post by Ziz · 2017-12-20T02:24:52.807Z · LW · GW · 18 comments

(This is a copy-pasted blog post from, I'm checking how much demand here there is for my writing.)

This is theorizing about how mana works and its implications. (Edit: usable link:

Some seemingly large chunks of stuff mana seems to be made of:

I've been witness to and a participant in a fair bit of emotional support in the last year. I seem to get a lot less from it than my friends. (One claims suddenly having a lot more ability to "look into the dark" on suddenly having reliable emotional support for the first time in a while, leading to some significant life changes.) I think high mana is why I get less use. And I think I can explain at a gears level why that is.

Emotional support seems to be about letting the receiver have a non-hostile social reality. This I concluded from my experience with it, without really having checked against common advice for it, based on what seems to happen when I do the things that people seem to call emotional support.

I googled it. If you don't have a felt sense of the mysterious thing called "emotional support" to search and know this to be true, then from some online guides, here are some supporting quotes.

From this:

From this:

I think I know what "space" is. And mana directly adds to it. Something like, amount of mind to put onto a set of propositions which you believe. I think it can become easier to think through implications of what you believe is reality, and decide what to do, when you're not also having part of you track a dissonant social reality. I've seen this happen numerous times. I've effectively "helped" someone make a decision just by sitting there and listening through their decision process.

The extent to which the presence of a differing social reality fucks up thinking is continuous. Someone gives an argument, and demands a justification from you for believing something, and it doesn't come to mind, and you know you're liable to be made to look foolish if you say "I'm not sure why I believe this, but I do, confidently, and think you must be insane and/or dishonest for doubting it", which is often correct. I believe loads of things that I forget why I believe, and could probably figure out why, often only because I'm unusually good at that. But you have to act as if you're doubting yourself or allow coordination against you on the basis that you're completely unreasonable, and your beliefs are being controlled by a legible process. And that leaks, because of buckets errors between reality and social reality at many levels throughout the mind. (Disagreeing, but not punishing the person for being wrong, is a much smaller push on the normal flow of their epistemology. Then they can at least un-miredly believe that they believe it.)

There's a "tracing the problem out and what can be done about it" thing that seems to happen in emotional support, which I suspect is about rebuilding beliefs about what's going on and how to feel about it, independent of intermingling responsibilities with defensibility. And that's why feelings need to be validated. How people should feel about things is tightly regulated by social reality, and feelings are important intermediate results in most computations people (or at least I) do.

Large mana differences allow mind-control power, for predictable reasons. That's behind the "reality-warping" thing Steve Jobs had. I once tried to apply mana to get a rental car company to hold to a thing they said earlier over the phone which my plans were counting on. And accidentally got the low-level employee I was applying mana to to offer me a 6-hour car ride in her own car. (Which I declined. I wanted to use my power to override the policy of the company in a way that did not get anyone innocent in trouble, not enslave some poor employee.)

The more you shine the light of legibility, required defensibility and justification, public scrutiny of beliefs, social reality that people's judgement might be flawed and they need to distrust themselves and have the virtue of changing their minds, the more those with low mana get their souls written into by social reality.  I have seen this done for reasons of Belief In Truth And Justice. Partially successfully. Only partially successfully because of the epistemology-destroying effects of low mana. I do not know a good solution to that. If you shine the light on deep enough levels of life-planning, as the rationality community does, you can mind control pretty deep, because almost everyone's lying about what they really want. The general defense against this is akrasia.

Unless you have way way higher mana than everyone else, your group exerts a strong push on your beliefs. Most social realities are full of important lies, especially lies about how to do the most good possible. Because that's in a memetic war-zone because almost everyone is really evil-but-really-bad-at-it. I do not know how to actually figure out much needed original things to get closer to saving the world while stuck in a viscous social reality.

I almost want to say, that if you really must save the world, "You must sever your nerve cords. The Khala is corrupted". That'll have obviously terrible consequences, which I make no claim you can make into acceptable costs, but I note that even I have done most of the best strategic thinking in my life in the past year, largely living with a like-minded person on a boat, rather isolated. That while doing so, I started focusing on an unusual way of asking the question of what to do about the x-risk problem, that dodged a particular ill effect of relying on (even rare actual well-intentioned people's) framings.

I've heard an experienced world-save-attempter recommend having a "cover story", sort of like a day job, such as... something something PhD, in order to feel that your existence is justified to people, an answer to "what do you work on" and not have that interfering with the illegibly actually important things you're trying. Evidence it's worth sacrificing a significant chunk of your life just to shift the important stuff way from the influence of the Khala.

Almost my entire blog thus far has been about attempted mana upgrades. But recognizing I had high mana before I started using any of these techniques makes me a little less optimistic about my ability to teach. I do think my mana has increased a bunch in the course of using them and restructuring my mind accordingly, though.


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comment by sarahconstantin · 2017-12-21T04:43:53.115Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've found it useful -- not without downsides, but useful -- to reduce my dependence on emotional support.

