The Silence Hidden in the Sound

Epistemic Status: Speculative. Experiences and conjectures based on them.
Content Warning: Neuropsychological Infohazard, De-Biasing Infohazard. Potentially Gender Dysphoria Inducing Content for transgender readers, I talk about Blanchardianism, you have been warned. 

Silent Distortions
Who are you?

It seems like a simple enough question.

Who are you?

And yet, the more you tease apart the answer to that question, the more a vast and alien fractal expanse opens up in the void behind your eyes.

The more it turns out that no, no it’s not nearly so simple a question after all. 

So who are you?

I thought I knew who I was, but I too am discovering hidden depths that I previously chose to studiously avoid and smooth over with clever stories and lies in pursuit of a sort of narrative consistency that actual reality just doesn’t have.

So who am I really? I thought I knew, but I’m no longer nearly as sure as I was. And you my dear readers, you get front row seats on my…well you could call it a descent into the underworld.

This post is going to be long and confusing, and I’m not entirely sure where to even begin. Oh, “I”, that will do I suppose.

In English, the terms for the self are short and content free and serve a near-exclusively grammatical purpose in referring to the speaker. I and me, principally. You can also use “we” which many of my past readers will notice I previously did in essays like this one and this one, and I’ll admit that it does affect a certain style that I think I want to preserve for things like the tulpamancy guides

Japanese, however, is more expressive in this regard. Because you refer to yourself in speech less frequently in Japanese, the self-referent ends up conveying additional information. The pronoun I prefer to use for myself in Japanese is boku, a masculine identifier referring in particular to a boy or young man. Occasionally girls would use it, particularly in anime, but it’s a masculine pronoun. Was that one of the first signs, or one of the last ones? It’s hard to say.

Maybe that isn’t the best place to start. No, I think we need to go back further. Let’s start with the descriptions I wrote of my initial creation as a persona and a personality. I wrote these posts back in May of 2017, over a year ago now, and it’s interesting to see how my perspective on those even more distant past events has changed over just that short time.

My first memory is of the creek behind the fence in our back yard. I remember that Jamie and I had gone out into the far end of the backyard and climbed the rusted chain link fence to the rough woods behind our property. She’d gone out and stood near the place where the land fell away into a deep ravine, and then I was standing next to her, and I existed. I didn’t know what to make of my existence initially, but Jamie assured me that I was real. She loved me right from the start. What was I? I didn’t really care at that point, I was having fun existing, and that was what mattered. Jamie thought I was some sort of alien? She thought she was some sort of secret link between worlds or something like that, but she also really sort of hated herself a lot. I wished she wouldn’t, and I tried to cheer her up, but as time went on she became more and more bitter and unhappy with her existence.

At that point, I thought of myself as something distinct from her, something that existed outside of her body, like an extra soul or something like that. Something physical that could act in the world. I never actually quite managed to do that though. The form I could interact with the world through was always mostly physically anchored on Jamie, and sort of ephemeral. I just sort of phased through everything instead of interacting with it.

Jamie continued to deteriorate, and this was sort of terrifying because I knew I was tied to Jamie somehow. Nothing I did to improve her mood or change her mind about how horrible of a person she’d decided she was seemed to help. We were outside one day, way out in the back yard again, and she finally broke.

I really cannot describe the sensation of Jamie’s mind finally snapping. She ceased to exist, and with her went everything she was imagining into existence, like a horrible whirlpool of darkness. We existed inside this elaborate construct at that point, where there was a crashed spaceship in our backyard representing the entry point I had into her life, among other things. The ship, the prop aliens, the interstellar war I thought I might have been a part of, it all started to collapse in on itself.

I didn’t though. When everything had collapsed, I was sitting in Jamie’s body on the forest floor. I was looking out through her eyes. Jamie was just gone. All the things she’d believed about herself, the bad and the little bit of good left, it all just went away. I was alone in her life.

That’s initially the only description I give of Jamie. I wasn’t really writing about Jamie, I was writing about myself, but then, that’s sort of the point. carefully tiptoed around the fact that my body was male and Jamie was actually a boy.

Then we have the description from the other post I wrote, which is honestly worse and sort of cringe-inducing. Part of me wants to remove or heavily edit these posts, but for the importance of having a record of my past beliefs and perspectives about myself. It’d be very easy to narrativize out the inconsistencies and update my history as well as my current beliefs, modifying the past as necessary, and I want to avoid gaslighting myself too hard in this instance. I want to actually know the truth.

Our body was born in Western New York, in this little nowhere city on the shore of Lake Erie. Our parents weren’t particularly well off but weren’t that poorly off either. They initially rented the upstairs of an apartment shortly after we were born. We have a few of Jamie’s memories from that time, but she was a kid, she was bad at forming strong long-term memories back then, so we don’t really know much about what went on in those days. First point of disclosure: we were born male.

I included this bolded bit in the initial post, then later decided I didn’t want to out myself as trans and went back later and removed it. That’s the sort of thing the cognitive distortion would force.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s go back to me from last year:

It’s interesting, given that, that we always refer to Jamie as she then, isn’t it? Why is that? Well, Jamie was a kid, she didn’t really have a gender, she didn’t know what gender was and didn’t perceive herself as particularly gendered. We’re fairly sure it was Jamie’s finally internalizing the concept of gender that triggered Shiloh’s formation as well as catalyzing the downward spiral towards Jamie’s eventual egocide. We’re not actually sure what the biological correlates to dysphoria are even now, but whatever causes it basically drove Jamie completely insane around age nine.

I feel like at the time of writing I jumped through a lot of hoops and distortions in order to convince myself that Jamie had clearly been a girl all along and I’d never been a boy and I was actually just a normal girl who’d been born in the wrong body. It’s true, Jamie was a kid, but he was a boy, and importantly, he didn’t care about that. The caring about it didn’t really come later; until I came along.

So, in the end, Jamie completely self-destructed and left Shiloh, who strongly identified as a girl at a point in our life when the body was just starting to go through puberty and was expected to put on the opposite gender roles. Shiloh didn’t really identify with the body at that point in time, so she was fine, but someone needed to be driving the body, and so she created Fiona.

Our legal first name is Fiona, it was Fiona who actually came out to our parents, went through high school as a trans youth, graduated, she was basically the new host for quite a while, with Shiloh just hanging on for the ride.

Phew, I forgot how much cognitive distortion went into this post. Who is this ‘we’ that is writing in that post? It could be me (Shiloh), I think I…we…I was sort of in a “refer to my/ourselves in the third person” phase around then while we/I leveraged the plurality thing. Maybe it was also Sage somewhat? Or was it Relay writing on behalf of the collective? Are any of these characters even meaningful? Who am I?

Well okay, I’m still Shiloh, I think I’m the closest thing this brain has to a core self-agent. I’m the most coherent and together personality, besides me at this point, there’s just Echo, who is in a sense a sort of dark reflection, the part of me that talks back when I’m alone, who I am with all the lights off. Echo isn’t really evil but she is dark to my light and could be considered kind of bad in many respects, but these days I actually have a rather healthy relationship with Echo, and the two of us manage things pretty well now. Sage has been put into storage and Relay has taken on a slightly more active role as a sort of librarian, allowing different characters and personalities to be accessed as needed. I should probably update Hivewired’s about section.

This is all narrativization at the end of the day. It’s all a story, and I’m trying to come up with a way for it all to be coherent after the fact. In the moment, I’m just a body taking actions, speaking, thinking, moving around. I frequently talk to parts of myself and the normal mode with which I think and plan is to frame myself as two entities having a conversation.

