badness-out-there / evil typology sketch

  • […]
  • wanna say something like:
    • (1) It’s possible to “villainize” a person/leader/community/experience, to project something bad/disgusting/something on it.
    • (1a) And that could be “manufactured” in some way, like the person doing the villainizing was looking for something to blame.
      • (There can also be a thing where a person feels “pressure” or is “rewarded” to be traumatized, by a community or parts of a community, to “perform” being traumatized and so on. They might not realize they’re participating in that. It still feels bad.)
      • (There can also be a thing where someone wouldn’t have been traumatized if everyone around the hadn’t made such a big deal out of it. Complicated community/person interactions, secondary survivors, secondary survivors without primary survivors, so many things.)
    • (1b) It could also be that something happened that one was just hugely not prepared for, whether someone “should”/“could” have done informed consent or not. And the mind will potentially make that thing BAD. (Sometimes someone should have warned you. Sometimes they couldn’t have, but in a ideal world they would have wanted to. Sometimes no one could have predicted, etc. This is sometimes just “temporarily destabilizing” and other times (“actually”) “traumatic” (1c).
    • (1c) Something could be “actually”/”objectively” traumatic (see below.)
    • (1d) It could also be the case that something extra-and-above was going on, something coercive, “evil,” etc. (see below).
  • Regarding (1b), I do think that, in some sense, everything is “grist for the mill,” “everything is metabolizable experience,” and so on. Sometimes a person/brain/mind gets blindsided. And it is what one makes of it. This is true for (1c) and (1d) below, too.
  • And/but, re (1c) I do think trauma is objective. It’s when the mind loses degrees of freedom because something is too painful, too unhandleable. This is “natural,” but it can be cumulative and costly. Because constraint begets constraint. And there is opportunity cost in clearing it up, which can be extremely hard. This can be from being hugely surprised or disappointed. And it can also be from abuse, neglect, etc. The latter sort of bleeds into (1d).
  • And then there’s “objective evil/badness” (1d). In this case someone, or a community downstream of someone, or “something in someone” is actively and creatively working against a person, trying to thwart them, tie them in knots [lose capabilities and degrees of freedom and problem-solving ability and creativity, act against oneself], cause them to have fewer good things now and in the future. This can be from myopic zero-sum competition, desperation, fear, “believing that something bad is good [e.g. destructive competition or nonconsenting sexual domination]. Usually the “evildoer” will have had something terrible happen to them in childhood, overtly or subtly, or they had an experience or series of experiences that they terribly misinterpreted, again possibly because a caregiver had had something terrible happen to them… (I believe the “tying in knots” thing is what Popperians or people who like David Deutch’s work would call coercion.) [Often evil will use language of “truth” and “goodness” and will deny, deflect, shame, blame, argue, “logic,” and stonewall. Sometimes that language will be sincerely felt/meant/believe (“on the surface”; or at least endorsed) and sometimes it will be insincere, or a combination.]
    • There are subsets of this, too.
      • (a) Sometimes the “evil” is reactionary, one-off or three-off or along relatively narrow dimensions. This could be an unsupportive significant other or one who’s crabs-in-a-bucket along a particular dimension. It’d be hard to always call this evil [of course both people could be doing complex, challenging, beautiful, subtle, overt shitty things], maybe it’s “being a culturally unprepared human,” but it bleeds into evil sometimes. [People can be mixed amazing and shitty, mixed empowering and evil. Gotta be strong or hopefully avoid when you can, try to fix them only in extremely narrow circumstances. Can be insidiously sucked in. Can become evil yourself.][I talk in my protocol doc about the “generativity of evil” and the potential subtleness of evil’s methods. This could be thousands of pages, of course.]
      • (b) And then there’s another kind of evil, one that’s more systematic, more planful, more plotting. This can be in the small or in the large. Narcissistic + schizoid + …
  • In any case, one the one hand, with respect to SOME of this, “a good meditation/trip/something is one you did.” (I think Shinzen Young says this for meditation, and there’s something very true, there.) At the same time, particular experiences or communities can be incredibly damaging to someone, in a way that can do harm for decades or a lifetime.
  • And, on the OTHER hand, I think it’s sometimes a terrible abdication of responsibility to put everything on the individual (“it’s *your* responsibility to…process this, extract goodness from this, to ask for what you need, to reject the bad, to figure out how the “bad” here is good…”). And this SOMETIMES firmly bleeds into “actual evil,” at least from a relative standpoint.


It’s possible to • work through blindsidedness, • empower individuality and independence, • heal trauma, • apologize and make amends for being a terrible person, • learn how to coexist, to synergize, to co-create in family or community or institution or project; • to fight to limit evil with the goal of eliciting reparations and transformation (or it’s a big enough world and can just walk away and do big, beautiful things, or quiet, intimate things (that might spread inexorably on their own, or not), elsewhere)


(And then there’s the thing where being terribly traumatized can be a massive learning opportunity and massively empowering if one has the contingency/tools/resources/freedom/privilege to work through it. Presumably sometimes the opportunity costs and (sometimes) long-term issues, e.g. physical issues that maybe don’t 100% heal(??), can still outweigh the benefits even when there is otherwise an abundance of resources. I’m not sure who would retrospectively or prospectively choose this route, but it’s a thing.)

