eternity, suffering, death

[Originally published, now with slight updates reflected here and in main doc: ]

[Update: A newer version of this is in the protocol doc.]

[draft status: in need of editing, as per usual]

There’s ways in which the below is inconsistent, confused, and incomplete–it’s not the final word, I still have a LOT to learn, and nor could it ever be consistent and complete, in a deep, philosophical sense. It’s offered because it might be comforting and useful, for some people, as an interim touchstone, or it might help some good things happen fractionally faster, or it’s just interesting. As a recommendation, if you’d otherwise be inclined, don’t particularly try to “make any of this stick”; one sort of has to find their way to this kind of stuff on their own terms, and then you “don’t need to make it stick,” as natural as trusting gravity.


So, many people take refuge in eternity and essentiality, and many people fear death, meaninglessness, and suffering. We encountered those sorts of things somehow already within ourselves, and/or we picked them up from culture, or we confused other people’s stuff with our own, in deep or subtle ways.

So let’s unpack all this a bit more and talk about pluses and minuses and antidotes.


So, IF there’s eternity (timelessness, outside-of-time-ness) then, this is a bit of an incomplete straw, but it kind of follows that everything that has ever existed does always already forever exist and that everything has a fixed, eternal essence. There’s a nearby and simultanously compatible thing, which is “sempiternity,” which means something like “an infinite future” (infinite timefulness, and, maybe necessarily along with that, an infinite past).

Some problematic implications of eternity and sempiternity are that, in some sense, if anything’s wrong with your “essence,” then, depending on how that works, there might be some sense in which it can never be fixed. You’ll be stuck with however you are, and if that’s bad, then that’s infinitely bad.

Additionally, everything becomes infinitely important, any choice has massive stakes, infinite stakes, because it could compound forever without relief. Death might not offer any relief. Anything that produces (“intolerable”) suffering (badness, loss, failure, rejection, loneliness, judgment, uncertainty) is potentially (infinitely) catastrophic. Sure, you might have infinite time to correct your mistakes, but what if, by some chain of events, you find you permanently cannot?


Alongside eternity, as complements or alternatives, there’s also mortality, death, and nothingness.

Problems with these are things like, if death results in nothingness then potentially everything is nihilist and meaningless. And then perhaps there’s no basis for action (or happiness, joy, etc.), perhaps because everything is ephemeral, impermanent–we can’t take it with us, including ourselves, we lose it all, as if it never was, so what’s the point?


And then there’s fragility and uncertainty which sort of underpin the risks of eternity, mortality, and suffering, and kind of take the joy and spontaneity and enjoyment out of everything.


And finally, all these things sort of get tangled together in potentially inconsistent ways. For example, say death if isn’t, for example, conceived as pure nothingness; perhaps it’s unfortunately conceived as sort of potentially an “in-between” state, of maybe trappedness, loneliness, fear, failure, and suffering, and maybe that’s “eternal.”


Ok, so what to do? Maybe just avoid thinking about all this as much as possible? What if you can’t not think about it?

All of the below assumes lots and lots of meditation (or luck/fortune/grace/etc.).


Some of the things that can happen over time are the following, and these are all sort of somewhat entangled together:

Sempiternity and especially eternity can come to be sort of deeply recognized as phenomenologically/pragmatically/epistemically inconsistent. It’s not that one can no longer work/think/model with conceptual and cosmological and mathematical infinity or plan for far futures, but some “literal or functional seating” of these ideas, in the bodymind, can be judged and rejected.

This is partly underpinned by insight into impermanence and/or/rather lack of essence and/or/rather interdependence, as in nebulous, empty, or provisional causes (laws), conditions (“starting” conditions), and spontaneity, through and through. Say it’s all just shimmering stuff or forces and fields or whatever, phenomena or noumena, on the border of differentiation and lack of differentiation. What perhaps follows is sort of a way in which anything like eternity or its implications becomes (literally?) ungraspable. (I might lose some physical or scientific or mathematical realists, here. See below for a tiny bit more on maps and territories and more.)

But isn’t there something like eternity or infinite time or at least vast time? What sort of does the work of that? What kind-of-happens-is-sort-of [sic] an “eternal now” which is sort of immanent, sort of aconceptual. This “eternal now” is very unlike the other “eternity” thing, which perhaps sort of “lived elsewhere.” (This also involves a “‘positive’ nowhere to go,” “just this”-ness.) It’s sort of a better fit for the whole system.

Sounds pleasant, maybe, but maybe literally false? And then what about meaninglessness and suffering and death?

Meaninglessness sort of gets handled by aconceptuality and fluidity and spontaneity. It becomes safe to rest in meaninglessness and pointlessness because there’s sort of something “beneath” them, so loss of meaning isn’t devastating and in need of scrupulous avoidance. And, further, one gains confidence that meaning is either inessential or is at least just always transient, because of systemic fluidity–one doesn’t get “stuck” that way, so it’s safer to go into, and there’s generally (nonmonotonically) something even better on the other side, and especially in the limit. (Spontaneity will be further discussed below.)


Fragility, uncertainty, suffering, and death sort of get handled in a few ways.

Suffering has sort of both “practical” and “general” mitigations. Here we first talk about the “general” mitigation of sort of “no-self-y-ness.” That’s not to say there isn’t often generally coherence and meaning, “self-ing,” but if there’s a disruption of the self and/or “intolerable” suffering, there comes to be a deep way in which it’s “just happening” that doesn’t require a self. (This is sort of coextensive with “no things, including no self, never have/has been, never were, never will be.” (More accurate might be “no stable, permanent, enduring things or self.”) Like, if you are disrupted, then are you still you, there, suffering? Creepy? But, like, in a good/comforting way? And, further, at this point, the “whole system, self and everything” has become extremely good at sort of self-endorsedly “reconstituting” itself, if disrupted. One can kind of rest in an extraordinarily self-aligned and trustworthy spontaneity, because that spontaneity, over time, sort of comes to know just what to do.

With suffering kind of more handled, it can be separated out from death and nothingness. When nothingness is disentangled from various confusions, it becomes much less of a big deal. It’s sort of just like deep sleep (which is still admittedly freaky to think about, for some people); in both cases “you’re not there,” and it’s fine while it lasts. It’s not like you’re there and trapped or there and can’t breath, and so on: it’s just nothing. And, so then “nothing” is especially not some sort of “experientially eternal” bad thing. So, again, much less of a big deal.