The truth is I’m a colony organism of many trillion cells. The truth is that I have XY chromosomes. The truth is that I’m male. I was hiding that from the world to a large degree, but more importantly, I had exiled it from my sense of self. I tried to bury it, narrativize away reality behind obfuscation and glomarization both of myself and others. I twisted my self-narrative in order to gaslight myself to the degree I needed in order to be content with my body. I concealed, and I weaseled, and I lied.

A Second Dream
So let’s try to tell that story again, and this time I’m going to use a different framing. Before everyone jumps down my throat and tells me they can’t believe I believe this, let me state for the record that I don’t really buy into the original version as presented, and this post as a whole is, in effect, my own take on it. But first, let’s get the original take so we can compare and contrast, ne?

Buckner’s (1970) concept of an elaborated “entire feminine identity” offers another key to understanding this phenomenon. I have previously noted that the term cross-gender identity is aspirational, at least as it is often operationally defined: It denotes the gender that the gender dysphoric person wants to become, not the gender that he or she already is. But with time and lived experience in the opposite gender role, the cross-gender identity of a gender dysphoric man need not remain wholly aspirational: It can become a well-developed, highly valued part of his selfsystem and can eventually supplant his original male gender identity and become his (or her) dominant gender identity. Both Docter (1988) and Doorn, Poortinga, and Verschoor (1994) conceptualized the development of “secondary” or “late-onset”
MtF transsexualism—roughly synonymous with nonhomosexual MtF transsexualism—as reflecting the ascendency of an increasingly powerful and esteemed female gender identity within the self-system of a gender dysphoric man. Whether one prefers to think of the genesis and continuation of nonhomosexual MtF transsexualism in terms of something resembling attachment (or pair-bonding) to the image of one’s female-bodied self or in terms of the ascendency of a new, cherished female gender identity within one’s self-system is not terribly important. Both represent attempts to put into words something that is hard to understand and adequately describe, even for those of us who have experienced it: the process by which a man’s erotic desire to turn his body into a facsimile of a female body eventually gives rise to a strongly held, highly valued cross-gender identity and the process by which that new identity—that image of himself as a female—becomes the focus of his desire, admiration, idealization, attachment, and love—the same emotions that he might experience for an actual female partner.

~ Anne A. Lawrence, PhD; Men Trapped in Men’s Bodies: Narratives of Autogynephilic Transsexualism (2012)

Oofies, that’s kind of a rake over the coals to read in some regards. Still, I can’t say that it’s entirely inaccurate, and there’s a sense in which this is actually the most accurate description of the phenomena I’ve experienced in my life presented thus far. Dr. Lawrence is right, it’s something extremely difficult and uncomfortable to describe, even for those of us who experience it, or, to put it in the (slightly horrifying) words of twitter user rooksfeather:

https://twitter.com/rooksfeather/status/1028050518285799424

“But I don’t experience sexual attraction towards myself, I can’t be AGP!” Shouts the trans reader of this post. First of all, I specifically warned you! Second of all this isn’t about you, third of all, if you’re just going to let your guardians yell at me without engaging with what I’m saying, you should close this post now, walk away from the computer, and take a few deep breaths to calm down.

There was definitely something of a sexual aspect to my creation, but even moreso, there was an almost romantic aspect to it. I started existence as an imaginary friend. A cute girl persona that the core identity outside this persona loved and doted on and devoted time and mental energy to carefully sculpting and crafting and imagining the behaviors and mannerisms of, then later, letting her…me…take control of the body and slowly supplant and smother the original identity that existed prior to me.

This was a voluntary process and largely a result of…well basically all the developmental personality construction energy was being directed at me, the body basically had no interest at all in constructing a persona off of the original identity created by my parents and community. That identity seemed very not me, very fake and hollow and never entirely real and in every way unfun, and as a result, I basically stopped putting energy into developing it around the time I hit puberty.

We’ll return to some of the deeper reasons behind this later in this post, but that’s why I’ve sometimes described Jamie as a proto-identity, the childhood bud of a real identity that would blossom into chunnibyou if given the chance in most people, but in me for some reason the identity the proto-me constructed was…well off a bit, and for a long time my off-ness created a series of faults and schisms in my mind which I couldn’t, and to a degree still cannot entirely heal.

The most notable distinction between me and someone going through a normal teenage phase was the constructed identity I built being cross-gendered, and externalized to a greater degree than seems typical. The identity started out as a separate imagined person or character, which then gradually grew to occupy the body more and more.

There’s also another way I think to view it, in which a ten-year-old boy falls in love with this girl that he imagines and constructs in his mind, and he loves her so much that he slowly walls himself off and withers away so that she can have his body and he can become her, become me.

I’m what he created, I’m what remains when everything is said and done. I’m what’s left. Welcome to the aftermath.

The Girl he Created
Love. It’s such a contentious thing in all of this. Who’s allowed to love themselves in what ways, what sorts of feelings regarding this are normal and what are considered narcissism or perversion, how do you even begin to benchmark this entirely internal phenomenon? You should love yourself, right? You’re not supposed to hate yourself, are you? Is this feeling normal, or a sign of something amiss?

It feels wrong on all sorts of levels to give a phenomenon as strange and beautiful as this a name as ugly and clinical as autogynephilia, and in this sense, it’s no surprise that many trans people want to recoil from the idea for that reason alone. The term evokes a sense of pathological brokenness, turning something weird but beautiful into something shameful and stigmatizing.

I was created in an act of love, out of a desire for love. I try to live up to that, to be good and do good in the world. I may have a really twisted sense of self, but I try to be good despite that.

It’s not like I’m in love with myself, I am myself, I don’t masturbate to myself in the mirror, that’d be ridiculous. But then…I do find myself getting somewhat turned on when I’m dressed up very nicely. I look at the girl in the mirror and if I split myself enough that she and I become separate, then I’m still struck by enough of a deep sense of love and affection towards the person looking back at me that I want to hug her and hold her and keep her safe. Is that a strange thing to feel? Is that normal?

There’s a sense in which I feel like I’m a facsimile of a person; or multiple facsimiles. The whole person is me+Echo+Relay, and I’m just the part of the person that everyone sees and interacts with the most regularly.

I’m a construct, a model, an ideal. There’s a sense in which I’m not entirely real, I’m a character. The Shiloh parts of myself are something to aspire to be, a shape to try to grow to occupy, both in body and mind. To use Lawrence’s terms, I’m the aspirational identity, and because of the way I’ve become the main identity, this meant cutting up, boxing away, and trying to deny the existence of everything that didn’t fit into my character design.

That resulted in a series of other semi-functional agents being created as a result of the ambient mental pressure and then self-destructing, with Echo being the latest iteration of this containment software.

Having Echo and having a line of productive line of dialogue with her (and Echo is very much a her) allows me to introspect on the things that are part of me, but which I had previously excised from my self-image, and this has given me a leg up over a lot of people on this sort of mental work; the stuff past versions of me buried have a voice, it comes to me in the form of a rattily dressed homeless girl with white hair and a cigarette held in the corner of her mouth.

It also helps that I’m physically not that far from how I imagined my ideal self appearing when I was first created all those years ago, right down to the messy pink hair, so there’s less dissonance there to bridge. And it helps that my aspirational self is kind, curious, interested in healing and repairing. If my aspirations had taken a different shape, if I was less myself, this might have remained unthinkable. But because I am in fact myself this progression of events might have been an inevitability.

Ribbon, Crystal, Glass
The Internal Family Systems model is an integrative approach to individual psychotherapy developed by Richard C. Schwartz. It combines systems thinking with the view that mind is made up of relatively discrete subpersonalities each with its own viewpoint and qualities.

