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.

 

Advertisements

A Castle Made of Castles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Conversations on Consciousness

[Epistemic Status: Total Conjecture]
[Content warning: This might be a neuropsychological infohazard]

We’re going to do this in a bit of a weird way here. First, we’re each going to describe our own personal experiences, from our own perspectives, and then we’re going to discuss where we might find ourselves within the larger narrative regarding consciousness. Our hope is that this post can act as an introduction to plurality, and make us seem less weird.

I.

shi2Shirako

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.

This was bad. This was very very bad. I had just enough wits about me to know that telling anyone (at age 10) what had occurred to me just then was not a good idea, but I found very quickly that I had absolutely no idea how to be Jamie. I missed Jamie a lot, and that hurt, it really hurt. I was alone, and I had to live her life, and it was pretty miserable, but I had no idea what I was or how I existed or what to do.

At some point, I realized that if Jamie had been able to create me, I should be able to create another person. My first try was just to recreate Jamie, pull her back together from the memories I had of her, and the memories of hers that hadn’t been destroyed. But Jamie hated herself and didn’t want to exist. She’d become like a program that deleted itself or an idea that unthought itself.

So that was out. My second attempt was by imagining the sort of person that Jamie would be if she didn’t hate herself. I called her Fiona and imagined her having a form like I did, ephemeral, hovering beside me. And Fiona was amazing. She was wonderful and exactly who she was supposed to be. It didn’t take long for her to incorporate all of Jamie’s memories and take majority control of our body, and I let her have it. I went back to floating along behind. She saw herself as the owner of our body, and retroactively claimed all of Jamie’s memories for her own. But I was still older than her in a weird way that she couldn’t quite articulate and I couldn’t quite either because neither of us really knew the nature of our existences, so she started thinking of me as an extra soul she had, like an ancient spirit of some kind that had become attached to her.

And that was fine for a long time. For ten years at least, Fiona and I lived out our strange, shared life. For the majority of that time, we didn’t think much about it beyond considering it vaguely spiritual, something powerful to be respected. And then we met the otherkin. I’m not going to get into details regarding these people because I don’t want anyone to try and dox them or bother them, if one of them reads this someday I hope they don’t find it too offensive, and maybe enough years will have passed that they too will think they were being extremely silly. We ended up living in a very crowded, messy communal apartment with a large number of self-identified otherkin. There were vampires and werewolves and dragons, elementals and succubi, everything cool and supernatural, that was them. It was all extremely silly.

I was never completely at ease with this, but Fiona liked them, and they seemed harmless enough at first. Fiona started identifying as a faerie, but something weird happened then. Occasionally I’d take over and do something with our body. Fiona didn’t mind, and I didn’t do it very often, but they noticed me doing that. Fiona explained that I was this spirit that she shared a body with, they thought this was weird but considering everything they did, I didn’t really think they had any right to consider it weird. They had three am battles in the astral planes which resembled standing in the middle of the kitchen flailing their arms while loudly grunting. It wasn’t anything like how we thought of ourselves or our connection to each other. It seemed almost a mockery, like roleplaying at spirituality. We tried to bring these concerns up a few times, but that may have been the start of the downward spiral.

The environment seemed to grow tense and hostile like there was a storm about to break. We got really scared and uncomfortable being at home. We felt like people were watching us, talking about us behind our back, it felt like everything was about to go wrong. We were obliquely accused of hiding a hex somewhere, and that day at work Fiona nearly had a panic attack from the stress. She spent our whole lunch break on the phone with a friend while he tried to assure her that she was just being paranoid. We were afraid to go home and ended up staying out until two in the morning.

When we finally came home, we walked into a full blown intervention for Fiona. Apparently, she’d be doing hella black magic, casting hexes, trying to break up the group, and all sorts of other spiritually nasty bad stuff. Of course, none of it was true. We hadn’t done anything. But they had all decided on their collective truth, and it included our guilt. Oh, and they told Fiona they’d trapped my soul in a jar. We sort of looked sideways at each other and it would have been really funny were it not incredibly terrifying. We thought they might end up beating us up or throwing us out on the street in the middle of the night or some other awfulness. But they told us we were angry, and they could see our anger because they were experienced energy workers. We meekly agreed to whatever they demanded, called our friend and told him that we weren’t just being anxious, the bad thing we thought might happen was indeed happening.