So then with suffering kind of more handled and nothingness kind of more handled, then death is kind of more handled–it’s the potential suffering leading up to death that can be super scary to think about, the (“intolerable”) fear of (imminent) death and the dying, versus being dead (in the case that death is “experiential nothingness.”) And, again, the spontaneous-no-self-just-happing-ness kind of helps with this.

Further, the “eternal now” can have a “soothingly deathless” feel. Sort of, as in, “if death is nothingness then you won’t know that you’re dead,” so you’ll always only ever be alive, and if “now is eternal” then you’re immortal-ish, etc.

All of this is sort of positively entangled (and deeply related to) the “practical mitigation” of suffering, i.e. “deconditioning.” People typically have a great deal of “cue-able” or triggerable suffering that gets worked through in the course of meditation. Prior to working through things, we are sort of uncontrollably, prereflectively, “already” freaked out by things before we become conscious of them. And so that happening less and less, for fewer and fewer things, is sort of part and parcel with the more general antidotes above.


But, like, you want things, and lots of people, all things being equal, prefer not to die, a lot, at the very least. If death becomes even remotely less of a concern, won’t people be less good or vigilant about avoiding death? And isn’t that kind of inconsistent and so isn’t that a good reason to fear death and uncertainty?

What kind of happens is a sort of “positive behavioral indifference” in that more and more things get handled and worked out such that “no matter what happens this is the best plan,” “you’re fully up to date,’ in ultimately a deep and prereflective way. So, like regardless of whether you’re (uncertainly) going to die in five minutes or fifty years or one thousand years, your “plan” is intertemporally consistent with respect to all those contingencies. Given your context, limitations, uncertainties, knowledge, there’s both “nothing to change” and you’re fluidly “updating your plan” in each moment as more sensory evidence comes in. And so, you’re avoiding cars, poking at life extension, somehow eating both healthy and deliciously, anything, in a way that fully accounts for your preferences. And “death” is kind of mostly-/semi-background handled in a way that doesn’t self-defeatingly loom large; it doesn’t suboptimally take up ongoing rumination time at the expense of other things; though, it might be innocuously and consistently threaded through things in a way that naturally comes up. All of this is perhaps one facet of “wisdom.”


This might all be well and good but what about something like impingement or corruption. Like what about mind control parasites (toxoplasma gondii) or Alzheimer’s or traumatic brain injury or whatever? What if I figure out a bunch of stuff about “eternity” and feel pretty good about that, but then I have a stroke and “lose” a bunch of it?

First of all, the brain is kind of holographic and reconstitutive. Maybe surprisingly, if stuff reaches a “ground state,” versus a person trying to make stuff stick, even traumatic brain injury, all things being equal, doesn’t necessarily mean a bunch of stuff is even transiently lost. And, even if “something” (loosely speaking) is lost due to physical or chemical insult, all things being equal, a “deeply settled meditative mind” will spontaneously work/flow towards rederiving/reconstituting what was disrupted (or will find something even better).

But, in any general case, life is messy and death is messy.

To be sure, people do have terrible brain things happen and, outside view, come through with unchanged personalities. But, sometimes a single microstroke will, outside view, radically alter a person’s personality or produce anosognosia, not to mention complexly related fatigue and anxiety (though, all things being equal, a long-term meditator does have a greater chance of “finding their way back,” very very loosely and reductively speaking).

Nothing remotely guarantees health, wealth, a “good death,” sanity, neurological integrity, a long life, immortality, “thinking real good,” hot sex, whatever. And, at the very least, at the time of this writing, meditation doesn’t free you from having a physical brain, subject to decay, demyelination, amoebas, car accidents, or anything.

All that said, a lot of the “antidotes” above generally hold, even in these most challenging of “edge cases” or one’s concern about them. Deconditioning, over time, promotes constructive action and handledness of various contingencies, which obviates and “integrates away” unconstructive worrying. “Best plan”-ness allows for a rich, full life in the light of death, not self-limited by fear or accident (in relative relation to one’s beliefs about risks, tradeoffs, etc.) “No-self-y-ness” and “trustworthy self-aligned robust spontaneous self-reconstitution” helps with acute accident and illness and suffering. Lots of other metaphysical and cosmological and conceptual stuff gets refactored and cleaned up, over time, which mitigates all sorts of unnecessary suffering.

But, yeah, there’s still uncertainty and finitude (modulo dissolving into Brahman, as it were, and eternal nows)–no guarantees about anything.

So here’s yet a couple more globally interrelated things to throw into the mix: determinism and provisionality.

Eventually, through life and meditation, one might get a deep sense of determinism, that, in some sense (pick your cosmology and physics and supervenience and etc.), everything can’t but happen exactly as it has happened, is happening, and is going to happen, via causes and conditions, states and evolution laws (or something kind of like this, in your metaphysics). You are happening just as you’re going to happen, things are happening just as they’re going to happen, including your choices and everything. What’s exactly going to happen is just exactly what’s going to happen. This can be kind of both terrifying and ultimately soothing, by turns, a particular kind of loss of control. But, eventually one can comprehensively sort of align with it, participate in it, deeply, stably, with no remainder. And there’s a deep freedom in that.

Further, in that freedom, there is a certain provisionality. You really don’t know. Was what just happened ultimately good or bad? You really don’t know. What’s going to happen next? You’re “flowing forward” with respect to sort of your best guess as to what’s going to happen next. But anything could happen next, maybe not with respect to the world out there (in some sense), but at least with respect to your current state of knowledge (in some sense). Falsely thin probabilistic tails give way to more appropriate fat probabilistic tails.

And, amidst the sometimes ghastly, horrible, painful, sorrowful, determinism and provisionality are facilitative of curiosity, engagement, play, delight, participation, a cosmic poise, a cosmic opportunism: a bright-eyed, let’s see what happens next.


If you found anything above to be inconsistent or untenable or unsatisfying or false or unworkable, it’s just my own gestural snapshot of some interrelated things, and a low-dimensional projection into words, at that. Things will continue to unravel, settle, resettle for me over time. “Your thing,” on your terms, which will, say, be a living, sensitive dialogue, ultimately not separate from the being and seeming and acting in and of the world, has to be legitimate and credible and consistent and/or constructively nebulous for you.