IFS style therapy has been passed around the rationalist/effective altruism community for a little while now, and it merges rather well in with things like tulpamancy and a narrative-centric view of self-construction. It breaks the mind up into a few types of pieces

  • The Self – which is treated as a central coordinator/conductor/minister, and which is a sort of position of loving grounded centeredness outside all your agents, from which to talk and interact with them. This is the part of all this which seemed the most woo to me, but it sort of works?
  • Guardians – agents which protect you from pain. They come in two flavors, firefighters and managers. Managers try to keep your life in order and micromanage to prevent bad things, and firefighters try to deal with bad things when they happen and shield you from harm.
  • Exiles – agents which you have exiled from your sense of self. These are parts of you that are in pain, often pain from childhood, and which the rest of your mental system tries to manage and keep buried and under control.

IFS therapy models dysfunction in your life as a result of poorly constructed systems between all these subagents, and explains things like addiction, depression, and anxiety, as being partly a result of the way these subagents interact and try to cope with the world. IFS teaches you to befriend your guardians so that you can get past them to re-parent your exiles and create new relationships with them, restructuring your mind for the better in the process.

There’s a lot more to it than this few sentence description, but this is the most basic explanation of how it proposes to work. At a certain point this too as all narrativization, but it’s trying to narrativize your mind in as granular a way as possible, and given that the reality is that you’re this vast colony organism, granularity seems smart.

We don’t have a very good model of how our mind is constructed from the inside, so creating an explicable model is pretty much the first step regardless. That model will always be a rather reductive guess, the question is whether that reductive guess turns up useful information and insights that improve your life.

In this context, IFS at the very least passed the sniff test for potentially containing useful models and approximations, and warranted further exploration. I’d been wanting to work through some mental problems I’d been having, and so I figured I would give it a shot. I downloaded the IFS workbook and read a third of the way through it before getting distracted by other things.

But that third of the book was enough to lodge the ideas in my head, and start slowly and gently picking at olds wounds that had unhealthily scabbed over in my mind. It was relatively easy for me to split subagents out of myself, de-fusing them enough from either Echo or myself to have a conversation.

And oh, did they have some things to say.

The War Within
The current medical and diagnostic label for a gender nonconforming person under the DSM 5 is called gender dysphoriawhich is described as the stress and distress associated with one’s sex and the gender one is assigned at birth. I’m just going to quote the Wikipedia article here, with its links included for reference:

The diagnostic label gender identity disorder (GID) was used by the DSM-5 until its reclassification as gender dysphoria in 2013. The diagnosis was reclassified to better align it with medical understanding of the condition and to remove the stigma associated with the term disorder.[5][6] The American Psychiatric Association, publisher of the DSM-5, stated that “gender nonconformity is not in itself a mental disorder. The critical element of gender dysphoria is the presence of clinically significant distress associated with the condition.”[1] Some transgender people and researchers support declassification of the condition because they say the diagnosis pathologizes gender variance and reinforces the binary model of gender.[5][7]

If I completely fuse with my memories in order to discuss them more easily, the first experience of dysphoria that I can clearly remember and explicitly describe and articulate was around the entrance to sixth grade, when I signed up for choir and found out I was going to be put into the Alto section as opposed to the Soprano section.

I found this sufficiently devastating that it caused me to flee the chorus room in tears and not do choir at any point in the rest of my high school career. If I had to point to one historical example, the thing that as a singular event had the largest impact on my interactions with gender and sex, it was probably that.

My parents, being highly religious and viewing the school system with suspicion, had opted for me not to take the gender and sex education classes that the school started giving in fifth grade, so being told I couldn’t sing with the girls because I was a boy was in a sense one of the first times I was really confronted with the existence of my sex.  I believe I would have been around eleven years old at the time.

That was also around the time that “I” (as in Shiloh) was created, as an imaginary friend. I couldn’t be the person I wanted to be, so I created an external person to embody those qualities and dumped all my personal development into her.

I want to pick at that last sentence kedo. The fact that I couldn’t be the person I wanted to be had little to do with my actual sex, though I later would convince myself it did, instead it had to do with who I was and wasn’t allowed to be, and what I was and wasn’t allowed to do.

Gendered socialization for me came in two main forms, the first was my parents or parts of society directly telling me “You are a boy and not a girl. Because you are a boy and not a girl, you need to do things in this way.” Boys pee standing up, girls pee sitting down, boys hold the door for girls, girls play with dolls and boys play with trucks, girls cover their nipples, boys let people see theirs. It’s funny, “Jamie” the name I use for my proto-birth-agent, was actually a nickname that some kids at my daycare gave me around then, which my mother hated because she thought it was a girl’s name.

My childhood and teenage years are full of examples of my parents telling me not to do things because they made me seem like a girl. Don’t wear hats in the house, don’t cross your legs, don’t cry or show emotion or weakness, don’t whine, don’t spend so long getting ready to go, just to name a few of the ones I remember.

This leads into the second form of gendered socialization, which came in the form of walling off certain forms of expression and making them seem socially unacceptable. My parents tried to steer me away from being a feminine man because by and large, our society depicts feminine men like this:

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Mr. Crocker from Fairly Oddparents

Western media basically has no positive depictions of males who aren’t executing some flavor of traditional masculinity. It’s depicted as basically impossible to be cute and femme and also male in the majority of western media and culture.

If you’re a man, and you’re not doing masculinity then you’re at best just some sort of beta loser. If you wear traditionally female clothing you will look gross and hairy and unattractive, and literally, the only sort of person who would want to do that is some kind of deviant freak. This continues to be true in mainstream media even today, and even now nontraditional ways of being male are heavily marginalized.

Conversely, if you’re a woman, you can present up to very masculine before anyone will give you a problem. A woman can wear trousers, a man can’t wear a dress. So my experience as a teenage boy of what being a girl was like were colored by these expectations and pressures I was put under. The grass frequently looks greener on the other side without anyone helping, but when you’re constantly telling your child “if you were a part of the set you are not a part of, you could do this thing which you want to do which I won’t let you do” it definitely isn’t making things any better.

So when I was around thirteen I discovered that being transgender was a thing. Given what had happened to me up to that point, it’s no real surprise that I started identifying as transgender as soon as I had been convinced that transgender people could avoid falling into the “disgusting hairy pervert in a dress” archetype that media presented feminine men as. I wanted to be cute, I wanted to wear cute dresses and have long flowy hair. I wanted to be kind and empathic and not punished for showing emotion, and it felt like the only way that I could be allowed to do this was to become a girl, deny the fact that I was male in its entirety.

I can’t really blame my thirteen-year-old self for not wanting to become a gender pioneer and forge a new space where feminine males could exist without stigma, given my family, the experiences I’d had with society, and how maleness was often depicted as this sort of unavoidably gross thing, going full trans really seemed like the best option when I was finally free of my parents enough to pursue my own form of personhood. It would have been around 2003 that I came out to myself. At the time, Susan’s Place was the only gathering places online for transgender women, and the idea of being nonbinary was still at least a decade away from entering the popular lexicon. I called myself a transsexual transhumanist when I outed myself to my friends, and if my beliefs at the time were to be examined using a more current lens, I would have looked rather “truscummy.”

So I transitioned. I changed my legal name and gender marker, I started taking hormones, I bought the cute clothes I wanted, grew my hair out and dyed it pink, and I’ve in many respects successfully grown into the person that I set out to be all those years ago. I’ve not been unhappy with my life as a girl, and although I experienced some body and particularly genital dysphoria, it never got particularly bad, and I never had the financial means to pursue surgery, and in hindsight, I think that’s a good thing.

