Cutesy diagrams and mindfucking adventures

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I’m working on a book about all of the stuff on this blog, and I feel like I’m starting to see one of the ways that metaphysics gets started. I have this rich, implicit sense of how all this stuff fits together. And, at the same time, I’m trying to distill things down into simple, intuitive models which can be introduced sequentially. And, then, the idea is to compose these simple models into more complicated models with moving parts that people can line up with reality in useful ways.

But, what I’m finding, to keep things “simple,” and I guess this isn’t a surprise, is that I’m lumping functionally related stuff together into single concepts where I’d ideally like to keep them completely separate. And, I guess that’s not distilling, but what it is is creating these huge unwieldy abstractions that have less and less to do with experiential reality. Like, yes, I can point to all these different facets in reality and say, ok, lump these all under category X. But what that does is it still makes X seem like it’s REAL. I mean, neither are the concepts and “feels” that I natively use to think and reason about this stuff, but my native concepts are more real than this X that I’ve invented for dubious pedagogical purposes.

I don’t want people to have to read dozens of books, they’re not going to anyway, but I still want people to get it. I don’t want people hunting around in their heads for this bloated referent that doesn’t actually exist.

Why bother with mental models, anyway? Why not put together a meditation protocol and let people naturally find those referents, those experiences? I’m worried that people aren’t going to do that, either. Who’s going to meditate for years? The benefits start on day one but only some of them are obvious and only sometimes.

From a motivational perspective, I think having a starter mental model of the territory will make meditation more initially rewarding (as well as less of a hard sell).

It eventually becomes very obvious that meditation leads to living more experientially deeply, richly, brightly, excruciatingly painfully and electrically joyfully. Reality becomes more vivid, choices become more decisive and more painful, regret hits you harder, ambivalence stretches you thinner… It becomes safer to feel more and more intensely.

It becomes safe for every shameful, dirty, ugly, self-involved, masturbatory, altruistic painful aspect of your life to become a seamless glorious, vicious, joyful, fuck-yeah, fuck-up of a grand adventure.

Holy shit this is real life. It’s happening right now.

Now, does everyone want that? I don’t know. Separate issue, maybe. Reality is scary. It bites back, it will destroy your hopes, leave you in chains, rub your face in it, and then kills you in horrible ways. Poverty or cubicles for decades and then you die slowly, disgustingly, and painfully with beautiful people laughing in your face or just ignoring you as the light goes dim and you know you’ll never, ever fulfill those life longings and everything’s over forever and ever. Or you get hit by a meteor and die instantly. It could really happen. You don’t always get what you want. The hungrier you become the more you open yourself to devastation and disappointment.

And the type of meditation that I sell makes you hungrier. More alive.

Act wisely. Act skillfully. The stakes are your life, the stakes are your realization of your intimate, ultimate concerns, your heart’s desires. And the relative control you have over it all is a feather against concrete.

How shall you proceed?

How do I give people a taste of that, so they can see if maybe they want to go there? How does that not devolve into fucking bullshit feel-good guided imagery or something?

How do I convey the possible tremendous sacrifice, opportunity cost, possible impedance mismatch with the culture you grew up in, how it might simultaneously ruin you or free you or neither, depending not just on your individual luck and smarts and effort, but also life situations, savings, support of family and friends, social safety net…

“I just want to, like, be more relaxed, man. And, like, not have things suck so much in my head.”

We have to be clear whether we’re offering gentle healing, self-medication, mindfucking adventure, or all of it, and how to tell them apart. And what’s maybe contraindicated depending on your mental state.

For my part, I want people to see that the texture of their experience in every moment is vivid and electric and skillful navigation and surrender thereof can yield counterintuitive and valuable freedoms of mind and movement in the world. Or at least you’re slightly better able to laugh and cry and fight and comfort and love and not be a complete asshole to everyone who cares about you when your life goes to shit around you.

