The Fastest Introduction to Focusing

(General content note: A lot of my thinking has really changed since the old days of this blog. There’s some weird, mean, and polemic stuff in there.)

[New? Start here:]

  1. Hurlburt, Russell T., and Sarah A. Akhter. “Unsymbolized thinking.”Consciousness and Cognition 17.4 (2008): 1364-1374.
  2. An introduction to Focusing: Six Steps
  3. Self-Therapy by Jay Earley—Step-Cutting-Edge-Psychotherapy/dp/0984392777/

So, I actually don’t remember what’s actually in the original Gendlin Focusing book, and there’s not a table of contents on amazon to jog my memory. I remember that it’s pretty good, relatively precise, but also that it’s tedious because it’s written for a popular audience. The goal is to be able to work effectively with nonsymbolic thought in a wide variety of circumstances, creatively towards your own ends, and to jumpstart that as quickly as possible.

(Not everyone needs that, though. Symbolic thought is great, and symbolic thought carries nonsymbolic thought along with it, implicitly.)

Anyway, the first link above defines it. The second link helps for getting a flicker of a sense of it; it’s going on all the time, you just need to learn to “find” it and sort of maybe pin it down a bit. It can take time and practice. The third link, via Internal Family Systems Therapy, provides an excellent, though laborious, step-by-step structure for one way of working with it. (There’s a cheat sheet in the appendix.) Over time, or immediately, you can dispense with the scaffolding and work intuitively with the raw experience. I work most often with the raw experience, but I bring back different kinds of scaffolding frequently, too.

(For more depth, I might recommend Gendlin’s book for professionals [1]. And then there’s Coherence Therapy [2], which hints more directly at deep structure, and much more… )

[1] Gendlin, Eugene T. Focusing-oriented psychotherapy: A manual of the experiential method. Guilford Press, 2012.

[2] Ecker, B., and L. Hulley. “Coherence therapy practice manual and training guide.” Oakland, CA: Pacific Seminars. 2006.

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Sociology-complete problems in psychoanalysis and meditation

(General content note: A lot of my thinking has really changed since the old days of this blog. There’s some weird, mean, and polemic stuff in there.)

[New? Start here:]

A colleague noted how there was a huge amount of infighting amongst the old-school psychoanalysis luminaries: Freud, Jung, Adler, Anna Freud, Melanie Klein, and more. There were different schools and at least one (if not more) secret committees and demands of loyalty from followers.

I’m thinking that if I looked at primary or even secondary sources myself, I could probably get a much better idea of what happened and why. But I started musing from an “inside view” of the mechanics of what might have been going on. I’m getting this from my own experience of writing a meditation blog that comments on the thinking and writing of (other?) meditation teachers. (“Other” in the sense of, am I a meditation teacher??)

When I first started writing my blog, I was super-annoyed, and I thought other meditation teachers were just wrong. Of course, there was huge signal in what they were teaching, but I often disagreed with details or emphasis.

The emotional color of these disagreements were because my interpretation of their writing led to temporary or prolonged suffering on my part. I experienced much good but also much bad. And/or I just found some writing to be incoherent or inconsistent. That was just annoying.

I came to realize over time that my interpretation of what they wrote (what to do, how to do it, and why) was—cliche alert—just that: an interpretation.

Presumably, they wrote what they wrote based on their own past experiences about what was important to mention, with what emphasis, and in what order. A key feature of a meditation practice might have been automatic and implicit for them, so they didn’t think to include it in their writing, or it never became a “thing” for them to consider including in the first place.

I came to their writing with my own past experiences and preconceptions, and those past experiences and preconceptions interacted with their writing to form my interpretation of what to do, how to do it, and why. I may have had “misunderstandings” or I was implicitly doing or not doing important stuff that made a large difference in experience and outcome. One hopes that meditation instructions have a “wide basin of attraction” in that a wide range of interpretations of the practice still set up feedback loops that eventually guide practitioners into doing the right thing. Sometimes this is the case; sometimes it’s not.

That’s not to say I give everyone a free pass. Some stuff was perhaps just sloppy or, in retrospect, perhaps barely checked against a range of student interpretations, to guard against possible misinterpretations before going to print. I recognize that everyone operates under constraints and might do things differently with more time or money. Sometimes it’s a net good just to get a thing out into the world in whatever state it’s in. I’m guilty of all this and more on this blog.

