Rationalists should meet Integral Theory

Around 2018 I was actively posting in the rationalist community, I still run the lesswrong slack and I still keep an ear out for things that are going on in the rationality community.  But that’s around the time that something changed for me.

I felt like I was fairly stable in my rationality.  I had read the sequences, superforecasters, how to measure anything, atomic habits and more (2017 book list which continued to be quite long each year since), but there were still plenty of problems in my life.  I had already started researching in the slightly more unusual self help territory, with my general slogan for my behaviour switching from, “is there evidence behind it” to a more general, “well if it works”…

My reading habits were in the categories of business, productivity, relationships, psychology and a little bit of philosophy.  And eventually I stumbled upon “integral theory”.  Doing what I usually do, I picked up books on the topic and devoured them.  Integral theory was funny because it didn’t make sense to me.  This was significant because I considered myself some kind of goddamn genius, reading textbooks for fun and arguing with the smartest people I could find.  But something was wrong here.  Integral theory was not wrong, and it was not yet right either.  It was a giant floating theory that I was building in my head and it didn’t map to reality yet.

As a group organiser myself – my local rationality community (dojos and socials), I did what I do, and I looked up and found the local sydney integral community.  When I met them, they definitely weren’t keenly rational being but they were very friendly and welcoming.  They were patient, understanding and listened to myself and each other in ways that surprised me.  Despite me not knowing integral theory yet, I was joyous and willing to participate because they were so welcoming.

Here is where my journey usually turns off rationalists from a “don’t get sucked into cults” perspective.  I went on a retreat.  I guess it was similar to CFAR however this one was with a focus on personal development.  I heard about it late, and there was a discount on the last ticket.  The retreat turned out to be an intensive experience with 10 participants and 2 facilitators.  

The retreat story is a whole different story but the important part is that suddenly on day 3 of the retreat, integral theory made sense.  The missing piece that I was needing, suddenly fitted in, and integral theory made sense.

(more on that in another post)

That moment was definitely the start of the decay of my ability to communicate clearly.  Within a week, my friends on the slack had freaked out at me, my friends at home had freaked out at me, and it became clear to me that I was having communication difficulties.  After the retreat, I came home with what I would call “strong mindfulness” from a meditative perspective.  I also had a problem where I couldn’t speak so well to what I was experiencing.  The words didn’t quite point to what I intended them to.

I did what I usually do and I contacted a whole bunch of my friends and became incredibly social.  I dropped myself deep into kagan stage 3 – social relational development.  As well as starting to devour books on meditation in an attempt to catch up on what I was missing.  

My book habits turned to psychology, adult development, business leadership, meditation, therapy and spirituality.

It was here in the books about therapy and meditation that I branched into the weird hippie community.  I joined strange dancing groups, and attended a variety of meditation events until I did a whole bunch of self work to get my personal “stuff” more under control.

Turns out that when we talk about the lens that sees it’s flaws, the mind is itself a very biased machine.  But biased in ways that can be improved through meditation, reflection, and other esoteric practices, we can train the parts of the mind to work together in a more integrated way.

Eventually my gibberish subsided and my communication skills improved to such a point where I get very excited when I can’t understand something because I obnoxiously think I’m that good these days that moments of non-understanding point me to people either lying to me or trying to trick me. 

I kept working on my person, on my psyche, developing, processing, tidying, coming to peace with… I already had my cognitive faculty well trained, but rationality never trained my emotional capacity.  I worked on my emotional capacity until I had the confidence to visit any emotional state without being stuck there.  Suddenly my ability to get done what I need to get done, is greatly increased because the emotional baggage of the things I want to do, no longer tie me up.  Which left me with my sensation substrate, the subtle sensations in the body on top of which everything else rests.  I’ve been cleaning that up, and I’ve now come far enough along the journey of clearing out my physical sensations that reality is appearing different to me now.

Now I have more space in my mind.  I have more peace, I have generally positive sentiment to my days, my time, and to everyone I meet.  I have curiosity, I have freedom of mind and most importantly, all of these capacities are not accidental.  I haven’t hit a “good day” and been able to work clearly, I’ve worked my way into a good and clear life.  It’s consistent, every day is a good day.  Every day is a rewarding day.  Every day is an exciting day.

With my time now I work in property, crypto and life coaching, and when I’m not doing that, I host discussion groups, run my rationality group, meditate and have an awesome time.  It’s very easy to coach people when I can now see through their problems like never before (which is a bold claim).

I hope to elaborate in the future on my stepping stones, but some of the resources I have accessed are:

The best starting resource I can recommend on integral theory is http://www.kenwilber.com/Writings/PDF/IntroductiontotheIntegralApproach_GENERAL_2005_NN.pdf followed by the book, “integral spirituality” which somehow was more about psychology than about spirituality.