And it can dialogue with other people’s things/deals, too, in comfort, love, intimacy, support, frustration, outrage, solitude, community, all of it, as part of that. Hell and heaven, eternity set aside, are other people, and all that.


* Whoops, also, I didn’t mean to imply that anyone has to sort any of this out, whether by meditation or anything. And, also, nothing special has to happen in meditation or etc.. This sort of stuff “just pops out”, all things being equal, in the course of correct practice.


don’t be here now

[Originally published: ]

Many people, deep, deep down (or at multiple “levels”) are seeking an elsewhere, an elsewhen. They’re trying to step outside the universe, break the universe, step through a portal, step to another side, into books, movies, daydreams, somewhere else, another planet, another dimension, somewhere safe, somewhere beyond death, somewhere with adventure, somewhere with love, just somewhere else.

Sometimes this is from parts of us not quite understanding, for example, as children, what books, tv, and movies actually mean, how the relate to the world around us; that material “gets in” (and that can be fine and is normal). And, sometimes, this comes just as a strategy for being safe or just getting away from the banal, terrifying, mortal, crushingly boring “tyranny of the here and now.”

These “portals” and other “places” are sort of instantiated through “inner space phenomenology” and “motor output” phenomenology that can introduce contradiction and contention in problem-solving and muscle/motor planning. And/but, in any case, these portals and places are also sometimes deeply sacred and meaningful.

There’s sort of a “double escape” thing that can happen—we sort of escape “towards” these other portals and worlds and dimensions (say, for safety, freedom, meaning). And/but, then we also sort of force ourselves “towards” some conception of “reality” or the “the real world” (also for safety—food, shelter, money—and sometimes this is where love and friends are, too, and sometimes not). So this introduces a sort of (fractal) “hitches” or “twists” or “switchbacks” in this system, where if we don’t go back and “recover,” honor, allow, integrate, receive, surrender to those beautiful, meaningful, “other places” and the ways to get to them, then our attempts to “function” in “the real world,” are kind of held back and stymied, to the point of muscle tension and more. This hitches takes modal/problem-solving “slack” out of the system, pull it tight, make things harder or slower or impossible-seeming. Further, beauty and meaning, being locked away in “other places,” can prevent us from finding wonder, meaning, love, competency, safety, strength, intimacy, wisdom, gratitude, grace, power, joy, community, adventure in the here and now.

It’s a bit of a roundabout journey: Sometimes the way to “here and now” involves going to the farthest reaches of fantasy. Further, we have confusions about here and now (and death and nothingness and a paperwork and jobs and all sorts of things) that make here and now excruciatingly boring, painful, and scary. So, any instructions that look like “be here now” can be pretty problematic for some people, some of the time. It’s confusing result with journey.

Further, *don’t take my word or anyone’s that “here and now” is good, or anything.* We have to find our own way, which, again, might look like five years (or forever!) writing (erotic robot vampire) fantasy and science fiction. “Here and now” is empty, nebulous. “Reality” is empty, nebulous. “Just this” is empty, nebulous. In any case, you still have to find your own way, “subjectively through your own self and world.” Which can take a long time and sort of be sometimes lonely and intimidating. But, that means you will not, cannot, must not leave behind anything you value, no matter how childish, cringe, weird, disgusting, beautiful, meaningful, sacred.

Structure-preserving transformations, that seek “wrong/erroneous/misdirected efforting,” over many thousands of hours, are one way for someone to “eventually make their way all the way down” to the parts of ourselves that, for very good, though sometimes confused, but not to them, reasons, are trying so, so hard to be somewhere else, for beauty, meaning*, safety, and connection.

And then, after that, sometimes things are simple, quiet, easy, rewarding, engaging, exciting in ways you couldn’t have imagined before. (And also sometimes ghastly, tragic, excruciating, and so on! But, in some sense, all of this is yours to navigate on your terms.) Invariants such as love and gratitude may coalesce and shine through more and more.


root cause of overeating and a meal

[See also: ]

[UPDATE: I now tentatively think something weird is up with sweet potatoes, even though they’re supposed to have pretty mild antinutrient effects. To be continued… Possibly seek another source of vitamin A (and possibly other things), but vitamin A may be the 80/20 thing to focus on. Or try limiting them to like 1x/week or something.]

Note: I’m not a doctor, this isn’t medical or nutritional advice, I’m not moralizing, and I’m leaving out some hedging and qualifying.

I’m pretty sure now that all overeating (and unwanted weight gain) is micronutrient deficiency transients and dynamics.

If someone takes an RDA bolus of copper in the morning and an RDA bolus of zinc in the evening, that won’t do anything useful. If they take an RDA bolus of copper and zinc at the same time (so they’re in the same ratio at the same time), even that won’t do anything useful.

What has to happen is (a) the right things, in (b) the right ratios, in (c) the right absolute amounts, (d) titrated over a time interval.

Unsurprisingly, “whole foods,” or “unengineered foods,” moving slowly through one’s intestines, is how one achieves (d) titrated over a time interval.

Also, our taste buds get the ratios right, if we put the right foods in front of ourselves, and we (e) exercise at least just enough that all the fuel burning systems are still running right even when we’re not exercising.

When someone is binging/overeating and/or gaining weight, one of (a), (b), (c), (d), or (e) is missing. The body has to desperately eat too much of something to get too little of something, sometimes until overfull, and the body can’t shed the excess fast enough and has to put on weight to get things out of bloodstream that have no other place to go. (And then if that isn’t fully sufficient, things start getting deposited in the circulatory system itself.)

Maybe try this:

  • Put in bowl, ratios to taste (maybe heat some things before adding other things):
    • red meat (protein)
    • long-roasted sweet potato (“slow” carbohydrates; lots of vitamins)
    • olive oil (“mostly neither polyunsaturated fat nor saturated fat”)
    • iodized table salt (sodium, chloride, iodine)
    • beans (“slow” carbohydrates; lots of vitamins; can be from a can and rinsed)
    • a little bit of butter (saturated fat and a complex mix of other fats)
    • dash of MCT oil
  • Put in large mug, ratios to taste (let sit for a bit for the oats to soften and the frozen blueberries to melt, mix by hand/don’t blend):
    • orange juice supplemented with calcium and D3 (can titrate with regular orange juice for less calcium and D3; vitamin C; potassium)
    • uncooked rolled oats (they’ll still be pasteurized; magnesium)
    • ground flax seed (polyunsaturated fat: omega-3, omega-6; minerals)
    • blueberries (lots of vitamins; can be frozen)
    • a little bit of hydrolyzed collagen (protein that emphasizes other amino acids to balance muscle meat ratios)
  • Also:
    • Drink water when otherwise thirsty.