(It’s also worth noting that a lot of stuff on the internet is meant to be consumed alongside simultaneous engagement with a teacher, probably ideally one-on-one. And, for a variety of reasons, I never did that. That’s made at least one prominent teacher and some high-level practitioners place less weight on what I have to say. In my defense, I think that, ideally, artifacts should stand alone. They should be all you need, and I think this is an ideal every artifact producer [writer] should aspire to. Traveling and hanging out with a meditation teacher for days and days is a luxury and a privilege. You should be able to figure it out from a book if you have to, and I think writing for this goal is very achievable.)

But, anyway, when I first started writing this blog I was cranky and accusatory. I wanted to make a mark. I was polemic and uncharitable. I said above that the emotional color was due to my own frustrations and suffering, but a significant reason for writing the blog was that I didn’t want other people to fall into the same traps and to have the same misunderstandings. I really, truly, genuinely felt, and still do, that people were going to get fucked up from stuff that’s out there. (And people have and continue to do so, according to research and anecdotes, both of potentially dubious quality.)

Anyway, anyway, let’s list these out:

  • I wanted to make a mark.
  • And I wanted to help people or reduce the chance of suffering, and I thought I could uniquely do that.
  • And I was cranky from my own aesthetics (epistemic and otherwise), wasted time, and arguably provoked suffering.

Back to the psychoanalysts, if I had to guess without evidence. Those bullets above were probably going on. They wanted to a) experience significance and prominence in their own communities (and to have the experience of being smart, correct, and respected), b) they genuinely thought each other’s stuff was going to potentially fuck up some or a lot of people, and c) they were probably influenced by their own personal bad experiences, e.g. getting psychoanalyzed.

Furthermore, this kind of stuff was probably going on, too:

  • Competition for resources: students, patrons, funding.

People don’t fucking like to be told what to do. They want to do what they want, when the want to do it. They like the predictability of steering their own ship on calm water. This is extremely enticing. I don’t blame anyone for wanting this, and wanting it a lot.

And to compete effectively, whether consciously or not, they needed mindshare. And I imagine that this was a (conscious or unconscious) moral hazard. In my own case, I wasn’t after money, but I did want mindshare. Perhaps I didn’t have to criticize a meditation teacher so harshly. (Part of it was I writing too hastily to be even-handed, but part of it was probably the mindshare thing, too.) I imagine, without evidence, that competition was fierce.

To acquire money and power, you usually need a new school, a new organization, something. Something that seems bigger than one person, and something distinct (and better!) that you can point funders and patrons at. My dad is a social worker in private practice (a descendent of these psychoanalysts!). He relays a story of a psychologist ranting about modern psychotherapy: “No more fucking schools! Do not start another fucking school!” My dad, and a lot of people, want to integrate psychotherapy, to find the best of everything that works and to add in nutrition and every other evidence-based thing they can find. No more fucking schools adding to the fucking noise.

To borrow from Venkatesh Rao via David Chapman. I also want to emphasize that my heart goes out to my imaginary conceptions of these psychoanalysts. I think a large part of the infighting was that they were Rao Clueless / Chapman Geeks, not Rao/Chapman Sociopaths (which is a good thing). I’ve met sociopathic thought leaders who didn’t care about the thing they were pushing as such; they didn’t care about getting it right just that they got money/status/power from it. I think the psychoanalyst luminaries loved their thing for the thing, in itself and because of what they thought it could do. And they wanted to get it right, thus the fighting (which might have been a net negative to some of their goals, as discussed below).

Another dynamic that I noticed within myself: “Whoa, that’s actually pretty good. I want to just add that to my system. But I can’t just add it, even if I use it with credit it feels weird. Alien DNA. I have to somehow tear it apart and rework it and come up with something even better.” (And, not just that, using other people’s stuff, even the least bit recognizably, would lead to decreased mindshare.) I bet that consumed a lot of brainpower too, for better or worse.

(And then, out of scope, there’s the politics is the mind-killer stuff. You can run simulations of how two groups, starting very similarly, polarize as extremely as they possibly can, over time. Or something. And all this kind of stuff, etc., etc.)

  • And, parenthetically, yes, geez, it just feels good to think you’re going to start or reform a movement. And, uh, yup, show everybody. Everybody. That feels good, too.