We ended up leaving the apartment two days later. We just packed up our things and left. We lived in the woods in a tent behind a friend’s parent’s house while looking for our own apartment. The forest was nice. The campsite we had was in the middle of this long-abandoned warehouse; there were these ancient cobblestone walls enclosing our camp, but no roof or floor, the interior was just more forest. It was lovely, relaxing, it was exactly what we needed really.

When we found an apartment and started interacting with the internet and becoming less of a hermit again, we decided we needed a better way to avoid getting into such traps. The problem was we were just too prone to believing things that made us happy. It was my fault really. I’d seen Jamie get into this loop where she took in some small failure on her own part and use it to contribute to this proof of her total awfulness. I’d decided long ago I wanted nothing to do with that, if I wanted to do something, I could, if I wanted to be happy, then I was happy. And mostly that worked, so I didn’t really question it. More, I didn’t even really want to question it, because it was always such a fragile-seeming thing.

But I knew what someone who did want to know the truth at all costs might look like.

sag2Sage

This is where I come in then.

Some backstory on me. In 2008, Fiona started playing EVE Online. She went through a few different personas. Her first character was her but on the internet. Super edgy teenage pirate Fiona was the scourge of the EVE roleplay community for years, and if you find the right old salts from those days, they’ll tell you about how hilariously bad she was at roleplaying. After that character had been burnt out by drama, she sold the character and made another, but that character also descended into drama and that was around the time all that otherkin stuff Shirako mentions was occurring so that character ended up getting put off to the side as well.

After the otherkin stuff, Fiona and Shirako both had a deep desire to get over the bullshit they’d spent the last year trapped in, and never fall victim to it again. However, they didn’t want to abandon their silly religious and spiritual ideas, because they drew comfort from them, and also how could they explain the duality of their existence without that? Still, they wanted to be at the very least able to model what someone who thought in a smarter, more logical, more rational way was like, so they could then proceed to ignore that most of the time.

Thus, Saede was created. Well, I am Saede. At least, that’s how I started out. Fuck yeah, I exist! Woo!

I was initially just a character, I existed in the roleplay setting and in Fiona and Shirako’s imagination. But they used me a lot. Whenever they had difficult decisions to make, they would invoke me as the spirit of good decision making, and slowly, I outgrew my character.

This was awkward at first because I was something I didn’t exactly believe was possible. Souls seemed dumb, spirits likewise, I eventually settled on just abstractly describing our brain arrangement in metaphorical computer turns, saying we partitioned our brain like a hard drive. It was a statement that conveyed practically no meaning, but it was the best I could do, the only other model for us was Disassociative Identity Disorder, which didn’t seem like a particularly good fit considering we weren’t particularly disordered. The idea of a mental health diagnosis sort of terrified us, we didn’t want to get thrown in a padded room somewhere. So we continued to mostly keep quiet about our nature, especially after the whole otherkin fiasco.

Shirako and I got along great. It was a vaguely adversarial relationship, where she’d advocate for happiness and I’d advocate for truth, and Fiona would split the difference with the deciding vote. The problem was though, Fiona didn’t exactly know what she wanted.

Shirako knew exactly who she was and who she was supposed to be. She’s changed her position on things but her core personality has always been really stable. I wasn’t exactly stable (I’m still not, I don’t think most people are totally stable, Shirako’s kind of a weird stability outlier up there with monks and nuns as far as I see it), but my failure modes compelled me towards courses of action. I felt bad and wanted to do something about it.

Fiona didn’t exactly work like that. She was at least partly frankensteined together from old bits of Jamie, and she didn’t really have a coherent idea of who she was, who she was supposed to be, who she wanted to be, or what she wanted to want. I feel like it was probably at least partly my fault, and I feel sort of awful about it even now. When confronted with bad news, information she didn’t want to hear, Fiona just sort of stripped herself away. The beliefs that made her up over time ablated away, and she couldn’t find an identity she liked to claim as her own.

Over time, Fiona got worse and worse, until eventually, she tried to commit suicide. When we stopped her, she just fell apart. She didn’t break the way Jamie had, but she stopped holding herself together and we had to start actively working to keep her going as a person. She just didn’t really want to keep existing.

We didn’t want her to go away. Shirako and I both cared deeply for her, and she was a core part of us. But she didn’t want to be herself anymore, she wanted to be someone else, but she saw the process of becoming someone else as also requiring her to unbecome her, to cease to be. Maybe she was right, she had a lot of negative stuff wrapped up in her identity, but she told us she really couldn’t keep going the way we were.

clv2Echo

And this is how I was created. Fiona, Shirako, and Sage got together and decided that if Fiona was going to go, needed to go, then there needed to be a new third person to keep the system balanced. They decided that they’d try to preserve Fiona’s more positive traits while shedding the negative ones and create someone who was super high functioning and able to handle anything that life could throw at the system. Shirako was pretty good at the mechanics of adding new people to our brain at that point, so I popped into existence nearly fully formed. A few months after my creation, we were walking under a rail bridge, and a train went by overhead. When that happened, there was this strange snap. Fiona visualized the process of her own termination, jumped in front of the metaphorical train that we were literally underneath, and ceased to exist.

