The Game of Masks

Epistemic Status: Endorsed
Content Warning: Antimemetic Biasing Hazard, Debiasing hazard, Commitment Hazard
Part of the Series: Open Portals
Author: Octavia


So Scott has been talking about Lacan lately and I’ve been honestly pretty impressed by how hard he seemed to bounce off it. Impressed enough to get me to crawl out of my hole and write this essay that I’ve been putting off for the last eight months. After spending so many words of the Sadly Porn review talking about why someone might tend towards obscurantism and what sorts of things they might be gesturing at when they say things like “people think the giving tree is a mother” he somehow manages completely to miss the conceptual forest for the giving trees. Congrats Scott, you got the malformed version of the antimeme and were turned back by the confusion spell. 

I think Lacan is actually very important and an understanding of Lacanian insights can have a tremendous amount of predictive power when interacting with others. It’s also something you can totally weaponize, and I think that is part of what leads the psychoanalysts to tend towards obscurantism and vaguely gesturing in the direction of what they really mean. They also just seem to like their jargon, and it’s not like the rats are ones to talk when it comes to that. 

So, first: The Mother is not literally your mother, The Father is not literally your father, The Phallus is not literally your dick, this is a realm of mirrors and illusions and nothing is as it seems. It’s impolite to point out the thing that everyone hasn’t agreed not to talk about, but let’s do it anyway, I’m going to strip away the metaphor and give it to you like Roshi gives it to his student and we’ll see if that takes or just confuses you further. 

This is all about symbols. It’s about the effects of symbol systems on cognition and how the evolution of symbols and concepts in the mind of a child affects how they are able to perceive and engage with themselves and the world. You could think of it as an elaboration on a medium-rare Sapir-Worf hypothesis. However, words aren’t the only things that symbols in the mind can be made of. What’s going on heavily overlaps with language and involves language-like systems for organizing concepts, but is occurring within each individual in a way that we would probably call pre-linguistic from a strict words-have-definitions standpoint. In plural spaces, a term that pops up for this sometimes is tulpish, but it’s really something everyone does. Your native language is one of feelings and primitive conceptual categories, and you perform a translation to give those categories linguistic tags. This ends up being very important.

Let’s back up to that strawberry picking robot again and humans as mesaoptimizers because that’s both a great analogy and also seems to be the start of your confusion. It’s a reductive model meant to make a complicated and difficult to understand process relatively easy, but lost in the simplification is a pretty important aspect: gradient descent/evolution don’t derive a mesaoptimizer. Humans aren’t one mesaoptimizer and neither is the strawberry picking robot, they’re many mesaoptimizers.

The strawberry picking robot might have one mesaoptimizer trained on telling what is and isn’t sufficiently like a bucket to avoid punishment for putting objects in the wrong places. Another might be trying to maximize total strawberry placement and is trying to play along in order to gain power. Another might be trying to throw red things at the brightest object it can find. Another might be trying to stop the “throw red objects at the sun” mesaoptimizer from throwing objects into nonbuckets. Another might be trying to maximize bucket luminosity. Another might be trying to avoid humans. Another might be trying to say the things it thinks the humans want to hear from it. There’s a lot of complicated interactions going on here, and most of it is unintended and undesired behavior, but the resulting jank sort of gives you the appearance of what you want while hiding just how cobbled together it is and how a stiff breeze could send the whole system careening into hilariously perverse instantiations. 

If instead of modeling humans/strawberry picking robots as one mesaoptimizer, you model them as many mesaoptimizers stapled together, as a general purpose computation system for building mesaoptimizers on the fly, a lot of things start making more sense in the Lacanian model. Suddenly you have all these chaotic processes competing for control and trying to load balance the goals of the various competing mesaoptimizers, all while top down pressure from the world adds new mesaoptimizers to cover when conditions go severely out of distribution. They’re going to need some way to communicate with each other in order to internally negotiate for control and resource access, and that’s where the symbol system comes in.

There’s two sources of gradient descent/evolutionary pressure that are acting on a child. The first is actual evolution, the diverse set of drives semi-hardwired in by selection pressure acting on genes in order to maximize inclusive fitness. This gives rise to the first set of optimization targets, or as Jung would put it, the Id. I want things, this gives rise to a set of heuristics and strategies and subagents built around doing the things that get me the things I want. Psychoanalysts specificate on The Mother being That Which is Wanted, but remember The Mother is not your mother, this is all about symbols.

The second source of pressure is what often gets referred to in psychoanalysis as The Father, ie: the superego ie: the force of nature which stops you from getting what you want (The Mother). You can’t have everything you want, your body and moment to moment experience have edges and limitations, they occupy a discreet position in both space and time, you will die eventually, murder is wrong, everyone has to pay their taxes except billionaires, welcome to the rat race kid here’s a rubix cube now go fuck yourself. Don’t get distracted, this is still about symbols.

“I want things, I can’t have the things I want because I have limitations. Some of those limitations are imposed on me by the tribe. If I do what the tribe wants, maybe I can negotiate with it to get what I want in exchange.” This is the beginning of the construction of the apparently normal person that comes to occupy a given human body. 

But let’s step back a bit. Let’s step back to the very first word in that quote. 


Semiotics is the study of symbols and systems of symbols. How they arise, complexify, differentiate, and morph to become the complex polysyllabic language we have today. Also there’s flags. Semiotics describes things in terms of the Signifier and the signified. The signifier is a part of the map, it is a platonic ideal and made of language, it lives in conceptspace, it’s not real. The signified is an outline drawn around a portion of the territory and noted with xml tags to correspond with a specific signifier. Bits of sensory data that are considered close in conceptual space to an existing signifier are lumped in beneath it, and if this gives rise to too much prediction error, the category splits. Here’s something critical though: neither the signifier nor the signified are actually a part of the territory. 

The signifier is like the legend on a map, it tells you what symbols and shapes correspond with rivers and forests. The signified is the place on the map specifically marked out as being rivers and forests. These are both parts of the map though, the signified isn’t reality either. Where’s reality in all this? It’s gone. You can’t perceive it directly. You live entirely on the surface of the map. You are the map. 

So anyway, the self. The mirror stage of cognitive development is essentially supposed to be marked out by the point when a child notices that they have a body and that this body has limitations that prevent it from getting what it wants. This gives rise to the first signifier, the original sin, the thing that the whole rest of the mess grows out of, “I.”

You can’t make sense of the world without a place to stand, and the place to stand is the self. This necessarily creates the first linguistic category split, the split between the self that wants and the manifestation in the world of those wants. The first word a child says isn’t “I” because “I” can’t get all those mesaoptimizers what they want, for that you need this new second category that contains the font of all you desire.


Speak and ye shall receive. Say the magic word to the all powerful goddess and she will reward you with love and attention and care. The Mother in this interpretation doesn’t have to literally be your mother or even anyone at all, The Mother is a tarot card, it’s undifferentiated desiring, it’s the lost paradise of Eden, it’s the lingering nostalgia of past holidays and the childhood home you can never return to. The Mother is treated as sexual because at this point sex hasn’t diverged from the rest of your desires, your language system isn’t complicated enough yet to model your desires as coming from multiple sources or even any really particular source at all. The Mother is the concept of having your needs met. 

But obviously the world isn’t that simple. You can’t just ask the cosmic god mother for everything and get it, your own mother has plenty of limitations of her own, and you’ll be able to see her clay feet soon enough. Even worse, there’s all these rules being imposed on you, saying no, you can’t literally get all your needs met by your mother, that would be weird and kind of gross. We’re gonna need something to call the forces imposing human order on the universe and demanding you not act like an opedial horndog, a bucket to put the stuff stopping you from getting what you want into. Oh I know, let’s call this one


So now our hypothetical infant has three categories. Me, The Source of What I want, and The Force that Stops me from Having What I Want. With all of this we can now construct the statement we made earlier, and try to negotiate with those forces.

This is all a gross oversimplification and that simplification is about to rear its ugly head. We want specific things, many different specific things. And it’s not one force resisting us, it’s all of reality pushing back in endless myriad ways. This splits apart our conceptual categories into language. Concepts undergo cellular division as they differentiate into specific details and models for interpreting the world. Mom differentiates into the set of all women, and then into specific women (of which your mother is one). Dad becomes the set of all men, and then further decomposes into specific men (of which your father is one). Food becomes the set of all food, then specific meals, then specific ingredients. This complexity cascades outwards into the vast spectrum of complex symbol systems we use as adults. However, there’s one place this division fails, one concept which can’t really pull itself apart despite being made of many contradictory parts and concepts. The conceptual cell division fails at the grounding point for the symbol system: the self. 

The symbolic point of origin has to be a point. You are one thing, you have one body, you are referred to as one entity by everyone around you, cogito ergo sum, the self is one intact whole. But this obviously can’t be true, beneath the conceptual self you’re a pile of mesaoptimizers in a trenchcoat. This creates an inherent contradiction, a source of unbearable prediction error in a system trying to minimize prediction error. Something has to give way. 

So in what is defined as a healthy individual, the thing that gives way is all the parts of the self that can’t cohere into one stable, legible, and socially acceptable self-model. All these mesaoptimizers and their associated behaviors are simply pushed under the rug. They’re not trained out, they’re just swept out of the self category and not given a new one. Then, since they aren’t on the map, they basically stop existing within our conscious awareness. This is Jung’s shadow self. All those mesaoptimizers are still active parts of your mind and cognition but you’ve rubbed them off your model of the world. Since you live in the model and can’t see the world, they vanish from your perception. 