By the way, over time, I did soften my stance on a lot of meditation teachers and the good that they were doing. I began to see more of the “net good” side of their work, and I became more sensitive to the fact that I couldn’t have constructively reacted to their stuff… without their stuff. I noticed another thing, too: that human tendency to knee-jerk criticize the crap out of other people’s stuff, to judge it harshly as quickly as possible. I think this has to do with wanting to feel safely superior and looking for early clues of such, so you can lock that shit down in your head. One meditation teacher noted that, over time, he came to understand that, what with their bizarre appropriation and misunderstanding and warping of all sorts of traditional stuff, those other meditation teachers really did know their stuff. For some things.


So what to do with this? Everybody wants as much safety and security as they can acquire. And people are really fascinated with these theory and tools that they’re crafting, which can help or hurt. And everybody’s got an opinion, for emotional and epistemic reasons. (“Oh my god, you’re hurting people and you don’t even realize it! Also, you funders should give me money.) And that helping or hurting? That’s real consequences, real stakes.

I feel like this is a sociology-complete problem, as is pretty much everything. There’s plenty of empiricism and epistemology and consequentialism and utilitarianism in there, too, to be sure. But I think sociology might dominate all of it, in terms of that getting the most good for the most people part… because defining and agreeing on that… that’s a sociological problem.

In the paragraphs above, I listed many of the factors at play in theory-and-practice infighting. I’m sure there are many more. And the whole situation is “anti-inductive” in that people are really smart and they’ll continually rewrite the rules of the game with respect to all the factors above.

It all has to be taken into account, every factor, every influence, including anti-inductiveness, to deconvolve these influences and get out more goodness. I suppose the first step is to be aware of as many factors as you can and how they operate within yourself. It’s made of people.

So, yeah, good meditation, good psychological health, and I really do want to integrate the perspectives and concerns of millions of voices, billions of bloggers, say. Their hopes and hurts, what is and isn’t working. One-size-fits-all is violent in that it will always do damage at the ever-evolving tails unless those voices are somehow heard without drowning out the best-most-healthiest stuff that society can produce for the widest range of people with the currently limited resources at hand.

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Filling in the Future [Version 0.0] [4000 words]: Methodology for filling in the immediate and long-term future, for personal and general strategy, rational coordination, and trust

(General content note: A lot of my thinking has really changed since the old days of this blog. There’s some weird, mean, and polemic stuff in there.)

[New? Start here:]

Content warning: This document briefly uses some vivid, obscene, “unprofessional” language in an example.

Status: Version 0.0. May not survive contact with reality. Also, rambling that requires perseverance. Could have better intros and outros in and between sections for context. Haven’t kept some promises made in the text. And much more.


  • Rationale and Overview
    • “for personal and general strategy”
    • “rational coordination and trust”
  • Key Building Blocks and Clearing Up Possible Misconceptions
  • Before You Start: Considerations for Coordinating Amongst Different Building Blocks
  • Block: Now (Starting Conditions)
  • Block: Otherwise
  • Blocks: Then and If
    • Motivation
    • Strategy
  • Block: Because
  • Iterating, Prioritization, and Uncertainty
  • Coordination and Trust
    • Conversational Norms
    • Perspectives and Meta-perspectives
    • Argumentation Burden
  • Conclusion

Rationale and Overview

“filling in the immediate and long-term future”

The basic idea in this document is to iterate on developing an explicit world model, a mega-concept that includes starting conditions, rules for how those conditions evolve over time, and snapshots of future conditions. I hope to address issues such as combinatorial explosion and uncertainty in the remainder of the document.

“for personal and general strategy”

A world model can include can include interventions, contingencies, opportunities, desired futures, undesired futures, unintended consequences, and much more. Such a model can be used to make strategic choices at a personal or group level to bring about desired world states. Below I will address how to incorporate these concepts into a world model. Additionally I will discuss the strategic concepts of equifinality and multifinality.

“rational coordination and trust”

Jointly building up and jointly understanding the same world model may greatly facilitate coordination between two or more agents. It’s also possible that doing so, under certain circumstances, in certain ways, might actually disrupt coordination.

Below I will address some pragmatics, emotional dynamics, and some mildly game theoretic aspects of coordination, which may or may not especially pertain to the joint construction of an explicit world model.