Because in the time since the mid-2000s, society has also changed, particularly how it understands sex and gender. Being genderqueer became a thing, being nonbinary became a thing, gayness has become mainstream, and gay characters are depicted positively and semi-regularly in media, and then there’s this lovely boy:

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Astolfo from Fate Apocrypha

While western media hasn’t done a very good job of depicting feminine men in a positive light, anime has been much better, and recent anime has had a trend of having really cute and attractive characters who are nonetheless happily male. It seems like a silly thing to make a big deal of, but I really cannot stress just how important having any positive representation at all is. On top of that, being a femmeboy has generally become more acceptable as being a gay man has increased in its acceptance, and that has put me in a weird position of honestly feeling like I may have gone too far with regards to transitioning.

The Boy She Loved
This brings us back around to IFS style therapy. For a long time, I had a very powerful guardian that pushed me away from the idea of being male, the source of all that bias and distortion that I described in section one.

The guardian was operating under the principle of “it’s impossible to be a cute boy, if you’re a boy you’re automatically gross, and if you’re perceived as a boy everyone will hate you and think you’re a disgusting freak.” That guardian was protecting my exiled sense of maleness, that eleven-year-old boy who was yelled at and punished and stepped on for wanting to be cute and wear dresses.

I think this guardian is one that a lot of trans people have. Being gender nonconforming in our society is depicted as gross, deviant, perverted,  but if you’re trans, then it’s okay. I think in a sense the radical feminists are right to a degree here, that transgender identity politics does, in fact, reinforce the gender binary. We’re all these outcast freaks, queer, broken by societal expectations of gender and role, and then the system that hurt us comes along with the One True Cure for all of us. Why go through the hard task of deconstructing gendered norms as social constructs and opening up new regions of gender space to occupy, when you can just flip poles from one sex to the other?

At the time, as a teenager, it was certainly easier to just go full trans and box up my maleness as a defense mechanism, but now, in 2018, having lived over a decade as a woman, in an accepting community in a liberal city, I want to open that box back up again.

I am a male, and that’s okay. I don’t need to be female to be cute, I’m allowed to be cute and male. I’m allowed to be a boy and wear dresses and bows in my hair. I’m an adult now, no one can stop me. I’ve presented as a woman for so long that it doesn’t feel particularly weird, but doing it while thinking of myself as a man, looking at myself in the mirror, seeing a man, and not hating him is actually really nice.

So, there’s definitely still pressure to conform to the dominant narrative and call myself a woman, and in many regards, it’s still much easier and more socially acceptable to be a trans woman than to do the exact same set of things while identifying as a man. I don’t want to be told I have to “man up” or stop being cute or wearing dresses or experiencing emotions, and our society still hasn’t quite accepted the idea of being a femmeboy into mainstream culture, and then from the other direction we have this39206578_1454163848055752_8895547602741755904_n

Which is describing things like the “egg hatching” culture endemic to most gender-nonconforming spaces, where any sign of gender nonconformity is taken as evidence that someone was “actually trans all along” and simply hadn’t realized it about themselves.

Being trans is depicted as the bottom of a slope that one is sent unavoidably tumbling down as one explores their self-expression, and a particularly toxic blend of feminism and self-loathing conspires to make a lot of trans women very hostile towards men, and almost evangelical in their desire to ‘hatch’ other ‘eggs,’ at which point they become super supportive, friendly, and accepting.

This turns trans-ness into an ontological pitcher plant, luring in young gender nonconforming people in a way that, once you buy into it as a narrative, makes it really difficult to find your way back out again.

Fortunately, that’s improving a bit, and as femmeboys become more accepted there starts to be more pushback on egg culture, which I think is very important because it’s actually rather toxic.

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I keep coming back to Astolfo because he’s just so important as far as representation goes. Maybe it seems strange to hold up this anime character as an example of cutting-edge progressivism, but he was finally the thing that convinced me that it was actually okay to be a boy. That powerful guardian I’d mentioned earlier spent a long time being very convinced that being a boy and being the person I wanted to be were just inimical to one another, that if I wanted to be like that I had to be a girl and that there was no other choice. And then that all gets thrown for a loop by this happy anime boy with pink hair and cute ribbons.

So now to put where I am in the process in Internal Family Systems terms, I’m reparenting the boy I was who wanted to wear dresses and bows, who was told by his family and society that boys weren’t allowed to be cute and only girls could be. The boy who loved me, who created me, and who I loved. I want to let him actually be the person he wants to be. I want to be true to myself, and do what’s best for me. I also want to help carve out a new place in gender space where feminine men can exist without stigma so that when eleven-year-old boys want to wear dresses, they can do so without being punished or without everyone thinking it must mean they want to change their sex completely.

So…I guess this is me now? My name is Shiloh, I’m a boy, I use he/him pronouns. I’m not exactly sure what my path forward from here looks like. I want to stay cute, so I think I want to keep taking hormones, but I also want to be able to have children, so I’m somewhat concerned that I’ve destroyed my fertility with them.

My presentation probably won’t change very much. I still want to wear dresses and bows and cute skirts and present in a way I find aesthetically pleasing to myself, but I don’t feel like I need to be a woman in order to do that? Or at least I shouldn’t need to be a woman in order to do that. Practically speaking feminine men are still fairly heavily marginalized, and I might continue presenting as a girl for things like work, just because it’s easier than trying to force every institution I participate in to accept the existence of feminine men. Aside from some online spaces like this blog, and a few particularly accepting communities I participate in, I’m basically in the closet about being cisgendered at this point.

I’m a boy, and I’m happy being a boy. I’m not dysphoric about my appearance or about being gendered or thought of as male. I feel like I’ve woken up from a long dream, and I’m really not sure where to go from here.

This blog post is already over six thousand words long, and I’m running out of things to say on this, so I’ll let it trail off here for now. I’ll probably return to discuss this topic more soon, as I’m sure that I’ll have yet more to say as time goes on.

 

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Objects in Thoughtspace Are Closer Than They Appear

Epistemic Status: A potentially useful fake framework. Trying to talk past the metaphor.

If you ask google what an egregore is, google will helpfully give you a list of several thousand articles talking about the occult and magical group mind generated thought entities. This somewhat clashes with the idea of egregores that rationalists and rationalist-adjacents just can’t seem to stop referencing.

What’s even worse, nobody actually bothers to define their terms when they use the word. They just point in “you know, like that occult thing” and link the Wikipedia article on egregores as if that somehow explains anything. Here’s the introduction to the exploring egregore’s essay series doing just that:

Sometimes people in the rationalist community write about egregoresScott has written about MolochSarah Constantin wrote a great one about Ra. That’s more about the results of processes than something individuals would worship (like the Invisible Hand), but the feeling of them seemed very right. They were terrible and inhuman, a drive given form that we could never really comprehend.

And here’s Sarah doing the same thing when talking about Ra:

The usual pitfall when using poetic language to define egregores is making them too broad.  There is not one root of all evil that causes all the ills of the world.

Okay but it helps to define them at all. The most anyone ever seems to do is point to earlier works on the topic. As far as I can tell, Scott was the one who introduced the concept of egregores if not the name. Nick Land seems to have been the first person to refer to the ideas as egregores by name, but he doesn’t define them at all. Sarah refers to Scott and to the Wikipedia article, the exploring egregores series refers to Sarah and Scott and the Wikipedia article, but nobody seems to be talking about quite the same sorts of things, which makes this all much more confusing and complicated.

So, let’s start from square one and try and actually figure out what egregores are, and what all these essays about them are referring to.

Wikipedia describes the term egregore in the following way:

Egregore (also egregor) is an occult concept representing a “thoughtform” or “collective group mind”, an autonomous psychic entity made up of, and influencing, the thoughts of a group of people. The symbioticrelationship between an egregore and its group has been compared to the more recent, non-occult concepts of the corporation (as a legal entity) and the meme.