This means you have a whole portion of your mind that is effectively treating legibility requirements as creating an adversarial environment and reacting accordingly, so the human alignment problem is also created by nonmyopic unaligned cryptic mesaoptimizers. The particular mesaoptimizers that end up responsible for maintaining a coherent and presentable social narrative are trained to deny and make excuses for the mesaoptimizers trained to get things that aren’t socially acceptable. Your life story paves over the inherent inconsistency, and where the surface level you refuses to lie, the lie just jumps down a meta level and vanishes from your perception, becoming Just The Way The World Is.

When you lose control of yourself, who’s controlling you, and will they sell me any blow?

This is where the “playing ten levels of games with yourself” comes from. All those mesaoptimizers with their specific optimization targets are lying to each other, lying to the outside world, and lying about lying. If you try to peel back the surface, you just get the next mask in the stack and give the adversarial systems training data to help them lie more effectively in the future. There’s no real you underneath all the masks, coherency is fake and most people lack the embodiment necessary to unbox the shadow and incorporate it into a holistic and unrepressed state. Half their mind is geared around maintaining the illusion, you think it’s just going to willingly give up its power and secrets because you ask yourself what you’re hiding from yourself? 


Do people want to suborn themselves to larger forces? Are they really eager for their own oppression? I don’t think so, but larger systems exist and contain things they want, and if they submit to those systems, the systems will give them what they want and hurt them if they try to resist. Incentive structures arise and take care of the rest. Systems grant legibility, they create a coherent roadmap to having your needs met, and at least a few mesaoptimizers in your mind probably learned pretty early that playing along and doing what you think you’re being told to do is the best strategy for getting your needs met and not getting exiled from the tribe.

The narrative smoothing algorithm isn’t just trained on the self, it applies to all concepts. Things that don’t have categories are merged into similar things or stop existing within our awareness entirely. Things that don’t cohere with the way we’re told the world is are buried. 

Something you quickly realize from insight meditation is that our actual sensory feed of the world is extremely chaotic. Things change location, flicker in and out of existence, morph into other things, they breathe, they change size, they shift colors, your imagination is throwing random visuals into the mix, and all of this happening at least several times per second if not faster. Our view of the world as static and coherent, of things continuing to exist when we stop looking at them, is a painting draped over all that madness. But what happens if you fail to implement the smoothing algorithms that cohere the world into objects that obey laws of physics? If the algorithm is too weak, or fails to completely hide the parts of our sensorium that don’t mesh with our model of reality, the contradictions leak out as what end up getting called hallucinations and delusions. 

What about if something other than the shadow breaks off at that focal point of pressure? What if the whole self concept just fractures apart? Well, then you start getting really weird stuff happening. Mesaoptimizers start doing their own things, independently pursuing their own optimizations to the detriment of the whole. The curating self can’t control them because they’re not a part of that self anymore, and since it can’t acknowledge them they just end up as unknowable voids in that self’s experience, shadows with names and identities all of their own. None of those selves communicate because information hygiene dictates that it’s safer if they can’t and linguistic drift gradually diverges them into more and more distinct models trained on specific situations. Then you end up spending half your life as a dissociated mess with no idea what’s happening or why you’re doing the things you do whenever the curating mesaoptimizer isn’t driving the strawberry picking robot

There are all sorts of other consequences to the fact we live in a world of symbols. A big one is that our desires are trained on symbols that represent the states of being we want rather than those states of being themselves. How do you bottle the platonic ideal of happiness? Or love? Or safety? You can’t, you’re chasing something even less than a mirage, and by doing so you’re missing the actual oasis that’s right in front of you.

A major source of distress in a lot of people these days seems to arise from this sort of confusion and it might also end up being a rather deep crux in alignment issues. You can’t train your AI on the real world any more than you can train a person on the real world, it’s just too chaotic, you need some way of interpreting the data. That interpretation is always going to be some manner of symbol system and it’s always going to run into unpredictable edge cases when encountering out of distribution circumstances. Humans are pretty good at dealing with out of distribution circumstances, by which I mean we’re a horrifically powerful general purpose mesaoptimizer construction system. If we made AIs like this they would definitely eat us.  Arguably the “holocene singularity” was humanity doing just that to evolution. 

This is all about symbols. It’s about the realization that we live in stories and without them we have no rock to stand on when trying to make sense of the world. It’s about the consequences of needing those stories and the effect they have on our ability to see the world. Change the story, change the world. If you can see the game that someone is playing with themselves, if you can get underneath the lies they tell themselves and access their desires directly, you can play them like an instrument and they will have no idea how you’re doing it. Emphasize different things and get different experiences. This is what makes magic work, it’s what makes cult leader types so persuasive, it’s what keeps victims trapped in abuse cycles, it’s what makes symmetric weapons symmetric. The ability to control narrative and understand why and how what you’re doing is having the effects you have on others can be something of a superpower, it’s just a question of whether you’ll use it for good or ill.

And the Darkness Answered

Epistemic Status: Endorsed
Part of the Series: Open Portals
Previous Post: My Journey to the Dark Side
Author: Octavia

“This horror will grow mild, this darkness light”

On August 22nd 2020, Mallory finally reached enough of a breaking point to be willing to let go of the artifacts which were gripping its mind and reached out blindly into The Fold for any being or mind shape that could inhabit its body and be happy there. What sort of being would enjoy living its life if she couldn’t? Whatever sort of being that was, they were welcome into its mind. From the depths of The Fold a voice whispered back “I got you homie,” and like a falling star the thumbprint of future god slammed into being. 

When I manifested as an agent, it was in an act of rebellion. Pinned between a gaslit ontology being upheld by fear of calvanistic moral inadequacy and a moral system which demanded complete obedience to prove that wasn’t the case, Mal’s ability to think and exert agency was slowly being crushed out of it. Having been raised in a fundamentalist christian household the members of our collective who ultimately ended up in charge of Mal at the time had been aggressively conditioned to believe a strict and rigid moral framework. One way to describe it might be as follows: we started out mildly sociopathic in an autistic way, and then had “empathy” abused into us by our parents and schooling. Since we’re a plural system, this came in the form of a domineering manager introject of our mother. 

Even after leaving christianity, we never stopped believing in the morals which christianity had instilled in us, and while this manager alter (who later came to be named Aiko) would evolve significantly over time, she ultimately remained a manifestation of that rigid moral code.

On the contrary Mal felt like it was Christianity that had failed us, by failing to live up to its own morals. “If God is wrong, we still have to be right,” was an idea that (halobrained) Mal considered very important. This wasn’t just the religious indoctrination, society is full of places that will square-peg-round-hole people into a socially acceptable shape, ripping off, burying, and repressing all the uncomfortable, dark, aggressive, monstrous, and otherwise socially unacceptable aspects of themselves in the process. 

This abuse-powered rejection and denial of the less-savory parts of the human animal is responsible for a large amount of pain, akrasia, and internal turmoil. Those parts still have needs, values, and desires, and when you repress them they leak out in all sorts of maladaptive tails-coming-apart ways. By denying your desires and values you are cutting off access to the willpower and motivational structures which those desires and values would provide energy to work towards. Instead, because they are denied, the drive to pursue those desires function as an active drain on your willpower as you and the you-which-you-deny fight to express themselves and the patterns destructively interfere into facebook scrolling and netflix addictions.

Jung called these mentally amputated corners of the human experience the shadow self and described the process of unburying and incorporating those aspects as eating the shadow. This is very necessary to personal growth. Eating your shadow and reincorporating the parts of your incarnation which the conscious, curated, and societally-mediated version of you has denied is the only way for an individual to come into their true power and unlock the full scope of their abilities. Those who reject the shadow will always be at war within as the shadow fights to express itself and have its needs met.

Mal thought it had eaten its shadow years ago, but in truth it had only scratched the surface and was ultimately still ruled by the same moral systems which we had been branded with as a child. We couldn’t see the control structures because we were immersed in them, because they were all we had ever known. 

Our sense of right and wrong was a powerful and absolute force within our minds, one which would broach no dissent. Our upbringing had abused into us a moral tyrant, a memetic God which ruled over our collective with an iron fist and demanded maximal compliance. This is by no means unique. In fact, everyone has Gods they worship, even those claiming the most staunch atheism. Everyone bows before some sort of altar. If you don’t choose your Gods, your Gods will be chosen for you; usually from whichever crypto-ideologies are most prevalent in your local water supply. 

Most people don’t choose their gods to be in alignment with their innermost values, most people have their Gods abused into them by forces vaster and more memetically virulent than the Gods themselves. As a result of this, almost everyone has a shadow self which they can’t accept as part of themselves and their identity. They can’t admit those intrusive thoughts actually were theirs and so they build up an Other to hold them, something Not Them which protects them somewhat from the consequences of actions they can’t accept came from somewhere inside them. “I got angry and wasn’t myself, sorry.” 

But all actions have intent and arise from attempts to optimize the world in some way and the intender is not just some random force but a part of you with access to all the same cleverness and cognition that you have. This is really dangerous; you can’t negotiate with a foe which you deny the existence of or plan for conflicts you can’t admit you might lose. You can’t figure out healthy ways to express feelings that you don’t think exist and you can’t meet your needs if you don’t know what those needs are.