Key Building Blocks and Clearing Up Possible Misconceptions

The process of “filling in the future” involves working with five different main building blocks. You can summarize them like this: “Now, If, Then, Otherwise, Because.” First, I will briefly elucidate these building blocks and then describe how to work with them in much greater detail below.

  1. Now – This building block represents starting conditions. When iterating, as described in detail below, it can represent any snapshot of the state of the world.
  2. If – This building block represents interventions, opportunities, contingencies, etc. This is the building block in which things happen. Both actions by the strategic agent as well as other actors are grouped under the same building block. This will be discussed below.
  3. Then – This building block is the result of things that happen, how the world state has been changed by an If block.
  4. Otherwise – This building block is the result of what would have happened if the If block had not occurred.
  5. Because – This type of building block contains arguments. It is justification for the assertions made in other blocks as well as justification for links between blocks. “Because” blocks may be attached to or subsumed into the other blocks.

The reader may note one of the ontological assumptions made by these building blocks. First, the otherwise block seems to indicate that there is a “world that will happen” if certain events or interventions don’t occur. But, that “world that will happen” may contain all sorts of “events” or “interventions” that aren’t represented by if blocks. What’s going on, here?

First and foremost, the procedure described here is intended to be pragmatic. The brain/mind may more naturally simulate the world in some ways rather than others. The hope is that the explicit methodology described here will work effectively with how the mind actually simulates the world, and augment that, while compensating for its limitations. I’ve tried to design these procedures with a nod to both a) theories of causality (because of their elegance and concision) but also b) introspection into how my mind naturally, or not so naturally, is already working to fill in the future.

So, the “building blocks” are in fact each collections of overlapping (symbolic, nonsymbolic, cognitive, noncognitive) practices or orientations. Indeed, the building blocks are not intended to be “strongly typed” or even clearly semantically defined and bounded, though I’ll go into much more detail for each block. It’s also not intended that these building blocks necessarily be represented as discrete boxes in a flowchart or diagram, especially as “compression” (described below) comes into play.

It’s important to remember that what ultimately matters is the living, felt mental model that is cultivated and instantiated in the methodology users’ minds, and how well an explicit artifact supports that, whatever its form. Can the felt world model be fluently deployed, in real-time, for action and reasoning? Can the conceptual world model be communicated efficiently and clearly to others? And can the explicit artifact be used to inspect, modify, and refresh the conceptual world model in the users’ minds? This is what ultimately matters.

(And of course, does the world model accurately reflect reality or at least does its use make the desired future more likely to happen…)

Before You Start: Considerations for Coordinating Amongst Different Building Blocks

The next few sections will describe what you might put inside different blocks and things to do when you’re focused on a particular block. The order of the sections below isn’t necessarily the order in which you’ll work on different blocks. For example, you might start off with if blocks, listing off things to do, choices you could make, “shoulds,” etc. Additionally, you may rapidly switch between and amongst blocks as you’re working, and, if you’re working in prose, there may not be “blocks” as such at all, only mental moves that roughly correspond (or not) to each of the five blocks.

Block: Now (Starting Conditions)

This building block, or collection of building blocks, or prose, etc., etc., represents the current known state of the world. One might describe the way things are, what’s currently happening. Here one might describe what exists and the relationships between them. There may be complex ontological assertions both at the object level and the “rule” level. There may be considerable overlap between this block and corresponding because blocks, because there will be lots of assertions and possibly justifications for what currently is.

Additionally, there will could be plenty of overlap between now blocks and otherwise blocks, depending on what thinking and phrasing feels most natural to you. For example, the now block might contain beliefs and expectations you currently have about what’s going to happen “if you do nothing.” But, those beliefs and expectations could just as well be put into an otherwise block further to the right on your diagram or further down the page. That is, if you’re more interested in the state of the world as such, it may be better to offload those thoughts about the future all into an otherwise block, without explicitly calling them out as “beliefs about.”

The above paragraph was vague. The main point is that there is tremendous ontological freedom and flexibility in how you carve up and map the world. And those choices may very much matter in terms of efficiency (time spent and artifact compression) and effectiveness (what’s really going on and have you captured it). I recommend deeply feeling into the edges and flickers of your mind around the topic, really feeling for “what’s actually going on,” as well as spending time in dreamy reverie to see what your mind coughs up (and then catch it before it disappears!). And, of course, doing this will change your ontologies and beliefs, as you explicate and iterate and argue.