The above has pretty much everything the body needs, in a single meal. Note that this covers all electrolytes. One could add salmon, egg yolks, some broth of some sort, and maybe a little edamame every so often. Upgrades could be higher quality choices like organic, ethically sourced, etc. If you try this, you might find it very satisfying and that you’re not hungry for many, many hours afterwards, and that weight loss picks up after a few days.

preliminaries for communal, meta-rational, institutional design (draft; ~6000 words)

[Note: If something seems like “alarmingly breathless word salad,” you might just plow ahead, the first time through. It’s not word salad to me, but it’s a compressed draft. 🙂 ]


A person, in some sense, has fish-in-water, transparent, deep ontological contingency, in perception, action, representation, and deontology.

(^This sentence sort of structures the whole doc/post, so it might be worth taking the time to unpack it, a little bit. You might compare to see how it’s reflected in the table of contents.)


  • introduction
  • transparent/fish-in-water
  • ontological contingency
  • ontological contingency of [sic]
    • perception
    • action/intention
    • representation
      • word meaning/sense/intensionality/concept
      • belief
      • expectation
      • counterfactuality/irrealis/imagination
      • preference/desire/goals
  • interfacing
  • directionality
  • depth and ground
  • conflict, deontology, consequentialism, duty/obligation/should/necessity/ought/must
  • structural fluidity, sensuousness, concreteness, freedom/slack/space/play/noninterference
  • shadow, “hypershadow,” say-ability, space-making


We don’t immediately realize how different we are from each other.

Sometimes we surprise each other with our actions: “How could they do that?” Or, “That doesn’t make sense!” Or, “That makes sense, in retrospect.”

Sometimes we surprise each other with our words: “I wouldn’t have put it that way.” Or, “That’s an interesting way to put it.” Or, “What do you mean by that?”

But, by and large, we usually don’t realize how deep the differences go. We grow up in a particular family, maybe go to a particular school, maybe interact in a particular social media algorithmic bubble. And, so, sometimes, when we want something outside of (our) usual norms, or when something is *at stake*–maybe there’s scarcity of money, attention, skill, romantic partners, then we can suddenly realize how different people can be, sort of in their expectations of *how things should go.* Like, who gets what when, and in what order, how conflict is resolved, and so on.

In some ways, this goes “(almost) all the way down” to the “being and seeming of the world.” First pass, we sort of “see through” (instead of *see*) our “concepts” (our “lens”) of “what is” and “what should be.” This “seeing through” is why I use the word “transparent.”

And, we don’t realize that some of this, seemingly, “just what is,” could be, or, in some sense, could have been, experienced as otherwise. So, one way to look at “transparency,” is a sometimes the absence or lack of “available counterfactuality,” “could-maybe-be-otherwise-ness,” “might-be-otherwise-ness,” “modal slack,” and so on.

(“Fish-in-water” is sort of the same thing as “transparent,” like, “a fish has no concept of *wetness*, because a (metaphorical) fish is exceptionalessly, continuously surrounded by water, and knows of nothing else.”)

*ontological contingency*

“Contingency” is distinguished or contrasted from “necessity,” and I like to add in “arbitrary,” as well.

“Necessity” or “necessarily” sort of means “lawful,” or “[really, truly, absolutely, actually] couldn’t have happened any other way, or “Y necessarily follows from X,” “Y must follow from X” (though not in the “should” sense but the “does” sense).

There are shades of “causality,” here, though that’s sort of a different, but very related concept.

“Contingency,” then, sort of means “could be otherwise,” though still with a “dependency flavor.” That “dependency flavor” could be timeless or simultaneous, but, here, I’m using it in a more “timeful” sense. That is, something is “contingent” when “it could have gone a different way if something different had happened before that.” Put in another way, if we have Z because Y happened, but, we would have had B, if A had happened, then Z is contingent.

“Arbitrary” sort of throws out all dependency, necessary, contingent, or otherwise. Anything could happen or has happened! Could be any which way! And so on.

Note that these concepts (necessary, contingent, arbitrary, causality, timeless…) are sort of “hanging in imaginary space”; they’re sort of “toys,” though very useful ones. They’re sort of “out there in the world” and sort of not. Sort of “just in your head” and sort of not. Necessity and contingency sort of only make sense in relation to “counterfactuality” or “other, non-actual worlds.” And then if they’re “non-actual,” where are they? How do we imagine them and then talk about them? And is anything really, truly, completely arbitrary? Does contingency make sense without “underlying necessity”? And then, if so, is anything really contingent??

(This sort of tension between “hanging in imaginary space” versus “out in the world” starts to shade into ideas like “nebulosity,” and “emptiness,” not to mention constructive/positive uses of plain old vagueness and ambiguity, but this is getting out of scope of this document.)

In any case, a final important point about “contingency,” is that it suggests, if not implies, that, in some sense, the past and present aren’t fate or destiny. If things “wiggled” in the past, or, in some sense, could have been otherwise, then perhaps a bunch of those things, maybe even almost all of those things, have “wiggle” in the future, too. 


Ok, so then what’s “ontological”? It’s sort of “having to do with objects or things.”

An “ontology” is sort of a collection of “things that things can be.” Rather, it’s sort of a collection of “concepts” that can be “applied” to “referents.” So, an ontology is sort of a list of “things that can be conceived or conceptualized or recognized/identified.”

(Some other, related words, here are, “lexicon,” which is a list of words, and “idiolect,” which is sort of one’s personal mapping between words and concepts. Also, along with “concepts,” we might also speak of “kinds/types,” or “tropes” or “plural tropes,” but some of these distinctions get fuzzy, and we won’t go into them, here. Also, finally, in place of “concepts” we might also talk about “sense,” “meaning,” “knowing,” “intension,” “intensionality,” “felt meaning,” and so on.)

So, “ontological contingency” or “personal ontological contingency” is sort of pointing at how “different people have ‘different things that can be’, along many different axes. We’re explore a bunch of those axes, below.

