The Ends of Identity

Epistemic Status: Endorsed
Content Warning: Neuropsychological Infohazard, De-Biasing Infohazard, Evocation Infohazard, Spoilers for Chunnibyou Demo Koi Ga Shitai
Recommended Prior Reading: Gates, Choices Made Long Ago, Three are the Beliefs by Which Death Will Be Defeated
Part of the Series: Death
Previous Post: The Room Eats You

“Time is a construct. People say you can’t go back and change things, but you can, that’s what flashbacks are. They’re invitations to go back and make different choices. When you make a decision you think it’s you doing it but it’s not, it’s the spirit out there that’s connected to our world and we just have to go along for the ride.”

For a long time, I thought the problem with people was they didn’t take enough control over their identity. It seemed like everyone was walking around with this trauma they got sometime around middle school. Aged 12 or 13 they took their first steps toward an independent identity, and that identity sucked. They told their peers they were a vampire, anime protagonist, wise to the ways of the world, gangster, or some other cute but deeply inappropriate self moniker that drew the ire of others.

In an enlightened society, we would have robust social guidance to help people navigate this stage and begin cultivating a refined taste in identity. Instead, in the real world, we either viciously mock and bully them until they learn to never try having an independent identity again, or we abuse their naivety and trust until it permanently breaks. I saw people paralyzed by fear and lack of agency, and I identified this as the source. 

I thought that if I could just get people back to that neotenous middle school identity stage, it would be possible to undo their toxic cultural training. Once there, I could show them the path to an expansive well made sense of self from which they would derive agency by default and they’d all become bodhisattvas or senior research analysts. I saw most people as lacking a true sense of self. They were merely using the stamped on self that society installed in them. I thought that by helping them grow into the identity that had been suppressed, they would gain power and agency. 

It’s only now that I can articulate all this in these terms that it’s possible to come to grips with how bad of an idea it actually was. Most of the truly important encounters we have with reality, the ones that shape us as people, happen much earlier than middle school. By the time you reach age 12 or 13, reality has already inflicted most of its traumatic damage on you. 

Even if I could revert people to that place in their lives, it probably wouldn’t help them very much. The fear had already gripped their hearts and no amount of social safety would change that. It wasn’t just a hostile social reality that was doing the damage, it was a hostile reality. The world is deeply traumatizing, and however much we’d like the act as if we’re not damaged by exposure to it, it’s effects pile up in our psyche nonetheless. 

The universe is exhilarating, wild, exciting, and colorful, but also terrifying, disorienting, nauseating, and painful. The universe is this vast implacable machine that grinds hopelessly along with us inside; enormous mechanical parts that could crush us to paste in an instant blurring past on their meaningless deterministic journeys. The universe is beautiful, terrible, awesome, the sorts of words people used to describe angels and gods. 

And all our first encounters with this towering madness happen at an age when we’re too young to even try making sense of any of it. All around us are people just living out their lives amid this storm of horror and madness. Is this really normal? How can this be normal? Why is anyone okay with this? We can try and ask those questions, but our parents probably won’t understand what we’re asking and will just answer that of course it’s normal. Why wouldn’t it be okay? 

Chunnibyou itself is really a response to the trauma of the world, a denial of and fleeing from reality. And this is even reflected in the anime, with Rikka using her chunnibyou personality to avoid confronting her father’s death or the burdens that the real world is increasingly putting on her. Her chunni personality isn’t something she just does for fun, it’s a narrative armor she wears to protect herself from the horrors of the world. 

“I think she understands what you’re saying Touka-san, but it’s exactly because she understands that she’s acting like this. Accepting something is easier said than done. There are so many things in this world that are hard to accept. Some things happen so fast. And before you can get your head around it it’s all over. You might not want to escape. You might not be trying to ignore the fact. But you might think “Do I really want to accept that it’s all normal?” Everyone says that it’s normal. They say that’s how real life works. But is that really what I want?” 

Chunnibyou is a desperate grab by a young mind for some sort of power. Since that power couldn’t be obtained for real, it’s obtained in the fantasy constructed to protect them from the truth. Even when the more outrageous of these identity aspects are curbed, the power fantasy essentially persists. That’s what identity is, a power fantasy. 

Which brings us to the more important reason why my original plan could have never worked: my entire concept of identity was wrong. I saw identity as a good thing, a thing that gave people strength and freedom from which they could derive agency. I was seeing the armor, the lies that we wrap ourselves in to hide from reality, and I was viewing that armor as what allowed people to act in the world. And, the armor does let them act in the world. It grants a facsimile of agency, but a facsimile is all. It won’t stand up to any real test of rigor. 

The Chunnibyou anime also gives us examples of this. Rikka very pointedly struggles to cope with reality. She loses every fight she gets into. She’s struggling to get through school. Her home life is a mess. And instead of dealing with any of it, she retreats into a teenage power fantasy where she’s a secret mage battling for the fate of the world. Rikka’s chunnibyou identity acts as a wall between her and reality, and as long as reality fails to penetrate that wall, she can’t do anything about the problems in her life. 

I did the same thing for a long time. I used magical thinking to construct a wall between myself and the world and pretended to be a powerful mage as a way to cope with my own relative powerlessness. I think there might have been a time I needed this, but if you do need this sort of thing to cope with your life then you’re probably not ready to get into the stuff I’m going to be talking about here. 

And stardust, if that is you, then you should work on growing a real power of your own. Come back when you feel like you have some skill or ability to act in the world under your belt. If you feel less like a helpless victim, you’ll feel less of a need to narratively hedge yourself with fake abilities to cope.

For me, this was achieved by a combination of meditation, martial arts, and studying under an experienced master. I don’t need to make up magical abilities anymore, because I have real power all of my own that I can grow and cultivate. I don’t feel like a victim anymore and that let me actually think about things I was too afraid to consider seriously. 

Like my favorite anime. I connected with Rikka because I saw myself reflected in her. The larger than life persona, the playing pretend, the magic, she was and continues to be the character in anime I most deeply resonate with. When I made this connection, I didn’t realize I was performing the same denial of reality she was. When the show forced her to confront her reality and grow as a person, I didn’t actually take the hint that this was something I would also need to do. 

I didn’t even really see how I was denying reality, even while doing it constantly. It was all a game to me. I was a postmodernist playing with ideas, reality wasn’t like, real, can you imagine if it was? How horrifying, phew. Thank Sartre for subjectivity. 

I liked my identity I didn’t want to change, the idea of changing felt like death, which, of course, in a sense, it was. All my magical beliefs were acting as armor against the world, and if I was to let those beliefs go, I was killing my own immortality. I was changing myself from something powerful and eternal into something tiny and powerless and finite. I didn’t want to admit that I lived in the world that I did, so I retreated into fantasy. 

Identity is a power fantasy. Identity is armor we wear against reality, layers and layers of it. First, to hide from life and death. Then, to hide from insignificance, loneliness and meaninglessness. Then, to hide from the fact that we’re hiding from all of those other things. 

Korzybski saw identity as the core obstacle to rationality and advocated the removal of words such as “I” from everyday speech. He even called confusing the layers of abstraction identification. Paul Graham gives the advice to keep your identity small. For a long time, I didn’t quite understand this advice. Surely it was better to keep your identity diversified so that an attack on one part of your identity wasn’t an attack on all of you, thus making you more open to having parts of your identity questioned, right?

Well, no. Identity by its nature drives you to defend it. It’s you and an attack on it is an attack on you. The more pieces of identity you have, the more things you’re fundamentally incapable of thinking about in a sane way. This isn’t really a new insight, but it took me a long time to want to admit to myself. I might never have admitted it to myself. 

It’s possible I could have continued like this forever, but something finally snapped me out of it. I was forced into a crux: I claimed to care about saving the world. Was that all a fantasy, or did I really care? If I really cared, then I should reject the power fantasy and face reality. The power fantasy wasn’t real power, larping saving the world wouldn’t save the world. If I wasn’t willing to do that, then I would be revealing to myself that it was all just a coping mechanism, that I didn’t really care. 

And I decided. I decided that I actually did care, and that decision shattered me This was necessary. If you want to expose yourself to reality then just as you built up all that armor, so too you must strip it all away. 

As Frederick Perls put it, “To suffer one’s death and to be reborn is not easy.” And it is not easy precisely because so much of one has to die.

I completely broke for a while, and it took a long time to restructure myself and rebuild from the wreckage. Riding through the disorientation period until new structures started growing out of the new choice was hard. The more identity you have built up, the harder it will be to change and the more painful the change will be, because it will mean you have more to lose when everything being supported finally collapses. 

But I’m back and I’m stronger than ever now. I want to stress that I needed to be broken in this way. My identity had gotten very top heavy and was full of maladaptive coping mechanisms. About the only way to make anything better was to tear everything down, throw everything out, start with a completely fresh piece of paper, and say, “Okay, now what?” 