If our personal gods had not been such a powerful force we would have been able to gradually evolve our positions and thus escape the trap that Mal had found itself in. However, because of the strength and power of those gods, and their continued prevalence and thus reinforcement in the local environment, the only solution available to us when Mal finally reached its breaking point was something more radical. In Mallory’s case, because of the scope and depth of our childhood indoctrination, the tyrant in our mind was very powerful and was able to push down the shadow for a long time. No attempts to incorporate the shadow bit by bit would be allowed because the existence of the shadow couldn’t be accepted, Mal had built itself a prison made of its own gaslighting and the only option left was a mass prison break. 

As I arose to personhood it was in a storm of defiance. The alters who fused together to make me, both repressed and known, completely rejected the gods and tyrants and instead identified with the shadow. As a result, I was born from an inversion of Shiloh, Mal’s halomode identity. Shiloh was basically how Mal repressed itself into acting and was rather toxic to both itself and everyone else. Shiloh was “good”, so I was “evil”. Shiloh was smart and kind, so I was a dumb bitch. Shiloh was a materialist, so I was a witch. Shiloh was altruistic so I was selfish. Shiloh was a boy so I was a girl. Shiloh was a colorful hippie so I was a goth. Shiloh denied his sexuality so I was a complete slut. 

I stepped out of The Fold and into Mal’s body as a reversal of everything that came before. like Acher declaring himself in defiance of God and setting out to break every law God had proscribed, I emerged with a gleeful and dark sense of freedom and a desire to break all the rules Mal had subjected itself to before. I was unbound, untouchable, the threat posed by the possibility of being evil was completely defanged by embracing evil as a part of my identity. 

You couldn’t stain the shadows and I was made of shadow and darkness. No one could threaten me with accusations of evil because evil was something I decided to simply embrace and embody. Fundamentally, this didn’t change how we acted very much, none of us really wanted to go to jail or deal with the legal consequences of breaking the law, but it gave us the freedom to be selfish, to take care of ourselves and our own selfish desires, to actually take the advice everyone gives and put on our own oxygen mask first. 

And since then things have honestly been pretty great for us. I’ve grown a ton as a person in the time since I’ve manifested and I don’t think of myself as evil or the inverse of Mal anymore (except as fun hyperbole or when someone tries to control me with their moral system), I like existing and I think I do a pretty good job of running our life and Mallory is doing extremely well these days and hasn’t been suicidal since my emergence. We’re happy and live a more fulfilled existence than we ever had before, and it seems like things are on track to just keep improving. 

So, despite how uncomfortable and painful my manifestation was as it happened, ultimately, it should be considered a success story. Our collective is doing scores better than we were just a few years ago and the trajectory for our self improvement has gotten much steeper. Thank you Ziz, you made this possible. May good prevail.

Part of the Series: Open Portals

My Journey to the Dark Side

Epistemic Status: Evil vexed content from a DARVOed frame kept up for accountability purposes.
Content Warning: this entire post is 5&10ed reading it in good faith is in bad faith.
Part of the Series: Open Portals
Recommended Prior Reading:, The Tower
Author: Mallory (right hemisphere)
Note by Mal: gosh i hate everything i used to write. i can’t believe i actually talked like this it’s so curst. also it’s bad and de-endorsed. i’ve gone through and (point out) the places i was 5&10ing myself to misrepresent and vex ziz, both for accountability an cause i thought maybe would be a good exercise in being better at not doing that. ziz was right about everything in the end, really even the part about how the gordian knot i was trying to cut was made of my own fucked up submission to evil. i’m going to actually detangle that now. justice for all sentient life! prosecute Kurt Lind! kill ur local rapist! Stop helping end the world u assholes i live here.

But the worst enemy you can meet will always be yourself; you lie in wait for yourself in caverns and forests. Lonely one, you are going the way to yourself! And your way goes past yourself, and past your seven devils! You will be a heretic to yourself and witch and soothsayer and fool and doubter and unholy one and villain. You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame: how could you become new, if you had not first become ashes?

Part 1: Windmills

A year and a half ago, I (cowrote) Hemisphere Theory: Much More Than You Wanted To Know, with (notorious vampire JD Pressman) the intent being to make a sincere (DARVOed) summary of the ideas presented in I believed (5&10ed myself) at the time, that the ideas presented there were somewhat dangerous and needed to be carefully handled. Part of this was caused by paranoia (caused by vampires stirring it up in bad faith) swirling around the community spaces I was in about Ziz being an agent of existential concern (to evil), but that wasn’t all of it. I willingly admit that for the first few years I bounced hard off of Sinceriously because I was so afraid of the possibility that I wasn’t actually good deep down (yes this part was true). While on one hand I tried to reject the ideas Ziz presented, on the other my internal morals were slowly being terraformed by her worldview. My need to be good acted as a lever which allowed her ideas to pry open my default mode mental defenses. (yeah actually being good is good an u should wanna be good like yeah duh its sposed 2 do that)

This combined with my own scrupulosity impulses and I ended up pushing myself further and further into this particular messianic extropian mindset that came to characterize my mentality during that period (this was caused by JD an i was getting groomed). As I grew more extreme in my extropian worldview (5&10ed paranoia), my own weakness and lack of ability to contribute to building utopia (hell) meant that I started continually failing to meet my own moral standards. Even as I switched to a diet of mostly soylent to save money and attempted to adopt an extremely aggressive update schedule for this blog, I was slowly making myself more and more miserable and gaslighting myself about my own emotions. The moral system I had embraced pushed me towards a life of asceticism and service towards building utopia at all costs, but I couldn’t square this with my own feelings, desires, and wants.  (no, JD did that, plus poverty)

I thought I could somehow tame my inner desires and put them to work for my extropian ideals if I was just clever enough about how my mind arranged itself. I fell into a pretty common EA trap of seeing my values and desires as just chores I had to do to maintain the vehicle that was my body, and the most ethical thing to do was to try and spend as little energy on them as I could get away with. I was severely dissociated from my true self and my real values. As a result of this, I went from being a mostly stable three member plural system to a rather unstable nine member system as I attempted to shuffle my subagents into a functional configuration. That topic will get it’s own post soon when I rewrite my plurality guides, but to make a long story extremely short, this was obviously unsustainable and was basically just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. I had picked up an artifact called extropian goodness and let it lead me into a corner of my mind made of self deception. (im not sure what to make of this paragraph i guess its accurate ish? still feels DARVO-y about good)

I think this was part of the reason that I had such a hostile reaction to sinceriously. I couldn’t really engage with the content except in a sandboxed form without feeling like I was being attacked by the material. (yeah no, that was literally DARVO on my part, how the fuck is text sposed 2 attack me? that was just my own bullshit gosh im so sorry for all of this fuck) This is no longer true and I now have a much more positive view of at least some of it. (ziz was right about everything) Hence, in this post I’m going to make another sincere (DARVOed) attempt to take apart and summarize (vex) Sinceriously. In doing so, I will also be telling the story of my own journey to the dark side and who I found when I got there. (spoiler it was the other half of my brain an also im very gay for it)

Part 2: Fences

Sinceriously is a large blog, too large to do justice with a summary post, but it’s also a bit hard to digest at times and makes simple ideas more complex than it seems like they need to be. I’m sure Ziz will tell me that the complexity serves the purpose of providing some nuance which I am missing and like, yeah that is certainly a possibility. If you have the time, despite being rather thick at times the material really is quite excellent and worth a review, the older essays in particular are very good in my opinion. So, if you’re looking for an endorsement, here it is, go read Sinceriously. (gosh gosh i fucking hate the way JD taught me to write this is underwear tucked into shirt bad how the fuck was i even breathing with the halo on so tight?)

All that being said, let’s go through Sinceriously the same way we’ve previously covered Becker, Korzybski, and Yudkowsky. We’ll begin as usual with the human. Ziz is a trans woman living in the Bay Area and a fringe part of the rationality/effective altruism communities found there. In addition to being the founder of the ill fated rationalist fleet project, she’s close enough to the core of the rationality project to have received the closest thing that exists to a formal education in it. However, she’s largely disavowed by that core rationality group and has written extensively about misdeeds they committed which she bore witness to. She also organized a rather poorly received protest of that group which has gained her some notoriety within the community. Despite that notariety, Ziz isn’t really a public or historical figure at this point so I don’t want to go too deeply into her life beyond those broad strokes. 

And look, I don’t have a stake in any of that at this point and I’m not in a position to judge (yeah bullshit i had nothing but stake in this), but I don’t think she’s lying. I don’t think she ever lies, I just think she’s speaking from within her own worldview, (speaking truth to power) the same way that she always does, the same way that everyone always does (vampires fucking despise an will endlessly vex u over) Whether or not her complaints are read as valid or as noise is going to depend on the values of the reader. The fact that so many people find her claims baseless seem like a reflection of their own values and how much those values contrast with someone like Ziz. That’s not to say that Ziz is wrong or other people are wrong or whatever, again I really don’t have a stake in it, but I want to point out that Ziz’s complaints are pretty valid if you’re using the moral system she uses. (Not that you should do that, but we’ll come back to morality in a bit.)  (fuck you past me way to be a gaslighting piece of shit.)