Note, too, sort of as above, that these are all “toy models,” so we can have anything to talk about at all. Are concepts real? Where do they live? Can a “referent” even “exist” without a “concept”? Surely it must exist in “some manner” “independently” of perception/appearance? What is that manner? Can that manner itself be conceived or is that impossible? Do conceptualizing/conceiving somehow sort of work “the same” between people? Or is that also deeply contingent? How about when concepts “represent,” or “refer/apply”? How does that work? Does that always happen in the same way for an individual or between people? Do people “use” and “hear” language, differently? Do people “seat” language, differently? One might expect there are regularities or even deep necessities or that at least something “superveniently/emergently lawful” is going on. But, calling back to “transparency,” above, one might guess it’s much more contingent and varied than one might initially expect.

*ontological contingency of [sic]*

In the sections below, we explore, sort of, some of the axes/dimensions of how things can be, for people.


Is there a “world out there”? Of course? There’s a glass of water right there, an apple right there. But, does a cat or an apple “look the same” to child or a physicist or a biologist? I would claim that, in some sense, a biologist “sees something different” when they look at an apple, versus, say, a child. (I’m not saying it’s better or worse, just different.) Ditto for a physicist.

You might claim that they “see the same thing,” it’s just that, say, the “interpretation” is different, the sense, the meaning, the “sign.” (People mostly don’t claim that, after postmodernism, so we’re using it as a bit of a straw, here.)

But, what about an artist? Does a painter *see* the same thing as a biologist, when they look at an apple? Or a musician, for a symphony, or an athlete for a game in play, versus a non-painter, a non-musician, or a non-athlete?

I would argue that there’s an “ontological contingency” of perception. Perception, interpretation (and action), are all linked, in ways that change the “very seeming” of the world “out there” (or “in here”).

Usually, there’s a tremendous amount of “overlap,” between people: we “see it differently,” but “close enough.” Or, it *is* very different, between some people, but each person “has a thing that does enough of the same work.” (That has a bit of a “too separate,” feel, though. Again, it’s “transparent,” “seamless.” Note, too, this isn’t necessarily how any of this feels for *you* from the inside. It’s a toy, a model.)

When there’s conflict between people, sometimes, it can even be that two or more people are seeing things that another person “doesn’t see at all,” it’s not in their ontology or “perceptual vocabulary.” It’s not just that people are seeing the same thing but attributing different implications to that seeing, but, again, they’re seeing (or missing) different things entirely. And if people don’t have the time, space, safety to suss out those differences, then that can lead to misunderstandings, and escalating misunderstandings, and conflict.


Think of all those *ways* we can think, reflect, imagine, plan, intend, and all those muscles and motor units, sports and dance, walking, shuffling, reaching, playing. The space of “mental+’attentional’ action” and “physical action” is astronomical. There’s different styles of dance, different styles of martial arts, hair-splitting differences in posture, distribution of weight, speed. There’s also “abstract, temporally extended actions,” too: We file TPS reports *this* way. We give presentations *that* way. We have processes like *these* to produce group outcomes.

So how do all those “actions,” concrete and abstract “fit together”? How do complex interpersonal things get done? Or, even just the feeling out of quiet intimacy, between two people? How do two people “come together,” if they’re from different hometowns, countries, internet cultures, etc.?


Below we cover things that have a “representational” flavor, an “aboutness” flavor, such as “(word) meaning,” “belief,” “expectation,” “counterfactuality,” and “desire.”

*word meaning/sense/intensionality/concept*

When people use the same words they almost certainly “mean” different things “behind” those words. (Of course!) Sometimes these differences are really obvious. And sometimes those differences are slight, in ways that barely matter. But sometimes they’re slight and subtle in a way that explode later. It’s not solely individual words, of course, it’s phrases, sentences, paragraphs, everything.

Also, the same person will use the same word differently at different times or even in different places in the same sentence. Sometimes this is referred to, pejoratively, as “equivocation,” but it can be fine if enough people “know what they mean, close enough” The ambiguity of words is very useful and powerful, too. There aren’t really enough words, in general. We have to reuse them to get anything done!

It’s very hard, even under the best of circumstances, to use a word “in the same way each time,” which usually doesn’t matter but is sometimes very useful, when someone is trying to create technical or theoretical ideas or writing, in a concise and elegant way. To be relatively more non-equivocal, one usually has to “detach the ‘referents'” from “reality,” in some way, to make a “toy” or abstracted or “idealized” “space.”

Back in the “real world,” it can sometimes help to use implicit or even explicit “subscripts” when referring: Government_Bob (“Government-sub-Bob, “or what Bob means when he says “government,” versus “Government_Sara”…)

Again, of course, we know people mean different things by the same words. And yet, that “of course” tends to not be “consistently global.” We get “triggered,” we forget, we get angry, we are astounded by the things people say. It seems that, at least without practice, we don’t have a “unified language interpreter” that “automatically adds subscripts to everything,” as it were. Sometimes, say with our parents, or our friends, or if someone with authority is speaking, the subscripts don’t get added, metaphorically speaking. And then we feel like we have to agree, or have to disagree, or are just confused. Over time, and everybody will do it a little differently, we can sprinkle in those subscripts in more and more places. And those “subscripts” can have a lot of nuance: Government_{Bob when he’s tired}, Happiness_{this author from five years ago but not in their more recent work}.

*belief and expectation*

“Belief” can mean a lot of different things, and even some of the “better versions” are, arguably, “fundamentally nebulous.”

We might use the word “belief” to mean “what people verbally assert.” Or we might use it to mean “what people verbally (or nonsymbolically) “think to themselves.”

More satisfyingly, is sort of “revealed beliefs,” that is, beliefs are the “things” that “determine what we actually do.” In other words, beliefs are “what we really expect” and “why,” the “things” that really drive action and reaction and everything we do (relative to, and interrelated with, preferences, desires, goals, fears, etc.)

This latter type of belief might seem “more true,” it’s “action-level” beliefs/models, as opposed to things we say or even think (even when those things we say or think tracks those action-level beliefs pretty well, though often they don’t, at least at first). Even for this “kind” of “belief,” are beliefs “real”? Sure. But are they *things* or *things as such*? Surely in some senses, yes, and, in other senses, no.