Block: Otherwise

This block is for “what’s going to happen if you do nothing,” or the world as it’s going to be if “this” isn’t “handled.” I explicitly called out this block as a block because this seems to be a very natural way the mind thinks. And the main clue that you have otherwise content is emotions. Emotions are felt because of shadows of possible futures. We feel the future in the present. And, often, we experience the emotion more explicitly and easily than the often implicit “future simulation content.” And, it’s easier for my brain to lie at me with words than emotions. The emotions are what I “really think” about what’s going to happen and why. Rather, the emotions are clues to what I “really think,” or that there is some “what I really think” waiting to be understood.

I’ll chop up emotions into two classes. (And I’m speaking very informally and semantically blurry, here. I’ll probably discuss some stuff below that aren’t emotions but tend to arise together with them.) First, there are the punctate emotions (thrills of excitement, dread, fear, etc.) and then, second, there are the global emotional states, sort of a pervasive feeling about, say, your life situation, that colors behavior and cognition for minutes, hours, days, or years.

Both kinds of feelings provide information about what you “really” think. Rather, sometimes your emotions are pattern-matching and they’re quite wrong. But, often, they grasp reality with breadth and precision that your analytical/verbal mind can’t (initially or ever) quite fully understand. When you analyze and symbolize you abstract, you leave stuff out. Regrettably, it’s true that the parts of the mind that trigger emotions are subject to priming, anchoring, and focusing biases (and all misconceptions from past, compartmentalized, and unreflected-upon experience). But, they also grasp intricacy and subtlety and shaded, presymbolic multiplicity and complexity that is in many ways “smarter” or more nuanced, more precise, or more correct, than any arguments the “intellectual mind” makes at those emotions.

Of course, listening and honoring and explicating and healing the implicit content behind those emotional signals is a process. I would assert that until your emotions stop distracting you or arguing with you, there is still additional highly relevant otherwise to be sussed out. And it may be highly counterintuitive, highly (intellectually) unexpected, out of left field, outside of all your current models of the world and how it works, etc., etc., etc. But, again, relevant, often in personally important ways, however seemingly tangential to the possibly “professional” problem at hand. (Put yourself into your world model!)

In any case, the otherwise block is for system one and system two beliefs about “what’s going to happen” in the case that “you or your team does nothing” or “does things in the way it’s always been done,” or, “follows the path of least resistance.”

Blocks: Then and If

The then block is typically for intended and unintended consequences. Intention can span many levels of abstraction or be part of a long chain, so there will can be considerable overlap between then blocks and if blocks. That is, “moving your hand” can also be “drawing a picture,” can also be “adding to my portfolio,” can also be “furthering my career.” That is, in a certain sense, “moving your hand” is “furthering your career.” This is framing or ontology, depending on how you look at it, but, in any case, you might find a lot of then block material also in if blocks and vice versa. And you’ll probably be working on both if blocks and then blocks simultaneously.

You may want to think about “coulds,” “shoulds,” wants, desires, hopes, dreams, longings, goals, and requests, as well as fears, worries, concerns, unintended consequences, worst case scenarios, everything in between, etc., etc. (And there may be multiple if and then blocks in long chains or trees of ends and means, etc.) Of course, we’re mixing together “is” and “ought” in these blocks.

(Thens can be “micro,” too: emotional changes, conversational turns. You can model the world at any relevant spatial, temporal, and conceptual scale.)

If blocks contain “doing” and “events” and whatever seems to fit: things that you can do or not do, as well as things that can happen to you or out in the world, and much more. It can be helpful to divide things up into a) interventions (that you can make; choices) as well b) opportunities (was that world can change that open up new options for you), and c) contingencies (bad stuff that can happen to mess up your plans).

(Again, ifs, opportunities, contingencies might better find themselves implicitly or explicitly folded into otherwise blocks, depending on what feels right and makes sense for grasping the situation.)

If blocks, depending on immediacy and abstraction level, can also be your todo lists, your “maybes,” your projects, etc. (Aspects of projects can also be represented as thens.) Just as with thens, an if might span a minute or span a year, depending on the collections of abstraction levels that you’re working at.