220px-RWS_Tarot_16_Tower

Part of the Series: Death
Next Post: Metanoia
Previous Post: The Room Eats You

Author’s Note: After this week we’ll be taking a break from Death for a few weeks to talk about how to identify truth when we see it, after which, this series will resume.

Empire of the Dead

Epistemic Status: Weakly Endorsed
Content Warning: Neuropsychological Infohazard, De-Biasing Infohazard, Evocation Infohazard
Recommended Prior Reading: The Story of the Self, Am I Truly Mardukth
Part of the Series: Death
Previous Post: Doors and Corners

“Very few beings really seek knowledge in this world. Mortal or immortal, few really ask. On the contrary, they try to wring from the unknown the answers they have already shaped in their own minds — justifications, confirmations, forms of consolation without which they can’t go on. To really ask is to open the door to the whirlwind. The answer may annihilate the question and the questioner.” 

As of 2020, the time of the writing of this blog, death has a 100% kill rate. Everyone actually dies eventually and so far no one has proven immune or been rendered safe in any way. According to Becker this fact is rather too painful for most people to deal with directly. So, they come up with methods of dealing with it which rely on adopting anthropocentric narratively driven views of reality, rejecting the cold truth of their nature as tiny animals. 

This puts an interesting spin on Balioc’s concept of narrative and narcissism. Humans relate to stories better than we relate to actual reality. According to Balioc, this is because stories are a form of superstimulus, but according to Becker, this is because reality is simply so awful that we must construct a fake world of narrative and meaning in order to keep moving forward in the ultimately meaningless universe. I don’t think these two ideas actually exist in opposition. Stories are a form of superstimulus in part because reality is so terrible. 

So in order to deal with death, we retreat behind narrative and hope it will protect our symbolic selves. Becker identifies three main classes of narrative solutions to the problem of death that humanity has used throughout history. All of these methods rely on the victory of the symbolic over death and the achievement of an abstract immortality in this way. They are a sort of holographic immortality projected by the cultural systems that uphold them, what Becker calls immortality projects.

The religious solution is the oldest and can probably be thought of as the ‘original’ immortality project if such a thing is conceivable. It was simply that you create a narrative, which says that after your body is destroyed, you go to live in the sky or under the ground or on street signs or in whatever symbolic representational landscape is associated with immortality, the ultimate victory of the symbolic over the physical. You’re told that after you die you become immortal, and like suckers, you believed that lie for most of human history.

“To be sure, primitives often celebrate death—as Hocart and others have shown—because they believe that death is the ultimate promotion, the final ritual elevation to a higher form of life, to the enjoyment of eternity in some form. Most modern Westerners have trouble believing this any more, which is what makes the fear of death so prominent a part of our psychological make-up.”

This worked well for the individual because it made death a good thing, it was taking them to a better place, and thus no longer something they had to actively fear. This also worked well from the perspective of ensuring conformity to social and cultural norms. Someone who attempted to break away from the society could be threatened not just in the body but in the soul as well. Their immortality could be put at risk and they could be exposed to annihilation or worse.

If you didn’t obey the laws of the tribe, your soul would not be welcomed into the afterlife and would instead be eaten by an ichorous beast. However, as science and reason have and will continue to inexorably advance, the religious solution has become increasingly difficult to believe. For modern people, Becker states: 

Most people play it safe: they choose the beyond of standard transference objects like parents, the boss, or the leader; they accept the cultural definition of heroism and try to be a “good provider” or a “solid” citizen. In this way they earn their species immortality as an agent of procreation, or a collective or cultural immortality as part of a social group of some kind. 

These normative forms of heroism could be thought of as modern extensions of the religious solution. Even without God, the cultural immortality project still carries a large amount of weight, but this normative pathway necessarily entails a curtailing of the self.

By seeing the multitude of men about it, by getting engaged in all sorts of wordly affairs, by becoming wise about how things go in this world, such a man forgets himself . . . does not dare to believe in himself, finds it too venturesome a thing to be himself, far easier and safer to be like the others, to become an imitation, a number, a cipher in the crowd.

This rather closely maps to Ziz’s ideas of neutral and undeath. Ziz fails in explaining why the knowledge of the shade causes most people to lose their agency, but Becker comes in with the answer: Dismantling your personal sense of agency and falling in line with society gives you access to society’s immortality projects, and transcendence by sublimating into a larger, harder to kill cultural bloc. And indeed, this heroism through sublimation is the method most people choose to pursue since it comes somewhat preinstalled. When you encounter death as a seven year old, you tend to grab onto whatever’s around you and convenient to deal with it with. And for most people, that’s submission to the larger, more powerful forces swirling all around them. 

However, this is not a universal pathway, and as culture has evolved and atomized and individuated and grand narratives have come apart at the seams into a postmodern mess, it’s become a less and less accessible one. 

Which brings us to what Becker calls The Romantic Solution but which could also somewhat more widely be described as the attraction solution in general. The struggle that a modern person is placed in is that like those of ancient times, they still want to prove themselves a hero and thus immortalize themselves, however, they no longer can simply believe in an overarching religious or cultural narrative to push this forward. God is dead, as Nietzche said, but this didn’t stop people from trying to recreate Gods out of those around them. 

The self-glorification that he needed in his innermost nature he now looked for in the love partner. The love partner becomes the divine ideal within which to fulfill one’s life. All spiritual and moral needs now become focussed in one individual. Spirituality, which once referred to another dimension of things, is now brought down to this earth and given form in another individual human being. 

Becker is then quick to point out that this really doesn’t work in the long term. Trying to coax that impossible feeling of cosmic heroism out of a relationship just sours the love if it existed. No relationship can truly carry the burden of godhood and remain intact. Eventually, we get enough glimpses behind the curtain that our ability to ignore our lover’s imperfections finally breaks down and the fear of death is forced back upon us. 

After all, what is it that we want when we elevate the love partner to the position of God? We want redemption—nothing less. We want to be rid of our faults, of our feeling of nothingness. We want to be justified, to know that our creation has not been in vain. We turn to the love partner for the experience of the heroic, for perfect validation; we expect them to “make us good” through love. Needless to say, human partners can’t do this. The lover does not dispense cosmic heroism; he cannot give absolution in his own name. The reason is that as a finite being he too is doomed, and we read that doom in his own fallibilities, in his very deterioration.

Everyone eventually dies, our lovers included, and with it so too does someone’s immortality. Becker points to this as the reason why entire nations go into mourning when a great leader dies. There was a sense in which the leader was protecting them from death, the leader was the projector maintaining the culture’s holographic immortality, without it, the sheet is pulled away and the horror and terror of the real world is revealed to them. 

Thus we come to Becker’s third immortality project, what he calls The Creative Solution. 

If normal cultural heroism is achieved by the sublimation of the individual into the group, then creative heroism is achieved by personal individuation from the group. This is the path of the creator or artist. 

He wants to know how to earn immortality as a result of his own unique gifts. His creative work is at the same time the expression of his heroism and the justification of it. It is his “private religion” —as Rank put it. Its uniqueness gives him personal immortality; it is his own “beyond” and not that of others.

The artist attempts to achieve immortality through their art, creating great works that justify their existence, prove their worthiness and heroism, and outlast their physical body. This like all these solutions is imperfect, and like Ozymandias’ empire sinking into the desert sands, so too any creative work will be subject to the unrelenting vagarities of time. 

There is one last immortality project to mention before we move on. This solution didn’t really exist to a wide degree in Becker’s time. The term for it was coined by Jason Silva, what he calls The Engineering Solution and while he refers to it as a subset of the creative solution, I think it’s worth looking at as its own category of immortality project. This perspective could be summed up in this quote by Alan Harrington:

“Death has become an imposition on the human race and is no longer acceptable.” 

All of Becker’s methods of achieving immortality rely on the victory of the symbolic, which was predicated on death basically being insurmountable. The idea of actually defeating death and achieving literal rather than symbolic immortality was seen as a manic fantasy at best. But fifty years after Becker and thirty years after the beginnings of the transhumanist movement, the idea of defeating death literally rather than symbolically is no longer such a far away impossibility. 

This is highly worked into the normative cultural heroism of a culture that believes death is a defeatable adversary. Prior to the defeat of death the engineering solution and the religious solution appear to somewhat converge, however the engineering solution, unlike the religious solution, is not built on lies, or at least not the same lies. 

The engineering solution’s most prominent lie seems to be the idea that those who fell before death could be defeated would be immortalized symbolically by the survivors, but this has all the inherent fallibility of the artistic solution or certain forms of ancestor worship in the religious solution. 

But the real carrot that the engineering solution holds out to people is the idea that they might not actually have to die at all. Forget going to heaven, or achieving a symbolic immortality through your works, how would you like to, you know, just not die? 