Sort of relatedly, one could sort of have a “three-valued logic” of belief:

(1) belief, (2) disbelief, and (3) absence of belief

The first two are sort of “presences,” there’s “something there,” and the last one is of course an “absence,” a “lack.” But, even in that latter case, there might be “another belief, or collection of beliefs” that’s doing the “same or similar work,” were that absence “filled.” For example, a person might not have beliefs (in some sense) about “societies,” but they have beliefs about “civilizations” that do “overlapping work.” Or, someone, loosely speaking, doesn’t believe in water but they do believe in H2O. It’s not quite this, because, again, we’re sort of especially talking about the “sensuous, real-time action-level,” but it is kind of like this. (Those more “abstract” distinctions, used in these examples, do matter, too, actually, and not even just for the situated writing or speaking to other people, that we do, as part of our “seamless actioning in the world.”)

And so, regarding the “nebulosity of belief,” these sort of “overlapping non-absences” are one dimension of that nebulosity, but not the only one, cf. phenomenologically, musculoskeletally, neurophysiologically, and so on…


Much of the above section applies to this section as well. In addition to beliefs and expectations, one can have ideas, “imaginations,” sensory imagination, stories, counterfactual worlds, logical propositions, etc., that, in some sense aren’t “true,” “real,” “actual,” “existing,” and so on.

Just like with “belief” and similar to ideas in other sections in the document, depending on how defined (and “definitions” have all the same issues as well!) there’s sort of a tension between the “hanging-in-empty-space-ness” of all of these things and how they “function in self and world.” Different people “do imagination” differently, in deep ways!

Things like “true,” “real,” and “actual,” “existing,” and so on, are problematic (or just nebulous), too. Things can be true in different ways, real in different ways, actual in different ways, exist in different ways. Things be “in our heads,” “in movies,” “in the discourse,” and so, for example, “real imaginary things.” But what about some things being “really real” or “specially real,” like, say, electrons, or death, or war, or just the glass of water sitting next to you, versus, say, unicorns. Leaving aside that someday we might genetically create unicorns, I would just say again, that there are senses in which that glass of water is “really real,” sure, and also not really real(!), but, more importantly, differently people *do* “really real” differently. “Really real” is “seated” differently, in different people. There are different kinds of “really real,” in some sense as many as there are people. You might ask, “but what about ‘doing really real’ in some sort of genetically, semi-universal, modulo slight variations in ion channel proteins, etc., homo sapien bare metal neurophysiological way plus physics plus…” (I will leave that as an exercise for the reader.)


Desires and goals are sort of “counterfactual but could be,” they’re sort of the bridge between imagination and reality. This is of course a “toy model,” like all the others. Preferences and desires and goals, both exist and don’t exist in similar ways to beliefs, imagination, etc., existing and not existing.

Similar to “belief, disbelief, absence of belief,” there’s sort of “positive goal obliquity.” [*] Sometimes the best way to achieve a goal is to “not conceptualize it as such,” e.g. sometimes seeking happiness prevents being happy, and so on. Trying to be cool is uncool, and so on. Trying to directly have a “good company culture” can become oppressive and creepy. Letting go of concrete problems can “cause” them to solve themselves.

Learning how to “conceptually let go of a goal without losing the goal” is something one can become better at, over time.

In any case, different people “do goals” differently, hanging in empty mind space or not, as part of the very being and seeming and affordances of the world, or not, plus the tension and synergy between the two. Goal-ness, goal striving, desire, motivation, etc.–it’s like we all have mostly the same hardware, and things look pretty similar on the outside, at first glance, but the internal “software,” how goals (or lack thereof) “work,” for different people, can be really, really different.

(And the idea of a “goal” is a bit of a “toy,” a schema. One can sort of play with “mechanism” and “telos”, “cause and purpose”, “first causes and final ends”. I won’t unpack these, here, but things can start to get tricky of one starts to really poke at the idea of a “goal.” Additionally, there’s tricky things around will, personhood, interdependence, wholeness, unity, and more, with respect to inner conflict, goal pursuit, multifinality, equifinality, and so on. And all these are sort of “toys,” too.)

So, how can people work towards “common goals”? How can people manage the creation and evolution of common goals, over time, as successes, failures, and learning accumulate, about what’s possible and what’s desirable?


With all of the toy conceptual machinery above, held loosely, we can sort of talk about “building mutual interfaces” between ontologies, of perception, action, goals, etc. Sometimes that will be explicit and verbal, like this document (and sometimes “meta,” like this document). And other times it’ll be sensuous, nonverbal, “having nothing to do” with stuff like in this document, felt out in real time, or, of course, a mixture of implicit and explicit, concrete and abstract, verbal and nonverbal.

It can be helpful to think about all the “ontological categories” we’ve covered, which are, of course, is incomplete, overlapping, and so on: perception, action/intention, representation, word meaning/sense/intensionality/concept, belief, expectation, counterfactuality/irrealis/imagination, preference/desire/goals.

All of these are sort of “interface targets,” all at once. (It’s sort of all seamless and interpenetrating, in any case.) That is, much of coordination, alignment, synergy, play, etc., is coordination about the assembly and disassembly of interfaces, that is, *”mutually recognizable matches and complements between different personal ontologies.”*

Sometimes this is so direct as to essentially be two or more people using the same ontology, narrowly or widely, and this can feel magical. Attention becomes “joint,” joint actions, “we”-actions. Other times, it’s relatively more indirect, there’s a translation layer. And this can be magical, too–plenty of play and safety while still plenty of “we.”


Is it all relative? Does it have to be “just interfaces,” “all the way up and all the way down”? Incommensurable ontologies merely locally commensurated? A hall of mirrors? What of goodness and truth and wisdom and ethics and morality and?

There’s different philosophies, here. And, it’s sort of not a cop out to say, “there’s different philosophies, here,” because being able to “find one’s own footing” (or to fly) amidst other people doing the same thing, is part of the spirit of this document.

But, leaving truth and reality (and goodness) aside, just for a moment, one could say something like “everything is relative, but relative doesn’t mean equal.” [*] I mean relative in the sense of “hanging in space,” deep contingency, nebulosity, buddhist emptiness, etc. But “not equal”: at the very least, we have usefulness, pragmatism, etc. Something can be more or less useful, depending on what one is trying to do.

Ok, but what about truth? There’s an interesting thing that can happen when someone starts moving along “pragmatism gradients” and “local-global gradients.” More and more useful, more and more elegant (cf. Occam’s razor), greater and greater explanatory power, fewer and fewer anomalies and counterexamples. I’m not saying it’s a “*continuous* multidimensional space,” or anything. But there can be directionality (and nonmonotonicities) and even, *very* loosely, provisionally, contingently held “globalities,” albeit “multischematic” and “interschematizable,” and nebulous. And, then, are we really so far away from “truth,” “correspondence” between “map” and “territory,” and so on? Arguably, these are all nebulous concepts, too. The concept of concept is also nebulous. Nebulosity is itself nebulous. And so on.

