my method first pass (for discovering mental moves and sentinel phenomenology)

[this is not well edited]

Ok, so I’ve been reflecting on what I’m doing while I’m doing it. Here is one way I make discoveries and generate content. This requires access to to a university network, so you can download paywalled papers via google scholar, scopus, or your favorite literature navigation tool.

First, no easy task, have a thing you’re trying to figure out. Everything I’m describing in this post is iterative. It’s a spiral, with lots of backtracking. You don’t need to know what it is; you’re gesturing at it you’re trying to figure it out, you’re especially trying to nail down the exact thing or collection of things you want.

Nailing down one thing, let alone a collection of things, where you don’t quite know what you’re looking for, or what’s real, or where to look, is really hard. You’re attempting to keep track, in real time, of a shifting collection of mental moves, ideas, expectancies, possibilities, inchoate hypotheses and theories, and so forth. And doing that, in real time, often interacts in challenging ways with the thing you’re trying to figure out in the first place. Often, you’re not even trying to figure out something phenomenologically in the first place, per se. You’re *trying to solve a problem,* e.g. a personal bottleneck or a life situation issue, and you’re exploring a phenomenological route to doing so. That is, the problem you’re trying to solve doesn’t necessarily do much to constrain your theoretical or phenomenological investigation. You just have a faint inkling that this is the route to go, looking around in your head as opposed to (so far) trying to make a specific change in the external world.

Anyway, all the above is hard. So you outsource and iteratively bootstrap. You gesture at a thing, you try to come up with words to describe that thing. They can definitely be “common” words, but you try to figure out what they call it or call similar stuff in the literature. If you’re exploring stuff around goals, you don’t just type “goals” into google. You get the Huffington Post. You don’t even type in semi-technical stuff like “implementation intentions,” because that got into the media, so there’s too much noise (and it’s kind of a misleading, not-that-great construct, anyway, in my opinion). So, instead, you type in “goal pursuit,” “goal disengagement,” “prospective memory,” and so forth. You look for the technical concepts and words researchers are using in their research. It takes time to build up knowledge of the right words to use. Again, this is a spiral, with lots of backtracking.

What you do, is you mix those technical words, that get you in the ballpark, with additional words that try to nail down the actual thing you’re looking for. (I don’t know, say, “intention,” and “phenomenology,” in this example.) These additional words don’t have to be technical; you don’t know the technical words, yet, because this is a new thing you’re investigating.

Additionally, you dream up distinctions. “Choose,” isn’t going to get your anywhere, but, “choose, decision, deliberation, decide, choice,” googled for all at once might get you somewhere. What’s happening here is you’re potentially bringing up philosophy or research where people have realized distinctions are actually important and are actually trying to untangle a phenomenon.

Some stuff comes up, and then you start skimming madly to figure out what the technical terms are. Stuff will usually use common terms with technical terms mixed in, and you’ll start picking up additional language and ideas to search for.

I typically do these searches in google, google scholar, google books, and amazon. I keep track of all potentially useful papers, urls, and searches I’ve made in one long, semi-chronological text document, that’s backed up. Any more structure, and you’re less likely to do it. I build up a bajillion tabs while I’m doing this. And, when my computer runs out of ram is when, I start siphoning stuff off into this text file.

Now, I have some leads, and some papers (and books) that weren’t behind a paywall. Skimming the introductions of the papers, they start indicating additional references and how they fit together. So now, I’m also going through reference lists, looking at titles or keeping in mind the context in which papers were referred to in the introductory citations.

Now, I go into a tool like scopus, where I can go backwards or forwards through the literature. What that means is you can quickly get list of what papers where cited in a paper, and you can quickly get a list of the majority of papers in the future that have cited that paper so far. You can also just look at raw citation counts and sort by that. Sometimes this is an indicator of quality, and sometimes not.

By this point, you are possibly starting to recognize names of scientists and philosophers coming up over and over again in the area that you’re drilling down into. You’ll also recognizing names of researchers who just haven’t been useful, over and over again, even though their stuff seems like it should be useful.

Anyway, now you’re opening up a bajillion tabs, traveling backwards and forwards in time, along many branches. You also might be doing more general searches in scopus using boolean algebra (You do know how to do exact and exclusionary searches in google, right? So useful.) This can be both less and more useful than doing searches in something like google, because the searching is much more literal. This can be very helpful or less useful, depending on how much noise (endless reams of shitty research) is in that field.

In those bajillions of tabs (I’ve set up everything to show as many results as possible on a single page, 100 in google and 200 in scopus). I’m skimming hundreds, at times even thousands of paper titles, expanding the abstracts when it seems useful.