I am slightly biased here in this post because not only do rationalists need integral, integralists need rationality.  Desperately. And I hope the two mix.

cross posted to lesswrong: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/GuGcyraWpsm4Bi9J3/rationalists-should-meet-integral-theory

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Integral should meet the Rationality community

Before I learnt about integral I was incredibly well versed and wrapped up in the rationalist community.  As I know it, starting around 2009 on www.lesswrong.com sprung up a huge community of people ranging from age ~15-35, interesting in thinking, thinking about thinking and more.  The whole movement was started by Elieser Yudkowsky, with an interest in AI safety and moving in that direction.  From that community sparked off a community of “effective altruism” focused on the concept of “doing good better” (https://www.effectivealtruism.org/).  Turns out the clear thinking tools that were significant for a rallying flag for the area of AI safety was also a good flag for effective altruism and generally (from my perspective) capturing a generation of smart people and organising them to have shared understanding.

The lesswrong community focussed on thinking better, thinking tools and generally trying to solve all our problems by being smart about it.  I think there was an underlying unspoken narrative of “you can think your way out of nearly every problem” and “you happen to probably be smarter than the people around you”.  Two core books of the community are “Harry potter and the methods of rationality” www.hpmor.com and “Rationality: from AI to Zombies” which is a collection of Eliezer’s writings known as the sequences.  It’s about 1500 pages long and 80% or more of the rationality community has read it.  A community of people ranging from the thousands to the tens of thousands by the time you start trying to count the diaspora.

Myself along with a whole bunch of people, started getting drawn away from central rationality (as we saw it), towards therapeutic methods and meditative methods.  Then something happened and those people , including myself, started talking gibberish.  We crossed some kind of threshold of method from the generally safe, “think it through first then act” process to a very hard to communicate, integrated, often spiritual sounding process of emotions, embodiment, words that really don’t mean what they used to.

Naturally we freaked out a lot of people, started calling ourselves “post rationalists” and offended a lot of people who identified with rationality as an identity.  It was important to us to differentiate from them because we just annoyed them with our gibberish but still needed a language for communicating with each other.  

And so the “post rationality” movement spread out and ran away from the hub of Lesswrong where we couldn’t really talk.  We made our own mini hubs and kept in touch with one another via emails and zoom links and practiced. 

And I became more integral myself.  Somehow all the weird post-rats could speak each other’s languages, despite us all coming from different languages, speaking different words, having different traditions, we could converge somewhere between our various gibberishes. 

I recently read the link here: https://integrallife.com/integral-epistemology/ on integral epistemology and I realised that I know something that my understanding of the core of integral does not.  I have a deep rational, logical, procedural, shared understanding of how to think and what to think that matches thousands of other thinkers (optimistically at least). I have a thinking machine, or at least I believe on some level that I have a thinking machine that points true.

The point of this story is an invitation for the integral universe in my life to go take a look and meet the rational, rationalist community, and hopefully an opportunity to learn what they know. You can look at this story through a lens of spiral dynamics or developmental level systems and say that I’m stuck at whatever level I’m stuck at, but I chose to post this because I see a lot of integralists who cannot enjoy rationality right now. Don’t think you are ahead of rationality, because I see a lot of people who would greatly benefit from checking out a community who cares about rational ways of being.

I often say that the rational community needs the spiritual resources, and there’s a need to dress them up as covert rational (like focusing as a therapeutic technique). I also say the same of the spiritual, creative community, they desperately need the rational, structural, stable resources available to the rationalists. Somehow we all have a habit of looking in the wrong places for the resources that we are needing.

In the rationalist community, we say that rationality is the art of winning at life, in whatever self defined way you choose to make that.  I always struggled (and still do) in not knowing what I want.  I suspect that’s why I loved the original rationality promise (“you can think your way out”) and also why ultimately it didn’t work for me.

This long winded story is for you to meet me, meet my background and possibly get inspired to check out those fun books I mentioned RAZ and HPMOR.  Thanks for reading!

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A Workshop on Life Influences

We all have factors in our life that influence us but sometimes we don’t realise what they are.  For example, an external influence in my life, is to live within the legal system of this country, which prevents me from completely being free from external consequence.  An internal influence that I have is that after being awake for 12 hours I get tired and have to sleep, even if in some ways (or in some parts of me) I don’t want to sleep, I still have this strong internal influence that guides me.

Ultimately I want to be:

  1. Aligned with the things influencing me.
  2. Aware of the things influencing me, and
  3. Able to modify those influences, or adapt my relationship to them so that I can choose how they influence me.