In any case, there are gradients, in some sense, some of the time, for some purposes. And the freedom to orthogonally and arbitrarily vary the dimensions of usefulness, pragmatism, goodness, truth, beauty, wisdom, compassion, etc., starts to seem less and less and less.

*depth and ground*

Farther above, I’ve emphasized how different people are. More immediately above, I’ve suggested there can sort of be more and more convergence around truth and goodness and stuff like that. Does it ever sort of fully converge? Like, can we all get along, in the limit? But what about in the meantime? And how did conflict get started? Why is there ongoing conflict?

I used the term “deep” in front of “ontological contingency” above, and, instead of “deep,” I almost said “radical,” but that’s too close to “groundless.”

That is, I definitely didn’t want to say “groundless ontological contingency,” and “radical ontological contingency” was a little too intense.

So what do I mean by “deep”? I mean something like “a lot but not completely,” though there’s at least one more piece that this sort of doesn’t capture by itself.

It’s “a lot” because it’s enough that people surprise each other and get into conflicts with each other. And, it’s “not completely” because we form tribes and civilizations and global economies, albeit with genocide, war, terror, poverty, sometimes, and more local abuse and violence.

A piece that’s left out is sort how we *move* from “ontological distance” to “ontological proximity” or “ontological overlap,” the method of interfacing. (That’s not to say that everyone has to have the same ontologies, or anything, just that being able to translate between ontologies seems to be very beneficial!) How that movement happens is sort of out of the scope of this document, but I wanted to note that that capacity for movement, or “translation,” or “harmony,” or “interfacing,” is there, of course. And, perhaps, we can do it far more reflectively and skillfully than we’ve ever done before. Though, that might bring new surprises and challenges of its own, of course, of course.

So, all that above i sort of the “theoretical or methodological endpoint,” a sort of maybe-convergence between truth, goodness, wisdom, compassion, etc., if one looks in the right way, over time.

And then what about a sort of “practical endpoint”? Like, concretely in the world? No war, poverty, scarcity, illness, etc.? That’s a bit outside the scope of this document, too. But, one can think about the idea of “positive sum” outcomes or stag hunts, from game theory, that is, all things being equal, abstractly speaking, everyone gets more, if we successfully work together. More and more winners and more and more winning. And/or less and less losing. It’s not really adversarial, at least in the limit, if we’re all on the same team, if we can figure out how to cooperate, then we all win, as it were. Astonishing post-scarcity. We’ve made a lot of progress, as a global civilization.

This is, of course, an extremely simplistic take. It leaves out so much, about human nature, and at least local or proximal “true scarcity” (even if no-scarcity-in-the-limit) and the state of the world, and how we got there, and where we’re presently going.

But, one could, at least, first pass, gather a lot of the complexity under, just, “better.” Sometimes nonmonotonically (two steps forward, one step back), sometimes obliquely (roundabout), but always thinking about better and better, together, under a very long time horizon.

*conflict, deontology, consequentialism, duty/obligation/should/necessity/ought/must*

Ok! So! Sprinkle on those subscripts, realize people use words differently, realize people are really different, realize, in the limit, we can do more together than apart–why is this hard? Let’s go!

There are challenges, of course. Part of the problem is that every individual starts out at at least “square one,” in terms of understanding the sorts of things in document (and all sorts of other things, and things like the above, said in different cultures in different ways!). Everybody starts out as a baby and a kid (that is to say pretty brilliant but ignorant). And then almost everyone starts out at, not even at square one, but, multidimensionally “less than square one”–trauma, abuse, poverty, confusion, loneliness, etc. It’s just really hard being here on planet earth, and a lot of energy has to be put into “just surviving,” let alone kind of “loosening up” all the stuff above, to make it easier to get along with lots and lots of other people.

And, this is generational, too. Knowledge, wisdom, meta-wisdom, societal-not-square-one, societal-square-2000-plus, has be maintained from generation to generation. Sometimes things/gains are lost, at least temporarily (which can be hundreds or thousands of years), at the societal level, even while things keep advancing, on other dimensions.

Anyway, we all have a different “splash pattern” of confusions and blind spots and “working together challenges” and sort of “triggers.” As above, we kind of “only inconsistently apply our own advice”; it’s somewhat context dependent, at least at first, and we maybe only approach more consistency asymptotically.

In our best moments, at lot of people have a sort of “deterministically blameless” sort of thing. Where, we’re all doing our best, we all sort of are a product of our causes and conditions, and the things we do are sort of more a product of circumstance than “essence” or character. So this allows for (a sort of) forgiveness or even “nothing and no one to forgive,” no matter how upsetting, clueless, myopically malevolent, careless, destructive someone, or a (large or country-scale) group of people, are being. And there can be a sort of “compassionate, anticipatory, proactive consequentialism,” a sort of practical, scale-free, “harm reduction,” harm minimization. Why get upset? Just see it coming, be smarter, head it off or handle it, sincerely, authentically, compassionately, egalitarian-ly, equitably.

But, we all sort of have “conditioning” and “triggers,” though which we “work through” these over the course of our lives.

That is, most people sort of have a lot of “deontology” inside of them, with respect to other people (shoulds, musts, duty, obligation, responsibility). And, we can sometimes be blindsided by people “violating” these, or, it affects us just as much, even when we see it coming.

One could pretend there’s both acts of commission and omission, so:

(a) (prereflectively perceived/experienced) commissive deontological violation

(b) (prereflectively perceived/experienced) ommissive deontological violation

And when we experience these sorts of things happening, we can sometimes get really upset, and it’s ok to get really upset, but it can lead to a worse outcome than if we hadn’t gotten upset, in some counterfactual world: in other words, destructive conflict, or whatever.

We experience someone as dumb, bad, or even hateful and evil, depending. And, often, that has to be something to work through, at least a little bit, before adding in some “consequentially constructive” engagement (or nonengagement). And, in the meantime, sometimes, the things we hastily do can make things worse. (I do think there’s such a thing as, for example, constructive anger, etc. And, all things being equal, it’s important to not suppress anger. But there’s more and less constructive ways and contexts to express it! Hard!)

