanding, and LARP that.  You try to make your insights more complex and nuanced, and try to focus on things that aren’t intuitive.  This kind of works, except then it gets incorporated into the ouroboros.  You discard things you shouldn’t have discarded, you add things that felt right and even went through ouroboros checking. Sometimes you have big insight structures, sometimes you have small ones – time goes on, we oscillate between modes, getting more and more discouraged…because fully dealing with an ouroboros problem is hard work.  It’s the intersection of pathology and ego.  Antipatterns that are tied into self concept just flat do not want to die.  When the ouroboros gets a hold of a helpful idea, it twists and distorts into something safe for one’s ego, and much of the power is lost.

Pendulum Swings

Another approach to that the ouroboros of bullshit perpetuates is pendulum swinging.  If you have a problem, clearly the solution is going as far as away from the thing you were doing!  This unfortunately fails to account for the fact that the thing generating a solution opposite the previous solution is still the thing that generated the previous solution and will already be corrupted by ouroboros reasoning.  Pendulums aren’t too bad though, eventually they settle on the happy medium of a good solution, right?  Unfortunately, when you apply every other part of the ouroboros structure, you more or less end up finding a meta level pendulum that you think is clearly the correct solution and start again from there.

Recursion and the Snake

The worst part of the structure of the ouroboros is this:  all of these parts are also a part of the ouroboros of bullshit.  These aren’t hard and fast rules for how it works.  You can’t just pocket the concept of questioning your focus, or LARPing understanding, or pendulum swings, or what meta level you’re on and suddenly be free.  There are times in which you are focusing on the right thing, and the ouroboros reminds you “wait, aren’t you supposed to question that?”.  There are times in which you truly understood, but the ouroboros whispers “Nah, you don’t understand, you’re just LARPing, why don’t you think harder about it?”.  There are times in which you swing in a direction, and it was actually necessary to go that way because you were so deeply wrong…and the ouroboros is like “aww, that’s so fake though, it’s clearly an overcorrection, why don’t you go back this way a little.”  There are times in which you take a meta escape hatch and it might have actually helped – and the ouroboros is like “ooh, look at the metaproblems you have to solve now, that’s not going to work.” The ouroboros of bullshit is not a thought pattern that can be solved.  Even the idea of “solving” a “problem” is part of the ouroboros.  It’s an expression of the self, a series of illusions meant to hold together, and the ouroboros acts as one of many threads.

Solving the Ouroboros of Bullshit

But people want solutions anyway.  There’s some things you can do, to varying levels of efficacy, depending on the level of good faith I applied them.  Most people, even if they have an ouroboros of bullshit, are unlikely to have the same ouroboros of bullshit as you.  You can compare notes – you can talk about things.  Others will frequently have a useful perspective that you should at least consider.  This doesn’t mean unreservedly listen to what other people have to say about your problems but, consider it – while remembering that the ouroboros does not want to be unraveled.  It’s a common pattern to hear advice, round it to the most ego syntonic correlate, and then wonder why the advice doesn’t work.  It’s common to assume that you were already doing the thing the advice prescribes.  It’s hard to really, actually, truly take advice – generally you have to discard your first few responses before it has a chance of getting through, but it can be done.  Other times, of course, you will desperately need to just let your first response flow, because the advice clicked with something in you before you could consciously think about it.  It’s unfortunately a combination of trial, error, and discernment.

There are solutions outside of other people – be distrustful of simple, clean solutions to your ouroboros problems; but not always, sometimes it is that simple – once again, you have to iterate.  If it seems like you find a simple solution, repeatedly, but none of them work, then you probably have a more complex problem.  If it seems like you have complex structures that cash out to minimal change, then maybe try something simpler.  Meditation is also helpful – dissolving the words you’re trying to throw at a problem frequently allows less space for ouroboros problems to distort your perception.  Relatedly, allowing yourself to be in the moment, and see the structure of the present and only the present, can often reveal assumptions you’ve made that have caused your problems to become ouroboros problems.

Overall, the ouroboros of bullshit is a pattern like any other.  Not all problems are the ouroboros.  Not all solutions are generated by the ouroboros.  The ouroboros is a hallucination just like any other qualia.  The concept is mostly another frame to put on your reality, to explore and expand on – who knows, you might see some of your persistent issues as ouroboroses of bullshit and find a way to cut through them.  The ouroboros is not the end all be all of problem structure – but it’s a hell of a lot better than single thread insight farming which assumes that all problems are self-contained and point to reality.  The key ideas are simple (of course) – remember to breathe, remember what you care about, and do the best you can.

Discussion Questions:  The ouroboros of bullshit is a more advanced problem structure pattern – what other problem structure patterns have you noticed?  Do you think you have a personal ouroboros of bullshit?  If so, what form does it take?  What other ways have you tangled with an ouroboros of bullshit and had apparent success?


