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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Purposeful spaces. Not safe spaces

My blog is not a safe space.  I’ve never claimed it was a safe space, I’ve never suggested or implied safety or protection or promised I will avoid certain topics.  Having said that, I have never covered rape, politics, religion, ideologies, or anything much more than a pile of science and my own ideas about brains and how they work.  But I could cover any of those if I wanted, because it’s my blog.

My blog is a purposeful space.  I could cover anything, right here and now.  My blog is for the purpose of having a space for me to post content on the internet.

Most of the times I have heard of a safe space, it’s been getting into trouble for not being a safe space.  My problem with safe space is ineffectiveness.  While struggling to articulate why this is a problem, I stumbled across the words that I needed.

A safe space fits inside the broader category of a space that is designated to a particular purpose.  My house is a purposeful space, it’s purpose is to be the residence in which I live. My office is a purposeful space, it’s the space in which I work.  I could live out of my office and work out of my home if I want to.

A purposeful space is defined by intention.  Wikipedia is a purposeful website space for “developing and maintaining open content, wiki-based projects and providing the full contents of those projects to the public free of charge.  A church is a purposeful space for religious worship.  The chess club is a purposeful space for people to meet and play chess.

A purposeful space risks being leaky around the purpose.  People in the chess club can also make friends and be social, some people might go to the chess club and never play chess.  The chess club is not about tiling the universe with ongoing chess games.  But after a while, if more people stand around making friends than playing chess, maybe just maybe it’s time to rename the chess club to “friend club”.

The trouble with a safe space is, what happens when it’s not safe?  What do we do with an unsafe safe space? Do we throw out the cause of the lack of safety?  That feels pretty uncomfortable if it’s a person being thrown out – feels unsafe for that person probably.  Seems like the main thing that a safe space does is cause arguments around the safety or relative lack of safety of the space (although I imagine they can do a lot of good and are designed with positive intention in mind).

In contrast, the purposeful space of the “chess club” reacts differently to a failure of the purpose.  In a purposeful space, anyone can walk in and notice the purpose not being fulfilled. And figure out what we do when that happens.  “It looks like people are not playing chess in the chess club, I thought the purpose of the chess club was to play chess. Who wants to play chess with me?”.

“Well actually this is the friend club, chess club is in the next room over, but you are welcome to stay and be friends”.

The solution to a failed purpose is to do what I might naturally do, “looks like the chess club does not play chess, I am leaving”.  This idea expands, “looks like the Australian Health Party is more concerned about anti-vaccination than it is about my values around health.  I am going to vote for someone else.” (*this policy may have changed) And when reflected to a safe space, “the space that was supposed to be safe doesn’t feel safe to me, I don’t have any safe space to go to!”.

In a purposeful space, who has the ”right” to question the purpose?  That depends on the defined purpose. In the world of smart etherium contracts the evaluation is carried out by existing technological processes.  In the world of humans, a human can evaluate the purpose. Humans have built in machinery to let them evaluate ideas or purposes.  From that, consensus is all that is needed to change a purposeful space back to its purpose.

There is a question of expectation, obligation.  Who is obligated in a purposeful space, who has the right to place any expectations on reality and declare that reality should conform to my desires and expectations?  (I do declare war against the current configuration of the atoms in the universe and desire a different setup)

Private purpose space

See also “No Homers Club”:

Some purposeful spaces appear to be public spaces, but in fact don’t act like public spaces.  Yes it’s called the chess club but it’s actually just where Alice goes to hang out with her friends and play poker.  If Bob wants to try to play chess in what is implied as the chess club, he’s going to have a bad time.

What’s the point of labelling it the chess club if that’s not what happens in the room?  I’m going to tag this paragraph, “signalling purposes”. This labelling error is tedious and annoying for anyone trying to sort the universe by it’s arbitrary label.  But maybe a chess club gets tax privilege over a poker club or some other kind of signalling bonus where only a specific kind of person is willing to seek out a chess club, and those are all of the people Alice wants to make friends with.  

Keep an eye out for the hidden purpose of a space.  Not all purposes are obvious. Welcome to reality where sometimes people don’t label reality accurately for any number of internally useful reasons.

Purposeful spaces and unsavory purposes

Sometimes a space is needed to discuss unsavory topics, or process unsavory experiences.  The police need a space where they can talk about terrorist tactics so that they can plan around how to protect society from terrorism.

Therapy needs to be a place that I can embarrassingly express that I fantasise about killing my boss without being condemned and without my boss finding out.  Without the purposeful space and the privacy to describe my fantasy, there would be less safety, I could not address the embarrassment which is bothering me around my fantasy, or the frustration that caused the fantasy, and I could not effectively process that frustration to a more savory and prosocial experience to share with other people.  

The inside of my own head needs to be a space where I can go to unsavory places too.  If I can never entertain that fantasy, I can never process it and let it go, the idea becomes a thorn in my side until it either drives me mad, trying to get me to process it, interact with it, validate that experience or I die with the concept incomplete.

