I was asked about how to resolve strong emotional fear concerns around the basilisk and this is my instructions as to how to do that.

So you just read something about the basilisk and it freaked you out.  There’s some emotional argument around being simulated, tortured and extorted by a future AI.  You read it, feel quite scared, concerned or uncomfortable about it and now don’t know what to do about the phenomena.

This won’t be the last time you heard of a monster that scared you, although maybe previous monsters somehow didn’t seem real or like they applied to you.  For example zombies.  Seem rather slow and stupid.  Unless they are fast zombies, in which case you can still see them and make plans with the other humans.  Humans always outsmart the monsters right?  And zombies are super improbable anyway.

Back to the Basilisk.  So problem, you now know of an idea that seems scary.  You have two problems really.  The first is that there’s a class of information that now seems dangerous.  You could in the future find out a new alpha basilisk that is also scary and more urgent to address than the current information hazard.  The second problem is “there’s a scary thing”.

If we look at the greater context of this problem.  As a ~5 year old or young child, if you found a scary thing, like the dark or a mean person, you could turn to an adult and get their assistance.  As an adult, you just kinda “have the skills” to handle scary things, but as a person in-between child and adult, there are now no adults to turn to (or maybe no adults who will take you seriously) and you don’t yet have adult tools for dealing with emotions.  (there’s a long debate about whether people ever turn into adults or just do the same as they have been doing and eventually just have learned competence by practice, while still not being an adult but that’s a different conversation)

To repeat the problem again, there’s an intellectual idea (basilisk) that is bothering the emotional mind (fear) and I don’t have the tools to deal with this problem.

So what are the tools that help with emotions?

A non exhaustive list:

  • Recognition of the emotion
  • Capacity to stay with the emotion
  • Strong stable foundation of emotional territory that feel familiar and native
  • Skill of knowing how to respond to the emotion

Recognition of the emotion

Lucky for us, emotions are a finite set.  Or at least humans have already made a reasonably comprehensive list of emotions.  Language will change over time, leading us to better nuance of emotional experience but for now there exists lists of emotions that do a good enough job of helping us to narrow down our phenomenological experience to a concrete label.

Feeling WheelCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes we can only narrow down to a general cluster of emotion, sometimes we have a few at once and they can muddle each other.  For example if I have multiple events going on in my life, I could be having emotions about each of them, but having them mixed together leading to an experience of overwhelm.

For the purpose of this context, a basic skill of recognition is one you can pick up with a little practice and a little checking back to the wheel.  Try setting a timer 3 times a day and checking on the wheel to see how you feel.  Try random intervals or try just stopping what you are doing, checking in with your body and noticing what feelings are around.

Capacity to stay with the emotion

Emotions in the mind often serve to direct us. They tell us what to move towards and what to move away from.  I’m scared of heights so I know to go away from them.  When I get near the heights, I feel my heart speed up, I feel my mind race and my breathing increases (and more).  Many of the emotional reactions are physiological and that’s important to note.  Sometimes we get very aversive to an emotional reaction, knowing I start to breathe faster, means I know I’m starting to have a panic attack and have difficulty breathing and I don’t like that at all, so I have learned earlier and earlier in that stack to avoid the stimuli.

Sometimes this means that one emotion directs me to another emotion, to another, to another in a chain.  I eventually apply a strategy for dealing with the final emotion.  Being able to stay with the first or second emotion in the chain is an adult skill.  When working with the mind, I might find that I start uncomfortable and then get distracted, then bored, agitated, hungry and eventually eat some food to cover the hunger.  I was probably not all that hungry but the chain led me to some problem I could deal with.  As an alternative, if I build the capacity to stay with an emotion, maybe I could have stayed with my discomfort and continued to write this article instead of pausing for a snack in the middle.  

The capacity to stay is a skill that is built directly from experiential practice.  The process is simple.  Set aside 30 minutes of time, in a quiet place, pick an emotion or experience you already know you find difficult to stay with, or one you want to learn to work with, and invite it into your experience.