Anyway, something like “true” or “perceived” local scarcity and perceived/experienced deontological violation can make it hard to get along or to get along long enough to do something amazing and beautiful, that benefits everyone far more than if they’d tried to do something alone.

“Violations” are sometimes accidental, sometimes desperate, sometimes solely in the eye of the beholder, and so on. It’s partly so hard because of the “hijacking” that can happen. It can happen in an instant, by body language or just what they say. And it can be subtle or cumulative, too, where there’s a delay. And, it can go “so deep.” It can feel like an “impossible reality violation,” to the point where at least a part of you wants to KILL the other person or group of people. Or, at least to you, they’re at least partially hateful and evil. (Now, to be sure, sometimes your physical safety, sanity, or future really are at risk. And sometimes your best interests are actively and deliberately and responsively being worked against. Sometimes it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy and sometimes it’s just what it is.) In any case, counterfactually and contingently, there’s an astronomical number of responses to all these “possible possibilities.”

Now, to be sure, if something has happened, it’s already happened. We get triggered, we end up in a bad situation, we make a situation worse–sometimes, “it’s just already happened.”

But, part of coordination is having shared language and understanding around “it’s already happened, again” as well as mutual, proactive work towards preempting those sorts of things before they happen (ideally without any judgment when they still sometimes do, and without any “supershame” when they happen even in with the common knowledge that these sorts of things happen). It’s counterintuitive how long it takes for people to change, and not everybody is on board to change in particular ways or at particular times or to prioritize it among all the other things that they’re doing. In any world, change is tens of hours, hundreds of hours, thousands of hours. It’s slow. So a community needs to somehow take that into account, amidst protecting its own integrity.

And, over time, the “center of gravity” of a community has more meta, more “slack” around meaning, less triggering, more “non-self-abnegating preference harmonization,” and so on. And, such a community perhaps has a more “consequentialist” outlook, just working through the nth-order effects of different possibilities and contingencies, working to dissolve hard choices before the even pop up on the horizon, and seeking safety and delight and so on.


Another thing to watch out for, besides, “experienced deontological violations” is sort of “prior, maybe-“entrenched” resignation” and something like “posterior resignation.” Everyone sort of has a splash pattern of “resignations” which are sort of “learned helplessness’s” or “what’s the point of even remotely trying, ever.” And, we hide these really well, often even from ourselves–deep assumptions about what’s even possible, to do, to protect, to avoid, to repair, and so on. And, so, there can be huge clashes around some people trying to avoid some harm versus some people being completely and utterly resigned to that harm occurring, at least at it’s current level of subtlety or intensity. (The former people can be wrong about there being a harm, too.) “Posterior resignation” is sort of overgeneralized, hair-trigger resignation. Resignation can also take the form of mooching, parasitism, exploitation, preemptive-competition with respect to communities, as well. The thought of relatively time-efficient, true win-win is not in the consideration space, and so on, though of course, coordination costs, in the technical sense, can be very real. And in that latter case, competition, whether bounded or “total war,” can *sometimes* be “supercooperation,” in the limit. But perhaps almost  something better than that.

*structural fluidity, sensuousness, concreteness, freedom/slack/space/play/noninterference*

I want to say something here about “coercive interfaces.” Language isn’t free and impartial, ontologies aren’t free and impartial, and so on. They come with differential tradeoffs, for different parties, all things being equal.

And factors external to an ontology can put “ontological pressure” on one or all parties, sometimes, though not always, even when there’s sort of spatiotemporal slack, indirectness, a translation layer, and so on. It just depends.

People can particularly have resignation around languaging, ontologies, etc., and understandably so. They “go deep,” and most people have some, but not a lot of experience with profound, personal ontological shifts.

But, in any case, people need different collections of ontologies at any given time, because people are different and have different needs. And people need to sometimes drop ontologies (or interfaces) and pick them up again later, and so on. A community will ideally have provisions for periods of dimensional unintelligibility, along various axes, as people pick up, drop, and transform ontologies and interfaces, in the course of living, learning, and growing.

*implicitness, shadow, hypershadow, say-ability, space-making*

Finally, sort of an offshoot of “ontological pressure,” it can be important to talk about shadow. Talk of ontologies, and interfaces, at the meta or object level, will always be in dialogue with the implicit, the tacit. Some of this is merely pragmatic in that “not everything can be made explicit all at once,” and this is true both in a single conversation and across millenia. Explicitness become implicit again, can be a part of a cycle of growth and learning, to make space for other explicitness that’s needed in that particular moment or millenium. And the other pragmatic piece is that explicitness, of course, is sometimes the “wrong tool for the job,” where reaching for it means something has already gone terribly wrong. Sometimes nonverbal, warmth, sensuousness, timing, timbre, prosody, eye contact, touch, living and loving, etc., etc., etc., are the right “tools” for the job. This is positive community inertia and “community defenses,” too, in their interplay with explicitness. (And, finally, there can be a recognition of how even the explicit is radically, seamlessly aconceptual, and so on.)

Besides this “positive explicit/implicit fluidity,” there can also be something like “shadow” and “hypershadow.”

By “shadow,” here, I mean the not just implicit but the unsayable, the unspeakable truths, the unspeakable threats, unspeakable fears, some real, some imaginary, but, in any case, unsayable/unspeakable. Articulateness is a skill that can be highly topic and context dependent, per person. Most people are plenty articulate, though, and it’s meta-articulate-ness (making the local conditions safe) that’s failing, or the community is failing them, in terms of safety. Sometimes, if a community is unsafe (or people are easily triggerable or something has become a touchy topic), a person might have to become extremely skilled at “articulateness needle-threading,” hyper-articulateness (versus “counterframing”). And this is a real and valuable skill, but also slow and costly to acquire, and one hopes that not everyone feels pressured to become hyper-articulate, because of power dynamics, in some community. This is very related to ontological/interface coercion, too.

Anyway, a healthy community is perhaps always engaged in “say-ability space making,” and “say-ability restructuring,” power/safety rebalancing, while maintaining community integrity and boundaries, in the small and in the large.

Finally, “hypershadow” is the shadow that remains, possibly “squeezed and intensified” by accidental or intentional “interface/ontology coercion” that specifically takes “shadow mitigation” (ostensibly and/or sincerely) as the object of discussion.