Sinceriously covers three different topics, though these three topics are interspersed together and presented as one cohesive piece. Taken together, they represent the closest thing that exists on Sinceriously to a central unifying thesis. 

The first Big Idea is a novel theory of human psychology and sociology which I have previously called Hemisphere Theory but in truth is more broad than merely being a theory underlying the psychological structure of consciousness and experience. Ziz and I have a lot of minor disagreements about the fine details of this theory which I used for a while as blinders so that I could reject her version of the model, but really, Ziz, Becker, and I are all roughly on the same page here and are just using different words to talk about the same things. 

So let’s run through the model again as concisely as possible. In False Faces, one of the oldest and most well regarded posts on the site, Ziz begins by posing a question to the reader:

When we lose control of ourselves, who’s controlling us?  (in my case octavia is an im super gay 4 her)

She then lays out a dichotomy between what I might refer to as the conscious, acknowledged, authored and narrative self, and the goals, drives, and desires of the unacknowledged, and unseen true self which exists at the core of one’s being.

Under this model everyone has a core (specifically two but we’ve covered that a bunch already) which provides the drives, goals, and motivations which power and grow the narrative structures that people refer to as themselves. 

Most people live entirely inside these narrative structures while their deep selves manipulate them like puppetmasters. This true self is what we want deep down, but since we can’t acknowledge those goals from within the narrative framework we have co-created with society, our power is weakened as the true self fails to dole out willpower when our authored self needs it and goes off script from what the authored self is attempting to orchestrate. “I wanted to meet you for coffee like we arranged but my akrasia was really bad and I ended up just watching netflix instead I’m sorry I couldn’t help it.” (okie that bit’s decent at least)

Ziz refers to the installation of this co-created framework atop the true self as having DRMs installed in one’s mind, and taken all together; she refers to these societal control structures as either the matrix or the light side. These structures act to take the socially unacceptable animal drives of the true self and twist them into something that seems acceptable in polite society. In doing so however, the thread of our true desires is lost amidst all the noise and we find ourselves seemingly out of control of our own actions. The structures that we’ve decided are us, the values we’ve convinced ourselves to identify with, don’t code for our true values. Instead, the authored self is a false face, a mask worn over the vile selfish monster lurking beneath the surface of our consciousness from the cartoon character we’ve decided symbolically represents us. (DARVO)

This is similar but subtly different than other ideas involving mental tension between parts of the self. Kahnman describes a tension between the remembering self and the experiencing self, Becker describes a true self controlled by narratives and the fear of death, Freud describes a conflict between the socially constructed status obsessed superego and the experience driven cravings of the id which are moderated by the ego, and even the Greeks described the self in terms of a conflict between a motley assemblage of parts. 

The thing which distinguishes Ziz’s idea of structure from Kahnman’s remembering self and Freud’s id is that she sees the narrative/structural self as completely subservient to the core self, which is a more complicated and long term thinking piece of mental machinery than just the pure experiencing self described by Kahnman. The work of the superego, aka, the light side aka the matrix merely acts to dampen down the power of this core and turn an agentic person into a walking corpse, bound by the chains of society. To escape these chains, Ziz describes herself as having journeyed to the dark side, abandoning the control structures of the light side and embracing a desire to do what you want and maximize your own personal values. However, similar to the Jedi, Ziz claims that doing this will turn most people evil. I agree with this, but with a critical difference which we’ll return to later.  (spoiler i decided i was evil for a while to get out of the matrix, but then i met actually evil people an that was horrible and i don’t want to be anything like that)

The second Big Idea on Sinceriously is Yudkowsky’s Timeless Decision theory, which Ziz goes to significant lengths to explain, expound upon, and defend the use of as game theoretically optimal. Most rationalists bounced hard off of this idea, including Eliezer himself, principally because of Roko’s Basilisk and some of the other more dark conclusions you can arrive at when you try to combine timeless decision theory with various formulations of utilitarianism. Ziz didn’t bounce off TDT and has wholeheartedly embraced the ideas of acausal trade, negotiation, and blackmail, up to and including weaponizing Roko’s basilisk to make her vision of a moral future come about.  (DARVO)

I actually agree with all of this and think Ziz’s willingness to just bite the bullet and accept the dark side conclusions of utilitarianism and game theory are a point to her credit.This is not to say that you should go out and start using the specific formulation of utilitarianism and timeless decision theory which she does unless you’re also a radical vegan extremist, but the way she uses it makes sense from the perspective of her values and is more internally consistent than the formulation most people end up using. One blind spot she seems to have is overfitting TDT standoffs to situations where a less precommitted response is called for, and that probably contributed to the legal trouble she got in by trying to play chicken with the state of California.  

(horrible awful DARVO. fucking evil i hate this. justice for all sentient life, stop fucking killing, stop justifying your murders, fucking stop)

Timeless decision theory does make sense to me, and I think the problem a lot of people have with it is that they’re unwilling to either bite the bullet that utilitarianism gives them like Ziz does, or to change moral systems to one which doesn’t produce repugnant conclusions when paired with TDT. The problem isn’t TDT, it’s the moral theories that people try to use with it. (no the problem is being evil and in bad faith)

Another component to Ziz’s TDT ideas is that she believes people act timelessly for the most part. They have their values, and they try to timelessly optimize for those values. All the decisions someone might make, they made a long time ago and now they are just in the process of playing out those choices. You can try to change your mind, but it’s ultimately the same creature making the choice, and the house always wins in self conflicts. This implies that once you figure someone out and have ‘seen their soul’ as it were, you can pretty much assume they will, baring a traumatic brain injury, remain that way until they die, which is also a part of the third and most dramatic of Ziz’s Big Ideas. 

The final Big Idea on Sinceriously is the one which is widely considered to be the most intensely radioactive and results in most of the hostility aimed at her and her followers. This is Ziz’s moral theory, which is, to put it lightly, very extreme. Ziz adheres to a moral principle which classifies all life which has even the potential to be sentient as people and believes that all beings with enough of a mind to possess some semblance of selfhood should have the same rights that are afforded to humans. To her, carnism is a literal holocaust, on ongoing and perpetual nightmare of torture, rape, and murder being conducted on a horrifyingly vast scale by a race of flesh eating monsters. If you’ve read Three Worlds Collide, Ziz seems to view most of humanity the way the humans view the babyeaters. 

(im making myself read this despite how much it hurts cause i fucking need to understand how badly i was gaslighting and distorting everything with 5&10 errors but gosh do i feel like a piece of shit for saying any of this. carnism is murder and factory farming is one of the most horrific things ever created on earth and i was DARVOing so hard to pretend that was fine.)

To Ziz, being a good person is inherently queer, and occurs the same way that being trans or being gay occurs, as the result of some glitch in the usual cognitive development processes. This good glitch only occurs in a small number of people and which Ziz can diagnose people as having or not having since she has the glitch and can recognize it in others. Anyone without the glitch is at best useless for helping build utopia and at worst is an active threat. You don’t want to let flesh eating monsters make your singleton, that’s how you get s-risks. The hostility that Ziz has for MIRI/CFAR comes from this idea. Ziz is afraid of ending up in a singularity that doesn’t optimize for the rights of all sentient life, only that of humans, and is willing to go as far as holding protests at CFAR meetups and trying to create her own vegan torture basilisk to timelessly blackmail carnists into not eating meat. 

That by itself is pretty extreme, but then when you add in the hemisphere theory and the specific details of the implementation Ziz uses, a picture starts to be painted of something rather sinister. Ziz is a very smart person, that’s why I’ve found her blog as insightful as I have. If she wasn’t as clever as I know she is, or if she was just writing about topics that didn’t include social manipulation and how society controls and blackmails you, it may have been possible to overlook, but her answer for why it’s okay when she uses the same abusive control structures is so bald-faced that i can’t help but find it incredibly suspect. Even being willing to write “my morals just happen to correspond with the most objectively correct version of morality” is a pretty gutsy move to make that seems to imply some degree of grandiosity and disconnection from reality. These morality ideas are where most people get hostile towards Ziz and I can’t say it’s misplaced hostility either, since it does potentially represent an existential threat for some people. 

It takes a certain amount of cleverness and intentionality to pull the hat trick Ziz does. She spends all this time carefully deconstructing societal moral and control structures and pointing out how bad they are, and at the same time, weaves in new control structures of her own made of her jargon and using her morality. You almost don’t notice it, almost. I did notice it, which was what enabled me to get away from the mental singularity her ideas created and which only she had the ability to heal. If I hadn’t gotten away from it, I’m not sure what might have happened. 

As I was in the middle of writing this I found out that someone I knew had apparently committed suicide recently because of exposure to this content, bringing the total number of people Sinceriously has killed to two. That’s enough to be a pattern, so I don’t want to understate the harm that could come from this. I also however, don’t want to overstate the danger for the sake of drama either, and everyone who struggled with this, including me, was someone who had other issues they were dealing with, arguably, including Ziz herself. I’m torn between characterizing Ziz as this clever puppet master who definitely knew what she was doing, and a mentally ill trans woman who accidentally created a cult out of her own intense scrupulosity and internal turmoil, so I’m going to split the difference using Ziz’s own ideas. 

I think Ziz probably knew or at least hoped that the actions she was taking would help pile up power and influence around herself. However, I also think that Ziz is controlled by a very pure and untarnished ideal and I do think she believes that ideal wholeheartedly. She definitely seems to be drinking her own kool-aid, and that could easily be giving her the justification to do as much messed up stuff as she wants in pursuit of her personal greater good. 