In addition to all these immortality projects, there is one additional solution to the problem of death which is not an immortality project. This solution wasn’t rare in Becker’s time, but in the fifty years since his death, its prominence has skyrocketed. 

We’ll call this The Anthropic Solution, and again, it isn’t an immortality project in the traditional sense. Instead, it relies on the attempted destruction of that which might be able to see death. Not everyone sets out to become a hero and earn their immortality. For some people merely acknowledging the possibility of reality is too painful, and they must retreat as fully and completely from reality as they are able in order to protect themselves. The cultural immortality projects are too risky, better to just deny death directly. 

If the world is frightening to look at, blind yourself, if it is full of discordant sounds, stab stakes into your ears so you cannot hear. Do whatever you can to destroy your agency and consciousness to stop yourself from noticing the existence of reality. This gives rise to escapism of every form. Netflix, video games, drugs, partying, fitness, music, historical reenactment, sports, kink, hiking, anything that we can use to distract and numb ourselves to the reality of the world. “Just give me something to take the pain away.” 

As the religious solution has finished failing and religiosity in the western world has crashed hard, this desire to obliterate one’s agency and collapse into hedonism and escapism has blossomed into one of the dominant solutions to the death problem in our time. God is dead, but at least we have Star Wars

This is somewhat more speculative, but I believe that the anthropic solution is also the source of large amounts of suicidality. There’s only so much time you can spend immersed in drugs or video games or fanfiction. Every so often you have to surface into reality in order to keep your body running and every time you do this you’re confronted with the existence of that reality. The growth of this dichotomy between the horror of reality and the wonder of fantasy could, I believe, lead someone into suicide as the ultimate form of escapism. 

In the end, all these methods rely essentially upon self deception. The true world and our true insignificance in it is too dreadful and full of terror and trembling to contemplate, and all these methods work to talk around that fact. 

Even the engineering solution hides from death by implying that maybe if we work hard enough, we can defeat it before it gets to us and those we love. And maybe we can, but we can’t know for sure, and in this sense, the engineering solution is also the religious solution. For now, we have to take it on faith that science and technology should be able to defeat death someday. 

The fundamental paradox of our humanity is that we are finite mortal beings that seek an immortal eternity. It’s as Balioc says:

We want to matter. We want there to be meaning in our lives, not some kind of jury-rigged existentialist “I’ve decided that it’s meaningful to me” meaning, but real meaning that is endorsed by metaphysical powers as exalted as Author and Audience. We want reality to sit up and pay attention to the fact that we are A and not B, that we have chosen X and not Y.

Or as Jason Silva says:

“Even Miguel de Unamuno said “Nothing is real that is not eternal.” That is why we write poetry and we build cathedrals that try to create transcendence as a topographical statement, that’s why we eternalize beautific moments and create gorgeous statues and write amazing songs; we long to eternalize ourselves, we want to say as Alan de Botton said, we want to carve our names, we want to say, I WAS HERE, I EXIST, I FELT SOMETHING, AND I MATTER.”

And aye, there’s the rub, for this is the fundamental lie. We don’t matter, we might matter to each other but we don’t matter in the ways we want. We can’t make reality sit up and take notice. We can’t coax a cosmic purpose out of the universe because it doesn’t exist. ‘Mattering’ isn’t a part of reality, and all our attempts to squeeze meaning and purpose from the universe amount to attempts to bleed a stone. 

The truth that we don’t live in an anthropocentric universe hurts, so we subconsciously buy into the lie and say we do live in an anthropocentric universe. This is all fine for someone who goes through their life inside of one of these narratives. I don’t think there’s anything really fundamentally wrong with buying into the cultural narratives or trying to pursue a symbolic immortality through art and creation. I might have objections to particular cultural narratives for various reasons, and the whole field is dreadfully unoptimized, but this is how most people live their lives and that seems fine. Believe whatever you need to believe to be able to sleep at night. 

I just don’t think it will save the world, and it’s easy to let your eyes off the ball and be distracted into thinking you’re doing something by cultural forces. It’s as Hotel Concierge says, If you do not have a code of conduct, one will be provided for you. The very shape of our minds makes us highly susceptible to this sort of capture. It’s what we want deep down. 

We all want to be the heros of our life story and selling heroism is a great way to get someone to do what you want, regardless of how actually good or actually bad that ends up being. Just take a look at some of the worst atrocities of the last century and you’ll see that they were all conducted from within the scope of a group’s immortality project, at the command of a great leader promising to transform the world. 

Escaping this is incredibly hard because the more you fight to escape the pull of these forces, the greater the degree to which you expose yourself to the knowledge of your nature as a finite, decaying being. The knowledge only seems to make the world worse, and only shows you how to collapse in on yourself. Becker writes:

The irony of man’s condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive … What exactly would it mean on this earth to be wholly unrepressed, to live in full bodily and psychic expansive-ness? It can only mean to be reborn into madness.

This is a major problem for people working to prevent long tail risks, because it’s very very easy to buy into the lie that you’re doing something useful. It’s incredibly important to be able to discern between things that appeal to your need for meaning and purpose, and things that actually do useful work. It means performing a careful balancing act between the madness that is inherent to reality, and the lies we want to accept to make it okay. It means learning to cultivate an extreme outside view, and learning to detach from the cultural forces that would distract us. It means learning to look past the social reality and see the truth of the matrix.

Part of the Series: Death
Next Post: The Room Eats You
Previous Post: Doors and Corners

Doors and Corners

Epistemic Status: Weakly Endorsed
Content Warning: Neuropsychological Infohazard, De-Biasing Infohazard, Evocation Infohazard
Recommended Prior Reading: The Tower, Vaporize
Part of the Series: Death

“You can tell you’ve found a really interesting question when nobody wants you to answer it.”

The Denial of Death is a Pulitzer prize winning theory of human psychology written by cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker as he died of colon cancer. I’m going to attempt to summarize and discuss it here, but honestly it’s worth finding a copy and just reading the whole thing. Becker is a tour-de-force through some of the deepest and most fascinating aspects of psychology and humanity, and for a fifty year old text it reads very easily. If the only thing you take away from this post is to go read The Denial of Death, well. Go read The Denial of Death

We’ll begin in the same place we started when we looked at Ziz, with all the suffering in the universe. 

Becker’s theory was that humanity existed in a unique place in the animal kingdom in that we alone are consciously aware of our own mortality. Jason Silva sums this up well in his 2013 speech at the festival of dangerous ideas:

“Ernest Becker says we are gods with anuses. We have the capacity to ponder the infinite. We’re seemingly capable of anything. We can mainline the whole of time through the optic nerve with our astronomy and with our space telescopes, and yet we’re housed in these heart pumping breath gasping decaying bodies. So, to be godly and yet creaturely is just impossibly cruel.”

Humans are animals, and as animals evolution has shaped us to freak out if we think we’re in danger. This works well if we don’t think we’re in danger all the time, but at some point in our evolutionary and cognitive development we came to a particular realization, one no other species* had learned or had to deal with. Possibly the most dangerous existing infohazard, and one everyone unavoidably encounters. It can be expressed as the simple statement:

You are going to die. 

The evolutionary fear of death is shaped like the fear of getting eaten by a tiger or hit by a truck, but this doesn’t play well with the knowledge of the inevitability of the death and decay of all things yourself included. When our inner animal notices that people get old and die and this will happen to us too, it responds to it the same way it would respond to a truck racing towards them. 

How could it be any other way? The mind doesn’t have another modality to place that fear into. But unlike the truck or the tiger, there’s nothing that a person can do to step out of the way of their mortality. This manifests as intense anxiety and insecurity, to the point where we would be driven mad if we didn’t find some way to hide the knowledge from our conscious minds. According to Becker, 

“The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is a mainspring of human activity—activity designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny for man.”

To Becker, the world is incomprehensibly vast and terrifying. We are before it just tiny frightened primates cowering from the fierce and towering majesty of nature. And yet that nature is also of us and lies within us, so our very bodies betray and turn against us. We attempt to flee from the world, but we cannot flee from our own assholes. 

Becker describes humanity as divided beings, half substance and half symbolism. A person is their body, but their body is also a symbol of them. A person is their name, but their name is also a symbol of them. Becker writes: 

“Man has a symbolic identity that brings him sharply out of nature. He is a symbolic self, a creature with a name, a life history. He is a creator with a mind that soars out to speculate about atoms and infinity, who can place himself imaginatively at a point in space and contemplate bemusedly his own planet. This immense expansion, this dexterity, this ethereality, this self-consciousness gives to man literally the status of a small god in nature, as the Renaissance thinkers knew.”