All this might seem insane or just really woo, but I reject the metaphysics of it. It’s brains doing brainy things. The right drugs or the right nanotech hanging out in my synapses could probably do the same thing. But we don’t have that yet. And, even if we did, consciousness will still be consciousness, then and now, either knowing itself or not, manifold configurations of matter and energy either dancing human values with the lights on, or not, not to mention it’s the only way you’ll ever know anything, from quarks to the concept of cognitive biases.

So, crap. How the hell do I ethically sell and teach this stuff, un-neutered, from a cold start? Where was I with my cutesy diagrams?

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8 thoughts on “Cutesy diagrams and mindfucking adventures

  1. If you teach gun safety you know that maybe one of your students will go off and shoot themselves in the foot. So you worry about teaching well. “How do I generate the same decision tree in the students that exists in me that prevents accidents?” And translating from your mind to other minds is not a solved problem, so you can’t guarantee against edge cases. Perhaps you are privileging the hypothesis that people will be harmed, and not considering the hypothesis that an equal number will be harmed by NOT having you help them. I know you have helped myself and many others in our practice with this blog.

  2. >> I know you have helped myself and many others in our practice with this blog.

    I really appreciate your comment. Thank you. You all are why I’m writing. Also, tell me more! I need feedback to proceed optimally! Whatever discussions happen out there around my writing, I am unaware of almost all of them. I just see my blog stats and try to guess what’s happening. (Well I don’t *just* do that, but, you know.)

    >> And translating from your mind to other minds is not a solved problem, so you can’t guarantee against edge cases.

    Yup, and I feel like it’s worse than that. There’s these painful tradeoffs when you do lossy compression to reduce the kolmogorov complexity of what you’re trying to transmit. (Yes, I really think this way.) I think long and hard (read: go in circles) about coordinate transforms on the underlying ideas to keep as much detail as possible. But empowering distinctions get left on the cutting room floor because they are only relevant in states with lower transition probabilities. And then there’s the flailing around because there’s so little *data* about what works and what’s *real.* And then you have to factor in making stuff interesting, accessible, palatable… if you want it to *matter.*

    Oxymoronic but it’s an uncomputable combinatorial optimization problem. And so the muddling and flailing continues. But it’s exciting. And excruciating. And exciting.

    >> […] applies to other self-improvement techniques as well.

    Agreed.

  3. Really inspiring writing in this article! Reading this gave me fantasies of wandering off into the Himalayas to contemplate reality!
    I’ve been reading your blog for a while and I really appreciate how you’re able to combine practical, technical instruction with a poetic passion for meditation. It’s rare to find the two together and reminds me of the writing of Emerson.
    Thanks!
    Jacob

  4. >> Reading this gave me fantasies of wandering off into the Himalayas to contemplate reality!

    NOOOoooooooooooo!!! 🙂 I’m trying to create fewer meditation casualties, not more. Buddha (for some people) and Tantra (for everyone?) claim that practice complements and/or *is* daily life. I guess I’d better unravel that soon, though I still haven’t figured that out for myself. Thoughts, anyone?

    Thank you for the compliments.

  5. So, more specifically. I often refer people in LessWrong and overlapping memespaces (I live in the san francisco bay area) to this website when they’re curious about meditation. I do this because I think you get many things right.
    1. Actually being curious about meditation. This comes across in your writing and thus makes the reader curious too. Too much meditation material acts confident that it is describing a specific/real thing and then you are just getting received wisdom.
    2. Describing different types of meditation and some of the effects of differing types. Other meditation material often comes across to me as trying to sell me on a specific practice.
    3. You delve into potential negatives.
    4. Evocative system-1 language. Most of the people I know who have applause lights for meditation but don’t actually do it have system-2 expressing that “yeah, meditation seems like a good idea”, but little evidence of any system-1 engagement.

    Probably some other stuff too. Anyway, thank you for exposing your journey to us, even if it is an imperfect compression. 🙂

  6. Traditionally, malarial arts teachers evaluate potential pupils, before agreeing to train them. That isn’t scale-able, but maybe its how you start?

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