For example, I notice that I get a lot of influence from the social slipstream.  Specifically when I see the behaviour of people around me, I find it easier to do the same behaviours.  This can be either good or bad, for example now that I recognise my big influence from the social slipstream, I can choose to avoid environments that include drinking or netflix and attend more environments that are fitness oriented and entrepreneurial.

The legal system is not an influence that I think about every day, or even notice as a limit regularly.  I’m so used to the laws that I don’t break them and I comply with them in the background.  In this case I am naturally aligned with the laws because I already don’t want to murder anyone.


list out my big influences.  Set a 4 minute timer and make a list on paper.  You are looking for the significant influences, the ones that feel the strongest or most influential. 


Consider your own ideas first and then take some clues from the list:

  • Obligation influences (I feel obligated to call my mother every week)
  • Obvious influences (I obviously have to eat every day, it’s so obvious I almost forget it’s there)
  • Things that feel like “needs” or urges (I need social contact or I feel miserable pretty quickly)
  • Surprisingly influential people (a specific friend is very influential on me in a good and bad way)
  • Behaviours (judgemental people influence me)
  • Hierarchies (my boss is able to stress me out and I don’t like it)
  • History, habits, past stories (I always go to pub trivia with my friends and even though I don’t like it I still go out of some sense of attachment to history)
  • Philosophies (I feel bad owning a car because my philosophy is to be environmentally friendly)
  • Myself (I judge myself harshly for not doing a project well and then I don’t like doing that project any more)
  • Particularly strong feelings of a certain flavour (when I don’t go to sleep on time I feel terrible the next day and now knowing that I will feel terrible tomorrow is a strong guiding feeling that I would rather go to bed than stay awake)
  • Beliefs (I often feel like “I can’t be rude in social circumstances” and I don’t always like how I get stuck in boring conversations)
  • Body senses (if I train too hard at the gym my body says no.  This is a very strong influence and I wonder how else it plays out in my life)
  • Thoughts (I have the nagging thought that I need to go shopping and it doesn’t stop until I do, I notice this is a powerful influence)

Once you have a list

  1. Identify which influences are objectively positive and negative influences on your life.
  2. Check the relationship towards each of the influences.  (I have a strong family work ethic that makes me feel like I can’t have fun or relax but it does keep me striving for more income so overall I like it.)
  3. For the positive ones, consider what might make them go negative.  (For example with my strong work ethic story from my family, once I already have passive wealth generating assets I would be working hard when I don’t have to, and might like to do other enjoyable things with my time)
  4. For the negative ones, identify their positive (or benevolent) intent.  (For example the social slipstream is there to help me get along with my friends.  This is a particularly benevolent force towards my other goals.  If my friends were doing crimes I might participate, if my friends were making money I might also work towards making money)
  5. For the strong ones, consider if you like how strong they are.
  6. For the weak ones, do you want them to be stronger? How can you make them stronger?  What if you listened to them more?
  7. Do any of your influences compete with each other or polarise against one another?
  8. For the tough influences, what makes you so influenced by them?  Is it an emotion?  A story?

We sometimes like to think of ourselves as single agents, where we can think of ourselves as an agent of constantly responding to different big influences in our life.  Treading the space in the middle.  A life with less “big influences” might feel more free or flexible, but equally might feel listless or ungrounded.  At different times in our life, it may be useful to think about how much space we have between us and our big influences.

I specifically noticed this concept when I realised that I was myself one of the strongest influences on myself.  In this instance by not applying pressure to myself, I was under performing because no one else was able to pressure me either.  In some ways this was a win for autonomy and self leadership but a loss because it took me a while to realise that I was not getting many results because I failed to push the pressure on myself.

There’s nothing wrong with having any influences (uncomfortable as they may appear at times).  Problems come when I don’t like the state of things, or I don’t like how I relate to an influence, or I am in some kind of bind where my influences fight each other.

Try it out and see what you find out about yourself.

(principles from Internal Family System therapy, Gestalt therapy, Holistic thinking, Systems thinking, feedback loops)

Cross posted to lesswrong: https://www.greaterwrong.com/posts/zmhrPrWWahdHkscnd/a-workshop-on-life-influences

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Fishbowl reality

This idea is about perception and reality. 

Each person is wearing a fishbowl over their head. Think of the mind as being two intelligent forces. The head is the (self believing) sentient consciousness. The one that receives the information that is projected onto the fishbowl. The other one seems to be a different type of intelligence, usually barely described and left up to weird mystical description. 

The human body constantly has inputs. We have 5 main sensory categories and likely quite a few more beyond that if proprioception etc are counted. There’s always skin sensation, there’s always visual information, even with closed eyes, and there’s always sound. Even if there isn’t sound echoing outside, there’s ringing, or heart beats. Among that constant incoming stream, some process is decided which input to send into the consciousness. 