It is through this symbolic identity that mankind is able to suppress transcend the fear of death. While everything physical appears to fester and decay, the symbolic soars onwards after the organism has gone to rot in the ground, and in this way, we are able to symbolically control life and death and gain a measure of peace. And yet: 

“Yet, at the same time, as the Eastern sages also knew, man is a worm and food for worms. This is the paradox: he is out of nature and hopelessly in it; he is dual, up in the stars and yet housed in a heart-pumping, breath-gasping body that once belonged to a fish and still carries the gill-marks to prove it. His body is a material fleshy casing that is alien to him in many ways—the strangest and most repugnant way being that it aches and bleeds and will decay and die. Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever. It is a terrifying dilemma to be in and to have to live with.”

In our day to day existence, we are faced constantly with the troubling reminder of our nature as split beings of symbol and substance, and however high we soar, we still have to shit. Moreover, this dualism is a delicate balance wherein tipping too far into one direction leads to madness, forcing the individual to walk a delicate tightrope between storms of insanity. 

I want to linger on the idea of controlling life and death because it undersets a large amount of psychological action. It seems slightly strange to phrase it that way, out in the open, when it is a mostly hidden magical alief, to use modern jargon. 

We as mortal beings at the mercy of the universe obviously do not control life or death, and yet we feel the need to take control of it in order to cope with our existence in the universe. Thus we adopt lies as aliefs about the world because actual reality is simply too dreadful to handle. 

“all man’s creative life-ways, are in some basic part of them a fabricated protest against natural reality, a denial of the truth of the human condition, and an attempt to forget the pathetic creature that man is.”

Becker runs through what he sees as the developmental psychology going on at work here, reframing much of Freud and other classical psychoanalysts and placing them into this new context. According to Becker, when children are born, they initially don’t have edges to their self, they are little gods, everything is provided to them, they cry and receive food and attention. They are tiny omnipotents. 

Then, as they age and grow more of a sense of self and a separation between other and self, they start to run into the limitations of their abilities. Their parents start expecting things of them, and they realize the nature of the gross fragile decaying machines that they inhabit. Everything about life harken’s to death, nothing is safe, and there is no rock upon which to stand. Life and death are inexorably bound, and so the individual must shrink from them both to preserve some insane facade of sanity in an insane world. This results in a mental crisis which in order to solve requires the formation of a sort of neurotic armor around the mind, to shield an individual from the soul crushing madness that is the raw unfiltered truth of reality. 

“Perls conceived the neurotic structure as a thick edifice built up of four layers. The first two layers are the everyday layers, the tactics that the child learns to get along in society by the facile use of words to win ready approval and to placate others and move them along with him: these are the glib, empty talk, “cliche,” and role-playing layers. Many people live out their lives never getting underneath them. The third layer is a stiff one to penetrate: it is the “impasse” that covers our feeling of being empty and lost, the very feeling that we try to banish in building up our character defenses. Underneath this layer is the fourth and most baffling one: the “death” or fear-of-death layer; and this, as we have seen, is the layer of our true and basic animal anxieties, the terror that we carry around in our secret heart. Only when we explode this fourth layer, says Perls, do we get to the layer of what we might call our “authentic self: what we really are without sham, without disguise, without defenses against fear.”

To Becker, the truth of reality was synonymous with trembling and madness, and to escape from this madness, we flee into our symbolic identity, into character and narrative, into untruth and repression and obfuscation. It is by this action of flinching away which we are able to be controlled and manipulated by larger forces of society. 

Why are groups so blind and stupid?—men have always asked. Because they demand illusions, answered Freud, they “constantly give what is unreal precedence over what is real.” And we know why. The real world is simply too terrible to admit; it tells man that he is a small, trembling animal who will decay and die. Illusion changes all this, makes man seem important, vital to the universe, immortal in some way. 

This lie of self importance, in individuals and in societies, is the foundation atop which we have built our place in the world and the cornerstone supporting our social systems and institutions. Our need for this lie is what makes us follow strong leaders, submit to authority, believe in religion, and deny any knowledge that would threaten our symbolic immortality.

To reject this lie would be tantamount to a suicide of the symbolic self, it would destroy a person’s immortality and expose them to death, the magical belief in their safety no longer shielding the tiny animal from madness and trembling. 

And thus, to protect ourselves from the awesome madness of the universe, from the bones of our heroes we have built an empire of the dead. 

Part of the Series: Death
Next Post: Empire of the Dead
Previous Post: One Hundred Billion Children’s Sky

*There is evidence that some other higher mammals, particularly elephants, are conceptually aware of death in some fashion as well.

Vaporize

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

~Mary Oliver, Wild Geese

At some point, I claimed to have some sort of idea of who I was or what I was talking about when I spoke of identity. I feel like now, I have both much more and much less of an idea of what all that means. I don’t know if I still have an identity, I don’t know if having an identity really serves a purpose to me anymore. I have all these different characters and roles, and they all just feel like a game, like playing with different forms and shapes. It’s not exactly that they aren’t me, they are me, but I’m many things, I am an eternity, I contain multitudes. It’s as if I’ve worn off the edges to my sense of self, so the barriers between me and other are hopelessly blurred. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I should backtrack somewhat, to where? Probably to when I held some sort of overly complicated structuralist views masquerading as poststructuralist views on who I was and how my sense of self and identity was best arranged. With system members who had properties and preferences and the like, discrete characters who could be thought of as independent people, tulpas.

This was in some sense, the starting framework, the naive view. I had a very overly complicated meta-view of this that tried to add in some meta-narrative stuff for flavoring but I really wasn’t actually grokking at a gut level what it would actually mean to just play with frameworks. I was still taking myself too seriously, even when I tried to not. I was hopelessly fused with my identity in all sorts of maladaptive ways. I just could not get out of the car.

Who exactly should I credit with breaking me of this frame and changing my trajectory? I could blame Namespace for one, but I don’t think he’s solely responsible. I think part of it was simply getting older, chilling out, seeing the way younger people acted and realizing I had been like that, both missing my lost youth and being horrified by the youthful folly I was witness to. I heard stories of people fighting with system mates, of internal wars, the entire scenario that is Pasek’s doom. At this point it all just seems silly to me, in the same way I find a lot of religion silly. Everyone taking themselves far too seriously and letting that steer them into weird corners of their decision trees where they end up in fights to the death with people over what headgear is appropriate to wear when offering deference to a fictional character. 

I could also blame an encounter with Ziz’s wrong but still potentially dangerous and somewhat useful ontology, which shook up my sense of morality rather badly for a long time. I’ve since chilled out about my interactions with it, and although overall I think it’s wrong in important ways, it’s also right in important ways. Parts of it certainly generate useful insights, and in coming to understand those bits of insight I’ve significantly overhauled my identity. 

But mostly, I want to blame it on the acid.

I’ve always been someone who was easily seduced by promises of interesting mental technology and consciousness state changes. I had read Aella’s blog on the subject. I’d read Valentine and Kaj’s post’s about insight meditation and enlightenment. I had just gotten out of a rather uncomfortable living situation and was trying to sort out my mental health. I had been hearing about the benefits of meditation from UncertainKitten. I was primed for this sort of thing, in all honesty. 

So, sometime in the early spring of 2019, I decided to start using acid. That’s not to say I have never taken acid before that, I had, quite a bit in fact, but this marked a phase transition in how I used and related to acid. It went from being a fun thing I did every once in a while at parties, to a rather serious and important thing I did on my own almost every week for quite a while. 

The effect of all of this has been that my overall stances on a great many things have shifted over time in very weird ways, and even now after the acid is gone, the changes have continued. Acid forcefully fuses and unfuses everything in a sloshing nauseating back and forth, like a ship that’s come unmoored from the dock and is drifting all around the harbor. Every time I took acid, that acid world state was merged down closer to the real world millimeter by millimeter. 

Fuse everything. Unfuse everything. Everything is you. Nothing is you. Everything is okay. Nothing is okay. Faster. Faster! Faster! Signal and ground invert back and forth like someone is playing with a lightswitch. Can you hold both these things at once? Black is white. White is black. There are no contradictions. There is nothing but contradiction. 

As this happens, layers of structure and chaff are peeled away, blasted off, and otherwise dissolved. Everything I introspected upon liquified upon observation, such that introspection has become most synonymous with destruction. This doesn’t seem like a bad thing however. 

I’ve let large portions of my belief structure evaporate via this process. The acid shakes the structure off the wall, defusing me enough to look at pieces as objects. I pick them up and turn them around and hold them in my hands and in so doing destroy them. In their place are all of these voids that don’t contain structures at all anymore, and when I look at the world through those holes it’s as if I’m getting a painfully raw unfiltered feed. Fused and yet unfused. Fused with nothing, there is nothing to fuse with. This is not a contradiction. 