While I’m doing all this, I’m keeping in mind “exactly” what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, rather the cloud of phenomena I’m gesturing at. Otherwise your mind goes numb or your start going down rabbit holes. Stick to your purpose! Though, your purpose will refine and clarify, maybe, as you do this. You keep track of papers, searches, and leads in your text document, so you know where you’ve been and where you’re going. Otherwise, you just get lost.

So, what’s the POINT of all this? One in like 10,000-something researchers will have thought really hard about a particular construct. They’ll have written a really great paper or done a really great experiment to nail a particular phenomenon to the wall. It typically won’t be exactly the construct or concept or pattern-in-reality that you want. But, they’ll have put in hundreds if not thousands of hours into wrestling something from reality. Again, this is a 1-in-10,000 researcher. They *care.* And/or they’re *really smart.* And/or, something. But, they’ve done something, out in the world, with apparatus and/or team and/or single-minded intensity, that you can’t possibly compete with in your armchair. And, you’ve found two or these people, or ten, and, now, their goal wasn’t exactly your goal, but now you’re lossily, fuzzily, thousands upon thousands of hours smarter than you were, than you could possibly otherwise be.

And you get better at this; better at sorting through what’s out there, better at honing in on what you want, better at figuring out who’s just way better than other people in their field, better at discerning who *they* think is really good, and so forth.

And you get better at thinking and reasoning with the sum of human knowledge. There’s so much noise, so much crap. Years ago, I would get lost in endless, seemingly promising stuff, where it seemed reasonable and it all fit together at length. But it wasted hours, days, months, and it never really cashed out. It just wasn’t that good, too boxy, not powerful, just not that theoretically good.

But, all of that noise, it’s shot through with brilliance and gems, material created by people who spent thousands of hours or decades creating it, who cared about getting it right, getting at what’s really, truly going on. One person in 10,000, one person in 20,000. And *you* can get better and better at finding this stuff and making use of it. You can learn to tear apart a paper or a book in literally *seconds* to minutes instead of hours, getting everything you need to leapfrog to what you’re actually after.

You can weave it into your own thought processes and experiments and conjectures and ideas and forays and gesturing and playing and discussing and writing, and, well, stand on the shoulders of giants. Hundreds and thousands of hours in the lab, in the trenches, in the archives—you’ll never recapitulate what they did in full. Sometimes you can bypass it, but, more likely, you’ll need use what they’ve created to do what they did in minutes or hours instead of decades. It’s shocking how hard it is to get to the simplicity on the far side of complexity all by yourself. Once you’ve done it a couple of times, you’ll want to outsource as much as you possibly can; or at least I did. It’s so hard to get something right and then know that you’re right. And then you realize how insanely valuable the literature is, if you can only figure out what’s crap and what is brilliant, gratitude-inducing genius.

At some point in your spiraling, everyone will just be wrong. Or, no one will have done exactly what you’re after in exactly the way you’re after it. And you’ll want to put something together that’s entirely original for your entirely original purpose. And then you’ll have to reason, experiment, and write (and that’ll spark new language and ideas which you’ll inject into the process above). But, eventually you’ll have to reason, experiment, and write *a lot* to keep moving forward. But you’ll keep deftly dipping into the literature, to be able to nail down thirteen reality-patterns in a row, in the span of three weeks, that you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to figure out in multiple lifetimes.

deep breathing can be bad for you, viz. buteyko breathing, having to pee all the time, sleep apnea, etc.

Poorly written brain dump between low and moderately good quality; I am not a doctor, this is not medical advice, etc.:

Normal breathing is actually triggered by buildup of CO2 in the blood. (I am fairly sure gasping and abdominal spasms are triggered by very high CO2 buildup. And, a particular kind of rapid breathing is triggered by chronic low oxygen. Mountain climbers do this thing where they involuntarily alternate in cycles of fast and shallow breathing because both CO2 and oxygen are weird up high. People who hyperventilate in order to hold their breath underwater are at risk of passing out from lack of oxygen—oxygen runs out before CO2 buildup demands taking a breath.)

Low blood CO2 stimulates the nervous system, high CO2 depresses the nervous system. CO2 levels regulate a bunch of stuff—it shouldn’t get too low. If blood CO2 gets too low, you automatically pass out so your body can take over breathing again.

Chronic low blood CO2 does all sorts of weird stuff to your kidneys, immune system, muscle tone, and presumably a bunch of other stuff. Chronic low CO2 is one cause of sleep apnea: if breathing is too deep or fast, too much CO2 leaves the lungs and then blood CO2 falls. Breathing doesn’t trigger for a while and oxygen levels fall. Also, throat muscle tone collapses causing an obstructed airway. Then gasping and waking ensues and the cycle repeats.