On Prediction, Control, and Trading

(Epistemic status:  Mostly endorsed – does have the qualia of feeling like hitting the insight button without strictly suggesting a course of action)

Have you ever felt disappointed or fearful when someone finishes your sentences?  How about when someone makes it clear they expected a certain behavior from you?  Have you felt good or accomplished when you have done something (ideally positive) that surprised someone?  I don’t think these are universal qualia – but I think for those that do get these things, there is an implicit paradigm at play.  Prediction feels bad because it is a vector of control.

On the flip side, if the above questions didn’t resonate – if the idea of someone having those experiences is kind of weird, you might be running a different paradigm – a paradigm in which prediction feels good because it increases ability to reliably trade decision theoretically, and general be an agent people can cooperate with.

Both these paradigms hold true to some extent.  The more predictable you are, the easier it is to constrain your action space – this is part of why predictability is a valued trait in corporations.  The more predictable you are, the easier it is to interact with you and make positive sum trades – this is part of why predictability is a valued trait in communities.

Overall, I think that there is a tradeoff between consistency and agency, but that some consistency is important for coordination.  Being highly predictable likely ends up being a prison of habits and a series of easy levers for people to control one with.  Being unpredictable makes it difficult to make credible commitments with other people.

Discussion Questions:  Do you model predictability as control or cooperation?  Have you made tradeoffs between coordination and agency as corrections for previous experiences?  Are there complex strategies this model suggests to you?

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 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?

On The Meaning Gap

(Epistemic status: Speculative, moreso than usual, sweeping statements about society, possibly readable as pro-religion. Also better writers have totally written about this.)

There is a sense these days, felt by my bubble and alluded to outside of it, that the world is wrong in some way. That we live in a uniquely crazy time. This probably isn’t true, humans are just generally bad at perspective. However, if I do accept the premise that we live in a uniquely crazy time, I would like to offer my own just-so story to explain why, complete with a lack of palatable solutions.

So, if you’ve been reading along, you should understand the basic concept of narrative and how the world runs on it, at least socially. To go a bit further, every individual is attempting to write their own story, especially in Western society. Our culture memes don’t really allow other outcomes to feel meaningful. It’s your story or nothing. The drawbacks and tradeoffs of individualism are well traversed insight porn. So, instead, I’m going to illustrate a different point.

Most individuals want their own story, and there is a shortage.

The concept of a shortage of stories is pretty hard to comprehend. We live in probably the highest output society to have ever existed on earth. Not only do more people write more things all the time, but more of these things spread across the entire world. This isn’t a shortage, it’s a glut. There’s one problem. Few of those stories are particularly compelling, and the ones that were are being attacked. A single word is to blame for this trend.


Greek for up + break. Break up, release, loosen. Unravel. Our current society, even civilization to a degree, is built on the concept of analysis. This has been an incredible advance in systems, governance, knowledge, and tools. There is, of course, a cost. When you break the stories, the narratives that drive monkey brain 1.0, we end up out of context. Everyone wants a story and there aren’t any believable ones left. There’s nothing to be sure of, no role to embody. There is only a gap that screams “YOU ARE FUNDAMENTALLY ON YOUR OWN.”

This is the meaning gap, filled by tradition, religion, narrative, whatever you want to call it. People with the mantle of destiny are no longer taught how to wield it. Support characters more rarely accept their role. There are no more higher powers and therefore no meaning…and it is making. Us. Crazy.

There is a concept that there is a hole “meant to be filled by religion”, that people turn to drugs, sex, rock and roll to fill. I think it’s a very specific framing of the meaning gap, the part of us that strives to find our place in a story, not just a system. I also think this framing is surprisingly compelling and has lead several interesting people to pick up religious frames. I can see a future in which I do the same, but I am trying to avoid that. I think there’s more to the meaning gap than submitting to a god or gods, than taking part in myth to cure the madness. I hope to find other people who see it and feel the same way.

Discussion: Do you feel the meaning gap in your life? How do you try to fill it? Do the roles in your life help, or do they feel hollow? Does meaning even matter; is it best to just excise the idea that you even need meaning, filling in the gap with cement?

On Tools Versus Identity

(Epistemic status:  Easy to say, harder to do; Probably another way of expressing growth mindset versus fixed mindset)

So, I’ve noticed this thing lately where when I’m thinking of something I do as a tool, it’s actually really effective.  Like, I’m able to pick it up, and put it down when reality says “no, this doesn’t work like this.”  I can modify the tool when needed and overall can aim at outcomes.  This is much, much harder when something becomes my identity.

When something becomes part of identity, it becomes much less flexible.  Instead of being “a” thing you can do, it becomes the thing you do.  Worse, it becomes the thing you are.  There’s a difference between “I want to sing” and “I am a singer”, for example.  This is a simple example, but when I frame myself in the former paradigm, there’s a sense of wonder, desire, a wish to actually do it.  When I frame things the latter way, I feel a need to defend it.  This is basically a facet of growth mindset versus fixed mindset.