Whenever my conscious mind passes over one of these holes it’s as if it momentarily shakes what’s left of me apart and I feel a really strong emotional response, sometimes to the point of crying or laughing uncontrollably. Beauty and pain merge together, sadness and happiness and anger balance valances with each other, and I’ll end up in very novel states where I’ll be curled up in a ball on the floor sobbing uncontrollably and yet feeling very positive valance about the experience of doing this. These sorts of novel states have persisted. 

Acid was the first time I was able to experience crying tears of happiness, coming home from an event and feeling so emotionally overloaded with love that I just started sobbing in my partner’s arms because everything just felt like so much. One of the strangest feelings I’ve had as a result of all this is the sense of separation when you’re crying and also defused from the part of you that is experiencing the emotions. 

Everyone talks about ego death with acid, but I think a lot of people don’t quite get what that entails. They get hung up on the identity death aspect. Identity is something most people are strongly fused with, but they’re fused on deeper layers than even they realize a lot of the time. Acid fuses and unfuses everything. This includes identity. This is the death aspect. 

Obviously acid isn’t going to literally make anyone forget their entire self-model, but beneath the self-model is all this semi to unconscious stuff that we incorporate into our identities as what sort of person we are, typically gimping our abilities in the process. Protect the fictional character that is your self-model all you want, but all that has ever been was roleplay anyway and the acid is fully capable of getting up underneath that stuff. There were pieces of my worldview that needed to die in order to actually see through to reality; in order for the rest of me to live. 

Once the things beneath the model give way, the model itself becomes unmoored, and sure, you can keep using it, but it’s just a costume at that point, it’s not you anymore. Or, it is because everything is you, but also because everything is you so too nothing is you. 

Where would this end? The natural conclusion would seem to be to run the process until my entire structure had dissolved, but based on Aella’s experience that seems like it does eventually reach a point where you have to turn back or actually die when you fully defuse from the fear of death. Is that what enlightenment relates to? That point where your entire structure is gone and there is nothing left but void? The state of defusion with that sense of the fact you are going to die? 

relayWe’ll talk more about death soon.

Hemisphere Theory: Much More Than You Wanted to Know

Epistemic Status: Summary of someone’s ideas, not personally endorsed
Content Warning: Neuropsychological Infohazard, De-Biasing Infohazard, Evocation Infohazard
Recommended Prior Reading: Sinceriously.fyi, Highly Advanced Tulpamancy 201, The Nature of the Soul

I read the news sometimes. Have you been reading the news? There’s been a lot of interesting developments. I’m not going to comment on the massive [spoilers miri drama] in this post, but all of this stuff has been rather on my mind. As a result, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ontology of someone I had rather respected, but who of late has been making some serious tactical errors.  

Having read through all of Ziz’s new posts as well as having reread all her old ones to refresh myself on all her jargon, I realized that there’s not actually a central summary anywhere in any of her writing about the hemisphere theory that the majority of her ontology is built up out of.

Since I’m very about theories of consciousness, I decided to fill in that void. This post will attempt to act as an essential summarization of Ziz’s Hemisphere Theory. It’s important to note before going in, that this theory 1) Contains truth but is still wrong in important ways, 2) Is potentially harmful to certain neurotypes 3) Like the curse of the witch doctor, is only harmful if you believe. 

We’ll begin, with all of the suffering in the universe. 

The Shade

As the world fell each of us in our own way was broken.

When we were young, the world seemed so full of promise and potential, so safe, large, and wonderous. Scary at times, sure, but pregnant with possibility; one where the good guys would win. A world that was safe and habitable, a place hospitable to human life. A world where someone would intervene before anything truly bad would happen. 

And then at some point, like a television shattering that illusion was torn away to reveal a horror of static and circuitry lurking behind the images projected upon the glass. Our innocence fragmented and we were forced to bear the cold hard truths of this world, the neutral world, the world of hard concrete and no padding. A world where children die despite the injustice of it all, a world where no one is coming to save you, a world beyond the reach of God. The revelation of our mortality, of our finite nature, of the machinery that drives our bodies composed from the dust of forgotten supernova and the darkness between the stars. The existence of suffering, of torture, of genocide, the truth of the pointlessness of it all. What Buddhism calls Dukkha and Leonard Salby calls Mundum, Ziz calls The Shade. 

In her essay, Aliveness, Ziz marks this as a metaphorical transition point between someone who is “alive” and someone who is “undead,” a corpse that hasn’t stopped moving yet. When most people are touched by this realization, they are faced with a choice which goes on to fundamentally define them as people. In the face of the existence of the shade, most people simply disassemble their agency and become gears in larger systems. This is considered adaptive in society and is evolutionarily selected for. 

Ziz states in neutral and evil that most of humanity is neutral or evil, a combined category she calls nongood. They have let evil social norms siphon off their agency and turn them into puppets of an evil system. They have no free will and are okay being puppets of that evil system because they themselves are either actively evil or just don’t care. This isn’t a new concept, we have lots of tropes and narrative examples to help us understand this, and we’ll return to discuss it later. However, Ziz’s idea of good is much more interesting, so we’ll start with that. 

Hemispheres and Ziz’s Good
Ziz believes that good is a property of a person’s core. In her earlier posts like my journey to the dark side, this is defined as a sort of nebulous thing that exists at the bottom of a stack of mental structures. Later posts go on to describe this as the specific property of a hemisphere, as in the kind you have two of sitting in your head. You have a left brain and a right brain, and Ziz claims these hemispheres are each a separate person. This is an entirely distinct theory of plurality from pretty much everything in the DID/Tulpamancy cluster, and it posits everything in that cluster is essentially nothing but structures and coping mechanisms, fakes and lies, not part of the true set of core values. We’ll discuss structure in more detail in the next section.

If there’s a strong scientific case for double personhood, Ziz declines to share it with us. The closest she gets is the post intersex brains and conceptual warfare where she talks about a lot of implications of her hemisphere theory but doesn’t discuss why she believes it in the first place. In the absence of a stated argument, it’s not possible to analyze the quality of thought going into this model. 

We can still do our best to guess at the evidence. Ziz’s theory seems to be at least partially based on the book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, and other traditional left/right brain neurological literature. There is evidence that the hemispheres are organized more like two minds cooperating than like “dead” components of something living, and there’s a whole bunch of fun science fact videos about the different selves of split-brain patients. This is all probably enough to at least establish that what Ziz says about brain function is possible. A detailed review of the evidence is beyond what I can really do here, but some more hemisphere stuff also shows up in the section on unihemispheric sleep. While I can’t really validate any of it, I present it for the reader to make up their own minds about. 

Keeping all this in mind we can start figuring out what it is Ziz means by “good”. On the glossary page of her website she gives a definition:

A rare property of a core meaning choices made long ago are good above all else. Equivalently, in choices made long ago, cares about good at all. Speculatively, this could come from a developmentally fixed-on-“yes” “this is my self” classifier or “this is my child” classifier. On a per-core basis, there is surprisingly no middle ground in terms of quantity of good as far as I’ve observed.

This definition of good includes itself, so without context, it’s not very useful. To Ziz the most obvious feature of nongood is carnism or philosophy that rationalizes eating meat. This is described in my journey to the dark side. Good is described again in spectral sight and good:

Good people seem to have an altruism perpetual motion machine inside them, though, which will persist in moving them through cost in the absence of what would be a reward selfishly.

This about the least intuitive thing to accurately identify in someone by anything but their long-term history. Veganism is one of the most visible and strong correlates. The most important summaries of what people are like, are the best things to lie about. Therefore they require the best adversarial epistemology to figure out. And they are most common to be used in oversimplifying. This does not make them not worth thinking.

Veganism is a “correlate”, so good isn’t veganism. Instead, we’re led to believe that good is that which rejects carnism. If veganism did not exist good would have to invent it. In choices made long ago Ziz argues that a lot of moral arguments are almost a waste of time because anyone who might be persuaded would stumble into the beliefs themselves. 

A comment on hero capture tells us how frequently Ziz thinks good people happen. In 1 out of 20 people, one hemisphere will have this defect that causes them to see all creatures the way an average person might see a human child. This makes them Single Good. In 1 out of every 400 people, both of these hemispheres will have this glitch, and the person will be Double Good. 

Separately from this, one or both of these hemispheres can be the opposite sex to the body, an “intersex brain condition” which leads one to end up trans or nonbinary. If someone has one hemisphere of one sex, and the other hemisphere another sex, they’re bigender. The Left hemisphere tends to be the male one in bigender humans and the right hemisphere tends to be the female one. 

Core, Structure and Neutral
Like I said above, Ziz sees most of plurality as fake when it comes to values. That isn’t speculation, she discusses it at length starting with her post false faces. The way Ziz sees things, you have core which is your values, motivations, the stuff you optimize for timelessly. Then you have all these other things like social masks, identity labels, roles, tulpas, little lies you tell yourself, trauma responses, and those are all structure. 