For contingencies and opportunities, it can sometimes be helpful to think in terms of “known knowns,” “known unknowns,” “unknown knowns,” and “unknown unknowns.”


You know you’re on to something with your ifs and thens (and all the other blocks) when you’re already in motion, already acting in the world, before you even retrospectively realize it. Motivation and action are ideally effortless, spontaneous, and automatized. Deliberate choice and action aren’t necessarily a bad thing; that’s a lot of the time. But deliberate action can also be considered a mild warning sign. And “should but can’t get myself to” should be a sign that something has gone horribly wrong.

Just like with emotions–how emotions, often, are extremely stubborn in very smart ways–it’s quite similar with motivation. Motivation is, in some ways, a deeply sophisticated bullshit detector: if you don’t actually believe X will work (enough) or be worth it (enough), then often you’ll experience no (or at least less) motivation. And sensitive explication tools, just like with emotions, can yield critically important information about self and world.

I’m playing with the term “operational specificity.” There’s probably a better way to say it. But you want to help your brain really see the immediate levers with which to move the world. The brain ideally grasps it all, all at once, from start to finish, including the most immediate of actions. And, in that full grasping, believes it will succeed. And you know you’ve got that, or enough of it, or the beginnings of it, or at least the first steps on the path, when you’re already in motion.

(Delicate application of teeth-gritting willpower can be an ingredient, too, just not something to be consistently relied on. Better to use willpower to work on your system than in your system, usually.)


If and then are of course also the realm of strategy. This is where concepts like proximal and terminal goals, ends and means, and equifinality and multifinality come in.

Equifinality is when multiple paths lead to the same goal. Multifinality is when a single “action” leads to multiple goals. Both can be strategic.

[Much more could go here!]

Block: Because

This type of block is for justification. It can be helpful to make a distinction between “is” and “ought” arguments. Typically, you’ll be presenting arguments for why something is a thing, why something is the way it is, why things are going to go a particular way, or why particular interventions are going to produce particular effects. Prioritization will generally be discussed below. But, it’s worth noting that arguments can be attempted about any aspect of the world model and can lead to massive updates and improvements to the world model. Furthermore, arguments are how you make the world model vivid, real, and true to anyone you’d like to communicate the world model to.

In because blocks, you might cite or develop meta-models or general models that apply to “conditions on the ground” in your specific world model. For example, you might find or formulate or justify principles, rules, heuristics, theories for which conditions (nows, ifs) in your world model can be “inputs,” and these meta-models and general models might be arguments for how to turn those inputs into outputs, as arguments for what might or will happen (thens, otherwises). This can lead to very useful compression if the same becauses can be applied in multiple places.

[Much more could go here!]

Iterating, Prioritization, and Uncertainty

Iterating is the actual act of working on your explicit world model, actually creating or doing the blocks above. You may want to think in these terms:

  1. Extending
  2. Recursing
  3. Pruning
  4. Compressing

You extend and recurse by adding or dividing up blocks as you see fit and possibly by asking, “What’s next?,” or “What happens in here?,” or “What happens just before or after this?”

Pruning typically happens when events happen in the world (which changes opportunities and relevancy) or during argumentation.

Compressing happens when you find patterns and regularity, and you’re able to parsimoniously express the same information using much less “ink.”

Critically, building out a world model of what will or could happen can lead to a combinatorial explosion, a branching tree of possibilities. You have to make choices about what to explicitly represent and how to spend your time. And, over time, how you make those choices will change as you learn better heuristics or the state of the world changes.

Additionally, the size and form of your world model can make it harder to use or update. It’s so, so important to focus on what matters, at the level of abstraction that matters, in the order that matters (because building the world model takes up real time in the real world). You might be messing with your world model a lot, or not, but the point is to effectively mess with the world. And if you have a huge, unwieldy flow chart or document (or collections of flow charts and documents), wrestling with that might or might be the best way to spend your time, depending on what you’re trying to do. Or maybe that’s exactly how you should be spending your time, or somewhere in between…

[Much more could go here!]

Coordination and Trust

Of course, working on a world model together, or sharing world models, may greatly enhance coordination and trust. It’s also possible that there could be weird, counterintuitive effects that could turn everyone into hated enemies or something. Testing required.

Here, I want to comment on a few issues.