The Archetype system has become partially an identity thing for me because I spent so much time spinning my wheels trying to explain it to other people.  It kind of became this thing people started asking me about and at first I felt kind of proud.  I had a Thing!  But now I’m noticing…I don’t really use archetypes anymore.  I’ve put them in a little gilded treasure chest in my mind and put them in the museum of my identity.  I’m the archetype girl, I’m not a girl who uses archetypes.  It’s safer to just have the concepts and not use them, because if I use them, they may encounter reality and reality might say “no, this doesn’t work like this.”  And instead of that feeling neutral, almost positive, it feels scary and bad.  

Sparkliness also has become part of identity.  Instead of it being this thing I do to seem charismatic and fun at parties, it’s become twisted to this thing I am, that makes me Special.  I want to force the sparkle thing to happen rather than picking it up as a tool.  I want to be sparkly all the time, because it’s Who I Am.  I’ll try to copy it and I’ll get frustrated because I’m NOT DOING IT RIGHT.  There’s this sense of fear and inhibition that gets in the way.  There’s a fear of “showing my work” that I try to overcome with sparkliness because it’s very important to me but that just makes it worse.

This is something that happens a lot to me.  There’s this period where I feel really amazing because I’ve found a new tool, usually mental.  It’s something I can apply reliably because I’m thinking of each step, I’m actively going for an outcome (that’s important, I want to talk more about that in another post), and things start working.  If it doesn’t work, I just toss it aside as a silly idea.  The whole time perception thing was silly and non actionable on the level I proposed, so I only believe it insofar as I can use it (modeling future selves and such and seeing what I can do now to be them.)  Time perception the way I describe it isn’t an identity.  It doesn’t define me.

Overall, a lot of the walls I’m running into are forgetting to be humble, forgetting that mind hacking is a tool kit and not who you are, and forgetting that none of this is that serious.  Something to protect is important.  Something to defend is dangerous.

I will add that, I think there is a level on which adding something to your identity can be extremely effective. I think, once a tool becomes worn enough, well used enough, and you’ve explored and refined it through reality, it actually does belong in the museum of self.  Having something as your identity gives you preverbal access to it.  Like, people often identify as their jobs.  It’s mundane, but it gives them quick access to the intuitions required for the job.  A job is also the thing you are most likely to be spending years and hours on, refining.  It’s easy to want to skip to that because it’s great to have that quick access…but shortcutting is the best way to make yourself completely impotent.

Discussion questions:  What other intuitions about identity and tools do people have?  How would you define the reality that refines our tools? Does anyone else feel addicted to accelerating the “tool -> identity” process?

Self and Malleability


Adapted from a 20 minute essay written in a Starbucks at 0720, inspired by a conversation at a party:

(Epistemic status:  Basically ranting and raving about concepts I don’t understand.  Feel free to tear this apart, I’m not too attached to it)

So, basically, there’s a point where you realize the “Self” as a Thing isn’t necessarily a true concept.  It’s a /useful/ concept, but it doesn’t strictly exist.  Arguably, every change in our structure is a “death” and our next moment is a rebirth, of sorts.  I’m not going to go deeply into the arguments against the Self, if you’re reading this you probably know them better than I do.  Instead, I’d like to look at the practical side of things, at least in the sense that I personally can get some value out of this, potentially.  If I reject the concept of the continuous self, what does that even mean? On a practical level, if I ever commit a crime, I am still held liable.  Despite the shakiness of the idea of continuity in my “selves”,  the actions “I” take in the past still impact “my” current decisions and “my” resource base.  Even if there is no Self, no persistent identity, the world operates on the assumption it is, giving it a /more/ than real quality in a way (comparable to the US Dollar in a way, backed more by idea than by reality).

Still, despite all this, I think there are actionable ways to act on the No Self concept.  I am sure Bhuddists and others have much better ideas in this field, but I’m not familiar with them (yet) and don’t yet want to contaminate my thought space before thinking about the problem myself.  As some may know, I believe a lot in being able to change, to put the right pieces of your experiences and being together to make a different whole (…despite being a reductionist shut up I don’t have to be consistent).  In my case, I want to please others I respect.  I also want to absolutely control most situations in my life.  I have a lot of conflicting drives, but I can switch them to a degree, and I find the switching comes easier when I abandon my self concept to a degree.  I often find myself saying “Oh, well, I guess I can’t do this thing because it’s how I am”, and sometimes (more frequently lately), I shock myself by doing much better at the thing than I self assessed.  I’ve been drifting more towards dropping the self assessment, at least phrased in such a way as “I am X” (smart, funny, angry, awkward, etc.), or “I can’t do X” (socialize well, attract people, dominate, whatever). 

This isn’t really application of the No Self concept…but I think that if I were to apply more of that, a more visceral realization that “I” am nothing but a short snapshot of a supposedly self consistent entity, I might be able to affect more drastic changes and “imprint” on myself stronger deviations as needed for various situations.  I mean, this basically comes down to a form of self-hacking.  It probably works better with more skills and more “roles” in my life to choose from so I have a greater variety of “accessories” to work with.  I mean, in a way, I’m basically just striving to be similar to the dolls in Dollhouse.  And I think that it is more plausible than most would be comfortable thinking.