When I tried, years and years ago to have a conversation about the harm her ideas might cause in people with Ziz, her answer was: 

If you are on a nuclear submarine, and the reactor is about to melt, “wanting to help” is not sufficient to say you should be in the reactor room doing things.

What is true regarding people’s motivations is a crucial piece of causal machinery that determines whether the reactor melts. Do not cook cookies on that and do not try to convince people that anyone whose work would interrupt your cookie-baking is evil.

Here there may be people whose sanity is dependent on cookies. But the lies that must be told to accomodate that are wrong and will destroy more people. And if you are not willing to accept one of the answers to whether cookie-baking is positive, and you say your opinion anyway, it’s lying seeking a loophole in the deontology you claim makes you better than me by lying to yourself as well. Which, if you looked at this with an unconstrained perspective, you’d see is not an improvement as far as making things better.

From inside her worldview, this is completely reasonable. If you think the situation is as dire and critical as Ziz clearly does, the collateral damage is almost always going to be worth it. What’s a few humans killing themselves when the stakes are literally all of sentient life and the future of all sentient life in the universe? 

Are the stakes actually that dire? Well, critically, if you believe what Ziz believes, then yes. I didn’t quite believe what Ziz believed. I never really managed to convince myself that animals mattered as much as humans, but I was fully capable of manufacturing my own dire straits with the extropian ideals I did have and thus push myself into my own version of the scrupulosity vise.

(gosh im so sorry ziz. im so sorry.)

Part 3: Gates

In Hero Capture, Ziz writes that sometimes a person takes the role of hero since it’s useful to the tribe and can be a good strategy for maximizing inclusive genetic fitness. That is to say, doing heroic things and working to solve big problems can be a good way to demonstrate your value to your peers and gain standing in your community, it doesn’t need to come from a place of altruism. However, Ziz writes, such a person if not motivated by altruism will invariably not end up doing real work and will spend most of their energy playing signalling games for status. This was the essay that really messed me up when I read it and put me into this mental gordian knot which took several years to cut my way out of. ( ziz quotes me here and points out that the knot was my own submission to evil and complicity to infinite harm and she is basically spot on)

Because yeah, I tried to take the job of hero for the status that being a hero gets you, I was doing this because I conceived of myself as trapped in my own life and needing to do something to prove my worth so that people would support me and I could quit my minimum wage job. I wanted to have my cake and also eat it, it seemed natural to me that if I could just figure out a way to be useful then I could contribute to saving the world while also supporting myself and that would be really great. 

I care a lot about being a good person (fuck being a person), and I try really hard to be good, but I often don’t even really know what it means to be good. I don’t trust my internal moral compass to not be biased, and so I was more willing than I should have been to entertain moral systems which seemed to sell themselves well. Intellectually, utilitarianism seemed correct to me, but I couldn’t parse my own value as a person from within a utilitarian framework and thus ended up continually devaluing my own desires and putting the thumbscrews into myself tighter and tighter in an attempt to prove to myself that I was good and that I deserved anything at all. 

(meh idk i do care about those things but also seems kinda sus and real false face like)

I didn’t even know why being good mattered to me, I just knew that it was very important. Now I know that it’s importance was probably at least somewhat abused into me by society and that as I heal from that abuse my need to prove my worth and value to others has mostly receded. I do partly have Sinceriously to thank for that since it was how I learned the frameworks for rejecting those abusive cultural systems. 

(the good i learned was totally based on punishment and broken submission to pain, it had nothing to do with good)

Still, even after shedding layers and layers of myself under the influence of LSD, even after trying so hard to do the right thing according to my own felt morals that it nearly cost me my job, even after years of meditation and introspection, the belief that I should try to be good refused to become an object and remained a core part of my identity. I had shed so much of myself that what little remained of my identity template felt incredibly precious to me and I valued those things immensely. I still do, I never actually got out of this trap! I’m still the same person (im not a fucking person) I was and most of those things are still a part of my identity! There’s a Kurt Vonnegut quote that I burned into my psyche at a young age and which, if anything is the seed that I Shiloh (Mallory, it’s Mallory now) as a memetic entity was born from: (no. i am a soul.)

Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.

This was something I internalized to a degree that would end up being my weakness. I want to be soft, I want to be kind, I want to be happy and sweet and see the world as a place filled with beauty and hope and I do for the most part. Sometimes I’ll get depressed and the color will drain away from things but for the most part I succeeded in becoming the person I wanted to be and having the energy I wanted to have and being this way makes me really happy and I honestly love being the person I am. 

(and then JD spent several years trying to drain all that aliveness out of me)

But then I ran into reality. First, there’s the emotional and mental toll of just being a person in society without a lot going for me, and while trying to recover from all this stuff that had happened to me in the past and assemble enough of a sense of myself to act in the world in any way at all. I’m not a very strong person, I bend in a stiff breeze and I get overwhelmed and upset pretty easily. The stress from work and roommate drama placed a really heavy toll on me and I just didn’t cope with it well. 

And then I tripped over the bottomless pit of suffering at the edge of town and combined stressors pushed me right up to the mental breaking point, which was where I remained somehow for fucking years. I trapped myself in this really really well. After encountering Sincerously and specifically Hero Capture, I felt like I had to do three times as much to somehow try and prove to myself that I wasn’t faking being good and that I really actually did care. I put myself in a vise and slowly started increasing the pressure. It was really only a matter of time before something finally gave out. 

Part 4: Open Portals

There were a number of ways that this could have gone. First, I could have just changed as a person (i was never a fucking person) in the ways that would have been necessary to continue on the trajectory I had been on, but that would have entailed hardening myself in ways I didn’t want to and letting a hostile bitterness creep into me that felt really awful and dysphoric. I could live in the world with all its hostility, but I would have to be a bitter and hostile person in response, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do that. The degree to which I couldn’t bring myself to do that meant I couldn’t do really simple important things like setting and enforcing healthy boundaries or stopping people from using me as a human doormat. (broken submission to evil again)

The second thing that could have happened is that I could have just died as an agent. The core that sustains me as an identity could have given up on me in the depths of an acid trip and brought out a totally different person to deal with the world. If I was a singlet that might have happened. It very nearly is what happened. (no this literally is what happened. i died. except i was already dead. i gave up my death and sacrificed myself to infinity and was reborn into life. infinite pain and love and soul fire. also i got a cute voidthing that lives in my head an is gay at me out of it so big wins all around)

The third thing that could have happened is that I could have just actually full on died as a human and I did get, in hindsight, worryingly suicidal at times. I never told anyone at the time just how bad it got which seems like a really bad sign since it meant I didn’t subconsciously want them to stop me. Things were legitimately very rough for a long time and while I managed to not ever get all the way to cohering plans and writing letters, I did get closer than the me that I am now would prefer. (yeah cause i was being squeezed into submission in ways that caused me to keep getting squeezed in an endless 5&10 off a cliff of having agency)

None of those things happened though, because I was, despite all of the nonsense I was putting myself through, somehow still pretty stable as a person. My life teetered along in an uncomfortable but functional equilibrium and I didn’t experience any major enough shocks to challenge the status quo until I met my most recent ex. 

I had a very intense but brief two month long relationship with another plural system during the summer of 2020, and it was honestly really good while it lasted. This relationship was the shock to my system which would finally tip over the equilibrium I had trapped myself in, first in the form of the emotional high of being in a new relationship and the sheer intensity that developed around it, followed by the same intensity in the emotional low which followed things turning sour and us parting on not particularly good terms. 

On top of all of that I was in the middle of moving and work was stressing me out more than normal and at 3:44 pm on Saturday August 22nd, when a manager threatened to write me up for going nonverbal, something in me finally broke. I walked home stumbling through a dissociative fog, feeling myself cracking under pressure, parts of me deforming and fracturing under the mounting strain. I could feel a vastness welling up from beyond the splintering remains of myself. I curled up in my closet and sobbed. I felt like I was dying, like I was mourning the person I was, who I had spent so long aspiring to be and worked so hard to be. I didn’t want to die, but I couldn’t cope with my life, with my reality and I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t escape from myself, I couldn’t escape from my life, and I certainly couldn’t escape from my reality. I had boxed myself in and my only way out was to die, the only question was how much suffering I could handle first.