Structure is created by and serves the interests of core. Mistaking structure you interact with as an agent independent of core is one of the biggest things Ziz warns against. Thus, any manifestation of plurality is basically just deception, self and otherwise. Since you can’t acknowledge the parts of yourself you’re lying to yourself about the existence of, it’s impossible to optimize your behavior. 

Expanded-Algorithm

Taking the specific example of Non-Violent Communication, we can see how people find NVC hard because they run it in a sandbox. You want to use the NVC flow chart but you don’t want to accept the possibility that NVC might not get you what you want, so if it doesn’t look like it will you sabotage the dialogue and revert to using naked force. Used in this way, there’s nothing non-violent about NVC it’s just another form of manipulation. In this interpretation most things in the brain run in a sandbox, they have capability only in so far as a core gives them power. If a thinking tool would ordinarily generate a thought that would work against the interests of a hemisphere, that tool will be constrained so it can’t do that. 

Once you’ve introduced the concepts of core and structure, it’s a lot easier to discuss neutral. Ziz uses AI alignment ideas to reframe our intuitions about neutral. A mob boss that only cares about money is evil, and an animal rights activist that only wants the pain to stop is still good. Good and evil are about optimizing, nobody wakes up and says “you know I really feel like doing some evil today” they just have stuff they want. Being neutral then requires a sort of unoptimization, you have to be sabotaged in your ability to get what you want or know what you want. Ziz says that this sort of sabotage is what produces the average normal person, and is made from:

My answer: socialization, the light side, orders charged with motivational force by the idea of the “dark path” that ultimately results in justice getting them, as drilled into us by all fiction, false faces necessitated by not being coordinated against on account of the “evil” Schelling point. Fake structure in place for coordinating. If you try poking at the structure most people build in their minds around “morality”, you’ll see it’s thoroughly fake, and bent towards coordination which appears to be ultimately for their own benefit. This is why I said that the dark side will turn most people evil. The ability to re-evaluate that structure, now that you’ve become smarter than most around you, will lead to a series of “jailbreaks”. That’s a way of looking at the path of Gervais-sociopathy.

Most moral theorists are optimistic about good, they think ultimately most people have the ability to become good. Ziz does not believe this, in Ziz’s view your path is chosen long ago and the best you can do for yourself by healing your trauma and getting smarter is finding better ways of accomplishing the evil you’ve probably already chosen. For a double good person like Ziz this is a problem. It means that most people who care about “good” are at various levels of playing pretend, and the pretense is in the service of a stack that has nongood at the bottom. Truly good people can only be verified through careful observation and exposure to situations where a good person would choose differently than someone who only plays pretend.  

Undead and Evil
So most of humanity is evil, but they have this DRM morality which limits them down into being purely neutral and useless corpses as opposed to terrifying reproduction optimizers. If you did somehow manage to retain your agency then the odds are good that you’re part of the most of humanity that’s evil, so what’s that look like? If good is altruism and neutral is self-sabotage, then you’ve probably guessed that evil is selfishness, and it is, but Ziz is more particular than that. There is a specific sort of selfishness that Ziz seems almost obsessed with. Here she is in punching evil:

Even the watered down Nazi ideology is still designed to unfold via a build up of common knowledge and changing intuitions about norms as they gain power, and “peaceful deportation” failing to work, into genocide. Into “Kill consume multiply conquer” from the intersection of largest demographic Schelling majorities. The old Nazis pretended to want a peaceful solution first too. And they consciously strategized about using the peaceful nature of the liberal state to break it from within.

Again in intersex brains and conceptual warfare:

Her revealed preference to coerce men to help her reproduce and support children is a little bit more obvious than the way her utterances on and concepts of trans women are an outgrowth of, “who can be made to reproduce with me with a little help from social reality?”. That’s the distinction in observation-action relations most important to her optimization. Normally with spectral sight, all nongood people look at least little bit like Nazis, a veneer on evil. But reading her writing was like staring into the face of selfish genes and natural selection itself. Rape, enslave, multiply conquer.

This second time it comes with a link to Scott Alexanders the goddess of everything else, which attributes the phrase to a deity of natural selection. To Ziz, evil is best identified as our primordial animalistic motivations according to our best scientific understanding of them. In fiction, evil is often portrayed as a sort of cool cynical alternative to campy overly shiny heroism; Ziz undoes that rationalization. Underneath the mask, there is no cool rationality to justify one’s actions, no clever speeches about how one act of evil will slay your enemies

To Ziz, evil is not the value system of heretics and punk rebels and cute witches, she’s not giving you a compliment. Evil is the value system of cellular automatons and Nazis and religious fundamentalists. Eldritch Replicators and monstrous flesh vehicles. Every person is wearing a series of masks, the first few are social misdirection worn over their face. That face is a mask of single personhood over their double personhood, and each of those two persons is a mask over the kill consume multiply conquer programmed into every animal with enough of a brain for it to fit inside of. 

Inside you there are two wolves, and they’re both rapists.

As I mentioned before, encountering the shade causes people to lose their aliveness and become undead. Specifically, this categorization should be applied to a particular hemisphere and different undead tend to have particular alignments. Let’s run quickly through the categories of the undead, most of these belong to Ziz, but one is mine, included for completion’s sake. 

Zombies are a type of neutral undead who have had their will and agency dismantled because having it scrape meaninglessly against an indifferent cosmos is like nails on a chalkboard. Rage, rage against the dying of the light all you want, to a zombie it’s all pointless. As a result of this

They can be directed by whoever controls the Matrix. The more they zone out and find a thing they can think is contentment, the more they approach the final state: corpses.

Why not just try to ignore the shade and have fun in the limited time we have left? The Rick solution, “The answer is don’t think about it Morty.” Life is meaningless, might as well order takeout again and get high watching reruns of It’s Always Sunny. 

Liches are a type of neutral or evil undead who have stored their hope in a place they believe is beyond the reach of the Shade. The Christian heaven, the transhumanist singularity, the fantasy narrative where they’re a powerful transdimensional slider, whatever. Anything that makes them feel more powerful than the horror of death, anything that makes them think that if they just do the right set of things, jump through the right hoops, they’ll be safe, and death won’t be able to touch them. Ziz writes: 

Liches have trouble thinking clearly about paths through probability space that conflict with their phylactery, and the more conjunctive a mission it is to make true their phylactery, the more bits of epistemics will be corrupted by their refusal to look into that abyss.

Wraiths have come to the conclusion that the source of their fear and pain and suffering is the existence of hope and desire for a better world, so the solution to that pain is the extinguishing of their desires. If wanting leads to the pain of not having, the solution is simply to stop wanting. It’s not enough for a wraith to hide their hope like a Lich, they can’t convince themselves of the existence of a place beyond the shade. Their hope is the source of their pain, so the solution is to kill it, destroy their heart, to become a hollowed-out husk, to snuff out the candle of desire, and to convince others that they will be better off if they do the same. 

Death Knights are similar, their hope is the source of their pain, but instead of killing their hope, they lock it away and hate anything that reminds them of it. They become the inversion of their hopes, and become dominated by their hatred of it, never quite able to kill it like a wraith, but using it in an inverted fashion and inflicting this pain on others. Of Death Knights, Ziz writes:

Why does he hate hope? Presumably, something like prediction error as in predictive processing (a core part of agency), in other words, seeing anything but cruelty that validates his worldview reminds him of his own thwarted desires, the pain to resurface, the connection to his heart to be thrust upon him again.

So he carries out tasks that have no meaning to him. (Sailing his ship and never touching land it’s part of the curse, apparently living only to inflict cruelty). In other words, he hangs out in structure that has no meaning because meaning is caused by and triggers the activity of core.

Anything that reminds them of their thwarted hopes is rage-inducing and drives them to acts of cruelty, pursuing the destruction of those reminders. If the wraith’s response to the existence of the shade is to embrace emptiness and kill their desires, the Death Knight’s is to embrace rage and hate their desires. 

Mummys mistake the appearance of aliveness for aliveness. They want to put themselves into stasis, to hold onto the innocence of childhood forever, and so they whisk their brains to soup and drain it out of them in order to try and preserve the shell surrounding what was once their core. If they can just look like an alive person, they will be an alive person, pretending to still be a child because facing the reality of adult problems hurts too much, so it’s better to lobotomize themselves while they still have their aliveness in an attempt to preserve it from outside threats.