I’m going to use the example of fear.  As I invite fear into my experience, I start to notice my mind speed up.  It’s not particularly good but not terrible either.  It’s a little interesting.  Thoughts start to pop in about things I have recently been in fear of, or ways that I might explicitly be in danger right now.  It’s not the case that my roof is any more likely to collapse than it was 5 minutes ago but one of the effects of fear is to bring these thoughts to my attention.  As I add more fear, I notice my lungs clear, my breathing speed up, my mind is racing now.  I’m suddenly struck with the need to check behind me as I feel a little adrenaline in my system.  I don’t particularly like this but it’s also not terrible.  My heart rate is going faster suddenly. (10 mins later) As I wait with these physical and physiological changes, the effect of fear seems to settle.  My mind is clear, my heart rate slows back down and I generally feel there is less weight on my person.  I also feel energized and more relaxed.

The rubber band model of emotional capacity

FMLCC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Our ability to tolerate new emotional experience is partially mediated by how much emotional experience is currently activated in our system.  That is, if your emotional capacity is a rubber band that is already stretched out, adding more stretch gets difficult and there will be a present strain on your emotional system that will be causing tiredness and irritation.  If you unstretch your rubber band, you can now take on new emotional experiences and get invested in new possibilities without straining yourself.

If I have the capacity to stay with an emotion, this means that I can address the first emotion in a chain, I can counter the bad habits of running away from emotional experience.  I can choose to wait around for better outcomes despite a task being hard or it being scary to negotiate.  If I have more capacity than other people, I now have a superpower because I can stay in the difficulty for longer.

The downside to the skill of being able to stay is occasionally forgetting that you don’t have to.  Which I will cover in “the skill of knowing how to respond” to emotions.

Strong stable foundation of emotional territory that feel familiar and native

If I’m living in a territory where all my emotional rubber bands are constantly stretched tight, I am probably feeling trapped and stuck in the middle of a tiny territory of the mind in which I can occupy while remaining calm and rational.  As I recover the free slack in my emotional rubber bands I now have a bigger foundation.  I can get a bit more excited, upset, scared, from here without being drawn away from stable territory.  

Also as I train myself to have a bigger stable territory, I can also train myself to be stable in slightly less stable territory too.  Training to respond to adverse situations is not just about being in emotionally calm territory in the face of difficult things, it’s training in remaining grounded, sharp and skillful in action while in emotionally rocky territory, in the face of difficult things.

Skill of knowing how to respond

In responding to emotional events there are two categories of responses:

  1. Strategic
  2. Dynamic

In a strategic response, you have probably learnt to react a certain way in the face of emotional experience.  For example I might have learnt that when I get uncertain I need to get more information.  In the face of uncertainty I might find myself asking more questions or looking for books on the topic.  Sometimes strategic responses can be a great response but they have the downside of being a lot more like a recipe book.  You can’t make bagels if you keep using a recipe for spaghetti.  You might learn more recipes so you have more strategies but if you aren’t hungry right now, making more food isn’t the right move.

Some bad strategies (that can work for a while) are:

  • When I get angry, I blame someone else.
  • When I get scared I look for someone else to tell me what to do
  • When I am bored I scroll on facebook
  • When I am embarrassed I hide from other people until they leave me alone
  • When I am not listened to, I shut down

It’s not that strategies are wrong, it’s that they tend to overextend their usefulness.  There are ways to work with really stuck strategies, and ways to improve the strategies you currently have, however that’s a different conversation and starts going down the path of therapeutic support (which can sometimes be done alone or with friends). 

In a dynamic response, you can still use previously developed strategies but you also have access to new strategies.  As a dynamic trait, it’s hard to pin down and describe and hard to teach.  A lot of teaching people to be dynamic is teaching people to be strategic over and over in different ways until they start developing their own strategic responses.  We also have a bad habit of rushing to our previously developed strategies when solving a familiar problem.

Fight, Flight, Freeze, and Fawn

One thing to think about when working with strategic responses, is that they often can be divided into the set of the four F strategies.