If you have dreams where you’re underwater, can’t breath, or your throat has closed, or you wake up gasping, or if you wake up breathing rapidly with a fast, noticeable heartbeat, this is you. If you can’t sleep on your back, not as strong evidence that this is you.

Slightly less bad, low CO2 tolerance causes head turning behavior and twitching. (CO2 buildup is one of the reasons some meditators have weird body movements.) This is mostly harmless, except at night, because that head-turning behavior can wake you up over and over again, preventing you from reaching deep sleep and staying there.

A bunch of kidney functions are partially regulated by blood gas levels. If you have to pee all the time, during the day or at night, or if water goes right through you, or if you’re always thirsty, you have low CO2 tolerance.

Mouth breathing versus nose-breathing, and nasal congestion, are regulated by blood CO2 levels. If you find yourself mouth-breathing a lot or can’t breath through your nose or you mouth doesn’t stay closed automatically, with tongue lightly touching the roof of your mouth, then you have low CO2 tolerance. Also, the thickness or thinness or real-time mucous production, as well as nasal turbinate size are regulated by CO2 levels.

People who sit for long periods of time, people who sing, people who have a job where they’re talking all the time (teacher), people who are chronically stressed, people who have learned to chronically “deep breath” because of meditation or qigong are all at risk for reduced CO2 tolerance.

Re chronically stressed, when you get emotional, your breathing rate and depth increase in preparation for physical activity. If you get emotional without getting physically active, and you do this all the time, your body improperly adapts to regulating blood CO2 to be too low.

You can see what high blood CO2 feels like by “breathing as shallow and quiet as a mouse.” Carefully maintain a VERY SLIGHT air hunger and don’t yawn, gasp, or sigh. At between three and five minutes you’ll feel weird and glassy-eyed. Stop. You’ve entered a high CO2 state. (Midway through, you’ll typically also find that one or both nostrils feel open and you can breath easily through your nose. So that’s a great trick.)

Human CO2 tolerance (with respect to breathing rate and depth) is highly adaptable. The procedure above, done very gently over months, can retrain your CO2 tolerance to be higher. Overall sleep will improve. This process is long and finicky and can cause very unpleasant symptoms. Less is more; barely knowing whether you’re doing anything is best. You can also trigger panic attacks or asthma attacks if you’re susceptible.

What I find even more effective is high-intensity interval training (elliptical, bike, sprinting, jump rope, etc.. I used to do Buteyko breathing (a variant is described above), combined with high-intensity interval training. I think they were important to synergize, at first. Now I just do high-intensity interval training. If I don’t do HIIT at least once every five-seven days, a few of the symptoms described above, personally experienced, start to return. HIIT spikes CO2 levels in a way that the body is prepared to deal with, and positive adaptations occur over months to years.

My suspicion is that high-intensity interval training might or might not protect against poor room ventilation somewhat (or a lot).

Re HIIT or Buteyko breathing, the body has a rapid response and slower response (kidneys, over about three days). The first few days are jerky and unpleasant, with symptoms potentially dramatically coming and going, as regulatory systems up regulate, down regulate and hand off smoothly, or not. (E.g. sleep deeply and then wake up horribly gasping.) Ditto at different points during the process. FIN

Oh yeah also, CO2 causes vasodilation, so if you have high blood pressure then the sort of stuff above will be very useful, too. FINFIN

Oh yeah, so panic attacks: CO2 gets a little higher than normal, poor tolerance triggers alarm, start breathing faster in order to escape the caveman cave that has the “bad air,” vigilance and interoception and general searching for danger increase, reduced CO2 in blood causes tingling extremities and other physical sensations, those sensations get interpreted as something terrible happening inside body, start breathing faster, get lightheaded because body wants you to cut it the fuck out, get even more scared, experience DOOM [more stuff and connections here], eventually calm down, repeat, etc.

So the stuff above will reduce incidence of anxiety and panic attacks, too, though will potentially trigger them at first, too. FINFINFIN

two minute post on food stuff

Here is a way to deal with food stuff. I have a spreadsheet (see old page below) where the columns are an intervention, and a row is a date. In each cell on a row, I mark whether I did or didn’t do the thing, or I make a little annotation for “how” I did or fulfilled the thing, and infrequently “how much.” In the notes column, I make a little scribble of anything salient I notice. Over weeks you start noticing patterns. It can be very quick an informal, and it’ll still start informing your implicit models.

