some brief thoughts on mastering extreme stuff

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Let’s say you want to get into some extreme state, and to do that you’re following some sort of protocol.

The protocol is an abstraction. It leaves stuff out, no matter how good it is. It might map imperfectly or crudely to reality. The protocol will be an imperfect transmission: regardless of what the creator intended, usually something will be lost when it’s committed to words. Regardless of the words that the creator writes, those words are subject to your interpretation, no matter how careful you are. Your understanding of the words will change over time.

(One type good transmission is layered. It has useful information for people at multiple levels of skill and understanding. In some sense, the protocol grows with them as they engage with it.)

So, I’ve written before, a couple times in length, about how to work with explicit information:

And I’ve written about what can go wrong when you do so:

But I actually want to take this post in a slightly different direction: When you engage a protocol, you’re potentially pushing in narrow ways. You’re potentially going to get imbalanced.

Like, if there’s opponent processes for attention, e.g. stabilizing it or letting it roam free, or for injecting stuff into consciousness versus suppressing it, you might be systematically cultivating one side but not the other. (Except, complicate that by ten-fold or 100-fold, dozens of exquisitely, dynamically balanced, symphonically coordinating processes.)

Systematic, one-sided development will potentially lead to unbalanced operation of the system. This can potentially lead to bad stuff happening.

You can guard against this in a few ways.

One way is to suss out the balancing pieces of the opponent processes and explicitly develop them, too.

Another way, is to be extremely open to going off protocol or to be extremely open about your interpretation of the protocol: maybe you’re leaving out tacit stuff that the creator intended; or maybe you’re a case that the creator didn’t consider and you need to be doing at least a few more things (or many). In general, you may want to be sensitively feeling into your interpretation of what you think the creator intended, explicitly keeping in mind that it’s an interpretation. If you have the time and energy, you generally want to be taking apart the creator’s intentions and rebuilding the thing: it might look the same from the outside, the same words that the creator wrote, but your inner model of what’s going on has been upgraded, possibly many times. You might, hopefully, be always experimenting, always playing, always feeling around the edges for more, better, fuller.

Another way is to be more patient, to back off at times, or to take your time. If you keep pushing on one side, it does seem the brain eventually gets the message that you’re not going to stop (cue unknown protein and epigenetic accumulators, here), and it works to automatically and “intelligently” balance out opponent processes in the correct way, possibly better than you could have done.

In any case, whenever you’re developing something explicit, it’s highly likely you’ll need to be developing tacit, implicit stuff, too, some of which you’ll never be able to make cost-effectively explicit, because all explication is ultimately imperfect abstraction.

You want to develop everything, all at once, to bring everything forward, together. Otherwise, if you’re going for something extreme, it’s going to stall out, either neutrally or dangerously.

This may need to be on the order of years.

But, sometimes, if you want a skill, or an achievement, or a state, or a way of being, or some kind of meta-engagement with the world, or particular stuff baked into your mindstream…

This massively complex, highly coordinated, highly general thing… This complex system that you’ve been carefully intervening in, possibly over years…

Well, that’s possibly what mastery entails…

(But that doesn’t mean it can’t necessarily pay off, every step of the way.)

(And, of course, there are opportunity costs, and this most definitely isn’t a cognitive free lunch.)

(And I don’t mean to say that sometimes you shouldn’t focus very narrowly and sequentially on different subskills to the exclusion of others.)

(And, of course, of course, engage with other people’s maps and models, from people who’ve gone before you. But their values and goals may not be precisely coincident with yours.)

For so many reasons, you may ultimately need to leave all other’s models behind… Or, rather, your model needs to transcend and include all other models you’ve encountered… Your model needs to explain or explain away their model.

The map is not the territory: Your complex system is not an abstraction. It is the really, actual, real, reality-flux-stuff out there in the world or within you.

Mastery means engaging with the territory, as much as anyone or anything can actually engage with really-real-reality, as a separate thing than all maps used to map it.

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