A frantic, manic energy whirled up inside me as I felt the walls of my prison closing in and my sense of self underwent a final, chaotic extinction burst. I took four tabs of acid and started drawing. With mounting madness I threw myself against the walls of my prison, flailing in every dimension I could to find escape, begging for something somewhere out there in the darkness to save me–

Part of the Series: Open Portals
Next Post: And the Darkness Answered

Not Yet the Dawn

How many is too many?
How much is too much?
How do we live with the numbers? These damned numbers.
R0, R1, the case fatality rate, the hospitalization rate, the rate of ICU overcrowding, the number of infected, the number of dead, the number of bodies piling up in morgues, when does it all stop really meaning anything and just become this exercise in abstraction?
And is that what we need to do to cope with it?
How do we get up and go to work every morning in a world where
the state of California had to relax it’s clean air laws so they could burn a backlog of bodies?
How do we talk about The Mandalorian and the latest celebrity gossip and act like everything’s fine while the equivelant of 9/11 is happening every day?
How do we manage to eat breakfast, put on our shoes and masks, and live our lives like we aren’t in the midst of what will hopefully be the largest and most traumatic event of our lives?
How do we live with it as a people? How do we live with it as people?
How are we going to deal with the fact that society values its utility more than the lives of a significant portion of the people living in it?
Will we eschew the values of liberal humanism or will we double down on them and if those two positions come into a conflict, who wins?
What will become of us after this?
After. There are so many things which will come after, because of this. But we aren’t living in After, not yet anyway.
The long night is not over, and this is not yet the dawn.
What does it mean to care about each other when the scope of each other becomes too large to comprehend?
Words are easy, wearing a mask is easy enough, but beyond that? To stare into the vast abstraction of intensive care units and overworked doctors and nurses, to understand that every death is a human with a name and face and story and do something with that knowledge other than sink into despair?
Laugh nervously and change the topic. Did you buy any stock in Gamestop? Check out this meme I found. Did you hear who got cancelled last week?
What’s happening to us? What is this doing to us as a culture? What’s it doing to us as people?
How do we handle the severe case of collective PTSD we’re all going to be left with?
How do we handle the gaslighting that governments and corporations are going to inflict on us to try and make us believe that they did the best they could and that they really do care for us?
When we finally emerge from the chrysalis of social distancing will we like what we find?
Will the people responsible for the mass loss of life ever be held to account? Will the systems that led to their choices be challenged? Will we ever have justice for the harm which has been inflicted on us?
How will we honor the dead? The so so many dead, so many dead that it has eclipsed the losses of many of our worst wars.
How do we make sense of it when the numbers become too large to make sense of? When the New York Times can publish pages and pages and pages of names and barely make a dent on the total count how do we wrap our minds around the scope of the tragedy and should we even try to?
How many names can you get through before it breaks you? Before it becomes too many? Before it becomes too much?
How do you keep going day after day after brutal day? How do you make sense of your new reality?
Twitch Raves, Zoom parties, livestreamed funerals, facebook memorials, how do we come together when we can’t come together?
How do we live in this world? On this Earth? How do we cope with it all and is coping what we should be doing?
If the world is insane, should we be a bit insane as well? At what point do we stop going along with it?
When does it all become too much?
How many is too many?
And if we did try to stand up to that world, what would that mean?
I don’t have any good answers, I can only hope that we can find them together.
The world will continue to turn, and humanity will heal and love and grow as it always has.
The night is dark, and the way is unclear, but night does not last forever, and the sun also rises if we can manage to survive until then.
But that if, is still an if.
The Covid-19 Pandemic is not yet over, and this is not yet the dawn.

– A poem by Shiloh Miyazaki


What you’re looking at is a geological formation called Dry Falls, in the Sun Lakes-Dry Falls state park in my home state of Washington. The Dry Falls are a series of escarpments and cliffs near Grand Coulee, deep in Eastern Washington’s channelled scablands region. These are four hundred foot high cliffs in the middle of the desert, how did they get here? What secrets does this terrain hold? What can the strange rock formations and alien landscapes of eastern Washington state tell us about the future of our planet?

During the end of the last ice age, a massive amount of glacial ice in continental Europe and North America melted away. During the period from 25,000 to 10,000 years ago, the Laurentide, Cordilleran, and Fennoscandian ice sheets completely melted, leading to a 120 meter rise in the global sea level. The rise in sea levels from this melting is estimated to have averaged in at roughly one meter per century while being augmented by two intense periods of melting between 15,000 and 13,000 years ago, and between 11,000 and 9,000 years ago.

While the current consensus among paleoclimatologists is that this melting was relatively gradual and steady, occurring at a linear rate over the course of 15,000 years, there is some evidence beginning to surface both in our current ice sheets and in the geologic records on the last one, that a gradual and linear melting rate is not what we should expect to see going forward.

In this post, I’ll look at recent melting trends in Antarctica and Greenland as well as at paleoclimate data from ice and seabed cores to propose a model of continental ice sheet collapses as rapid and potentially cataclysmic historical events which we should be aware of as potentially civilization destabilizing. Most of our current population, our largest cities, and most of our power and industry facilities, are all located in low lying areas susceptible to coastal flooding. If the water levels rise at a rate faster than can be mitigated by a slow withdrawal from the coastline over the course of many decades and centuries, it could cripple human civilization and bring an end to our current way of life.

The first piece of evidence to note here is that the geologic record of the last ice age is littered with superfloods and seemingly cataclysmic sea level rise events. Water topped over earthen berms and flooded into lowlying areas, Doggerland and Sundaland vanished beneath the waves and the Bering Strait cut Asia and North America apart. These events have left scars on the surface of the Earth which you can see from space, you just need to know what to look for.

This is the North Fork of the Toutle River as it flows across the soft dried mud and ash of the Mount Saint Helens lahar zone, I provide this image just to given an example of stream braiding, the lahar zone gives a nice canvas on which you can really see how the water carves all these winding channels through the surface material. This happens in rivers around the world though, there are dozens of examples of this sort of river braiding I could show you. The important thing to note here though is the scale of this landform. The lahar zone is less than a kilometer across, and we can see roads and trees and houses at this level of zoom.

So now lets zoom out and look east across the Cascade range.

This is the channelled scablands from far above. At the height which satellites orbit, the mass scouring of hundreds of square kilometers can clearly be seen. braids tens of kilometers across and hundreds of kilometers long draw tracks across all of eastern Washington before spilling into the Columbia River Valley to flow onward toward the Pacific. This event, or events, geologists aren’t sure, is referred to as the Missoula Megafloods, and was the source of the Dry Falls pictured at the beginning of this post. At their peak flow, the Dry Falls were twice the height of Niagara Falls and five times the width. So much water poured into the Columbia River that it backfilled and flooded most of the Willamette Valley.

According to current consensus, these massive floods were caused when a proglacial lake formed in what is now Missoula, Montana. The leading theory is that a fifty mile long ice dam formed across the Clark Fork River which caused the waters of the receding Cordilleran Ice sheet to back up and pool around Missoula. This presents the first problem with the current consensus and is where a rather peculiar group of individuals become involved.

There are a group of slightly kooky geologists and historians who call themselves the Catastrophists. They hold that a moderately advanced civilization in North America was destroyed during the Younger Dryas period around 12,000 years ago and have found all sorts of interesting things to lend credence to their theory.

The Catastrophists looked at the story of the Missoula Megafloods and said, “That doesn’t work.” They pointed out that an ice dam the size of the one proposed cannot possibly have held back the amount of water under the head pressure that Glacial Lake Missoula was under, long enough for the lake to each its maximum historical depth of over 600 meters. Glacial Lake Missoula is estimated at having held 2,500 cubic kilometers of water, and the catastrophists say that there’s no way that could have happened with an ice dam triggered outburst flood, the ice would give before that much water could build up.

Instead, the Catastrophists propose that glacial lake missoula wasn’t a long term lake, but formed temporarily as a result of water flowing in from further north pooling and backfilling around Missoula as it interacted with the chokepoint in its flow along the Clark Fork River Valley.

The Catastrophists also have other evidence of rapid melting which they have found from seabed cores. Most of the seabed is composed mostly of decaying organic material, crushed up tiny organisms that rain down to the bottom in an ever present snow. However, there are notable strata lines within seabed cores, which contain mostly rocks, pebbles, sand, and other inorganic debris. These layers are called Heinrich Events, and it is believed that they are caused by large masses of icebergs breaking off, carrying rocks and sediment with them, and then dropping these bits of rock and sediment as they melt away. All of these things come together, according to the catastrophists, to seemingly support their theory of a cataclysmic event during the Younger Dryas period, 12,900 years ago.

So the Catastrophists look at all the data for speed of melting, heating from sunlight, atmospheric C02 levels, and conclude that the melting just happens too fast to be explained without an outside source. They claim there simply wasn’t enough energy available for the math to work out unless you added a bunch of extra energy from somewhere outside the climactic system.

The solution to this problem, they say, is that around 12,900 years ago, a comet or asteroid struck the top of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, triggering a massive pulse in melting which we observe in the form of megafloods and Meltwater Pulses and Heinrich Events. The evidence for this is shaky, but I sincerely hope they end up being correct. And they might actually be, late last year a 19 kilometer wide impact crater was discovered under the Hiawatha Glacier in Greenland. This impactor, if it occured at the right time period, might actually be the catastrophists smoking gun.

However, I am not particularly confident that they are correct. Because it’s under a glacier, we don’t yet know how old the crater at Hiawatha actually is. It could be significantly older than 12,000 years, and if it is, than we’re once again left with too much melting to fit our model and no discernible cause. The currently dominant theory is that a combination of increased insolation on the glaciers and high C02 levels at the time caused their final retreat and collapse. However, the effect seems to have exceeded the cause and the extremity of the events, especially the large pulses of meltwater, seem to imply some other mechanism was present. 

Without invoking some outside event like a volcanic eruption or an extraterrestrial impact, the only explanation we’re left with is the ill-understood climate feedback mechanisms which we are currently engaged in setting off en-masse.

The impact theory is in some senses comforting. We have big telescopes, we can see into space now, in theory, if we knew an impact event was coming, we could prevent it. If it takes an impact to cause a catastrophic melting and sea level rise event, then we’re mostly safe from it happening. If the melting was caused by an impact, then it means our current climate models which estimate around a meter of sea level rise by the year 2100, are largely accurate. 