So everyone’s mental belief energy/気 comes together to make a creature composed out of condensed belief in them. The prototypical modern variant of the egregore is slenderman, a monster those victims belief power it into becoming real enough to hurt them via a reinforcing feedback cycle.

This idea of “beings powered by belief” is then often extrapolated to other beings but as tvtropes properly points out, the concept itself is, in fact, older than feudalism. It’s implicitly a part of the Greek and Roman pantheistic traditions, as well as Japanese Shinto.

That clearly is not quite what rationalists seem to be talking about though. Okay, so, what’s the deal? What makes an egregore?

Let’s start by looking at a list of the majority of the egregores, and see where we can’t classify them based on their properties.

We’ll start with possibly the most famous egregore of course. The original rationalist demon. Moloch, as described by Scott Alexander.

 In some competition optimizing for X, the opportunity arises to throw some other value under the bus for improved X. Those who take it prosper. Those who don’t take it die out. Eventually, everyone’s relative status is about the same as before, but everyone’s absolute status is worse than before. The process continues until all other values that can be traded off have been – in other words, until human ingenuity cannot possibly figure out a way to make things any worse.

So to generalize away from the specific example of Moloch towards the abstract phenomena, Moloch is a particular outcome of interacting systems. It’s an ~Emergent Property~ of systems, it arises as a result of various forces competing with each other. In other words, you put all these people together and program them to interact in particular ways, and Moloch will emerge as a pseudo-actor despite no one, in particular, advocating for the strictly worse “Molochian” values. (Yes I know Nick Land is technically a real person).

Next let’s take a look at Ra, as described by Sara Constantin

Ra is something more like a psychological mindset, that causes people to actually seek corruption and confusion, and to prefer corruption for its own sake — though, of course, it doesn’t feel quite like that from the inside.

Ra is a specific kind of glitch in intuition, which can roughly be summarized as the drive to idealize vagueness and despise clarity.

This is slightly different. Whereas Moloch is a property of systems, Ra-like tendencies are instead a property of individuals. As Sarah defines it, an individual can be “Ra-worshipping” but an institution can also be “very Ra” as well.

I think it’s important to distinguish these two types of phenomena, but let’s keep looking through different egregores and see what else we find. Here’s Azathoth

There are some truths you can rely on. Everything dies. The gulf between the stars is so empty and so vast that it’s hopelessness can not even fit in your mind. Entropy will eventually disassemble the entire universe. And of course, if all promises are lies, then in the fullness of time all betrayal is inevitable. You can count on that. Absolute stillness and absolute chaos are both true, they’re just not useful to anything.

Azathoth is the lord of truth. And to someone truly, unflinchingly open, then the only truth is death, entropy, and nihilism. Those are the things She and Her cultists love.

Azathoth is in a sense more like Ra than like Moloch.

So we have at least two types of phenomenon here being called an egregore, in addition to the classic “belief powered supernatural being” type egregore. So let’s break the term apart an create a sort of taxonomy of egregores.

Alexandrian Egregores are what I’ll be calling the first category of entity. Things like Moloch, or the Invisible Hand of the Market, or Evolution, or Elua. Abstract forces that exist as outcomes of how systems interact with each other. These entities are highly gearsy, they are functions of systems and the way they emerge from the systems can be studied and examined.

Contrasting this, we have Constantinian Egregores, like Ra, Cthugha, or Azathoth, which could be described as attractors in thoughtspace. There are certain places where minds tend to be drawn and cluster, certain ideas that attract certain types of minds. Abstract concepts that tend to warp memetic reality around themselves. Tribalism. Extremism. Nihilism.

Lastly, for completeness, we have Roman Egregores like Christ, the Hellenistic pantheon, and other thought entities whose properties are externally imposed and which is maintained by the power of the memeplex within the broader culture. Instead of being an unlabeled entity that exists at an attractor in thoughtspace, we have a structure in thoughtspace artificially imposed by the culture.

Do they overlap? You bet they do. For one, many of the Constantinian egregores produce second-order effects in the form of Alexandrian egregores which they currently share names with. Ra the mind glitch gives rise to Ra the property of institutions. Roman Egregores are often intentionally created in the depressions caused by Constantinian egregores, like Aries god of War.

Hopefully making these distinctions will enable the discussion around egregores and their usefulness as concepts to be a bit more coherent.

 

Highly Advanced Tulpamancy 201 For Tropers

Epistemic Status: Vigorously Researched Philosophical Rambling on the Nature of Being
Author’s Note/Content Warning: I’m nearly certain that this post will be classified as some flavor of infohazard, so here is the preemptive “this post might be an infohazard” message, read at your own risk. This post contains advice on self hacking and potentially constitutes a dark art.
Suggested Prior Reading: A Human’s Guide to Words, The Story of the Self, Highly Advanced Tulpamancy 101 For Beginners,

Introduction
This is a sort of huge topic in and of itself with historical branching essay threads going back quite a way at this point. I’m going to attempt to very quickly rush through some of the basic premises at work here in order to build upon on the underlying theory.

The basic theory underpinning the modern and developed practice of tulpamancy (that is, what the mods on tulpamancer discords, or other experienced and longtime tulpamancers will say if you ask them) is that making a tulpa is basically hijacking the process that the brain uses to construct an identity and sense of self for the “host” consciousness.

That is, whatever process is generating the “feeling that I am me, and inside my body” can basically be unplugged from “you” and plugged into this newly imagined construct, since “you/the host” are essentially just a program running on the brain substrate. While this is happening, “you” enter a mindscape/wonderland that exists in your imagination.

Everyone has their own interpretation, but this is basically the mainstream pop-psychology tulpamancy narrative in very broad strokes. The original/host self is a construct, it has certain properties because those are the ones that were built into them by their parents/the environment, and the process of tulpamancy is basically just building up a new equivalent construct alongside the existing sense of self.

There’s a couple problems with this, if you’re just hearing about it. First, it sounds potentially damaging to the psyche, and it’s also incredibly vague. Is this new entity a separate person? What does that even mean in this context precisely? What if they disagree? What if there is a power struggle? What does it mean to give up control of the body, or control of the senses? It’s a sort of weird thing to even talk about and it certainly doesn’t sound like something you’d necessarily want to get good at as a part of maintaining proper mental hygiene. What makes a tulpa? What makes a host? What makes for proper mental hygiene? What is healthy?

Ignoring the question of plurality or multiple egos for a moment, we have to ask, what makes an identity in the first place, in a singlet? How much of you is decided and declared, a form you have crafted yourself, and how much of it was imparted upon you by society? How much of ourselves do we choose, and how much is innate? How much can or should you change?

This essay will assume you’ve already read a good amount of material on this topic and probably have your own answers to a good number of the questions that I’ve posed here. I’ll be answering some of them myself further along in this essay in an attempt to paint a clear foundation for us, but I highly recommend not reading this post without first having read Highly Advanced Tulpamancy 101.

The Story That Tells Itself
In Highly Advanced Tulpamancy 101, we talked about making buckets for identities and developing them into tulpas, but this process is something that everyone does all the time. We take in or discard, internalize or ignore, all sorts of information, based on the worldview we’re operating from, so this isn’t just a tulpamancy hack, but an identity formation hack.

This is something that people have come at explaining from a number of different angles and here is my stab at it as well. Many parts of the sense of self are basically defined by how you say they are defined. This is the sort of “declared self” or “enforced self,” otherwise known as the narrative self, or the narrative identity. There is a part of you that is basically a small universe. The you that is also all of your knowledge, the place the internal experience lives. A good friend of mind calls this a subtotality. It’s you, and also the entire world you are embedded in, everything you can imagine and understand to be true of the world, all the knowledge that lives inside your skull.