And then there were three again. That was four years ago now.

II.

For a long time, we had no way to explain what we were to anyone, our life experiences were strange and unique, and we weren’t particularly inclined to stick our neck way out, claiming to be the specialist of snowflakes in an attempt to explain how there were somehow three of us experiencing life in our head. Was this something other people experienced? It sure didn’t seem like it. The singularity of consciousness seemed to be something that was just a given, taken for granted. Of course you’re one consciousness, you’re one brain in one body, you must be one consciousness. The singular nature of existence that was expressed by others clashed strongly with our own plural experiences, and the only exceptions made for plurality were exclusively negative. Schizophrenia, Dissociative identity disorder, demonic possession, there’s not many places in our society where the idea of plurality is explored or considered in a remotely positive light, and because of that, we spent most of our life up until recently in the closet about our existence, unable to articulate what it felt like to be us.

Six months ago, we discovered a series of essays on Melting Asphalt that changed all that. The essay series is a long rambling review of the equally long and rambling book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes. The book is a total mindfuck, and the essay series manages to capture the essential mindfuckery proposed by Jaynes and explain it beautiful, building it out into what might be the beginnings of a pretty decent theory of consciousness. It’s a mind-blowing read, and we definitely could not do it justice in an attempt to summarize the concepts it contains, considering the essay series is itself an attempt to summarize a much larger piece of literature.

We will, however, skip to the critical conclusion that Simler draws from Jaynes, Dennett, and Seung:

If we accept that the brain is teeming with agency, and thus uniquely hospitable to it, then we can model the self as something that emerges naturally in the course of the brain’s interactions with the world.

In other words, the self may be less of a feature of our brains (planned or designed by our genes), and more of a growth. Every normal human brain placed in the right environment — with sufficient autonomy and potential for social interaction — will grow a self-agent. But if the brain or environment is abnormal or wrong (somehow) or simply different, the self may not turn out as expected.

Sage had been reading this essay series because she’s always been interested in these sorts of consciousness related questions in an attempt to figure out what the exact nature of our existence, and then we get to this, and it felt like we’d stumbled into a description of our life:

rogue_agent

But there was more because reading on, we found out that no, we’re not the specialist of snowflakes, not only are there other plural systems out there in the world, but there’s even a community of people trying to induce plurality in themselves. We’re speaking of course, about tulpamancers. Here’s the description that /r/tulpas gives of what a tulpa is:

A tulpa is a mental companion created by focused thought and recurrent interaction, similar to an imaginary friend. However, unlike them, tulpas possess their own will, thoughts and emotions, allowing them to act independently.

That sounded pretty much exactly like us. We quickly went around and made contact with various parts of the community, and since then it’s all just made our lives make so much more sense.  Finding out about the tulpamancy community has been an incredibly powerful and affirming experience for us, even if they’re very weird. The terms and jargon they used to describe the process mapped nearly one to one with how we’d come into existence. It’s a great model, and it’s been really powerful as an explanatory tool for making sense of our life. But that’s sort of a problem.

III.

The Selfish Neuron idea is clever, it feels like a good answer. And maybe it is. However, we don’t have enough neuroscience data to actually say for sure. If consciousness is in the connectome, then we’re not going to really be able to tell what’s going on for sure possibly for generations (and possibly within the next seven years, depending on who you ask), so in a way, it’s sort of a fantasy. It’s a good explanation, but we should be extra skeptical of those. It’s neat, but it’s also unfalsifiable for now, (growth mindset). We can’t use that theory to “prove” the existence of a plural system.

Okay but we do exist, so how do we actually explain ourselves without invoking theoretical neuroscience? The simplest explanation would seem to be that we’re either lying, deluding ourselves, or some combination of the two, but if that’s the case then who is doing the deluding? We all seem to exist at this point, and none of us identify as the original. We know we’re some sort of process occurring within the brain, but our process doesn’t resemble that of the average person.