Conversational Norms

It’s probably well worth considering how to facilitate particular conversational norms when working together on an explicit world model. This is especially important when the world model contains the people working on it!

It may be very helpful to attempt a norm where it’s ok and appreciated when everyone enumerates each other’s most heinous, evil-all-along, backstabby scenarios. People should of course do themselves, too.

Probably even more important is not the the “evil-all-along” cases, but what I call the “worst fear, insulting, bumbling oblivious stupidity as they sail off to do I-knew-it-all-along, aimless, idiotic things that waste time and/or ruin everything” cases.

I’ve been thinking about the best way to get these out there in an emotionally safe way. “I’m worried you’re dumb. I’m worried I’m dumb. I’m worried you’re worried I’m dumb…”

I’m thinking something like this:

“All possible worlds are fair game. I know this is hilarious and unlikely, but let’s pretend we each get a set of very precisely located brain aneurysms and start executing our most likely weird, irrational, extended automatisms. And also the case where the aneurysms make us become insanely paranoid and or actively malevolent.”

It could be helpful to work out a list of extreme, stereotyped behaviors and to work out what each person would do under each of those classes of behavior.

More things to consider are moral hazards, “got mine; checking out,” wasted effort, work going into the void, etc.

Importantly, we want to make it safe to say anything. I think a couple particular emotional reactions we’re trying to avoid. CONTENT WARNING: I’m going to state them hilariously and obscenely:


Ok. With the aneurysm thing above, these reactions above are what we’re trying to avoid. And in good faith:

“Look, we all harbor deeply skeptical concerns about each other because we all deeply care about making these particular goals into a reality. We’re deeply skeptical and suspicious, far over and above how we actually feel about each other as people, because we all care so, so much about making this happen. We all want it to succeed, to really, really succeed no matter what. We’re all on the same team. So let’s be professionals and systematically work through these really, real, ridiculous concerns we have about each other. True or not, ludicrous or not, paranoid or unempathetic or completely off-base or not, it will increase trust and cross-pollinate all sorts of useful considerations into the world model. This is part of kicking ass and taking names and crushing everything in our path, and/or really enjoying each other’s company while we’re doing it.”

Perspectives and Meta-perspectives

Systematic, mutual explication, combined with argumentation, may make deception harder and may facilitate trust. It’s always possible that someone will be able to model yet-one-level-deeper than the other person so as to outmaneuver them. (Think the Princess Bride scene with the poison.) “You think that I think that you think that I think that you think…”

The Princess Bride scene also contains another lesson in that explication itself is a weapon that can potentially be wielded against other people explicating with you (or one can manipulate other people to use explication against themselves). It obfuscates by highlighting, by directing attention. When you put something in you’re usually leaving something else out, no matter how hair-splitting and comprehensive. Furthermore, first choices can lock on a particular frame or perspective that hides much of which is now tremendously subtle in this particular model of reality.

Depending on what’s explicated, it can make it harder to anticipate some adversarial “left field,” anti-inductive, (now) super surprising, tacit-reality-needle-threading moves.

[Include more here about “[deep] emotional land mines” (i.e. triggered, extreme, and/or impulsive behavior).]

Argumentation Burden

And, finally, it’s worth noting that working with an explicit methodology like this can facilitate mundane interpersonal dynamics like status plays or putdowns. For example, asking for an argument right then can be legitimate but it can also be a way to subtly mess with someone, or both. It should be an explicit norm to be able to ask for an argument for needing an argument [sic]. And, finally, let’s all be genuinely warm to each other, in good faith.


Sometimes the mind grasps and grasps at possible ways forward, possible actions to take, but, over and over, nothing plausible and motivating comes up. Depending on life situation, a person’s future can be vague. There might be nothing concrete to latch onto. But, one can deliberately simulate the future, deliberately generate concrete content in the absence of external inputs. Generation of structured cognitive content, in the absence of external input, is a skill that can be developed over time. (It comes into play during writing as well.)

Of course, that content could be “wrong” or misleading or a waste of time or worse than a waste of time (opportunity cost). But, you’re creating an artifact, via an artifact-cognitive feedback loop, and that artifact can be iteratively bootstrapped into something relatively dense, precise, accurate, powerful, and actionable, for some people, in some life situations, some of the time.