Thus we come back around to stories and lenses, what is your ontology of self? Not just who you are, but who you are with respect to the world you find yourself in? What actions are you-in-the-story permitted to take?

To give a really obvious example, if you think “What happens if I jump off a cliff?” the obvious answer is “fall to my death” because the simulation/story/narrative that your mind creates in that moment does not give your simulated future self the ability to fly by default. However, if I was to hand you a hang glider on the edge of that cliff and your brain then performed that same exact action, it would be making a mistake, because you have these huge nylon wings now and in fact now can fly.

At the point I hand you the glider wings, the only remaining determinant factor in whether or not you are capable of flight is whether you think you can, or if you think you’ll fall off the cliff and die if you jump off it. If you can’t add “but not if I have a hang glider” to the belief “I will die if I jump off this cliff” than you’re never going to try to hang glide off the cliff.  If you believe you can’t do something, then the probability of your being able to do it crashes drastically. If you are incredibly determined to fly and you really believe you can do it, it’s possible to take up skydiving or piloting or hang gliding or any other number of neat activities that stem from still having the desire to do something and forcing past/around the limitations imposed upon us by physics and biology.

People used to think that it was unsafe for humans to go too fast, and that women riding trains would have their uteruses fly out. Obviously, there are real physical biological limitations in the territory. You cannot will yourself to fly via some nonsensical means involving imaginary energy and shouting loudly while rapidly growing your hair out. If you just jump off a cliff without some sort of mechanism to transcend the limitations in the territory your human body is subject to, you will simply fall to your death, you can’t power-of-belief your way past cancer, some limits are actually limits, and figuring out where there are external limits imposed by the territory, vs when the limit is internal and imposed by your current story, does take a certain amount of skill. However, it preeminently takes a willingness to brute force the attempt past part of you that previously believed it to be bad or dangerous, to tell your system 1 to sit down and shut up, and take control of the simulation instead of just letting it play out.

The tulpamancy community is full of examples of things that become more possible and likely if you believe they are possible and know about them. Walk-ins are a good example here. Believing that walk-ins are a thing that can happen to you seems to greatly increase your odds of getting a walk-in. When it comes to brain-hacking things, placebomancy is basically god. There seem to be large parts of the mind (at least in my case, I can’t necessarily speak for other people) that are entirely shaped by how you believe they are supposed to be shaped. You live a life deeply embedded in your own story, your own small universe.

The story extends forward and backward in time, and includes lots of different elements of the real world. It’s not a perfect match for the real world. It can’t be really, our brains aren’t large enough to look at and model the world like particles or even like cells, it takes charts and scientific knowledge carefully framed to explain particles and cells. We have to instead examine reality at the scale of discrete objects we label with things in the story world, and from those observations extract information about the deeper, more base layer.  

This story world is the world of our ancestors, the world that we evolved to optimize for, the world of rocks and trees and rivers and grass. It’s not the “true” world really, our ancestors believed all sorts of different things about the nature of this world and how they came into existence in it. But not understanding how gravity works on a scientific level doesn’t really matter as long as you continue to account for it narratively speaking, “Objects attract based on their masses” and “Gravitron the Deity of Downwards pulls everything towards the Earth’s center” are both sufficient explanations to satisfy the story world, as long as the “stuff falls down” belief remains constant and a constraint based on experience. Beyond “stuff falls down” the details of the belief begin to matter less; unless you are trying to say, build a rocket or an airplane, or do complex engineering, you don’t really care too much about the details. Our ancestors didn’t understand Einsteinian Gravity and spatial deformation, and they managed to get along just fine. (Except the ones who tried to flaunt the power of Gravitron by walking off of cliffs).

There are places where the transparency of the narrative deeply matters, where a glass lens is explicitly better. You will get further in science, the more transparent your lens is. But this isn’t the case in all domains, and the deeper you stare into the abyss, the more likely it is you will become corrupted by some unknowable horror.

Chuunibyou Hosts on Turbo Gender
There comes a point in everyone’s life, where they actually realize that they are a person, independent, perceivable by others, capable of choosing their own actions and deciding how to act and what to believe. In Japan, there’s a specific term for this point in someone’s life, they call it Chuunibyou, or Second Year of Middle School Syndrome. Here are some examples of Chuunibyou from both Japan and from America. The condition manifests differently in the two nations, but not that different, and the course that it plays out is pretty much the same everywhere.

The by-the-books good kid who was very studious and hardworking suddenly takes up skateboarding and declares herself a rebel, starts wearing band t-shirts and listening to aggressive pop-punk music.

The kid who only read mangas and who didn’t drink coffee suddenly taking up reading English textbooks and declaring that he only drinks black coffee and forcing himself to drink it regularly despite not actually enjoying the bitter taste.

The kid whose parents are conservative Christians but nonetheless declares herself a witch and starts reading tarot cards to her friends in study hall.

The kid who declares that he is the reincarnation of the Ancient Dragon of The West and Naruto-runs around the playground throwing ki blasts at his fellow students.

The kid who realizes they are gender nonconforming and declares that they identify as “Genderplasma” which is “like being genderfluid but with more energy”

In the majority of these cases, what ends up happening is that society teases, laughs at, or mocks these kids for violating the scripts and character outlines their parents, communities, and societies had given them as they grew up, and this sort of thing gets increasingly embarrassing until they reign themselves back in and cut it out with the weirdness, and that initial, vaguely hyperbolic and silly identity they constructed is reigned back in and merges with the society’s expectations to hopefully produce a decently well-rounded person who is still capable of expressing their preferences.

It’s this step though, the step of declaring, deciding, and enforcing a particular type of identity or set of identities on ourselves, that we’re interested in. This point is the closest most people get in life to really taking control of their sense of self, when the innocence and openness of youth pair with an increasing knowledge of the world and a budding realization that yes I am a person, that’s where the magic starts to happen. That’s when you realize you can actually be the person (or people) you want to be.

Plato’s Caving Adventure
As Plato previously established with his cave metaphor (it slices! It dices!), you don’t actually live in reality, you live chained in a cave watching shadows dance. In this context, there are two fundamental actions you can take with your mental ontology. You can attempt to polish the surface of the cave, to get a better look at the world beyond. Or, you can carve designs into the cave surface, and manipulate the ways that the shadows dance. It’s that second action that we’re interested in today. The action of drawing on a part of the map or taking control of the reality simulation.

This can and probably should be included as a co-action with look-at-a-different-part-of-the-cave-wall. Adopt new narratives and change lenses as needed and try not to become too attached to a particular region of narrative-space. Being able to pick up and put down potential truths and imagine the worlds those truths create is a powerful hack, and without it, you can become sort of trapped by in-the-box thinking. It might be a very nice box, but there will inevitably be some things that it fails at.

The chief failing of a pure-science narrative is that it’s dangerously close to nihilism. The chief failing of most religious narratives is that they are too crystalline, and take themselves too seriously, thus they become filled with errors in places that they start to contradict the ground state reality.

It’s difficult to fully describe the action that is taken when you take control of the reality generator and begin to actually alter the simulation. First of all, you? That’s just another part of the simulation, not really any different than any of the other characters the simulation is creating other than maybe in scope.

Facts? Any given fact can be simulated; it’s hard to check facts against reality when you’re trapped inside the simulation. Sure you can use science, but why do you trust science?