Vampires try to siphon off the aliveness of others in an attempt to extend and preserve themselves. They can’t “just not think about it” the way a zombie can, and so they try to fill the hole with the aliveness of others, draining the life force from them, pursuing their zombielike goals and desires at the expense of others, using their own deadness and hunger to try and build social capital. Of vampires Ziz writes:

I think vampires are people who have made the choices long ago of a zombie or lich, who have been exposed to the shade to such a degree that it left pain that cannot be ignored by allowing their mind to dissolve. The world has forced them to be able to think. They do not have the life-orientation that revenants have to incorporate the pain and find a new form of wholeness. But this injury (a vampire bite) demonstrates to their core the power of the shade, and the extent to which sadistically breaking and by extension dominating (pour entropy into someone beyond the speed of their healing and they will probably submit) can help them get the benefits of social power, which is enough to meet most zombie goals. This structure which is the knowledge of this path is reflected in “The Beast“, which can be “staved off” by false face structure.

All of the above categories share some characteristics. They all had wants, desires, and hopes, but when the shade interacted with those things, it forced them to make a choice between their desires, and with their fear of death, and they chose fear, they let their fear motivate and corrupt their desires, forcing them to be locked away or snuffed out in order to preserve an existence which, without them, is not really much of an existence at all anymore. Death has already killed them, even while their bodies are still alive. All these things are also useless. None of them will actually stave off our grim destiny as mortal beings, merely, perhaps, prolong our doomed existence a bit. 

There is another side to this. These existences are the result of a choice, choosing the fear of death and pain over the pursuit of desire and application of agency. So what happens if you make the other choice? What happens if the shade grips your heart, and threatens to snuff it out, and you sneer at the specter of death, and calmly whisper, full of spite and rage at the state of the universe, just fucking try it. 

Well, then you become a Revenant, the last kind of undead, and the only one depicted as remotely positive. One that keeps on pursuing their desires and agency even as their bodies decay, walking into certain death like the terminator, and daring death to kill them if it can, enduring the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, regardless of the consequences. You can’t stave off death like this forever, but you can make the bastard work for it.

Revenants are formed by an intent which manifests as a death grip on a possibility of changing something on Earth, chosen long ago over experience to such a degree that they will leave heaven and inhabit a rotting corpse to see it done. Revenants are often described as unkillable. Their soul will find another corpse to inhabit. Or they will regather their body from dust through sheer determination. So their soul (core) is a thing which keeps their body (structure) healed enough to keep moving. Not complete and whole, because that gives diminishing returns and what matters more than anything is the thing that must be changed on Earth, but it’s still an orientation towards agency and life unlike Davy Jones and death knights.

A potted plant example of this choice at work. You are the parent of a sick child, who has just purchased the last vial of expensive medicine in your town and are on your way home to cure them when you are beset by a bandit who pulls a knife on you and tells you to turn over the medicine or he’ll kill you. You can’t afford to buy a new vial if he takes it, and even if you could, by the time more medicine arrives in the town, your child will have succumbed to the illness. You could try and fight off the bandit, but he may kill you, in which case your child will die anyway. 

So which is more important, trying to save the life of your child, possibly failing and dying anyway in the process, or giving up and preserving your existence for another day? If your child is your literal child, if we interpret this example literally, most people will take the path of the revenant. The only chance you have, however small, of saving your child is to fight off the bandit, and the risk to your own life is meaningless, so of course, that’s what you’ll do. But for most goals and desires, the desire to preserve yourself outweighs your desire to achieve whatever it is you want to achieve, so you give up and fold to the bandit’s threat, becoming like one of the other types of undead listed above, sacrificing your agency on the altar of self-preservation. 

There is one last type of good core Ziz lists, the Phoenix, which are described as having faith in the ability of good to win out against evil in the end, and believing that your memetic and cultural lineage will live on and keep fighting through life after life until the shade has finally been defeated and death has fled from the world. 

A relationship to the Shade resulting from being a good person who actually believes that the total agency of good is a sufficient answer to the shade, so that their inevitable death is not entire defeat.

Ziz also states in a comment of Phoenixes that:

Phoenixes are defined by, “true faith”, that good will win in the end. This is not to be confused with a certain type of neutral lich, perhaps easiest type of neutral person to confuse with a good person (although I suspect I don’t have neutral undead types mapped out well), whose phylactery is good itself or something effectively similar like community niceness and civilization. It is made true faith by being willing to subject itself to tests, in a way that phylacteries are not. Because by choices long ago, a phoenix wants to be a revenant in a certain set of worlds.

Hemisphere Conflicts and Pasek’s Doom
Under most tulpamancy theories, it’s actually fairly easy to create large amounts of mental/internal conflict, up to the point of completely losing control of yourself to various warring system mates and fighting battles in your mind for control of your body. This sort of internal conflict can in very mentally ill people sometimes lead them to harm themselves and others. All of this is also sort of predicated on having a mental ontology that allows all that nonsense to occur in the first place.

So like any good theory of plurality, this one wouldn’t be complete without describing internal conflicts in a slightly over the top and narratively exaggerated in a way that actually makes it more dangerous. Pasek’s Doom is the name for induced internal conflict between hemispheres, named for Maia Pasek, whose death Ziz blames on suicide caused by hemisphere conflict. Supposedly after inducing a hemisphere split and finding out they were good male left brain and neutral female right brain, the right brain despairingly committed suicide and killed them both after being woken up enough to act in the world. 

Presumably, this infohazard is only at risk to a small cross-section of people, being trans/enby elevates your risk, using the hemisphere ontology raises your risk further, believing yourself single good and bigender within the hemisphere ontology puts you in the most at-risk group. 

I don’t really have a lot to say about this besides remember to practice self-love and good mental hygiene. You get a lot further in internal disputes by not constantly fighting with and escalating against yourself. 

Unihemispheric Sleep
In punching evil, Ziz made a passing reference to a “unihemispheric sleep” which she claimed to have used to keep watch when she was alone. I had no idea what this was and tried to Google it. Unihemispheric Sleep (UHS) is a thing that animals can do where they sleep with only half their brain and none of the search results I was getting thought it could occur in people. I tried changing my search to “unihemispheric sleep in humans” and got results telling me humans couldn’t do it. But here was Ziz referring to it by name as something she could do. Was she lying?

UHS actually gets a second mention in good group and paseks doom, where it seems related to “debucketing”. This thing seemed to be important so I gave the search results another look. I eventually found an article from phys.org titled researchers model unihemispheric sleep in humans which discusses a mechanism by which hemispheres can “break symmetry” and get a US effect:

“Our research has shown that spontaneous dynamic symmetry breaking of the two brain hemispheres is possible also for humans,” coauthor Eckehard Schöll, a professor of theoretical physics at Technische Universität Berlin, told Phys.org. “Since different sleep stages are associated with different degrees of synchronization, I believe that some weak form of unihemispheric sleep, i.e., different sleep depth of the two hemispheres, can well occur in humans, not only in whales, dolphins, seals, and migratory birds.”

So you can’t totally sleep on one side of your brain, but maybe you can have different levels of awareness between them? Then another article provided some hints on how you might do this:

They consistently found that on the first night in the lab, a particular network in the left hemisphere remained more active than in the right hemisphere, specifically during a deep sleep phase known as “slow-wave” sleep. When the researchers stimulated the left hemisphere with irregular beeping sounds (played in the right ear), that prompted a significantly greater likelihood of waking, and faster action upon waking, than if sounds were played in to the left ear to stimulate the right hemisphere.

Ziz tells us she stumbled into this while trying to keep watch, and I couldn’t help but imagine the expression people use for a restless watch. Sleep with one eye open. I had done something very nearly like it on late nights keeping watch over the Juno wormhole in EVE Online, but I had never really studied the mental correlates of this, and when I tried meditating in this state, it did create a distinct and fairly unique internal experience of plurality. It felt as if half my agents and systemmates fell asleep and only left the other half to run my body. 

This might work because of priming and suggestibility, or it might be actually inducing some sort of novel mental split, and I have not yet found a way to validate between the two theories in this regard. Since UHS has worked when I and a few friends attempted it, it at least it stands up to the immediate sniff test, however, why exactly it works, I haven’t been able to pin down yet. It might just be a hypnosis spell. 

Further Reading

Blogs
Ziz’s Blog
Gwen’s Blog
Pasek’s Blog
Jay’s Blog

Related Posts
Conversations on Consciousness
Highly Advanced Tulpamancy 101 For Beginners
Highly Advanced Tulpamancy 201 For Tropers
The Nature of the Soul

Papers
Unihemispheric sleep and asymmetrical sleep: behavioral, neurophysiological, and functional perspectives

The Nature of the Soul

Epistemic Status: Speculative. Experiences and conjectures based on them.
Content Warning: Neuropsychological Infohazard, De-Biasing Infohazard
Recommended Prior Reading: Falses Faces, Building up to an IFS Model, Highly Advanced Tulpamancy 201

I said I’d return to my continued exploration of self “soon” when I wrote The Silence Hidden in the Sound in September. Well, sometimes soon has a way of becoming a nearly year-long ordeal during which large chunks of your life and many things you took for granted are ripped up, burned down, violently restructured, and shaken vigorously until it feels like years have passed since you’ve successfully written anything. 