(And then there’s nonarbitrary, still personal-yet-impersonal, maybe, transcendence beyond even the above…, your own meaning, your own everything, on your own terms, and perhaps beyond…)

Someone else’s take on a bunch of stuff in this space:



meditation is not strength-training

I think the repetition/strength-training/functional-reserve model of meditation is pretty misleading. The mind isn’t a muscle. It’s better to think of it as a digital state machine that can self-modify its state transition function, even though this borrows from the dubious computing metaphor. The mind is not analog and not mushy. It is shockingly digital and lossless. Seeming muscle-ness is an abstraction on more fine-grain dynamics. To succeed, one must eventually engage with those dynamics as they are (of course, but models matter). “Strength training” causes people to accumulate a great deal of momentum and cruft that they then have to reverse and undo. I’ve heard stories of people who wish they’d had a better sense of “right effort,” earlier on.* I personally think it’s better to think in terms of puzzle-solving, test-check, and wayfinding right from the start.

An analogy I use is that the mind is made of a tangle of perfectly flexible, perfectly fluid steel cables that are also perfectly incompressible and inelastic. Maybe like cooked spaghetti or heavy rope, but “indestructible” or “unforgiving.” And you can reweave the cables but nothing can be created or destroyed. (This isn’t entirely true because experience tangles in new cable(s) and correct reweavings cause cables to losslessly become one [“elegance collapse”].] No escape but ultimately clear directionality in the space of play.

I think Donald Knuth has an essay somewhere about programming. And he makes an analogy that, when people first start learning programming, they think it’s like drawing, where, if you push harder with the pencil you get a darker line. I *think* the more recent idea of “programming by coincidence” is downstream of this essay. I don’t agree with everything in the essay, if I remember it correctly, but some of the metaphorical/analogical distinctions are great.

Yes, experimenting, yes playing, yes *learning*. But not guessing and hoping, or doubling-down, over and over again!

To back off a little bit, there is something to the “train the microscope then use the microscope.” There is “gathering” of content and method, over and over again. Behavior is, if not digital, then coherent–walking and talking and eating. Some behaviors are digital-ish, like speaking or writing, though they are waves in a preconceptual/postconceptual ocean. And/but/then/anyway it’s like the insights, the microscope(s), get perpetually rewoven through the entire system, while the system retains something of their character. This isn’t quite right, but I think it’s better than the strength-training analogy.

To back off a little bit more, I can imagine the strength-training analogy can be empowering and is a better model than “hapless, hopeless prisoner/captive of one’s own uncontrollable mind”!

But mind as collaborative puzzle-solving coconspirator (albeit with potentially miles and miles of terrible, torturous, self-reflexive, strange-loop confusion) might be better.

*Of the people in the wild who have succeeded or seem to be making inexorable progress, it does seem that “overshooting and correcting” does work. And the more likely failure mode is “not reaching escape velocity.” But, I think explicit wayfinding might be best thing. Not enough theory/data, yet. And, I don’t know how much selection bias is in my (contemporary) “historical” data.


reprogramming vs hacking; software vs firmware vs hardware metaphor of enlightenment (345 words)

The below could be clarified and de-equivocated and de-contradicted tons and tons, but I thought it might be pretty useful for some people. “Enlightenment” isn’t “weird” or “unnatural” or “extreme” or a “hack.” It’s just currently an unusual thing for a person to do.

Fwiw, I don’t think of things in terms of overdriving brain region X, or replacing “what cognition” with “where cognition,” or “attenuating disinhibition circuit Z“… 
This is vague and metaphorical, but my position is that enlightenment is just ultimately pretty low-key (though highly stable) changes in software, not firmware (nor hardware). The body/brain in the relevant senses are just doing the same things they’ve always done. Same operating principles. Also, the firmware/hardware doesn’t need to be hacked or rooted in any way to get the new software to run.
All meditation is doing is tweaking the input (sensory) stream, fractionally improving the “quality” or “learning value” or “Bayesian surprise factor” (whatever, vague, toy model, here) of the incoming data, and that’s enough, a cascading bootstrap, to “naturally” reprogram the entire system, all things being equal. “Learning that meditation is a thing” is the beginning of that cascading bootstrap, seamlessly: There’s not really different data types. In one sense we’re just causal systems bopping around, and stuff is happening to us, and we do some processing and do stuff in response. 
There’s fractal activation energy humps, nonmonotonicity, but the system stably “likes” the new thing better, according to unchanging “bare metal”/genetic/hardwired values. No hacks, no going against the evolutionary grain, nothing like that. The system is lawfully, globally albeit nonmonotonically, “trying” to go in the direction it’s always been trying to go. (“Better predictions,” “better homeostasis,” something.)
Enlightenment is a “natural” outcome of correctly engaging a system that is “naturally flexible” all the way to the “bottom.” The bodymind is just doing what it’s “supposed to do” all the way through.
(Please pardon my overloading “natural,” as well as the telos and anthropomorphism.)
The neuroscience is still going to be super interesting. It’s just going to need another 50 to 150 years, imo. 

general interaction preference matrix (yet another)

This is yet another “interaction ontology.”

The below is a toy model, though I think bits and pieces hew pretty close to real things. The below can be further broken down into subcontexts like:

  • gross/subtle
  • verbal/nonverbal
  • endorsed/disendorsed
  • adult-self/child-self
  • sexual/nonsexual

And, each of A and B will have their entire own, complete version of all of the below. The one below is just A’s:

general interaction preference matrix

There will be healthy and unhealthy versions of all of these! And possibilities and and abilities and preferences and affordances can change over time!





(Text archive of image contents:)

general interaction preference matrix of person A with respect to person B
A likes/dislikes (✓/x)
B ignores A (in ways W for things T in contexts C) ✓/x
B informs A (in ways W for things T in contexts C) ✓/x
B influences A (in ways W for things T in contexts C) ✓/x
A ignores B (in ways W for things T in contexts C) ✓/x
A informs B (in ways W for things T in contexts C) ✓/x
A influences B (in ways W for things T in contexts C) ✓/x