There are two reasons to do this:

  1. Other people have only finite energy for emotional support and you don't want to burn them out;
  2. The emotional support other people give you is often not quite right. You want other people to make you feel good in a certain way; but because they can't read your mind, they very frequently can't make you feel that particular way.

Learning how to give emotional support to yourself is pretty useful on both these counts; it doesn't spend down a finite resource or overburden others, and you can tailor it precisely to what you want.

The simplest way is to remember and replay in your mind nice things people have said to you. If memory will recall the warm fuzzy feeling, you don't actually have to go bug the person to say the same things to you over and over again.

Make-believe can be even better than memory. If you can vividly imagine and voice someone who is on your side and loves you, you can conjure up emotional support. It doesn't have to be limited to people you know IRL; fictional characters, historical figures, writers, gods or spirits, etc. are all fine. Vividness is key; this works better if you can be in a trance or hypnogogic state so it feels like they're "really talking to you."

Finding a way to soothe yourself is very individual, but a good starting place is trying to imitate the environment of the womb. Dark, quiet, warm, swaddled, rocking gently. This communicates "safety" to your inner animal. I would go as far as to say that if you feel pressured around people, you should wait to make serious decisions until you've thought them over in a "safe zone."

I don't have all the answers yet, but I think I was much more often short of energy or acting out of conformity when I didn't know how to make safety & comfort for myself, and I was certainly more unreasonably demanding towards others and more easily frustrated. So I think on balance it was a useful skill to gain.

I do think I'm more isolated now, though. I'm not sure if that's a necessary consequence of learning to self-soothe, or if it's just what happened in my case. I think a lot of tribal social connections are about trying to get the group to validate and support what you personally prefer; now that I've cut off the expectation that people can or should do that, I'm a lot more separate from the group.

Replies from: romeostevensit
comment by romeostevensit · 2017-12-21T05:32:23.995Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Dependence on others to hold space is drastically lowered by learning the specific skill of self witnessing. This is one of the core things IFS and Focusing are both pointing to. You should be able to triangulate from the 'unblending' step in both to the feeling. I don't recall their specific terminology. I think Gendlin refers to 'holding at arms legnth.' This shrinks the feedback loop on therapy enabling much more rapid progress.

Replies from: sarahconstantin
comment by sarahconstantin · 2017-12-21T05:42:40.718Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To the extent that I understand what you're talking about and can do it, I think I do it by modeling an imaginary benevolent observer. Does that sound like the thing?

Replies from: romeostevensit
comment by romeostevensit · 2017-12-25T08:07:06.642Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, especially to the extent that you can switch places with the observer and observe yourself with compassion.

comment by spiralingintocontrol · 2017-12-20T19:05:10.179Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As a piece of general feedback: I find your writing useful but hard to understand, even though I have a general sense of how your brain works and what kinds of things you usually say. I think if I didn't have those, your writing would be pretty much impossible to understand (edit: for counterfactual me, specifically). It's very dense with jargon that means a lot to you but other people don't have context on.

My guess is you could fix this by doing something that feels like "dumbing it down almost to the point of uselessness," so that only very small concepts are presented in each post. In actuality I think this would make it much more useful.

I hope you find a way to make it work, because I think there's a lot of value in it that is difficult for others to extract.

Replies from: Ziz
comment by Ziz · 2017-12-20T20:21:23.607Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks. I have considered and tried to implement strategies like that, and I think it's better for me to do what I'm doing because:

I do model-building primarily for my purposes of using models to decide things in real life. This kind of content, with a bunch of dependencies because it was made based on pulling from my entire worldview, is the content which already exists. The subset which I can link something to explain the dependencies is what I can write in the course of my life which is mostly not about writing, without spending time generating sort-of-related surface-level content. A much larger chunk of the work for doing the writing I'm doing is "free" in that I'm already doing it. And in practice that makes it something that I actually have time to do sometimes.

Also, I think you'd be surprised. I've had at least one person who didn't know me personally get it, I think.

Replies from: spiralingintocontrol
comment by spiralingintocontrol · 2017-12-21T00:21:30.389Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, ok, "I don't have time for that" is definitely a valid response to this.

comment by query · 2017-12-21T02:36:05.705Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I found this extremely helpful; it motivated me to go read your entire blog history. I hope you write more; I think the "dark side" is a concept I had only the rough edges of, but one that I unknowingly desired to understand better (and had seen the hints of in other's writing around the community.) I feel like the similarly named "dark arts" may have been an occluding red herring.

The more you shine the light of legibility, required defensibility and justification, public scrutiny of beliefs, social reality that people's judgement might be flawed and they need to distrust themselves and have the virtue of changing their minds, the more those with low mana get their souls written into by social reality.

This is something I liked seeing written. This is a trade-off I don't often see recognized by people around me; without recognizing this, communal pursuits can destroy and subsume the weaker people within them. As one who has had their soul partly killed in the past by the legibility requirements of people who were alien to me, I value this lesson and anything that helps people develop protective immunity.

comment by Erfeyah · 2017-12-20T14:22:14.862Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

After reading twice I am still unclear on what you mean by 'mana' but I want to keep an open mind.