  • Fight – you get angry at, get aggressive towards, make a strength display, or attempt to push back at the problem
  • Flight – you attempt to run from the problem, attempt to move out of the way of the problem or generally detach (i.e. emotional numbness)
  • Freeze – you find yourself locking up, doing nothing, going blank, or feeling stuck here, despite the rest of what’s going on
  • Fawn – you suddenly feel like making nice about it, acting overly friendly to de-escalate the situation.

It is worth noticing what your habitual response is, and noticing where it comes from.  For example, many habitual responses will be developed in early childhood when working with siblings or friends.  

To be a healthier adult is to maintain active access to all these pathways, and dynamically being able to choose between them, instead of being stuck in one or two.  A different conversation exists on the topic of training how to get better at these responses, and becoming a well rounded responder.

For now, consider if you ever feel that one of these responses feels inaccessible to you, or if you feel blocked from that pathway.

Ultimately the skill of knowing how to respond comes from practice, and experience in waiting with emotions and noticing what feels right as a way of being in response to your experience.

The basilisk

If there is a chance that the basilisk will pose a threat, then we need to have emotionally processed the concern so that we, as individuals, are at a stable place to work on the problem practically.  If contribution to the field is the best way to improve the state of the world, then that seems like a compelling action to take.  But if we are too scared, physiologically disabled with fear, we won’t be able to work on the problem at all.

I would encourage you to all work on your emotional capacity.  Similar to reps at the gym, it’s possible to do reps of training at emotional capacity.  With more practice comes more confidence, and more ability to tackle hard problems without burning out.  Good luck!

cross posted to lesswrong: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/fvzJBaMuvkJZJtcPm/i-was-asked-about-how-to-resolve-strong-emotional-fear

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Who I like to be

Intuition, strengths, weaknesses.

I like to be strong.  I like to be powerful!  I like to be meaningful and I like to have a positive impact.  I like to be important, I like to be right.  I like to be confident, I like to be helpful.

We all like to be perceived by both ourselves and others in certain ways.  In some of these unexamined desires I found myself causing the opposite to what I wanted.  I found I would try so hard to help that I was no longer helpful.  Eventually I was a burden on other people where they needed to assure me that I was helpful before I could relax and leave them alone.

I needed to come to terms with my desire to help.  I needed to see that if I wanted to be helpful, that was for myself to square with myself, and not for other people to validate.  I needed to see that I could be helpful while doing nothing, a paradox of the fact that sometimes inaction is helpful too.  I needed to realise that despite my best intentions, sometimes I will get it wrong and that’s a tragedy that I can’t be in control of, while deeply intending that not to happen and not beating myself up if I do.

In grappling with “who I like to be”, and spending years of time getting to know myself, I started to be able to ease up on how much I felt I needed to be the helper.  How much I needed to show strength.  I even started to explore the opposite of some of these polarities.  I tried being insignificant, being meaningless, having a negative impact (I don’t like that one).  I tried being weak and soft and scared.  The great thing about being weak is that you don’t have to expect much of yourself.  The great thing about being insignificant is that you don’t have to fuss about being important.  The great thing about having a negative impact is that you relinquish your responsibility to extended orders of effect that you can’t control, and get clearer on what you can deliberately do.

I explored so many of these ways of being that I expanded the category of “who I like to be” to cover a bigger territory.  Then I became okay being flexible, fluid, creative in who I like to be.

I also started to notice who I like to be in relation to other people.  I like to win, I like to be successful, I like to be the model of a good person.  I like to “do the right thing”.  But along with watching myself in the relational sense, I started to notice that I show up differently in front of different people.

Once I could be flexible about who I wanted to be, I could notice who other people wanted me to be.  And then I could watch who I found myself being in order to meet other people’s shape of me.  I can find myself being confident with one person, and confused with another.  

But more importantly, I can learn about other people by who I end up being in front of them.  The shape of me, is influenced by the shape of their desire, which is influenced by the shape of their struggles and their ideals which is influenced by the shape of their lack of flexibility of being.  