If you’re going by meals, you could have each day be multiple rows, one for each meal.

Here is a starter ontology that I would use for the columns:


  1. a) fast carbs (e.g. potato chips)
  2. b) slow carbs (potatoes, rice, beans — still pretty “fast” if you’re eating it hot)
  3. c) carbs with higher resistant starch content (chilled potatoes and rice)
  4. d) animal saturated fat (butter, cream, tallow, lard, to a lesser degree very fatty meat, milk and eggs)
  5. e) mono and poly fat (olive oil, nuts, etc.)
  6. f) animal protein

Micronutrients (food or pills)

  1. g) high potassium foods (or “lo salt”)
  2. h) Choline
  3. i) Magnesium
  4. j) animal-sourced vitamin A
  5. k) vitamin D3 or sunlight

Micronutrient-wise, I mostly follow the Perfect Health Diet recommendations. Their explicit models and reasoning may have some flaws, but I think their implicit models and recommendations are excellent.


Currently Reading; Mostly New Cites; Meant to be read together

In no particular order:

Heft, Harry. “Affordances, dynamic experience, and the challenge of reification.”Ecological Psychology 15.2 (2003): 149-180.

Chaffin, Roger, Topher R. Logan, and Kristen T. Begosh. “Chapter 33 Performing from Memory” Oxford Handbook of Music Psychology (2008).

Wieber, Frank, Lisa A. Sezer, and Peter M. Gollwitzer. “Asking “why” helps action control by goals but not plans.” Motivation and Emotion 38.1 (2014): 65-78.

Einstein, Gilles O., and Mark A. McDaniel. “Prospective memory and metamemory: The skilled use of basic attentional and memory processes.”Psychology of learning and motivation 48 (2007): 145-173.

Glenberg, Arthur M. “Language and action: creating sensible combinations of ideas.” The Oxford handbook of psycholinguistics (2007): 361-370.

DeShon, Richard P., and Jennifer Z. Gillespie. “A motivated action theory account of goal orientation.” Journal of Applied Psychology 90.6 (2005): 1096.

Berridge, Kent C. “The debate over dopamine’s role in reward: the case for incentive salience.” Psychopharmacology 191.3 (2007): 391-431.

Wolff, Phillip, and Aron K. Barbey. “Causal reasoning with forces.” Frontiers in human neuroscience 9 (2015).

Zohar, Anat, and Shlomit Ginossar. “Lifting the taboo regarding teleology and anthropomorphism in biology education—heretical suggestions.” Science Education 82.6 (1998): 679-697.

Banister, Fiona, and Charly Ryan. “Developing science concepts through story-telling.” School Science Review 82 (2001): 75-84.

Bellezza, Francis S. “Mnemonic devices: Classification, characteristics, and criteria.” Review of Educational Research 51.2 (1981): 247-275.

Glenberg, Arthur M. “Language and action: creating sensible combinations of ideas.” The Oxford handbook of psycholinguistics (2007): 361-370.

Wheeler, David. “Mathematization matters.” For the Learning of Mathematics(1982): 45-47.

Einstein, Albert. “The Problem of Space, Ether, and the Field in Physics (1934).” Beyond Geometry: Classic Papers from Riemann to Einstein 1 (2007): 187.

Barsalou, Lawrence W. “Deriving categories to achieve goals.” Goal Directed Learning. MIT Press, Cambridge MA (1995): 121-176.

Hurlburt, Russell T., and Sarah A. Akhter. “Unsymbolized thinking.”Consciousness and Cognition 17.4 (2008): 1364-1374.

Koutstaal, Wilma. The agile mind. Oxford University Press, 2011.

Casasanto, D. & Lupyan, G. (2015). All Concepts are Ad Hoc Concepts. In The Conceptual Mind. New directions in the study of concepts. E. Margolis & S. Laurence (Eds.) pp. 543-566. Cambridge: MIT Press.

on the so-called objective paradox

“the “objective paradox” — as soon as you create an objective, you ruin your ability to reach it.” [*]

[hat tip g]

That’s very concise; I like it. Effectuation theory [pdf] has some very related ideas:

  • goal ambiguity – you don’t know exactly what you want
  • environmental isotropy – everything looks the same in every direction; you don’t know what’s important
  • enaction – the moves you make change the landscape (internal and external)

Anyway, why the objective paradox? Something something goal shielding (blindness to better goals and better strategies towards the current goal), functional fixedness (looking at what’s in front of you in narrow ways). I think this is totally a thing, and it’s fundamentally in tension with legibility, the principal-agent problem, control, prediction, planning, risk, and much more. But idiosyncratically inhabiting and navigating that tension is a route to high-variance value.