You write:

I once tried to apply mana to get a rental car company to hold to a thing they said earlier over the phone which my plans were counting on. And accidentally got the low-level employee I was applying mana to to offer me a 6-hour car ride in her own car.

Could you explain in detail exactly what is happening in your mind (to the best of your introspective abilities) when you 'apply mana'. Is this 'application' mediated by language? If yes is the language in your head or verbalised to the other person? Is it just attention? intention? etc.

Replies from: Ziz
comment by Ziz · 2017-12-20T20:03:41.270Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I just added a link to the OP, apparently the original wasn't working even though it was a public post. Have not reviewed the utility of giving a how-to-mind-control guide here. But light on technique, heavy on direct consequences of having much higher mana than someone and not giving up.

comment by spiralingintocontrol · 2017-12-20T19:19:17.893Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, not having access to the original post you linked to on Facebook, here is how I would summarize the thing you're saying here. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

"Social reality" is a reference to the idea that everything that humans say to each other is mediated by political or social concerns, such that truth is being constantly warped as it passes through people's brains, without the people involved even being aware of it. The term "social reality" specifically refers to the "alternate reality" that is created by these truth-warping distortions.
"Mana" means "ability to see the world as it genuinely is, without being affected by social reality." When you have a lot of this ability, you gain the miraculous power to affect other people's perception of reality, because they are still existing in a reality-distortion field even if you aren't - so their social conceptions will move out of the way to make room for yours.
comment by T3t · 2017-12-20T19:24:25.230Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I found some of this difficult but not impossible to understand, without any prior context. Of course, it's possible that I'm wrong about my level of understanding, in which case I'd prefer to be corrected.

Here is my understanding of the relevant details.

Erfeyah is confused by what you mean by mana, and more specifically what it meant to "apply" mana to a rental car company employee. If my understanding is correct, this was a process of using emotional support techniques, as you describe them (or perhaps the opposite - introducing a "hostile social reality", i.e. dark arts - this is something I'm not clear on), in order to accomplish your goals.

I'm also not sure what this means:

"You must sever your nerve cords. The Khala is corrupted"

Unless it means disconnecting your perception of social reality from your goal structure, while maintaining a surface-level awareness.

Replies from: Ziz
comment by Ziz · 2017-12-20T20:30:03.465Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, something like that.

I also mean to imply the consequence of severing yourself from the Khala is profoundly disturbing isolation. It is done by deciding that no one is your ingroup or something like that, resulting in a feeling of stepping outside of a game containing all social interactions.

Replies from: Chris_Leong
comment by Chris_Leong · 2017-12-21T00:03:34.781Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You still haven't defined Khala.

Replies from: Raemon, Hazard
comment by Raemon · 2017-12-21T17:03:31.571Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's a fine line between "this was a jargon term I'm introducing" and "this is a reference that helped me make sense of a thing that only really helps if you already knew the reference" and I think this was more of the latter.

Replies from: sarahconstantin
comment by sarahconstantin · 2017-12-21T18:51:05.702Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agreed. I think it can be fine to write in the language that comes naturally to you, with the references that are part of your native vocabulary, but it does confuse people sometimes. I usually put a wikipedia link to references that I don't expect to be common knowledge but don't want to stop to explain. (Videogames, or games generally, usually aren't common knowledge; neither are technical or historical or literary references.)

comment by Hazard · 2017-12-21T12:21:10.741Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I just googled it, it's a StarCraft reference. The Khala is some psionic link between all members of this alien race that have submitted to it, and at some point a demon hijacks the Khala, and the members have to sever a nerve cord to destroy it.

Replies from: vedrfolnir
comment by vedrfolnir · 2017-12-22T05:14:31.374Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, *that*.

When I was in college, I intuitively realized that severing myself from the Khala would have intellectual benefits, so I did. The problem was, the fruits of those intellectual benefits paid off socially, such that severing myself from the Khala seemed less and less attractive. Eventually, although I didn't realize it at the time, I started to cash out. (I live with my partner who I met on the basis of my intellectual reputation. The most recent one, that is. There were a few.) My depression mostly disappeared, and I'd gotten myself an alright social life, but... I just couldn't write anymore. And eventually I started to believe that my investment in high-variance strategies was misguided, and decided to 'become a normie'.

It was only after I realized I'd succeeded that it dawned on me that I'd made a mistake.

But "severing myself from the Khala" isn't quite the framing I'd use. It felt more like adopting a very high-variance strategy: there were a few people who greatly respected me and a few people who wanted to kill me, and to most people I was just illegible -- not that I cared about any of that. In a low-variance strategy, no one wants to kill you, but no one (or at least very few people) respect you, until you're old enough to have become respectable, to have gotten somewhere with the slow grind of life; and all your energy is consumed by the grind.

Most people who aren't currently drawing juju from their respectability could stand to be higher-variance. If you're intentionally sacrificing your own standing to make a point (and not to trade it in with more valuable standing from different people), you could stand to be lower-variance. There's a golden mean there, but undershooting variance seems to be a much more common error than overshooting it.