Which input is going to keep this being alive. The smell of smoke when I’m sleeping, loud noises suddenly, quickly moving visual objects (TV’s in the background of what I’m doing). Each of these are examples of information that is prioritised over other information when projecting information onto the fishbowl.

Even when there’s no urgent and survival crucial event, some process needs to be deciding what to project – visual or audio or sensation or other. Or even, which sensation within sensation, which part of the visual field to discern.

In this experience of receiving selective filtered information from a differently conscious part of the mind, there exists an argument for a (broadly speaking) panoptic process of appreciation for the collection of information that we usually would describe as our subjective experience of reality. (1) It would appear to be a beneficial process to feel the subjective appreciation for anything that enters conscious perception, to incentivise the internal part of the mind that is choosing what to project at the consciousness.

I suspect that the mind often processes and preferences various sensations and experiences over certain other experiences. I suspect that this is a real time feedback mechanism for assisting the filter to decide what contents to bring to the consciousness. 

For example if the consciousness doesn’t like strong political events, but keeps experientially turning towards them, giving them more attention, then it’s only reasonable to expect that the fishbowl projecting process will bring more of a similar collection of sensation to the surface, any time it can. (2)  This suggests that the filtering process is not working to filter like/dislike but is working to filter something else, for example attention hooking events.

It seems like the process of judging experience with negative or positive sentiment is probably less important for assisting the projector than the process of deeply resonating with the preference of the sensation. 

Try this. Sitting as you are, notice in the body any sensation of negative, for example – sore and tiredness or pain. 

Then try, sitting as you are, notice any sensation of positive, for example – delight, enjoyment, relaxation, comfort. 

If you get similar results to me, it would appear that all those sensations are there all the time but filtered constantly so that I get a mix of them on any day. I lean towards the positive ones and have mostly positive ones, but other consciousness could lean anywhere. 

Now try deciding which ones you like.  For any sensation that comes up, don’t just lightly think “like, dislike, dislike, like”. Try to sink into the sense of enjoyment or preference. This process should feel less like it’s happening in the brain or head and more like it’s happening in the body. “deeply resonating” on the sensation of enjoying the experience of the sensation that comes up. 

In theory, after practising this for a short period of time, that begins to signal to the projecting fishbowl that there’s a preference for certain experiences over other experiences. And those are the ones that should be delivered to the consciousness more than the other experiences. 

Maybe we can control the fishbowl reality more than we think…

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Limiting lines of development

One part of integral theory is called “lines of development”.

Each of us has lines of development, areas for which we can draw an arbitrary boundary and climb up in skill. These could be as simple as “concentration” or as domain defined as mathematical ability, ethical competence, story telling skill, or even as complex as “life success”.

Often these skills can be broken down into parts. And often these parts start enabling or limiting the skill. To break down math into skills. Like concentrating, symbolic reasoning, ability to learn by tuition, ability to communicate your math knowledge and a mundane skill of eyesight that might enable you to learn math.

In order to get better at math, at some point you need to be able to learn from others, or communicate what you know. It doesn’t matter if your eyesight skill is way above the level needed, it doesn’t help with math skill unless you also start working on your capacity to be tutored.

On the other hand, if you have a masterful teacher, maybe they can fill in the gaps for you.

We can describe how sometimes people just happen on the talent easier than others and enable their skills. Also sometimes great teachers can raise up a student in ways that they are limited.

Combine the two and you might get superior skill.

Special case of the child protege

Sometimes a child (or any person) is in an environment which is very enabling. For example, “piano skill”, may be supported by, “tutors”, “supportive family”, “quality learning environment”, “free room and board”, “musical family values” and more.

In a case like this the factors come together to enable someone to grow a massive level of skill. But! If a catastrophe occurs, leaving a sudden hole in the support tree, for example, maybe the family lose their home. Suddenly piano skill is hampered by this person’s ability to have a safe home environment while practising piano.

This short primer will become relevant for blob therapy theory. In the mean time, think about if you have any gaps in the skills you are moving towards. And think about the bottlenecks to getting there.

The cheeseburger

I’m also interested in future possibilities. I can point out that Caesar, for all his riches and brilliance, did not ever taste a cheeseburger. In this sense, if you want to develop a cheeseburger, you must first invent modern society. (I believe Karl Sagan also says to bake a pie, you must first invent the universe)

For a more modern and relevant line of development, computer programming skill was entirely resting on the invention of computers.

Improvement in the shifting paradigm of various programming languages, was dependent on the field growing enough to support that development.

My last question is, whatever we name that big central line of “leading towards the future”, what are the other lines that are needed in partnership to that line, and how do we get them? What does it look like to provide support?