A lot of my time is spent setting up my life so I can effectively work with the objective paradox, creating systems, contexts, and spaces (timers, timesheets, flexible hierarchies of unlabeled project buckets, tracking minutiae so as to minimize its impact on my life) within which I can gather possibilities and aim them (microphenomenological workspace) while remaining open to serendipity.

Some of the stuff below is annoying fluff and some of it is excellent. I’ll just lump it all together because even the fluff has a hint of something really important in it:

virtue ethics for goals and feedback systems

Within in the span of a couple weeks, more than one person has talked to me about a desire for some sort of goal feedback system or structured goal system.

The obvious thing is a list of goals and someone holding yourself accountable to them, but that doesn’t seem to work for lots of people, including myself. Part of this, I think, is that explicating some things interferes with other things that are implicit. And some goals function better implicitly, some of the time. And lots of other stuff.

One thing that I do is not labeling my projects. In my organizational software, every single entry is titled the same, an “@” sign. This makes it easier to let projects evolve and stay fresh as you and the world change. These “freeform project buckets” are fairly lightweight and easy to mix and refactor and strategize with.

But they don’t give a sense of measurable or at least systematic approach towards one’s goals, with attendant increased motivation and clarity of choice and action.

I’ve just had the idea of a sort of virtue ethics for goals. That is, “decision-point touchstones,” or a set of “compasses,” instead of a “goal-state-to-be-mechanistically-approached.” (This is likely not an original idea.)

They could be a list, they don’t need to be well-specified; they could be brief. It might be possible to arrange them in a hierarchy, or that might not be a good idea. I’ve just started playing with this.

It seems like people have an implicit sense of whether an action will take them towards or away from a goal; they implicitly calculate a long change of nonmonotonicities and arrive at some sort of sense of “towards or away.” There just needs to be some sort of trigger to do it at the right times. And that could be having a list and intending to refer to it in moments of non-duty and non-obligation. And then doing so and making choices in reference.

And so even the most high-level goals can become something that can be used and acted-with-respect-to in this very moment. (I can actually see the possibility of hierarchies, here.)

(Note that there is still plenty of opportunity for goal conflict, false dilemmas, and all sorts of stuff that might have to be resolved with other tools. But I imagine this sort of framework is synergistic.)

In having this touchstone idea, and this relatively discrete action of referencing the goal list (and then choosing and noting towards or away), perhaps this is amenable to some sort of feedback system. And perhaps this idea will evolve. I may play with parts of this if it stands up to some initial hammering.

If you want to discuss some of this other interested people, please join the Slack chat (possibly with an anonymous email). I’ll make a new channel for this.

Using Concept Specifications


  • Introduction
  • Provisional Definition of a Concept or Term
  • Two Uses for Concept Specifications
  • Structure of a Concept Specification
    • Structure of a Concept Specification
    • Alias
    • Definitions, Positive Attributes, Positive Examples
    • “Near Misses” and Distinctions
    • Exemplification Heuristics
      • Positive Examples
      • Negative Examples
      • Precise Specification
    • Relationships
    • Relationships to Prose
  • Examples of a System of Concept Specifications

Note: The formatting of example concept specifications below is a bit messed up. They shouldn’t be “bulleted,” but, yeah, that’s otherwise what they look like.


This is a collection of brief excerpts from other projects that I thought might be useful to other people. The topic is what I’m calling a “concept specification.” I use the concept specification approach when the theorizing that I’m doing is too hard for me to do any other way (which is often).

(Note: You’ll find frequent bolding below; this is what I use sometimes to denote a concept. Given that these excerpts are old or in-progress, and especially given that they’re excerpts, the bolded terms won’t always be defined. That aside, this document is intended to be fully self-contained.)

Provisional Definition of a Concept or Term

A term or a concept is something that has meaning, sense, or gist. It’s something that can be recognized as a thing distinct from other things or from an undifferentiated background. One can signify a concept using <brackets> or bolding. One can experience the conscious representation of a concept by paying attention to its meaning. For example, what does “car” (or <car>, or car) mean? (It will mean different things depending on context or agreement.) If the meaning changes, the concept changes. In some sense, the concept is the meaning. The signifier of the concept, “car,” <car>, or car can change (e.g. automobile) while still referring to the same concept, the same meaning.

Two Uses for Concept Specifications

There are at least two uses for concept specifications.

One use is to specify a concept for yourself. Another use is to specify a concept for others.

In the second case, one might strive to have a concise definition in the concept specification, as well as a complete collection of clean positive and negative examples.