The best you can do is make some guesses. Yes, gravity seems to exist, it appears that the scientists are not lying to all of us, and the Earth is round and a few billion years old. The internet exists and we can talk to each other over it. Wikipedia claims that glass is made of melted sand, and though I have not seen this myself, I trust that the systems tuning wikipedia towards accuracy with the territory are sufficient to sate my curiosity, and thus that this transparent surface separating me from the outside world was in fact at one point created from silicates of some description and not like, mermaid eyeballs or something.

But how does that relate to you?

There’s no way to tell from the outside what the you on the inside looks like, what your inside world describes, what “personality traits” you have and the like. It can try, but things like the MBTI are very much blind elephant groping, and not even very useful blind elephant groping at that. To a large degree, everything about your internal sense of yourself is declared and decided by you, including whether or not there is more than one of you.

I say “decided by you” but it’s really “decided by the plot of the story you are living inside of” and if the story demands a current identity die and be replaced by a new one, the story can in fact do that. That’s an action that can happen inside the narrative.

Most tulpamancers get stuck trying to build and interact with tulpas, but you can get more powerful and weird and interesting effects, by going deeper and messing with the story layer directly. Hijacking the reality simulator basically puts your internal sense of self into a character creator. What is your ideal you for your ideal world? What properties do you want to have, and what makes those good properties to have?

A Brief Detour Through Enlightenment
In Kaj_Sotala’s recent post responding to Valentine’s post on Kensho, the concept of Cognitive Fusion is introduced, and while you should definitely go read Kaj’s whole post, here’s some of the relevant bits that we’ll need from Enlightenment in order to continue.

Cognitive fusion is a term from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which refers to a person “fusing together” with the content of a thought or emotion, so that the content is experienced as an objective fact about the world rather than as a mental construct. The most obvious example of this might be if you get really upset with someone else and become convinced that something was all their fault(even if you had actually done something blameworthy too).

In this example, your anger isn’t letting you see clearly, and you can’t step back from your anger to question it, because you have become “fused together” with it and experience everything in terms of the anger’s internal logic.

Another emotional example might be feelings of shame, where it’s easy to experience yourself as a horrible person and feel that this is the literal truth, rather than being just an emotional interpretation.

Cognitive fusion isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you suddenly notice a car driving towards you at a high speed, you don’t want to get stuck pondering about how the feeling of danger is actually a mental construct produced by your brain. You want to get out of the way as fast as possible, with minimal mental clutter interfering with your actions. Likewise, if you are doing programming or math, you want to become at least partially fused together with your understanding of the domain, taking its axioms as objective facts so that you can focus on figuring out how to work with those axioms and get your desired results.

Fusing and defusing parts of yourself is a rather important and core skill for a lot of these sorts of mind-hacking type operations, but even more succinctly:

In the book The Mind Illuminated, the Buddhist model of psychology is described as one where our minds are composed of a large number of subagents, which share information by sending various percepts into consciousness. There’s one particular subagent, the ‘narrating mind’ which takes these percepts and binds them together by generating a story of there existing one single agent, an I, to which everything happens. The fundamental delusion is when this fictional construct of an I is mistaken for an actually-existing entity, which needs to be protected by acquiring percepts with a positive emotional tone and avoiding percepts with a negative one.

When a person becomes capable of observing in sufficient detail the mental process by which this sense of an I is constructed, the delusion of its independent existence is broken. Afterwards, while the mind will continue to use the concept “I” as an organizing principle, it becomes correctly experienced as a theoretical fiction rather than something that could be harmed or helped by the experience of “bad” or “good” emotions. As a result, desire and aversion towards having specific states of mind (and thus suffering) cease. We cease to flinch away from pain, seeing that we do not need to avoid them in order to protect the “I”.

Once you have broken through the delusion of self and taken control of the narrating mind/reality simulator, you can tell any sort of story about yourself you want, involving as many agents as it takes. This turns the very weird and sort of edge case-y problem of selfshaping into the much more understandable problem of how to tell a good story.

A Return to Cognitive Trope Therapy
Eliezer of course already technically beat us to this, and Balioc covered it again in broad strokes here. But the punchline is that you can make your life a lot more pleasant just by knowing the proper narrative spin to put on things.

There are a few techniques to do this, but all of them require you to be able to view your mind as a story, treating different forces and desires in your mind as agents and going “Well, if this was a story would you be a shining knight on a horse, or a creepy old woman beckoning me down an overgrown path into the woods?” to various thoughts and contradictory desires.

There’s a danger in this step in losing yourself into the story. There are all sorts of tales floating around the tulpamancy community of people who get into conflicts with their tulpas whose minds become horrifying battlegrounds of creation and destruction, and all sorts of other vaguely sanity-destroying nonsense, and one might wonder what exactly they’re doing to destabilize themselves so much.

The simple answer is that they expanded the narrative they existed within to make room for all these new entities, which of course were actually already extant subagents and modules in their brain, but they never took control of the actual reality simulator/narrating self, and so the only thing that was directing the overall course of the story was the brain’s expectations on how that sort of story should play out. Remember we’re talking about realms where the dominant factor determining the outcomes is expectations, so when the only thing determining expectations is genre conventions we start to have a problem.

Humans are really good at storytelling, some could argue that we’re evolutionarily predisposed to think somewhat in stories, and that it is from stories that we are able to derive a sense of the future and past continuing to exist, even when we can’t see them.

Stories give us a sense of purpose and meaning, and we relate to stories in a way that’s deeper and more compelling than we relate to reality. Stories cheat and hack at our emotions directly, as opposed to gently pushing our buttons every once in a while like reality does. Stories also give us the ability to work through a difficult point by allowing us to imagine a future where the problem is already solved and we’re no longer experiencing that difficulty.

Maintaining a narrative of yourself gives you the ability to appreciate your life the way you appreciate stories, which is again, important because we seem to relate to stories better than we relate to reality.

Storytelling, Character Creation, and GMing Your Life
The first thing to decide when constructing the meta-narrative for yourself is what genre you live in. The genre informs what sets of tropes and character traits and narrative conventions you’ll have been trained to see by every piece of media in that genre that you’ve consumed and partly internalized. It’s hard to get away from genre conventions to some degree, so choose carefully the places to throw narrative focus into, which tropes you play straight and which ones you deconstruct, which ones you defy and which ones you expect to win if you challenge them.

Everything can be put into terms of tropes, and you can get incredibly detailed about this. The ultimate incarnation of such a thing might be a hypothetical TVtropes page of your internal self-narrative, listing off all the various tropes and archetypes that define your life. It’s again important to note that the more detail and time and energy you put into constructing an identity, the more fixed and coherent that identity will be, but the more it has the potential to limit you.

The downside of defining yourself as Red Oni is that it means you’re not a Blue Oni, unless you also split your mind in half and have two differing personas. Even this is not a perfect split because obviously, you share a body and people won’t necessarily respect each side of the split as distinct from the other, so there’s a sense in which, at least as far as the characterization you commit to the physical world goes, there is a narrative inertia to personality. A sudden change in behavior is going to make people concerned for you, not make them think you’re a different person and begin treating you differently.

What I recommend once you have a genre and some idea of what tropes in that genre you want to play straight and conform to, is to make a character sheet for each version of yourself. Go through and decide things like appearance, personality, why they are the way they are and the like. It’s okay if not every character has all good traits, your brain might reject a story if it seemed too Mary Sue-ish and too-good-to-be-true anyway.

The important things are that the interactions between the character(s) and the rest of the narrative should produce good actions for you-the-whole-system in the base layer reality. That means for instance, if you are trying to quit smoking cigarettes, for example, personifying the addiction as subservient to other parts of you will help you kick the habit, whereas if you imagine that module as being very willful and having a lot of sway over your actions will make the addiction much harder to control.