Who I choose to be is a mixture of who I want to be, the type of person that appeals to myself.  And who you want me to be.  The type of person who appeals to you.  If I can tune into my side and calibrate myself towards reducing my own noise, I can tune into your part and what matters to you.  

This is a training in intuition.

This post goes well with my last post The hero principle of the mind.

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The hero principle of the mind

I’m the hero of my story. I’m going to regularly frame myself as the hero, frame others as antagonistic, NPC (non-player character), dumb, or with mysterious and evil motives. While doing that I’m going to frame myself as having pure, good and legible motive to others and the rest of the world. From my perspective it’s obvious that these actions are both justified, valid and the best I could do while at the same time your actions are irrational, arbitrary, ineffective and wrong.

Everyone does this. This is a frame that minds take on. They find the fastest explanation that comes to mind and completes the need to investigate and understand what has happened.

If I take the hero frame as correct or incorrect, even doing that binary dichotomy is limited and not quite right.

One of the reasons we take the hero frame is that it’s nice to feel like the hero. It’s nice to feel justified and successful and like my actions are valid and correct and support the side of all that is good in the world.

What we miss in taking the hero frame is that within each and every other person exists a depth and complexity that mirrors our own. As deep as we can go, as meaningful as we can have an experince, other people (while they may not always choose to be doing so), have the capacity to be having as meaninful an experience as we are.

It’s often said that you never know which moments in someone’s childhood are going to be the pivotal, life changing moments that massively impact their lives. you never know which hero quest they are on and how they are making their journey through the world.

It is because of this particular sense of unknown surrounding the journeys of others that it is necessary to always respect other people’s paths and what they find meaningful.

Just as you would want them to do for your journey, make space for other people to be the hero of their own story. Or at least a star figure.

Good luck on your journey.

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A review of my favourite books of 2021

My top books for this year:

  • Attachment Disturbances In Adults: Treatment For Comprehensive Repair – Daniel Brown
  • Fascia: What Is It And Why It Matters – David Lesondak
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine (as A Topic, No Specific Book But It’s An Interesting Theory To Have In The Tool Belt)
  • Spiritual Midwifery – Ina May Gaskin
  • How Can I Help – Ram Dass
  • Dependent Origination – Leigh Brazington
  • Saints And Psychopaths – Bill Hamilton
  • Living This Life Fully – Mirka Knaster
  • Unseen City – Nathaniel Johnson
  • The Alchemist – Pablo Coelho
  • The Music Lesson – Victor Wooten
  • Sand Talk – Tyson Yunkaporta

Attachment Disturbances – Daniel P Brown has the only method to repair attachment styles in a therapeutic context. Attachment styles are usually adopted as a baby and usually last our whole lives. If you have a poor attachment style, it will lead you to unhealthy relationships. The good bit is in section 2, after the extended literature review – when it talks about the method and provides transcripts for how the therapy works. It’s important because many therapy methods won’t access the early years of development, before you have episodic memory or narrative or time understanding, so it’s hard to work with therapeutically.

Fascia – Our bodies are held together by an extracellular matrix of fascia. 70% of your nerves terminate in your fascia. You are exeriencing the world through your fascia. I think the medical system is in for an overhaul of it’s understanding of fascia and what it does (currently a not very important part of the body). There’s a pseudo field around fascia that looks like a variety of massage therapies. They are on to something! And they know it. The field is in the process of standardising and organising the knowledge. I think that fascia is also the link between the east and the west, where we ask, why can’t we see meridians or chakras, and I suspect it’s because it’s been hidden in plain sight, in the fascia al along. I also think that fascia stretching explains DOMS and DOMS has eluded scientific explanation because we don’t know enough about fascia. I think that fascia controls muscle sizes and limits cells from growing too much. Fascia literally holds us together and it’s important to know about.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (as A Topic, No Specific Book But It’s An Interesting Theory To Have In The Tool Belt)
TCM isn’t “correct” in the western science perspective because western science rarely explores interiors and what it’s like to have an ailment from the inside of a condition. TCM explores, notes relationships and sometimes has solutions to the mysterious conditions that the west struggles with. Conditions of discomfort that are not particularly as bad as diseases such that they get studies and treatment. Conditions that fall through the cracks of the western system because we don’t have much of a category for them. TCM has a place for exploring and working on them. It’s a system of balancing forces (think yin/yang but more complicated). It’s not science but it does seem useful.