In the first case, though, the concept specification can be very, very messy and incomplete, because the concept specification is for you. You’re (temporarily) finished as soon as you know what you mean, and you’re somewhat confident that the concept specification will help you remember or refresh your memory of what you mean. And, perhaps even more importantly, a concept specification can also help you clarify and stabilize what you mean. Even a single, incomplete sketch of a positive example can dramatically clarify the usage of a word or term and create a vague-but-useful category or bucket in your mind, which can become clearer and clearer over time. A concept specification is a stake-in-the-ground, a highly leveraged, refinable starting point.

Structure of a Concept Specification

One strategy of specifying a concept is by using aliases, definitions, positive and negative examples, positive and negative attributes, and relationships.

Structure of a Concept Specification

Here is how the structure of a concept specification might look:

  • alias [alias 2, alias 3…] (old alias 1, old alias 2)
  • + definition
  • + positive example
  • + positive example
  • + positive attribute
  • – negative attribute (“near miss”)
  • – negative example (distinction, potential confusion)
  • / relationship

Here is a concrete example of a “working” concept specification. (It’s not so much intended to “make sense” in this context so much as to just give an idea of what they look like and how messy they can be while still being incredibly useful):

  • combination power
  • + can swap out words with different words in same “set” and still get meaning, in fact this is indeed one part of heat and light, or perhaps rather compositionality means you (likely?) have heat and light.
  • + requires a complete set
  •  vs Add-on which is when you have compositionality but don’t have heat and light. you can add it or take it away, but there’s not fill in the blank where multiple things can go in the blank.)
  • – vs permutation power??? sort of leads back into holophrasis… almost equals language, can have permutation power

(Numerous examples of using this structure are collected at the end of this document.)


In the structure above, an alias, alias phrase, or gloss gives you signifiers to refer to the concept. They are intended to concisely signify and concisely evoke the sense of the concept. Additionally, multiple aliases might evoke slightly different senses of a broad or vague concept (which might be intended to be vague or which haven’t yet been broken into multiple, more precise concepts).

You might retain old aliases in parentheses so that you can find the concept specification from other relationships in which the old aliases haven’t yet been updated.

Definitions, Positive Attributes, Positive Examples

The plus (“+”) signs denote what the concept is (definition or rule), or has (positive attribute), as well as positive examples that can be recognized as instances of that concept.

NOTE: A concept specification does not need to contain a definition! Positive and negative examples alone can potentially specify a concept very precisely and are excellent starting points. In addition, even if a concept has a definition, the concept specification is often greatly improved with the addition of a few positive and negative examples.

“Near Misses” and Distinctions

The minus (“-“) signs denote what the concept is not. There are at least two ways to do this: negative examples (“near misses“) and distinctions. The possibilities for what a concept isn’t are very numerous, so one might initially think that it isn’t very helpful to specify negative examples, to narrow down the meaning of a concept. But, in fact, it can be very helpful to think of concepts that are very close to the target concept and how those concepts differ from the target concept. These are “near misses.” In creating a “near miss,” you might give an example of something that’s not quite the target concept as well explain why this is the case. (This indirectly specifies useful negative attributes.) Additionally, you can list concepts that could be confused with the target concept (whether they’re “close” to the target concept or not, which they often will be, though sometimes they just have similar signifiers or aliases.) In this latter case, you’re listing negative examples and once again indirectly specifying negative attributes.

Exemplification Heuristics

When exemplifying, it can be helpful to keep two general guidelines in mind. (These guidelines are from Siegfried Engelmann and Douglas Carnine’s Theory of Instruction, as part of their strategy for faultless communication.)  

Positive Examples

First, when you’re specifying positive examples, try to make those positive examples maximally different from each other (but don’t start by trying to do that; just bang them out). This is to prevent what has been termed stipulation or undergeneralization. That is, in the absence of a clear definition, and additionally if a series of positive examples are very similar to each other, a further example that’s too different will be incorrectly rejected because the sense of the concept has unintentionally become too narrow.

Negative Examples

Second, when you’re specifying negative examples, try to present negative examples that are not only as close to a positive example as possible (as mentioned above) but are once again maximally different from each other. (Or, if you are presenting many examples during direct instruction, examples might be chosen to fall into maximally different clusters.) Maximally different negative examples help to more completely outline the “shape” of the concept.

Precise Specification

Well chosen examples can lead a listener or reader to infer very precisely what you mean by a particular concept (via triangulation and bootstrapping). If more complex concepts are hierarchically built out of attributes composed of ever more highly granular concepts, which themselves are exemplified by positive and negative examples grounded in experience, communication can become practically unambiguous. This is an ambitious goal but can be achieved if the scope of conceptual transfer is limited and the effort is warranted.