There’s a fear, that if I permit the unsavory, I might actually get to the unconscionable act of killing my boss.  I want to lock down even thinking about permitting those thoughts so that I don’t accidentally do that either.  Suddenly a part of my brain lives in vigilance and fear of what I cannot think (because I’m not allowed). Then guilt.  A layer of feeling bad about the fear about the things I can’t think. Then anger, about feeling guilty, I only feel guilty about hating myself because I believe I am a bad person, then depression, because I can’t be angry all the time, I’m so tired of that.  (and on it goes)

This fear, the layers of emotions, are more likely to do damage than just entertaining that thought to begin with.  And accepting that from the start. In this way, entertaining madness is closer to the sane choice than clinging to sanity is to approaching madness.

It’s not always possible, maybe I don’t feel like I can go to unsavory places on my own.  That’s what good therapy, spirituality or friends are for. Remember, other people’s problems never look as bad as my own.  So maybe there’s a use for sharing problems.

Purposeful spaces are needed.  For healing, growth, training/practice, creativity, play, experimentation/trials, safety, ideas.  And for most of these, already exist.

Foundations for a purposeful space

  • Purpose/intention
  • Privacy/segregation
  • Time + patience
  • Space (free space, spare space)
  • Acceptance/safety
  • wonder/curiosity/willingness

And a question – how many of these are covered by the word “permission” to do these things.

Presently I see with purpose.  I reflectively look at intention.  I rest on a layer above the simple present.  I try to see where that’s coming from. Because maybe then I can navigate the undefined purposes of all the rest of reality.

How do we cultivate possibility without the purposeful intention to do so?  My existence is a purposeful space. The purpose is an unfolding discovery of the purpose of this space.

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Leaky concepts

When is a door not a door?  When it’s Ajar.

See also: motte and bailey fallacy by Scott Alexander,  The 5-second level, Disguised theories, Neural Categories By Eliezer Yudkowsky. No Boundary By Ken Wilber.

Every concept when challenged with reality is a leaky concept (even this one).  The idea of a circle seems pretty great until I try to draw one in chalk on pavement.  If you want to go mad, commit to drawing two lines the same length and don’t stop until you are dead from trying to line up atoms to be in the right places.  There are quicker ways to go insane.

The map-territory distinction makes it difficult to pin down a mapped concept in the territory.  The strange thing about reality is that despite there being a gap between minds, we generally have managed to communicate, to get things done, and to build a world.  This world. The world in which we live in. Bricks and mortar, bits and atoms alike. We did it.  We got to here, even though every concept leaks to all buggery.

Take “science man” in the prehistoric times of the savannah.

Cave man: “run it’s a lion”

Science man: “actually that’s a leopard, judging by its spots, I’d say it’s running at 40mph and will get here- augh!”

*science man gets eaten by leopard*

This silly example hopefully drives home the point of “how much does that leak matter?”.  For most of history, for most conversations the difference between lion and leopard did not matter.  Being right about which it was, had no effect on the basis of the following actions.

We don’t live in that world so much.  We live in the world of The Mars Climate Orbiter, which is now the reason that all space calculations are done in metric.

The discrepancy between calculated and measured position… had been noticed earlier by at least two navigators, whose concerns were dismissed because they “did not follow the rules about filling out [the] form to document their concerns””

“Oh that silly space agency, I’d never make such a mistake…”

“No one in my life has ever tried to say my name and accidentally used my sibling’s name and my dogs name before finally using my name…”

The way we measure or define a concept, and rely on a shared meaning of a concept is not going to be slightly wrong enough to cause serious errors that go unnoticed right up until something terrible happens.  Except for that one time, and that other time…

“Trajectories and locations are measured in local units” – Just a simple belief.

“Human children are named in a relational cluster to myself, my map refers to any name in the cluster of ‘child’ or ‘epsilon’ which is suitable to communicate to this one”

“The difference between lions and leopards are significant in this moment”

There is crack in everything

Everything is leaky!  How did we do it? How did we create a world where we can communicate even though everything leaks?

Most of the time leaking doesn’t matter.  Except when it does. When I need to be able to notice that the concept I was trying to communicate, has more holes than it has substance.  Subjective holes in places that make it a flawed concept.

To a zookeeper, the difference between a lion pen and a leopard pen is a lot more important than to caveman running for his life (probably).  The significance of a leaky concept is subjectively relevant to the person applying it and the effect that the leak will have on their life (their Upper left quadrant, subjective reality).

What do I do with leaky concepts now?  Add it to the toolkit of vigilance of the ways that words can be used and carry on.  Maybe it comes in handy some time.

Bonus content: the way buddhism talks about “the self” as a leaky concept being a foundation for 1/3rd of all the teachings.  There is no fixed self, the edges of the skin are one boundary that can be drawn but the stuff inside that boundary is always changing anyway, and the stuff outside is constantly interacting with it enough to make that boundary arbitrary.