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transfer of complex and long-time-scale procedural knowledge freewriting

(General content note: A lot of my thinking has really changed since the old days of this blog. There’s some weird, mean, and polemic stuff in there.)

[New? Start here:]

This is a rambling mess and comes from a conversation with a peer. I didn’t want it to get lost. A bunch of key explications are from him; mistakes are mine.

Highly related:

Slightly less related but still pretty related:

“Virtue of the void…” basically the idea that that master or guru actually did the thing by trying to do the thing. And now he’s trying to talk about it, to sell it (not necessarily in a bad sense) and to help people get there more easily than he did. So he gives some sort of instructions. “But people might focus too much on the instructions and less on actually doing the thing.” This is similar to Yudkowsky’s virtues of rationality thing where he references musashi (don’t do the thing, do the thing you’re actually trying to do by doing the thing) and CFAR’s “key insight behind all the techniques” thing, so you can modify and make your own techniques, as needed. Want to be building up a concept of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. And if that’s not evolving or changing over time then something’s probably wrong because it’s highly unlikely you’ll have the right concepts right off the bat.

Sort of quinian bootstrapping: signifiers first and only hypothetical signifieds and incorrect referents first. And eventually you’ll hopefully hit upon the right referents and the correct signifieds. Might be refined or completely wrong several times. “Oh, that’s what e means. Oh wait no, *that’s* what e means…” (In fact, elegantly designed instructions can actually support this, supporting multiple levels of further and further refined understanding, even those with discontinuous jumps between them. Docs that can be read at multiple levels of meaning.)

This also has to sort of do with the degeneration of scientific or methodological cultures, in a way. Logical positivists, behaviorists… Somehow old knowledge was rejected, even though much of it was useful. What’s going on here? One good idea and then overreaction, or rather, over application to everything or overly rigid application, or application at the expense of everything else? One good idea and then politics and social gaming for status and resources? For the logical positivists, the behaviorists, the postmodernists, it’s like there’s are some good ideas in there but there’s also a performative contradiction.

More: Explication of a good idea, and strategically explicating what was important at the time, but important implicit stuff was lost as people died and new people came in? Because it wasn’t emphasized? Because it was taken for granted? So it degenerated over time or was lost because of discontinuities—deaths where the master didn’t have a student and so forth.

So, one thing to do is to be aware of all these issues and to try to be really, really clear about how to do the thing. I would think that, inevitably something is still going to be lost in translation, because you left something out that wasn’t salient to you but would be critically important to other people because they didn’t take the path that you did and have different experiences and don’t automatically, effortlessly, already do this tacit thing X that’s absolutely necessary. They need to stumble on it, reason it out, or be told. (And those non-automatic, need-to-be-told things could change from culture to culture and time to time.)

So, another thing besides just trying to be really clear and complete (and also besides bringing up all the issues above right in the instructions which could be really helpful!) is to explicitly bring out dualities. So, come down really hard on one side and then, consciously, deliberately back up and say the opposite is important too.

Really, part of the issue is that instructions need to be compressed to some extent or that instructions are lossy compression, especially with like algorithms to follow. For example, you should do X often, but sometimes you shouldn’t, and sometimes you should do Y, but you do Y only after Z except when Q happens and in those cases you still do X. And there’s all this other stuff you should probably be doing between the capital letter conditions, and those may or may not have their own set of intertwining lower case letters, or whatever.

And maybe you could actually chop things up completely differently so that it’s not so complicated (not so many letters) but so it still gets at all the important stuff (or you then inevitably leave yet something else out…).

Another important thing is sort of having instructions about following instructions, suggestions about when to deviate and when not to deviate and when you especially should deviate and when you especially shouldn’t deviate, and yet even again a layer above that of when you should deviate from *that.* (Sort of gets into metadiscourse-type stuff.) (The focusing six steps online does the first layer, and I’ve got multiple things on my blog about self-determination and ripping into instructions and remaking them into your own thing… so sort of getting behind them, getting at the actually referents or the undifferentiated phenomenological ground, what’s actually going on.)

And that gets into rule-governed vs environmentally contingent behavior. And also my thing, I have no idea where it went, about how objects (concepts, implicit mental models), in some sense, actually allow for non-environmentally contingent behavior. This is true registration, in the Brian Cantwell Smith On the Origin of Objects sense.

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