And on top of that, to borrow from lesswrong, which coined “raising the sanity waterline”, how do we raise the waterline for everyone, because a rising tide lifts all boats.

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Thought stack

Thought stack

I like to think of my ideas as stacks of thoughts.

There they are, my ideas are built on my previous ideas.  As are everyone else’s.

When we see other people’s thoughts and ideas, sometimes we automatically get critical.

“Oh hey that red block of thought is not correct”.

It’s very easy to say, I know better, my stack is higher.  In the pursuit of excitement, the attempt to add to someone else’s stack, destroy some of someone else’s favourite stack.

How do we speak in a way that does not knock down each other’s thought stacks?

What’s the good in sharing what we know, it’s better to share how we found out.  “I used to think that box was red, but then I found out this other idea”. But this is only a translation of, “you need these two boxes”.  Ideally we want to be one step above that, share how we together can learn that we know.

Because sometimes we don’t know…

Just how deep the rabbit holes of other people go…

And importantly, you’re much more likely to discover the deep stacks of ideas, when you are open to them being there, and making space for them to appear.

After writing this down I noticed that this post is wrong in ways that I am excited about! This post implies the illusion of continuity of minds. And now I am wondering how to fit that idea into this idea.

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A Money Dojo

First up though, some ontology to make it easier to talk about this – “concrete, subtle, causal”.

The concrete world is the world of atoms. It’s physical and literal. (sometimes called the gross world)

The subtle is the world that sits on top of that. Things like emotion and goodness or the felt/body sense of things.  If I’m having a “good day” technically that’s in the atom world, but practically when it’s described its not literal, nor is it always touchable from inside one mind to another (my good day is lightly transferable to you but I can’t force you to take my good day).

The causal realm, (yes they are more like “realms” than “worlds”) (sometimes called the very subtle). Is described as the place where other realms come from phenomenologically. Where thoughts come from. When I remember where I put the keys, that’s a potentially generative thought that seems to arise from nowhere. It’s causal in that it can cause me to go “aha!” (subtle emotional experience) and get the keys (concrete action), but when talking about the causal we are definitely talking about something different from the atom world.

Ideas and concepts exist in a causal sense and map down to the atom world. (although the way people use causal can sometimes vary and there’s endless debates on it).  As subjective categories they are a bit variable. There’s also the edge where some experiences happen at the edge. A particular way of breathing might be more like an emotion than a concrete despite being both.

I was talking to a friend about money. And I noticed that trading money feels very odd. It always has, transactions feel strange.  All my life transactions have been this odd little awkward dance of retrieving the cash, handing over the cash and receiving the change.  There’s a little bit of social interaction in the process but it’s a bit more odd too.

My friend talked about a skill swap where the feeling of the trade felt more right and they enjoyed the experience much more because it felt like both sides were giving from the emotional part of themselves.

When I make a financial trade it seems to have a concrete realm swap of coinage but does not carry the subtle “made with love” every time. It’s just coins. Or at least I don’t ever think about it when I pay for something or get paid. All the ways the currency had changed hands on the way through me to the rest of the economy.

We talked about buying a loaf of bread and the bread having much more of a subtle and causal than the money. It could have been made with love, as I eat it, it sustains me for extended periods of time and some of those atoms might be here the rest of my life, helping me to generate future ideas and create more value in the world.

So here’s my concept – I don’t notice money having a subtle layer to my experience. It’s just this dull thing to me. I suspect this is part of the problem I have when interfacing and thinking about money.

I have an idea for a group experience, of say 10-15 people, who show up and make cupcake sized food bits and show up with a stack of 50c coins.

Starting with a discussion mentioned above, followed by a round of trading with an emphasis on noticing the interesting subtle experiences of trading coin for foods. Noticing the coins moving around the room. And “feeling” this experience as a group.

Call it a toy economy or just an exploration of each person’s own “my feelings around money”.  Afterwards a discussion of what we found or find. And a sharing of the experience.

  • What’s it like to “create” value?
  • What’s it like to trade value for money?
  • What’s it like to want something more than something else?
  • How does this apply to money in the rest of the world?
  • How do we fit this into the rest of our lives and how we act in the world?
  • What does it feel like to notice the passage of money around the room?
  • Did you spend more or less than others? Faster or slower? Did you spend the same coins or different coins to the ones you received?
  • Any questions you find.

I’d like to run this exercise for a group, and I don’t know how it would go. I don’t know what the take aways are and I would like some comments on how people think it would go and what they might find if they participated in the experience.

A friend of mine has an expression of, “pulling the wings off flies” to describe the way I sometimes facilitate exercises without a lot of structure or without a point in mind. Sometimes throwing people into the deep end and seeing how they flounder and what they bring to the group. In general this annoys my friend and they have a point. Sometimes I don’t know what is going to happen. I am working towards doing that less and having more of a point to each exercise.