Spiritual Midwifery: Ina may describes the experience of childbirth and the spiritual phenomena of being in the room for the experience. She’s a pivotal figure in childbirthing and travelled all over america in the 60s, helping mothers give birth. The book is 60% anecdotes of herself, the person giving birth and the people in the room, and 30% some basics and practicals of baby stuff. I’d encourage anyone giving birth or expecting to read this book to know what experience is coming.

How Can I Help – Ram Dass
Ram dass took a lot of acid. He then went on to live a life filled with contribution to the world. He reflects on the struggles of wanting to help but also discovering the limits of his capacity (effective altruists would do well to read this book). He reflects on the balance of work and play and also doing the helping for the right reasons. Somehow you can gather a room full of people who are desperate to help (like a conference) and have them come into conflict around that helping. It’s a fascinating read and it’s Ram Dass, and excellent story teller.

Dependent Origination – Leigh Brazington
A well documented account of personal meditative experience of the buddhist concept of dependend origination. The mind follows patterns in how it experiences the world. We have certain glimpses befor other glimpses. We know before we judge, and we judge before we (often) suffer for it. To know your own psyche and your own step by step dependent origination can help you choose not to live in the many versions of the world with suffering and instead choose to live in the versions of the world with less suffering. (at least for the self caused suffering)

Saints And Psychopaths – Bill Hamilton
Bill hamilton reflects on his life in the 60s with Ram Dass and the culture of people who took a lot of acid, discovered spirituality and then accidentally fell for predatory psychopaths. It’s a sad tale of how a brilliant person struggled and experienced hardship because he was too focused on spirituality to notice his life being screwed up. He did eventually seem to break away from the mess but the book describes his experiences. He also talks about the true saints, the ones that are worthy of the spiritual credit that the psychopaths are trying to claim. A short and good read (free online copy available).

Living This Life Fully – Mirka Knaster
This book is about the meditation teacher Manindra and stories of his life. Some of the stories paint him as having magical and saintly powers. It’s a fun read, even if you don’t believe the stories. On par with “miracles of love” about Maharaji and “Dipa Ma” about Dipa ma.

Unseen City – Nathaniel Johnson
This book covers the author’s journey to deeper know the place they live in, specifically the plant and animal life that can be observed. Especially in a “dead” city, there’s always life, plants, animals, history and patterns. And a fascinating opportunity to meet them if you let yourself. Even the pidgeon is worth learning about. And especially the trees that are older than me. They have probably seen things.

The Alchemist – Pablo Coelho
A short book about personal transformation, agency, subjective experience and finding your path through life with a bit of mythic spirituality gently woven into the mix. Not too much to make you puke, and just enough to add some wonder to the world for the reader.

The Music Lesson – Victor Wooten
Victor wooten tells the story of a mysterious mentor who appears in his life, makes him relearn everything about music and reconnects his passion for the craft. He was asked to write a book about music theory but insisted that you can’t teach what he has learnt. Instead he wrote a narrative about connecting to lady music and having a conversation with her. It’s a cute story and a good way to point at the basics of connecting to the spirituality of a creative craft like music.

Sand Talk – Tyson Yunkaporta
(I think I read this in the last year?) Sand talk presents the aboriginal culture and the way that people in that culture come to know reality. It’s a lot more collective meaning making and a lot more narrative, and a lot more relational in nature. Each chapter, Tyson talks about going to meet an elder, or a relative, or a wise friend and actively “doing” something together like making a fishing net. While the doing happens, a talking happens that shares wisdom between people. There isn’t a written philosophy to it, it’s an experiential practice of being with another person and sharing wisdom. It’s well presented to have made me want to also do the practice of meeting, doing and learning together with people.

I’m looking for new books for next year and it seems I’m headed in the direction of books that are about “novel ways of thinking about the world”.

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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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