Relationships show how concepts fit together and give examples of how they might be used.

The concept specification below contains an example of a relationship piece:

  • decomposable, compositionality
  • […]
  • + implies parts
  • + can imply actual combination power or just add-on; can still have perfect coverage that can be broken down into parts. There could be one or more combination power_parts, one or more add-on_parts and even holophrasis_parts. Just a single part  automatically implies that all there is is holophrasis. Two holophrasis_parts can imply rudimentary compositionality, even combination power, but again only if coming from a set. If not coming from a set, then can only have add-on_power.
  • + achievement
  • […]

(In the example above, the underscores separate aliases that occur in sequence.)

From Relationships to Prose

When relationships start appearing and growing in your collection of concept specifications, concise, precise, and even powerful prose, explanations, predictions, and theories become can much, much easier. This is an instance of the heuristic “go slow to go fast…”

Here is a brief example of prose underpinned by concept specifications:

“Using the various moves, keep reworking terms until they form mutually exclusive_sets which can undergo combination. […] This affects the underlying sense of the implicit model. […] The concepts don’t have to be native, as long as there are sufficient examples to provide for recognition while preventing miscues and stipulation. […]”

Examples of a System of Concept Specifications

Finally, below are multiple examples of (old) concept specifications in progress. These examples aren’t intended to form a complete or finished theory. Rather, they are intended to illustrate how concept specifications can be used in practice, as messy, ill-formed works-in-progress that nevertheless interrelate and can dramatically facilitate theorizing at various stages of the process.

You keep banging away at your specifications and, over time, they start precisely linking up in surprising and powerful ways…