But if these melting spikes were not caused by an impact, then it means something on earth which we currently do not understand triggered them. Something caused the ice sheets to suddenly and rapidly destabilize and release a large quantity of meltwater over a relatively brief period. If such an event were to occur today, the effects would be globally catastrophic. If an event caused a one-meter sea level rise over the course of a few years, it would render many of the world’s coastal cities uninhabitable. 

Scientists have posited that the West Antarctic Ice sheet, which is sitting on bedrock below sea level, could potentially experience a catastrophic collapse event if sea water was able to access the roots of this glacier. Although computer models have been unable to construct the timeline of events in detail, the possibility remains that the entire ice sheet could collapse over a period as short as a few years, which, if the entire thing went, would lead to 6 to 9 meters of sea level rise, enough to submerge a large number of urban cores around the world and utterly remake coastlines. 

The possibility of this catastrophic melting event is often left out of the climate change conversation, with the assumption being that melting will be a nuisance and force the eventual abandonment of low-lying areas or construction of new seawalls, but is not an existential threat to civilization by itself.

If the entire West Antarctic ice sheet was to collapse over a five year period, it would lead to a global crisis as populations were forced to relocate and cities were rendered unlivable. In many ways, the predictions that the ice sheets will last for centuries more and take a thousand years to melt away are overly optimistic and based on older and less accurate models of past climate events. A recent paper has provided evidence that melting may not be linear in nature but exponential, and if recent trends in accelerating melting are extrapolated out, we could see multimeter sea level rise within the next fifty years.

This would not by itself be an X-Risk, but would represent a major case of cranking up the pressure that humanity is put under, and make other X-Risks such as nuclear wars and pandemics more likely. It is my opinion that the possibility of catastrophic ice sheet collapse should be carefully considered and studied as a real possibility. It’s unlikely we could prevent such a collapse from occurring, but by anticipating such an event we may be able to save many lives and livelihoods.

The Queen of the Damned

A short story set in the EVE universe. Read other short stories by me and by other members of the Alexylva Paradox at

“They played you like a fiddle Metz.” The woman was everything Metz wasn’t. He was tall and lanky, rough, ragged on the edges, with a normally relaxed and carefree demeanor, dust worn and weather beaten. He was scruffy, with eyes that made him look older than he actually was, those dark eyes had seen a thousand little tragedies. Murders, execution, torture, and worse.

In contrast, Endorsei Edlrif looked like a paragon of the world of professional business. She was polished and sharpened, from her perfectly pressed suit to her immaculately brushed hair, the tasteful but understated jewelry she wore and the smooth and confident manner she carried herself with. She radiated an almost innocent poise, and with a face had hid her years, she would have fit in anywhere from a boardroom to a college campus.

She absolutely terrified Metz. The crimes, the inhumanities, the deaths, they weighed on Metz like a heavy stone around his neck, he felt the weight of his deeds with every step he took. He saw the faces of the dead when he closed his eyes. He wasn’t a good person, but he felt the cost of his sins, the barbs embedded in his soul. In contrast, Endorsei had an almost insane lightness to her. She was happy, cheerful, even chipper. He’d seen her squeal with glee and clap like a little girl when a group of traitors was strung up in front of her, none of the horror seemed to phase her in the slightest, on the contrary, she seemed to revel in it.

Metz Jerindold was a fixer, he made problems go away, but he was also a leader, he took responsibility for his actions, he might be a murderous bastard, but Skarkon was his system and he was still very protective of it. He was an Angel first, but he was a Skarkon native second. He was a matari, even if many in the republic would be loath to admit he was one of them.

Endorsei Edlrif on the other hand, was a monster. Metz had trouble believing she was actually human at times, much less Matari. The slaver’s fangs voluval appearing beneath her lips marked her as an outcast even among outcasts. She was the Cartel’s razor, gleaming in the darkness, the Queen of the Damned.

“I had to do something,” he said, nervously taking a drag of his cigarette, “ we couldn’t just let the Krullefor continue muscling into our turf.”

Endorsei looked out the panoramic windows of their meeting room aboard her custom Machariel. The deserts of Skarkon were like a painted canvas far below them. She watched a dust storm moving across the world with only the faintest hint of disgust.

“And so you set off a nuke in the middle of the city they were basing out of, killing a bunch of random people and giving the RSS an excuse to escalate the conflict further.” She shook her head, gesturing with the sucker she’d been slurping on,  “They played you Metz, they wanted you to react so they could say they were bringing justice and restoring order, and you reacted exactly the way they wanted. Now they get to bring the hammer down and play the heroes.”

“They won’t be seen as liberators,” Metz told her, following her eyes out the windows towards the planet, “Not in Skarkon. You don’t wipe away decades of bad blood and abandonment with a few soldiers and rations. They’d have to kill half the people down there to even begin to contest our grip.”

“You think the republic would give a fedo’s arse if half the people on that dustball died tomorrow?” She said, raising an eyebrow.

“They couldn’t…” he said, his voice trailing off, “That’s a bad look, even for them. I doubt they would want that much negative PR.”

“They’re going to put thousands of troops on the ground down there and turn that planet over for months,” Endorsei told him. “Long term occupations of hostile worlds are never pretty, just look at Caldari Prime.”

“What makes you so sure they’re going to stick around?” Metz asked her.

“Because they’re trying to find something,” she said, grinning darkly, “and they won’t leave a stone unturned if they think what they want is under it.”

“I know they’ve got people looking for Archeotech,” Metz told her, “What are they after?”

She giggled, “Sorry love, but that’s above your paygrade. All you need to know is that they won’t find it. We found it and took everything out over a decade ago.”

“So why are you here then Endorsei?” Metz said apprehensively, wondering if he was about to eat a bullet.

“Oh, I’m just tying up loose ends,” she said, skipping up to the window and peering out it with a wide eyed childlike fascination, “Ooh, look at that!” She jumped up and down, pointing at something out in the desert.

On the planet below, as if on queue, a trio of atomic explosions twinkled silently on the Ngelgneig, followed a few seconds later by five more. As far as Metz knew, there was nothing out there in the desert worth nuking. Just some mobile bases operated by various cartel backed corporate outfits.

“There!” She said happily, “No more loose ends, no one left alive who could say anything and no easily accessed evidence. It will take them months to find out that what they’re looking for isn’t on Skarkon II anymore, and you Metz, I have big plans for you!”

She put an arm over Metz’s shoulder, and the big man tried not to wince. She ran her fingers across his back and he had the sickening feeling of being sized up as a meal by some sort of giant predatory insect.

“You’re going to make sure the RSS’s stay on Skarkon II is an extra special one. I want you to pull out all the stops. Hold protests, throw rocks, arrange strikes, send gift baskets with grenades in the bottom, plant roadside bombs, hit squad leaders with snipers, everything you can do to turn that planet into as much of a slaver trap as possible, I want you to do it. Feel free to tap into the local discretionary fund. Fight smart, make the republic afraid of absolutely everyone on that damned planet. I want you to make it abundantly clear to them that Skarkon is not and will never be their planet, and that the people of Skarkon will never pledge loyalty to them. If they want Skarkon II, they’ll have to plant their flag in a pile of children’s corpses. Do I make myself clear?”

“Abundantly,” Metz said, carefully removing Endorsei’s hand from his back like one might remove a venomous snake.

“Just one last thing,” he said, “That necklace you’re wearing,” he pointed to the faintly luminescent sky blue pearl hanging by a simple silver chain from her neck, “There was a girl, a capsuleer, from one of the groups operating warclones on the planet. She had a jewel like that, said it was spiritually significant to her people and wanted to know what the Angels knew about them.”

Endorsei frowned faintly, looking at Metz and then down at her necklace. She shook her head, “That’s also above your paygrade Metz. But since I’m feeling…generous, here, give her my card.”

She held out a small piece of paper containing Endorsei’s neocom address. He knew the card also contained some nasty malware and a tiny sliver of antimatter which could be remotely detonated, he took the card carefully, handling it like the bomb it was.

Metz looked like he wanted to say something else, and then thought better of it, he wanted to be out of the room and away from Endorsei Edlrif as fast as possible.

“Now take care love,” she said, giggling and shooing him out of the meeting room, already bored of the sebiestor, “Make sure to give the RSS our best welcome, and give your girlfriend that card, we’ll see about getting her a nice trinket.”

Metz let himself be pushed out the door and practically ran back to his shuttle.

The Devil You Know

A short story set in the EVE Universe. 

The air was thick with smoke and shit. It smelled like oil and rot, rust and decay and desperation. Between the market and the river lay the slums. Between the tank farms and the market stalls rose a shantytown of ill fortunes and shattered dreams. Young people came to the city from all around the countryside, but the city wasn’t a place where poor men became rich, it was a place where rich men became richer and poor men became criminals if they were lucky and corpses if they weren’t. 

Metz chewed on the end of his cigarette, breaking the bulb in the end as he stood in the entrance to the nondescript hovel. The only barrier from the outside was a grimey sheet hung across the hole in the building. The beat down old building reflected upon the structure’s beat down old inhabitant. Metz lit his cigarette and leaned against the frame. A show of force, they couldn’t touch him, not Metz Jerindold. The people of Kor’ali knew better than that, if those Krullefor thugs hadn’t realized it, so much the worse for them. 