I believe there’s something valuable to be found but I don’t know what it is right now and I’d like to find myself some clarity before I facilitate the exercise.


I regularly run exercises in the Sydney Rationality Dojos, usually more structured than this.  I hope to see you there.

Cross posted to lesswrong: https://www.greaterwrong.com/posts/6MTSZKcPHkGRYwjmE/a-money-dojo

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Alleviating Bipolar with meditation

I was asked on the slack, about bipolar and what might help from a meditation standpoint.  I have my own experiences to share. (standard non-medical advice disclaimer applies here, i’m not qualified to give professional advice and you should probably confirm with a professional if you have doubts about trying any of this.)

Here’s a list of things that might help with the subjective mood swinging of bipolar experience.

1. A broadening of awareness and contexts. 

For about 6 months of time when I was really focused on moods (and 10 years before that), I felt like I didn’t have moods, moods had me (moods distinct from emotions which can be had from moment to moment, moods are more like background, the colour of the day). I would wake up and find out today was “miserable” or “excited”.

I worked on a specific type of meditation practice that is called broadening of awareness (there are 2 different instructions for methods).  I got lucky that this helped me and I wasn’t expecting it. When moods had me, it felt like things “just are” miserable. Now my awareness is broader than the moods and “I”* contain them.  (*meditative “I” and “self” are a rabbit hole)

Instructions: Most people have their sense of their self boundary in line with their skin barrier. “I” end at my skin. But it’s possible to expand that boundary, and shift it to larger. Particularly the “kinetic sphere”, the area where one might be able to reach outside the body, and then further to the whole room size. Holding this “barrier” thing at the size of the room means that I’m “anchored” metaphorically to more solid things than my own body. Obviously “I’m” still the same but my ground is the actual stationary room. Which does not feel moods like my body does. (*explanation of why it helps may be entirely irrelevant, fact is, anecdata: it helped me)

There’s space in my new expanded “me” to find the body being a certain mood but also to find stillness out there in the room which doesn’t get dragged around like the moods do.  I felt the pull of daily moods dry up. Obviously my body is still in grump but “I’m not” mentally trapped in that experience. From there, there’s a new, deeper breathing pattern that supports the broader awareness practice and that’s to be discovered and also hinted at.  I would encourage trying it for a few minutes a day and then going for a permanent shift into what is sometimes described as “spaciousness”.

Instructions 2: awareness specifically in the visual field can be expanded out the peripheral. Start by picking an object straight ahead to look at and focus on. Now expand the awareness to the peripheral of the visual field. Hold there for 30 seconds, then push on towards expanding the peripheral. this works well looking up at the sky, or the ocean because of the broadness of the visual object in the visual field. push the “awareness” beyond the visual field until there’s a sense of spidey-sense tingling to what’s outside the visual field. Hold a broadness of awareness to the visual area and the spidey sense. Try to engage this broad sense regularly and through the day, try to live in this broad-sense of the world around you. Notice that a “mood” is within this sense, not fully covering the whole space. If you work at the broadness, that sense comes.

2. Stages of insight

At the same time as trying that practice, I was cycling through (technical meditation term – can be read about in MCTB2 book) “the stages of insight“. As I would cycle I would hit sensation like fear, and it would call up involuntary intrusive memories about things I feared, then I would the next day have a “when will it end” feeling and wrestle with that one.

For 2, what became important is forming a relationship with the memories that I didn’t like. Due to lots of meditation, I was pretty clear what was normal and what was an intrusive visit from my past. I started asking the question, “why is this here?” and that question eventually turned into, “how is this here to help?” or “what do I need to still learn from this memory?” and that was a huge shift.

After those questions were hard ingrained into my attitude, within a week, shitty memories stopped showing up. Possibly because I got so good at relating to them that I was never calling them, “shitty memories”, and possibly because I never felt shit again about them, I’d just appreciate the lesson that I was to learn.  And from that I stopped cycling nearly as hard. I still notice bits of cycling but I’m above the cycle, not in it.

3 Greater bodily awareness.

a few days ago I wanted a photo of myself, so I put on a fancy shirt and got out of bed to take the photo.  3 minutes later I found myself eating things. When I asked myself what’s going on, because I wasn’t hungry, I noticed that I was cold and I was using food to stop feeling cold. An interesting discovery. I made my way back to warm things.

It’s bodily awareness that helps with the moods and actions. I can feel where in my body (or not) I’m feeling depressed or angry and I can alleviate it via movement or internal sensation and not by outwardly being moody or suffering mood swings.