  • moves, explication move
  • + a move can be a warned move, a complete move, a meaningless move, and a transient move
  • warned move, an incomplete move
  • +
  • (fully) resonant move
  • +
  • complete move
  • + can be X or resonant
  • meaningful move
  • + some resonance, some stability
  • meaningless move
  • + no resonance
  • + can still be valuable if it’s a deliberate nonimposition move otherwise it could be taking a stand
  • transient move
  • partially or full resonant move that isn’t imprinted
  • imprinted
  • + has a gist with a relatively slow or nonexistent or easily stabiy renewable trace,  renewability means that is perfect coverage via holophrasis or otherwise and/or definitions possibly of the faultless communication variety. faultless communication implies stability
  • explicit coverage level/amount
  • + how much or how well explication covers implicit model including/versus X vs simply missing vs implicit symbolization incompatibility
  • simply missing vs implicit symbolization incompatibility
  • + simply missing is that you *could* add it versus having to throw out at all the words in the latter condition
  • add-on versus symbolic interlock
  • + add-on is you can just add the extra component
  • + when you have compositionality but don’t have heat and light. you can add it or take it away, but there’s not fill in the blank where multiple things can go in the blank.)
  • – vs symbolic interlock is something about parsimoniousness or compression, or that ability to start generating heat and light/more than the sum of its parts, or
  • perfect coverage, symbolic interlock
  • + can be decomposible or not
  • + if it’s not then it’s holophrasis
  • + if it’s decomposable then have either combination power or add-on
  • achievement
  • + part of reality not just lying around
  • – the opposite in some sense of the myth of the given
  • myth of the given
  • + already existing categories, already existing compositionality
  • decomposable, compositionality
  • + implies parts
  • + can remove parts without breaking it. the remaining parts still have meaning
  • + can imply actual combination power or just add-on, can still have perfect coverage that can be broken down into parts. there could be one or more combination power _ parts, one or more add-on _ parts _  and even holophrasis _ parts. Just a single part sort of automatically implies that all there is is holophrasis. Two holophrasis _ parts i guess can imply rudimentary compositionality, even a certain combination power, but again only if coming from a set. if not coming from a set, then can only have add-on (??power??).
  • + achievement
  • part (two senses!), part/piece
  • (1)
  • + a part/piece can be a holophrastic part, a combination part, or an add-on part
  • parts
  • + synonomous with “piece
  • (2)
  • + drive, motive, care, caution, concern, hope, fear, dream, stake, impulse, urge, will, consideration, constraint, duty, obligation, responsibility, ??
  • should.
  • + ??? can be endogenous/intrinsic parts? or rather self parts? or rather avowed parts, or rather on-plan parts? versus ???disavowed parts, off-plan parts, imposed parts… ??? (should probably have build out…)
  • reducable, build-up, add-on
  • + can partially explicate without doing damage to the rest of the felt sense!!!
  • + can’t have perfect coverage but has possibility for partial perfect coverage
  • + can’t have combination power because don’t have a complete set
  • complete set —> mutually exclusive
  • + implies mutually exclusive, _ perfect coverage, of all possibilities
  • – note:, for now just note that mutually exclusive can be used in other places but somehow very tied to complete set…
  • possibilities
  • + ????? behavior space, _ what could happen space, ??? plan space
  • implicit sense
  • + felt sense -ish, could be structureless tag in
  • combination power
  • + can swap out words with different words in same “set” and still get meaning, in fact this is indeed one part of heat and light, or perhaps rather compositionality means you (iikely?) have heat and light.
  • + requires a complete set
  •  vs Add-on which is when you have compositionality but don’t have heat and light. you can add it or take it away, but there’s not fill in the blank where multiple things can go in the blank.)
  • – vs permutation power??? dangerous? sort of leads back into holophrasis… almost equals language, can have permutation power
  • permutation power
  • + sort of leads back into holophrasis… almost equals language
  • – can have permutation power without
  • heat and light, more than the sum of its parts, explanation capacity, turning gears
  • + heat and light = composition power + explanation capacity
  • – symbolic interlock is very similar or overlapping, but not quite.
  • + (see production interference and so forth)
  • explanation capacity/power, prediction power, intervention power…, intervention nodes, affordances…
  • holophrasis
  • + from where you dream book
  • + points at something, sort can’t leave a single word out, somehow perfect coverage or it at least points unambiguously at something??
  • + “something something one long name for precisely this” (a quote from from where you dream book.
  • + holophrastic indeterminism – many ways to translate the same thing, see coordinate transformation
  • – can have perfect coverage with or without compositionality, but definitely can’t be add-on because nothing can be left out.
  • gendlin definitions
  • + (possibly important like direct reference, circumlocution, etc.)
  • nonincorporation
  • + a possible operation where you make a pact with system one to only play with it in system two, an artifact, a toy-like feeling. a not real. thinking with symbols is taking a stand will be considered as dangerous to system one, so system one will reject the whole activity [autoincorporation rejection].
  • [can do nonincorporation or nonimposition with others, too, “everything i’m about to tell you is wrong—screen it off…
  • autoincorporation rejection
  • + artifact in its partial state doesn’t contain everything important to system one, so the thinking with symbols is taking a stand will be considered as dangerous to system one, so system one will reject the whole activity
  • incorporation mechanism
  • + the agile catching during e.g. tacit updating, a thing judgment/concern that’s initially outside the scope of what you’re working on but is modulating it so you catch it and acknowledge it as in scope
  • + like have work project X and personal issue Y has insights or even implications for X, and having emotions or issues around X and having the technical skill to notice that that’s due to Y and explicitly bring Y into the field of consideration so now X and Y are both things.
  • + “but what abouts” (and resistance for whatever reason to bringing them into the active felt sense versus the normal bouncing to them and back)
  • + see my tacit updating post…
  • factor X
  • + taking words too literally[1,2], _ production intererence, _ too soon, _ clunkyness _ active and shifting and slippery
  • take words too literally[1]
  • + when focus too much on literal meaning of the words and it kills the actual idiolect meaning, the not quite english that interlocks with rest of felt sense or what person was saying [could be speaking and immediately or in writing and coming back to it later; gist is gone or something]
  • take words too literally[2], production interference, too soon
  • + focuses too much on the literal words so that person can’t keep speaking out of their felt sense. this is sort of production interference, where stuff was written down too soon, before a good coordinate transformation was found, a good framework that could actually explicate comprehensively without leaving the critical parts tacit.
  • coordinate transformation
  • + finding a way to say things, and in fact using wildly different words, seemingly entirely different words (e.g. poetry can describe same subtle phenom with entirely different words but still be about the same thing), where are able to actually explicate the whole thing, or good enough.
  • + i think writers know about this “writing too soon” phenomenon
  • implicit vastness hidden by a tiny logical inconsistency
  • + so like anomalies in a theory, where you have this little itty bitty thing that doesn’t fit, but in fact you might need huge logical buildout to account for it (though there might be a new paradigm that isn’t that much bigger or is even smaller that does account for it) – kind of like eliezer’s thing that the more more you explain the simpler the equations in some sense, like a universe needs only a few forces. but more to the point, just the tacit, subtle felt stuff (usually) that just doesn’t fit.
  • mutual resonance, deep mutual resonance
  • + share each other’s mental models, worldspace, and know each other do, both have the same answer to “this is what’s happening here”, actual same objects a la wilber gigagloss,