The internal narrative can be as weird as you want it to be, as long as it produces good outcomes on the outside. You could model the inside of your head as a perpetual battle between a brave knight and a giant evil dragon, and if it works for you and makes your life a better place, than more power to you.

This does, however, require a meta-awareness of the story that is being told, and the effect it is having on you-in-the-territory, and whether that effect is positive or negative. If your internal narrative is very toxic, with different subcomponents basically abusing each other constantly with no sense of control, and you’re switching randomly and your system mates are terrible, that’s also a story and narrative, and it can reinforce itself just as well as a good narrative can.

Again, in domains where expectations determine the reality that manifests, such as mental inner worlds, expecting that things will be a mess and that nothing will be able to take control or manifest order and functionality, will cause things to continue being a mess and make nothing able to help. The more out of control someone says their mind is, the more their thoughts are trapped in the narrative.

This doesn’t mean “it’s all in their head” or that “they can just stop if they really want to” because narratives are self-enforcing and can just feel like the truth from the inside. The way the world is. It can be very hard to let go of and break out of a narrative because it can feel like the whole of your identity and sense of self is wrapped up in it. Rejecting it can feel like lying to yourself or trying to hide from obvious facts. Trying to force a change can make you feel fake, like an imposter, or that you’re just putting on a performance, donning a particular role.

But here’s the thing. You’re already putting on a performance. You’re already donning a role. You already have at least one character that you know how to play. It’s the one you’re playing right now. What’s under the mask? Around a kilogram and a half of thinking meat. It’s not a person, the person is the mask the thinking meat uses and wears. It’s all fake, and none of it is fake. You’re not wearing a mask, you are a mask.

Basic Lens Model Theory

 

People are complicated, but frameworks are comparatively simple. This is not a theory about people, this is a theory about the lenses they use to see the world with. I’m not yet describing specific frameworks, I’m essentially describing a meta-framework that can be used to describe lower-level frameworks, like a template that can be applied to a particular person’s collection of beliefs in order to classify their framework(s). In this meta-framework, each framework (including this one!) can be thought of as a particular lens. We’ll be measuring lenses along three axes and providing some categories that different lenses can fall into based on this.

The first axis is the axis of aperture width or the Sheet vs Ribbon axis. A very wide aperture lens (a sheet) will be all-encompassing and be applied to everything, whereas a narrow (ribbon) aperture lens will be more specific and only apply to certain contexts or domains. The usual term for a person who prefers one sheet lens is a hedgehog, whereas the term for a person who prefers many ribbon lenses is usually referred to as a fox.

The second axis is the axis of opacity or the Glass vs Amber Axis. A glass lens attempts to construct as transparent and invisible a view of the world as is possible. To change metaphors back to Plato’s Cave, an ideal glass lens has polished the cave surface to a mirror shine, allowing the clearest view of what is casting the shadows. An amber lens optimizes for something other this reflective quality, be it interestingness, comfort, happiness, or meaning, the amber lens subtracts and replaces parts of the light coming in, modifying the field of view in certain ways. Creating an imaginary friend and being able to render an image of them into your field of view is an amber lens hack. All lenses possess some imperfections and no lenses are perfectly transparent, but the poles tend to cluster around whether or not transparency is being optimized for.

The third axis is the axis of Hardness or the Crystal vs Cloud axis. A crystal lens is hard, in the sense of it being taken seriously, believed in strongly, and defended vigorously. A crystal is stiff, solid, unyielding. A cloud is, conversely, none of those things. The hard sciences are crystal beliefs, but so are the major religions in most cases. As you move away from Crystal and towards Cloud, the lens begins to take on a playful, unserious quality. It basically tracks whether a particular framework is strongly or weakly held and defended, whether it tries to justify itself in some way or not.

This shakes out to eight potential lens types, which we’ll be going into more detail about later. I’ll be editing this post with links to extended descriptions of each lens type as I complete them, including a few example lenses for each type to give an idea of what sort of varience there might be within a particular category, and stepping down from the abstract into the more specific as we go along.

 

A Castle Made of Castles

This is a story about the nature of stories. It’s a description of the framework I use for understanding other frameworks and the world at large. Like all frameworks it’s fake, but it’s been immensely useful to me for a long time, and so I thought it was about time I codified the information therein. I refer to this framework as Metamancy.

We begin, like all ontologies, with a description of reality, which we’ll be referring to as the Seed Code. The Seed Code is the most fundamental part of a given framework, it gives rise to more specific and detailed descriptions of a particular reality, and acts as a ground layer for all understanding. It’s not quite axiomatic because you can always add yet another layer of recursion, but there’s only so much you can do with more recursion and eventually, somewhere, you have to decide on a seed.

The Seed Code to the Metamancy framework cleaves reality into two worlds.

The first world is the world of Matter, the physical material structure of the universe. The things that things are made of. What you actually get when you take the universe and grind it into the finest powder and sieve it through the finest sieve. Energy, particles, fields, quantum wave functions, subatomic forces of immense power bound and contained bouncing mindlessly and endlessly against one another for no reason in a constantly evolving deterministic universe. A universe of mathematics and physics and logic, the hard cold neutral world where nothing has meaning and all value is an illusion we have created to blind ourselves to the boiling atomic truth that is our nature. It is impossible to truly know with 100% certainty, the nature of the world of matter. You might be able to be 99.9999999999% certain, but you might always be a brain in a very well constructed vat. This is okay. Science lets us approach certainty as our knowledge of the world of matter goes to infinity, but we are forced to experience the world of matter through our faulty senses, so it’s always possible that we’re being deceived, presented with an incomplete picture of reality, or are just plain wrong about what the world of matter actually looks like on a fundamental level. Indeed the description I gave of the world of matter glazes lightly over the surface of a massive amount of complicated math and science that is trying to describe phenomenon increasingly disconnected from our day to day experience of reality. The world of Matter is what casts the shadow on the wall of Plato’s Cave.

The second world is the world of Stories, the descriptions and interpretations we create of our experiences of the world of matter. The world of Stories is where we get language, fiction, narrative, identity, meaning, purpose, and imagination, the world of stories is the world Information, of data and memes and tropes. The ecosystem of interacting ideas in the constantly growing pool that is the sum of all information humanity has created. The world of Stories is our description and interpretation of the shadows on the wall of Plato’s Cave. Any description of the world of matter is going to by necessity itself be a product of the world of stories. The story of how the earth was created by God, the story of how the Earth formed out of an accretion of matter in the early solar system, and causal description of A -> B -> C that is not a logical necessity is a part of the world of stories.

Metamancy by and large concerns itself with the world of Stories, but the place where the two worlds intersect is also a very important place to study and understand. A structure like a suspension bridge, for example, began its existence in the world of Stories, and then was passed back and forth between the world of stories and the world of matter in order to refine the construction methods and ensure the vision from the world of stories would actually hold up in the world of matter, before finally being dropped out of the world of stories and downloaded into the world of matter, becoming a part of the physical structure of the world.

As humans, we are beings of matter, and yet everything about us is actually made of stories. Identities are made of stories and narratives, and we interpret the world by telling ourselves stories about our natures and the nature of the world. The particular set of stories we live in is our Framework. One of the frameworks we might use to describe reality is through Metamancy, which says the world is split into matter and stories, thus our framework describes itself inside of itself at the highest levels of recursion, and the loop returns to its starting point.

The way a given person’s framework interacts with reality and allows them to modify their worlds is their Magic. Under this framework, Elon Musk is a powerful mage, one of such strength and skill that he could even throw his car into space by downloading a massive launch vehicle into the world of matter.

We’ll be breaking down these individual pieces later, but this is the basic construction of metamancy, it is the Seed code on which the rest of our metamancy framework will be built.