For this I’ve done a lot of meditation and body scan attention work. Any sensation is relevant, itching the head, the knot in the stomach, the tingle in the toes. It’s all relevant to the way I think.

It’s a rat rationality thing to assume that these sensation experiences are noise but they are not. All sensation is relevant.

Some combination of the 3 have helped me to the point where I doubt I have bipolar any more.  I was fairly confident at one point and now it seems unlikely to be a useful diagnosis.

And if there’s a 4 and 5 it’s, watch sleep and social life and make sure to get enough of both, as well as being aware of instability in both which can start a cycle of instability.  This is from Interpersonal Social Rhythm Therapy IPSRT – the only therapy designed for bipolar. Fixing my sleep made a big difference, and fixing my mood first thing in the morning did too.

Shoutout to Bipolar Awakenings for being more on the odd-strange-spiritual side of meditative practice towards progress on alleviating bipolar.

Cross posted to: https://www.greaterwrong.com/posts/qgLyETFo683TqMYNA/alleviating-bipolar-with-meditation

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A quick map of consciousness

Prior knowledge: Many maps lightly held, Leaky concepts, Boundaries

(Well “good” is in the map, not the territory.  This diagram very quickly becomes a mess, but before that happens, let’s talk about reifying the parts of this model to see if it’s useful)

Playing around asking the question “what is consciousness”, yields a great deal of trouble. I don’t really want to pin down what consciousness is but I want to work around it.

To me right now, it seems like consciousness is the ladder between the map and the territory.  In the diagram, on the left is a thought, suggesting that “this is an apple” on the right, pictured is a red apple.  When the attention points at a red apple, the consciousness is filled with a map of declarative definition that labels, names and concludes that this is an apple.  

Consciousness seems to be a label generating machine.  Something fundamental about brains is that they map the territory.  They quest towards mapping the territory.


This brings us to the question of – how do I have a good life.  I have 3 strategies:

1. [content] Look at different apples

2. [map] modify so that there are more positive opinions of apples

3. [relationality] appreciate looking at rotten apples if that’s what’s to look at today.


If I look at dead apples all day, I’m not going to auto-magically have a great day.  On the other hand if I look at great apples, I’m going to be impressed and delighted.  The apple could be replaced with beautiful artwork, nice sunsets, tasty food, nice music.  Whatever strikes in the heart of desire to be attended to. Improve the content is a reasonable and helpful strategy sometimes.

Sometimes it’s not the content that’s the problem.  Maybe there’s nothing wrong with apples but they make me puke.  Then I can try the map.


If every time I see an apple I remember that one time I bit an apple and found half a worm, maybe there’s some work I can do so that I don’t keep thinking worms when I see an apple.  Even sunsets are irrelevant when I’m too busy on my phone. If art galleries remind me of my ex, music reminds me of screeching cats (not in a good way), food reminds me of how fat I am (and how I can’t take care of my body). Maybe the work to be done is in the map.  Sometimes with more and less force, the map can be trained to be less miserable when presented with stimuli. Usually the good stuff is found by passing through the uncomfortable, not avoiding it.

Sometimes I can’t shift the content.  I’m living in the developing world, sometimes sickness and suffering is visible.  Sometimes it’s a very real awareness that if I’m not careful it could be me. That’s where the 3rd method comes in.

There’s parts of the map that start to relate to other parts of the map. That’s what I start to call “relationality”.


I look at an apple.  It reminds me of the time I bit into a worm.  How I relate to that content is flexible. I can feel bad about being dumb that time, or I can look at it and laugh about how ridiculous that was. Maybe thinking of worm-apple-gate is my minds way of warning me to be careful it doesn’t happen again.  That time I went to see the sunset and could not get off my phone, I was upset about something, maybe I’m being reminded to be kind to myself, now I know better. Screeching cats – Hilarious! Food makes me fat, but it’s really really good food.  So tasty! Maybe the question of balancing good food and living!life is worth considering.

I have a chance to see how I’m relating to the content, and I can travel to different maps.  

How?  Slowly.

That process of “travel to different maps” needs to be done in the way of being that travels all the way down the ladder.  If I brute force the attention to move elsewhere, my relationality is “brute force”. My map says, “I gotta brute force my way around here” or “that’s not important” and my content becomes all about the things I avoid.  Sure I can brute force my content to be butterflies not machine guns, but that’s not going to substantially change a map with trouble brewing. I can’t always control what I see. but I can work towards relating to those experiences better.

This post has been quick and dirty. I hope to build on it later.

Cross posted to lesswrong: https://www.greaterwrong.com/posts/AMnwQDYx97nEp53df/a-quick-map-of-consciousness

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Many Maps, Lightly held

Many maps, lightly held.