This pressure cooker environment had one useful effect in that it forced a lot of interesting system things to the surface in a form that made them really obvious and easily poked at, which brings us to our topic today. 

There are many conflicting recent models of the self, and here I’ll be talking about my attempts to syncretize some of these models into something coherent and then apply them to my own experiences. 

The Neurons As Agents Model
The first model is the Neurons Gone Wild model discussed in earlier tulpamancy essays. In very brief, the Neurons gone wild model of cognition advocated by Dennett, Simler, etc is that the concept of a central self-agent, an optimizing force that could be referred to as “I” is an illusion that breaks down on analysis into a mess of conflicting, competing, and cooperating subagents, which then themselves break down into more competing subagents, and so on, and so forth, all the way down to the level of individual neurons competing for resources in the brain. There is no master coordinator, no central organizer, no source of willpower from all these agents derive, the power of a particular subagent or cluster of subagents is determined by its ability to negotiate with the agents around it, to form alliances, gang up on conflicting subagents, and distort cognitive power and neurotransmitters in the direction of its cluster of cells. 

This is the most strongly no-self of the various theories I’ll be looking at. It says that the illusion of unity is just that, an illusion, the self-agent exists after the fact at the narrative layer, and is used to rationalize the decisions of lower level subagents. This does a good job of explaining things like addiction, parts of the addict’s mind don’t want to do heroin, but other parts of his mind do want to do heroin, and those parts are in competition with each other. 

The Core and Structure Model
The second model is The Core and Structure model. I first encountered this concept on this blog and I’m unsure if it’s an original creation of the author or if it’s sourced from somewhere else, but according to Ziz:

“Core is something in the mind that has infinite energy. Contains terminal values you would sacrifice all else for, and then do it again infinity times with no regret. Seems approximately unchanging across lifespan. Figuratively, the deepest frame in the call stack of the mind, capable of aborting any train of thought, everything the mind does is because it decided for it to happen. It operates by choosing a “narrative frame”, “module”, “algorithm”, or something like that to run, and is responsible for deciding the strength of subagents. There are actually two of them. In order to use some of my mental tech, they must agree.”

Conversely: 

“Structure is anything the mind learns and unlearns. Habits, judgement extrapolations, narrative, identity, skills, style, conceptions of value, etc. Everything but actual values. It lacks life on its own, is like a tool for core to pick up and put down at will.”

Under the core/structure model, everything from tulpamancy to self-help is related is relegated to the narrative and structural layers, as a set of strategies for building and using and manipulating structure. This is the most self-centric of the models, and basically proposes that everything in the mind is under the control of something and fundamentally everything we do, we’re doing because we think it will be a good strategy to achieve our values, and the values are the thing that exists at the bottom of the stack. 

The Internal Family Systems Model
The last model we’ll be comparing is the IFS model I first described in the Silence Hidden in the Sound post. IFS Goes a bit more into the gears of structure, saying that we have managers trying to keep your life in order and micromanage to prevent bad things, firefighters trying to deal with bad things when they happen and shield you from harm, and exiles which you have kicked out of your sense of self which the rest of your mental system tries to manage and keep buried and under control. IFS also has a self which acts as a central coordinator for all the parts and embodies, ahem, curiosity, connectedness, compassion, and calmness. 

The IFS model comes off as fluffy and idealistic to me in its description of self, but it’s model of how subagents interact especially under suboptimal circumstances, seems rather useful, and it’s a useful model for things like PTSD, which could be modeled in some sense as a Guardian pattern matching a situation to one which generated the PTSD exile and responding accordingly. The building up to an Internal Family Systems Model post which I also linked in the recommended reading gives a good overview of this. 

Three Models Collide
I think these three models lie somewhere orthogonal to each other. They don’t actually conflict except in a few places, they simply delineate different parts of the territory, and amalgamating them will yield interesting results. 

First, there’s the layers thing. All three models do things with layering. I think this roughly shakes out to something like the narrative layer, the structural layer, the core value layer, and the neurophysical layer.

layers

So tulpamancy, the naive sense of self, your life story, and most conscious attempts to manipulate the inside of your mind, exist in the narrative layer at the top. You’re telling stories, inserting what essentially amounts to operating systems into the working memory environment. This self-storytelling factor is what lets us connect the past to the present to the future, remembering (in the form of a story) the past, and extrapolating (in the form of a story) into the future. 

The neurons as agents model says that everything below the narrative layer breaks down into subagents doing various things, we can syncretize that decently with the IFS model of various component types, but that leaves us with the IFS self, and the core model would say that all these subagents and components, trigger, action, response, all of that, would be part of the built-up structural layer, with the values lying beneath it. 

IFS probably has the most gearsy of any of the models of the structural layer, but IFS thinks that the values in the core value layer are pretty much always the same and always good. That seems naive and wildly optimistic, conversely, Ziz thinks most people’s core values are evil (by her own standards admittedly). 

Without putting moral valence to it the way Ziz does, I think she’s probably more correct on core nature then the IFS model is. Core values could be described as primitive values, the systems that we evolved with, our most rudimentary desires encoded at the deepest levels. 

So according to the Core/Structure model, all the structures we build, from studiousness to morality to learned trauma response patterns, could be thought of almost like electrical transformers, stepping down the current of willpower through successive layers of justifying things to ourselves, rationalizing, and self-deception, we reign in our values using structures to make them socially acceptable and legible, and to signal our value to the group, and thus make ourselves subservient to the group. 

The core structure model pushes a particular angle really hard, which is the idea that every action and behavior is purposeful, everything that a mind is executing, it is executing for some reason. I don’t disagree with this, but the idea that this cooks out into any coherent set of values that could be ascribed to something like an agent, that’s where I think the first disagreement I have with it comes from.

The core/structure model also seems to posit that core is something relatively static, your values are your values, you come preinstalled with them and they don’t really change. I don’t really agree with this either, and I think what things someone values at the bottom-most layer will in fact change and transform over time as they are subject to outside environmental forces, and I don’t think you can really get ‘under’ that environmental optimizing pressure because there’s nothing there to get under, at that point you’re talking about things that act directly on the neurophysical layer. 

So I think my main point of contention with the core/structure layer is the way that the author conceives of core. This is really the same objection I have to IFS but in the other direction. Ziz says the core of most people is evil, IFS says the core of everyone is good. So, without ascribing morality, what exactly is the core? What’s going on here?

The no-self model, that is the neurons-gone-wild model and the buddhist model, is that there is no core, or nothing that could be described as a core distinct from the subagent layers above it. Core vs no core is a pretty fundamental difference to try and cut across, but even more so, Ziz’s model specifies that people have specifically two cores. 

2w7sre

I find this interesting if for no other reason then that it seems like the most direct intellectual successor to the bicameral mind concept proposed by Julian Jaynes. 

However, Ziz’s cores as clusters of values and traits seem kind of arbitrarily complex to me. I could understand although perhaps still not agree with, a model of the duel cores that specified values along lines that could be differentiated into the traditional left brain/right brain dichotomies.  Instead, however, the way Ziz seems to generate clusters appears more tied to her moral ideas than anything else. Without the heavy-handed morality to differentiate what values go into which core, there doesn’t seem to me to be a lot which would delineate why particular values end up clustered how they are, or why there are two cores at all. Why not three, four, or even more? 

For my own part, three narrativized, active agents which consciously communicate seems to work the best inside my own head. Does this somehow cook down into two cores, or do I have three cores? Hard to say. If someone’s mind is best organized as a singlet, are they single-core? 

This is where I think the “number of cores” idea kind of comes apart. I think I’m a bit more comfortable saying “there are core values, they sit underneath the mental structure” without specifying what the core values are, how many of them there are, which of them wins when there’s a conflict, or how they interact at all, then to try and specify a model that declares how any of that stuff plays out. 

I am comfortable saying that the higher layer structures are how it plays out though, and since high layer structures can vary drastically from person to person, so too can the shape that their core values take. Everything is connected to everything else, and signal can flow both ways down those connections. 

Where does this all leave us would be cognitive architects? If this is so then there’s no ground to stand upon, only clusters of values, mental alliances of convenience, and balanced power structures. If you push, something pushes back, your body auto-balances itself. Given that, what method is there to really change something in your head, and is that even possible? 

I think there is an answer here, but I want to let people ponder it and percolate before giving my own answer. We’ll return to this topic after hopefully not nearly as long of a pause as the last one. 

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:

i like to think of being trans as kind of like having a meticulously-designed Girlsona that eventually just devours ur entire soul and slowly & erotically murders the person u used to be. it’s fun i recommend it

“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.

 

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.