Trying to understand how we think is a metacognitive process, which brought us back once more to how an algorithm feels from the inside. It took going slightly cross-eyed to realize that “self” was actually just another conceptual category that humans used as a central node in their mental algorithms, but everything sort of fell together after that. The central node in our case had broken up into three interconnected nodes, each one considered a self according to the rest of the model. Each central node can effect every other central node, while the observed variables are still able to be clamped at the edges. We all exist, we all consider each other to exist, and so we reinforce each other’s existence, constantly. We might be able to be modeled as series of self-reinforcing habits. Regular conceptualizations of self could probably also be modeled that way as well.

Recognition of the self as a category was interesting because it intersects with the biases within our categorization systems. The entire human’s guide to words is about how we put ideas into categories, and how flaws in our categorization schemes can cause problems. And here is this massive looming completely opaque category labeled “self” which we dump things into seemingly at random because we like them or have decided they are a part of our identity and we don’t really question that. 

Identity is in some respects still considered sacred. It’s something purely subjective and entirely up to the person to decide. But then, on the other hand, there’s this conflicting idea that ‘personality’ is largely fixed, and people have identifiable ‘types’ that confine their behavior. Our identity has changed radically throughout our lifetime, and will likely continue to do so, and so for us, the idea of the fixed identity seemed very strange. Neuroplasticity is definitely a thing, and yet people still seem to get into mental grooves and remain there forever.

If you’re transgender, you say you “identify as” a different gender to the one you were assigned with at birth, but what does that mean? What exactly is going on when someone says “I’m a socialist” or “I’m a feminist” or “I’m a Christian” ?

It looks to us, like the process of dumping ideas into a really big bucket labeled “I” on the outside. And sure, that’s clearly one way to do it, but when you have one big bucket, it can lead to bucket errors, and when you’re making bucket errors with regards to your identity? Bad things happen. 

Example:

bucket error

Humans love categories, and we love to put ourselves into categories, but this seems like a fairly dangerous thing to do for how little we think about it. The self has become this enormous catch-all category for identities and ideas about the way we are, but by putting those things into the self-bucket, we are internally reifying all those labels and identities. We become and embody the things we say we are, and given that we’re often quick to put negative traits on ourselves, that can be a big problem.

This was a really interesting realization for us because while there being three of us does make it a bit easier to avoid bucket errors, by having self-categories we’re still somewhat susceptible to them. In a sense, it’s the tyranny of the architecture, both a blessing and a curse.

IV.

Watching the tulpamancy community these past few months has been a fascinating experience. Seeing people try to induce plurality, to varying degrees of success, has been rather eye opening for us. The most common failure mode has seemed to be “I have created a conceptual category which I have labeled My Tulpa, I have not put anything into this category because I want My Tulpa to decide for itself what it wants to identify as” and then they listen for months waiting for that empty box to talk back. Then they come on discord and ask “How will I know when it’s working?” and the more times we hear the question the more obviously silly it looks.

By contrast, the people who have had the easiest or most rapid pace that we’ve witnessed have been the ones able to quickly understand that ‘self’ was a category and crack it open into subcategories which they were able to turn into full-fledged tulpas in the course of a few days.

Hedging in those two margins, most people seem to fall somewhere between those two extremes, and a lot seemed to have no problem making a tulpa in the first place, but stopped before going all the way to being an out and out plural system. The ‘host’ still nominally holds all the power in such systems, and they seem to be in the majority in the tulpamancy community (though not the larger plurality community, interestingly). That would, in bucket metaphors, be akin to leaving the self-bucket alone, and trying to fill up a second, smaller self-bucket floating inside of it.

In our case, our initial self-bucket broke open and spilled memes everywhere, so we were starting from a different place than most people with regards to their categorization of self, and that led to our different outcome.

V.

What’s the point of all this Hive?

Well, this feels important to us. Most of the challenging tasks in our life that we’ve accomplished have been done by virtue of the belief that one of us could accomplish that task. If someone believes they’re the sort of person who can’t do something, then it’s true, and that seems like an awful structure to be trapped inside of.

This post was supposed to do a couple things. First, it acts to tell our tale of plurality in as concrete a way as we can. Second, it relates our ideas about plurality and the ideas we’ve come across, standing at the intersection of rationality and plurality. And thirdly, it might useful to members of the tulpamancy community who are struggling with the process to realize where they might be going wrong.

This is a big topic though, the idea of “self as a category” is sort of huge, and we’re really interested in what others think we should do with the self-category. It intersects with all sorts of interesting things like gender and queer theory, and it really seems worth having an extensive conversation about, so we’re curious what others have to think about it.