Cross post to lesswrong:

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Dojo on stress

This (thinking) dojo came about because someone described their biggest problem as stress, relating to recent job-change events.  I ran this dojo in Melbourne and Sydney to an audience of ~10 people each time. (45mins-1hr long)

As the facilitator:

  1. Say yes.  Accept what people bring.  There’s no wrong answer. Each person is bringing the most valuable thing for themselves to the discussion.  
  2. There is a need to balance the group time and let everyone talk if they want to, but generally people are aware of that.  If needed, thank someone and bring their awareness to the fact that this is a group event and everyone needs to participate to grow.  The exercise is not about being right but about sharing and discussing stress.
  3. Make empty space, (time when nothing is said) both for people to think, and for less talkative people to step up and share. Speak slowly, there is no rush.
  4. There is no need to force participation, feel free to mention that anyone can pass at any time.  It might be healthy to model “pass” behaviour at the start by getting everyone to say out loud “pass”.  “What do you say if you don’t want to contribute and you want to pass?” (“PASS” duh)

1. Share a stressful experience.

Each person should share a personal or significant experience of stress that they have encountered in their life.  It doesn’t have to still be “alive”, but it has to be personally relevant to them being engaged in the discussion and get an internal sense of what “stress” is and the sorts of things we are talking about.  (if doing this on your own, write down your experience, spend a few minutes waiting with the memories to get a sense of how it felt to be in the body during that experience, feel free to write more than one down)

(1-2mins per person)

Briefly check for a common theme.  I.e. stress caused by interpersonal relationships or work.  Be mindful of that when continuing the exercise.

2. Causes of stress

Stress usually has a cause in life.  Each person is different, each person will know their own common causes of stress.  Make a list of personal and common causes of stress.

(2 mins alone making a list, 5-10 mins to discuss the general possible causes of stress and build a group list)  (if alone, you can google it, but with emphasis that this exercise is not about getting the right answer, but more about being aware of the parts of the stress problem and playing around with them in mind in one session.)

2. What are the signs of stress.

How would you know someone else was stressed?  How would you know you were stressed? Make a list as a group discussion. There’s a short list at the bottom AFTER you have made your own list of the relevant signs.

(2 mins by timer by ourselves then 10mins for group discussion)  (if alone, spend more time making the list)

Get specific to name a few instances if it helps people participate.  “This one time I was stressed about X and I kept having nightmares”. etc.

3. what do you do about stress?  How do you relieve that stress?

get specific about how to wind down, how to rest, how to relax, feel safe, distract, and more. (list at the bottom AFTER the exercise to compare notes)

(2 mins by timer by ourselves then 10mins for group discussion)  (if alone, spend more time making the list)

Being Strategic

Once we know what causes stress, what stress looks like, and what to do about stress when it comes up, the last thing left to do is to be mindful.  Notice the causes, notice the signs that come up and act appropriately. As long as I am aware of my body, my behaviour and my actions, I can effectively manage my own stress and the stress of the people around me.

4. Anything else we want to share about stress?

How to tell someone else they are stressed without the words coming across like a slap in the face:

  • “I feel like you are stressed”
  • “I noticed you keep pacing, are you stressed?”  
  • (instead of, “you are stressed, stop that”)

Share any other personal stress stories or thoughts that come up from the exercise.  If we are done, go to the conclusion. (10 mins)


Reflect on if this is helpful personally.  How can I tie this into my life. How can I notice the stress?  How can I grow to use this information. Consider reminding myself in a month to check if I still do this.  Consider how I can plan a “stress check” into my weekly routine. Consider how I can make use of this information.  (3-5mins on our own doing what is needed to carry this out) (share any particularly good ones 5 mins)

The following lists are incomplete, they are here for clues, feel free to make your own or ignore these.

Causes of stress

  • Relationships
  • Work
  • Emotions
  • Food/diet
  • Exercise
  • Sleep
  • Mistakes, accidents
  • Emergencies
  • Surprises
  • Major events or life milestones
  • Big projects
  • Moving house/city
  • Family changes

Stress signs

  • Body based sensations (tightness, sweat, feeling heavy, doom, heart rate)
  • behaviour changes (posture changes, pacing, staying out late, sleep changes)
  • Expressions (face stuff, behaviour, I know I am confused from the confusion expression)
  • Emotions (aaaaah!, Sad, scared, flustered, etc)
  • Energy (lethargy, overactive)
  • Actions (eating more, injury)
  • dreams…  

What do you do about stress?

  • Take a bath
  • Distract myself
  • Leave the room
  • Meditate
  • Play video games
  • Sleep
  • Talk to someone about it
  • Pamper myself
  • Let go of trying to control everything and make sure it goes well
  • Stop doing the thing (sometimes an option)
  • Eat something
  • Concrete checks (have I eaten, drank, slept, got sunlight, spoken to friends) (you feel like shit guide)

Thanks for participating, feel free to get in touch with feedback.

Cross posted to lesswrong:

Google doc for comments:

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