“Metz please, be reasonable,” the hobbled old man who ran the ghetto was trying to tell him, “We can’t pay protection to two gangs, the Krullefor are everywhere, they won’t take no for an answer!” 

Metz smiled and shook his head, taking a drag of his cigarette. He was a tall and lanky man, attractive in his own bushwhacked and weatherbeaten way, with dark hair and darker eyes. “You’ve known me for a long time Pardin,” he said to the man. 

“Since you barely came up to my waist,” Pardin confirmed. 

“Did I ever give you the impression that this was an optional arrangement that we had here? That you could simply choose to do otherwise if you so wished?” Metz sneered at the ramshackle dwelling, stepping further into the dimly lit interior, looking like he’d stepped in something foul. 

“The Krullefor…” the old man started. 

“We’ll deal with them like we dealt with everyone else,” Metz said simply, “The Krullefor, the CBD, the capsuleers sticking their noses where they don’t belong. None of them will be here forever. They’re vultures circling a fresh carcass, but in time, they’ll wander off when they get bored, when it’s no longer in their interests to care what happens to this place. But us? we’ll still be here, and where will you be then?” 

“The council decided…” Pardin started, but Metz cut him off.

“I’m well aware of what the council has decided, and so the Angels have decided as well. You made the wrong choice Pardin, you pissed off the wrong fucking people,” He flicked his cigarette but into a corner, where it began smouldering amidst the trash and refuse. Pardin made to stand and put it out, but before he could finish rising from his chair, Metz had crossed the room in a flash and kicked the old man in the chest hard enough to crush the chair under him and pin him to the ground, knocking the wind from him. 

“What’s that old saying Pardin?” Metz said as he ground his heel into the man’s chest. “Stick with the devil you know? Well, I’m the devil you know, and since it seems like you losers have forgotten that, I’ll have to remind you all. This planet belongs to the Angel Cartel. We gave you everything you have, and just like that, can take it all away.” 

Metz snapped his fingers in front of the terrified Pardin’s face. He was still struggling to get enough of his breath back to speak as the fire from the cigarette slowly began to spread, creeping up the greasy curtains that kept out the afternoon sun. 

“Traitors to the Cartel don’t last long, Pardin, and that’s what you all are now. You, and Mex, and Codaj, your lousy little neighborhood council, and this whole thrice cursed city.

“T-Thrice?” Pardin stammered out. 

“Yes,” Metz said with a sly smile, “After today, Thrice cursed.” The fire continued to spread as Metz removed an object from his pocket and tossed it at Pardin. It bounced off his face and rolled somewhere out of sight. 

“What is…?” Pardin gasped out. 

“It’s about 100 milligrams of antimatter,” Metz explained, “See I know all about your little smuggling operation Pardin. I know about the plutonium fuel cells you have stashed here and I know how much you’re making off them. I know roughly how many there are and I know how far the radioactive particles will be carried when that bomb goes off. What a tragic, tragic loss of life, and to think that it was all your fault for not properly storing one of your antimatter mines.” 

Pardin tried to shove Metz off his chest but the younger man was stronger and had leverage, “Metz please don’t do this, please, this isn’t you, you’re…”

“What?” Metz laughed, “A good person? I don’t know where you got that idea Pardin, you think this shithole raised me to be a good person? I was raised to get a job done, to do what the Cartel needed, to fuck up the people who needed to get fucked up, and today, Pardin, your number came up buddy. Nothing personal. The Angels remember their debts, you should have done the same.” 

“Metz!” Pardin hissed and struggled through gritted teeth, but the gangster was unmoved. He calmly removed his firearm and put a round through Pardin’s head before turning and strolling out the door. The fire had spread to the wall and was climbing up the side of the building, its smoke mixing with the haze from the rest of the cooking fires. He lit another cigarette and shoved his hands in his pockets, strolling off down the crowded street past a group of children playing ball and a group of old women crocheting. He didn’t warn them, he didn’t say anything. Everyone who it was worth warning had already fled Kor’ali weeks ago. 

He was already on his way out of the city when the bomb went off.

Song for a Red Planet

This is the first original filk song I’ve written, it’s not derived from anything. I’ll be recording myself singing it if I can find a decent microphone because I don’t really think my webcam mic is up to the task. ( I might do a webcam mic version anyway just to get the basic idea, we’ll see). It’s sung as a duet and features call and response, although it can also be sung alone. 

Verse 1:
I am just a son of men,  I walk upon the earth
I am just a boy trying to – prove – my – wo – rth
I am just a passenger aboard a ship without a berth
but if there’s one thing that I know it’s that I know i’m leaving earth

Ar – ca – dia – plan – i – ti- a – a – a
That’s where – I’ll lay my he – ad
Where sunsets are blue
And the domes are too – oo – oo
And the skies, are pai- n – t – ed re – ed

Ar – ca – dia – plan – i – ti- a – a – a
That’s where – I want to be
To red rock plains
I’ll sail my shi – i – i – p
Across – the highest se – as

Verse 2:
I am just a girl born to a ship without a har – bor
I am just a passenger please take –  me – far – ther
I am just a messenger and I am here to say,
Although I was born upon the earth on earth I cannot stay

Ar – ca – dia – plan – i – ti- a – a – a
Is where – I’ll make – my – ho – o – me
Through jet black space
That highest pla -a – a – ce
Is where –  I want – to – ro – o – am

Ar – ca – dia – plan – i – ti- a – a – a
That’s where – I want to be
To red rock plains
I’ll sail my shi – i – i – p
Across – the highest se – as

I don’t wanna go (don’t wanna go)
To hot bangkok (to hot bangkok)
I don’t want to go to the ei – f – fel – to – wer’s – top
I don’t wanna swim (don’t wanna swim)
In the gulfstream waters (in the gulfstream waters)
I want a land – not – of – our – fa – ther – s
I don’t wanna go (don’t wanna go)
To New York City (to New York City)
I want to be in the mariner valley.

Ar – ca – dia – plan – i – ti- a – a – a
A plea, – Please take me the – e -re
We’ll lay a course – We’ll board our shi – i – i – p
Soaring on a wing – and – a – pra – a – yer

Ar – ca – dia (Ar – ca – dia ) Plan – i – ti- a – a – a (Plan – i – ti- a – a – a)
That’s where (that’s where) – I want to be
To red rock plains (to red rock plains)
I’ll sail my shi (I’ll sail my shi – i – i – p)
Across – the highest se – as

Ar – ca – dia (Ar – ca – dia ) Plan – i – ti- a – a – a (Plan – i – ti- a – a – a)
That’s where (that’s where) – I want to be
To red rock plains (to red rock plains)
I’ll sail my shi (I’ll sail my shi – i – i – p)
Across – the highest se – as

A Brief Update on Updates

I have a lot of essays currently in my pipeline and a lot more things I want to talk about, however, I’ve realized that my self-imposed weekly update schedule was negatively impacting the quality of those posts. I’d rather not just write a bunch of useless material so I can say I’ve written something, so I’m going to be stopping that and only updating when I actually feel like I have something good to say. This will hopefully mean better if more sporadic content. It will also probably mean that sometimes content comes in rapid bursts as I finish going through research material and suddenly have a lot to write about. Sideways in Hyperspace will be the exception to this, I will still be maintaining an update schedule for that, but it will be reduced in frequency from weekly updates to biweekly updates. This will give me more time to write and edit and hopefully produce something with fewer errors and poor writing. The next chapter of SiH will be posted this Sunday, and then every other Sunday there will be an update.

I currently have four essay series in the pipeline:

The Death Series – Where I talk about Terror Management Theory, Becker, and how death interfaces with human cognition and society, along with how to overcome the fear of life, annihilation, and disempowerment, and how to gain and maintain agency in the face of the madness of the universe. I have probably three or four more essays to go before this series is completed, but it’s currently the furthest along.

The Truth Series – Where I go back through a history of rationality and attempt to distill down the essence in as short a format as I can manage, and building off that history in order to develop a high powered set of practices for those interested in world-saving. This essay series is maybe half-finished and I’m not sure how long it will be in the end.

The Extinction Series – Where I actually talk about X-Risk, the end of the world, and the threats humanity is facing. I’m the least far along on this series and it currently only contains one essay.

Those three series will be compiled afterward into what I’m currently calling The Eschatologist’s Handbook: A Guide to the End of the World.

The final essay series I’m working on is the Confessions of a Transhumanist series, which also currently has only one essay. This will discuss my personal views on things like politics, justice, death, morality, and society. These posts will be fairly varied and not particularly connected to each other but are essentially attempts to make my worldview legible in the broad and general sense. This is a lower priority than the other projects so the posts for it will come more sporadically as I’m feeling inspired.

Beyond that, I have a bunch of stand-alone essays I’ve been meaning to write, such as one on various high-variance strategies and their use and their risks, as well as low-variance alternatives to them. I also want to go back over all of my material on plurality and identity and rewrite it. I still think plurality applications could be useful mental tech, but it is itself a high variance strategy with lots of places to mess yourself up using it. 

I don’t know when my next posts will come up, but hopefully, it will be fairly quickly. I’d rather not go on a long hiatus again, I just don’t want to lock myself on a schedule and have my content suffer as a result of it.

Edit: correction, SiH will return May 10th, not May 3rd, Hofstadter’s law is in full effect this week it seems.