As described in The fox and the hedgehog, among other places (munger, systems thinking).  This post holds the theory statement above quite “strong”, to try to clarify the need for it.  It does not apply in some places. For example gravity.  It would be difficult to hold gravity lightly although it’s a neat thought experiment to wonder how brains and thinking might develop differently in a place that didn’t have (almost perfectly) uniform gravity.

I wish I could say the concept of many maps, lightly held was mentioned in Lens that sees it’s flaws – but it was not.  I believe many maps would fit that post if it were around at the time.


A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said: “We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable”. So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it. In the case of the first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said “This being is like a thick snake”. For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk. The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said the elephant, “is a wall”. Another who felt its tail, described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is hard, smooth and like a spear.

If I was a blind man feeling at an elephant, I’d need the principle of many maps to make sense of the world and the information it presented.  How can the elephant be both a rope and a spear and a wall? Many maps. Lightly held.


When the platypus was first encountered by Europeans in 1798, a pelt and sketch were sent back to Great Britain by Captain John Hunter, the second Governor of New South Wales.  British scientists’ initial hunch was that the attributes were a hoax. George Shaw, who produced the first description of the animal in the Naturalist’s Miscellany in 1799, stated it was impossible not to entertain doubts as to its genuine nature, and Robert Knox believed it might have been produced by some Asian taxidermist. It was thought that somebody had sewn a duck’s beak onto the body of a beaver-like animal. Shaw even took a pair of scissors to the dried skin to check for stitches.– Wikipedia page for platypus.


Identity, Archetypes, Roles (mother, teacher, boss).  A person can hold many masks in the categories of identities, archetypes or roles.  This is an important and valuable feature: to be able to subscribe to a category. The phrase, “I am a rationalist”, offers a lot of information.  Paul graham suggests, “people can never have a fruitful argument about something that’s part of their identity. By definition they’re partisan”.


In philosophical realism, there is a problem between the split of the information that can be found inside the brain and the information outside the brain.  If we rely only on information outside the brain, then we are proposing that the information inside the brain is entirely useless. We should collect external information and ignore internal information.  This feels like a dangerous trap, there are far too many depressed people to follow external-only reasoning. If we imagine we live in a chinese room, we can’t possibly know if reality is true – through our camera eyeballs and other sensory devices, for all we know we could be living in a simulation.  But this doesn’t feel like a complete picture either.


A short experiment in mysticism.  Hold your breath. For as long as you can.  While you do that, watch your perception of the world.  Watch as it gets heavier, denser, feel the redness in the face, feel the tension of the pressure on the chest.  Feel the sense of reality closing in. And whichever other perceptions you noticed by testing out this state of experience.  Science would happily talk about the (upper right quadrant) phenomena of the body.  The carbon dioxide build up, the oxygen depletion, the heart rate change, the body temperature change.  Oh science! Beautiful science! I love science. Science is hiding something interesting here behind known maps.  Yes, I know the objective maps of what happens when I hold my breath. But do I know the subjective map? What happens to my interior subjective experience when I hold my breath, when I meditate, when I am under stress, when I have an unhealthy diet?  How do I know and deal with the subjective without knowing the subjective in great detail? (and I don’t get the knowledge of the subjective from only trying out holding my breath, although it is a neat experiment).


The fable of the rational vampire.  (I wish I had a link to credit the author).  The rational vampire casually goes through life rationalising away the symptoms – “I’m allergic to garlic”, “I just don’t like the sun”.  “It’s impolite to go into someone’s home uninvited, I’d be mortified if I did that”. “I don’t take selfies” and on it goes. Constant rationalisation.

Each of these problems NEEDS many maps.  To escape the trap of the flawed lens, I need to be resting in a world of many possible lenses.  I need to be willing to hypothesise and entertain that I am a vampire, explaining away my symptoms as if they were allergies and preferences, As well as the concept of being allergic to garlic.  The territory only has one explanation but there are many possible maps.

I need to be willing to consider that I am a brain in a box somewhere – and all the signals of the real world are irrelevant.  And! Still eat healthy because in the case that I do live in the realism world, I need to be prepared for that too.

I need to be willing to pet the elephant ear, and the elephant trunk and believe it’s one animal if the evidence says so.  

I need to live in the world where I am skeptical of the existence of platypuses and willing to check for stitches but also live in a world where it’s possible to believe in their existence at the same time.  

If I want to exist above identities, I need to be willing to be not just my identity, but every other identity too.  I need to be able to safely go to the places of uncomfortable identities and wonder why people occupy them.  I need to know that I can never take off some of these masks but at least I can know that I am wearing them.

How many maps, lightly held, do I use every day…

Cross posted to Lesswrong: https://www.greaterwrong.com/posts/uvkvccpaaLd4sKJLq/many-maps-lightly-held

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